Last Sunday of the Church Year + Matthew 25:1-13
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’re used to waiting. We do a lot of it throughout our lives. We wait for our next meal. We wait in line. We wait for other people. We wait for test results and doctor’s appointments. We want for things to happen. We wait for things to change. We’re no strangers to waiting. On this last Sunday of the church year Jesus tells us that we must also wait for Him. He tells us how to wait for His return lest, through impatience or ingratitude, we give up. He says, “The kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” The church consists of virgins. Not physical virgins but spiritual as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2. He writes, “I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Christians are virgins in that they are pure, not by their own works and preparations but because they trust Christ for their salvation. Faith justifies sinners so that their sins are forgiven. “Faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5) so that all who believe Christ’s atoning death and perfect life for their sakes are clothed with Christ’s perfect righteousness. Faith is how we are pure and chaste virgins, betrothed to the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Church, symbolized by these ten virgins, must wait for her betrothed, the heavenly Bridegroom. Since these virgins have heard Christ’s words and believe, they “know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). Thieves come unexpectedly. They come while you’re asleep or away. This is how the coming of the Bridegroom will be. So the virgins must wait for His arrival and be continually ready for it. It may be a brief wait. It may be a long wait. The wait may last longer than you do. But the length of the wait isn’t important. What’s important is that the virgins are ready for the arrival no matter how long the wait. Jesus says that of these ten virgins, the church, “five of them were wise, and five were foolish.” Their foolishness is shown in how they wait for the Bridegroom’s coming. They expect a short wait and plan accordingly. “Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them.” The foolish five represent Christians who believe Christ, are purified by faith and betrothed to Him by belief but eventually fall away. When Christ doesn’t come right away they quickly loose interest in waiting for Christ and begin to chase after the things of this world. They begin to neglect hearing the Word of God. They begin to neglect daily repentance for their sins. They neglect faith in Christ, assuming that since they once had it they will always have it. The lamp of their heart grow dim and their faith is eventually extinguished because they never replenished their oil, which is faith.
Faith isn’t a self-sustaining thing. It’s not a renewable energy source. Faith is trust in the heart, confidence in God’s promises. God creates faith in men’s hearts through the means of grace, through His Word purely preached and His sacraments when they’re used as He instituted them. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). God creates faith in your heart by His Word and Holy Baptism. But that faith isn’t self-sustaining. It must be sustained by the One who created it and God sustains faith in our hearts through the same means which He used to create it in us: His Word purely preached, remembrance of His baptismal promises, faithful use of the Lord’s Supper, and hearing His absolution of our sins. The five foolish virgins, these foolish Christians, stopped waiting for Christ’s return because they stopped replenishing their faith, the oil in the lamp of their hearts, by God’s appointed means. The world is full of foolish Christians who despise the means of grace and imagine they’re secure.
“But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.” The wise were prepared for the long haul. They were ready for a short wait or a long wait. They made sure they had enough oil so that even if they fell asleep waiting for the Bridegroom their oil would last until His return. These are Christians who remain close to the Word and Sacraments. These are Christians who take every opportunity to hear God’s Word purely preached. They daily confess their sins in repentance and daily believe the promise of the Gospel that their sins are forgiven freely for Christ’s sake. These are Christians who read the Word and pray daily. These are Christians who receive the Lord’s Supper as often as they’re able, who love Christ more than the things of the world, more than worldly pleasures and more than sin. This is the kind of virgin Christ wants you to be, so that you will be ready for Him whenever He returns. He wants you to remain close to the means of grace all your lives so that He may continually replenish your faith, so that even if you sleep the sleep of death before He returns, you will fall asleep in faith, still faithfully awaiting the Savior’s return.
The foolish virgins who were unprepared and didn’t replenish their faith, their fate is terrible to imagine. They arrive the wedding feast but the door is shut. The foolish virgins plead with Him to open the door, but He will not open it for them since during their life their faith grew dim and cold. “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.” It’s as if He had said, “Since you did not know me in life by repentance and faith, since you did not make these your priority, I do not know you now that I have arrived.” But the fate of the wise virgins, those who believed in Christ and endured in faith until the end by using the means of grace, “those who were ready went in with him to the wedding.” Those who were ready when Christ returned went with Him into the banquet. This is a picture of the eternal bliss of the new heavens and new earth that the Lord will create on that day. This is the feast John sees in Revelation 21. He sees the Church, the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). There “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). There is no sin, temptation, death, or pain; only the Lord and His everlasting comfort.
Christ wants you to be a wise virgin. You are already pure by faith, clothed in Christ’s righteousness and betrothed to Him. He purifies you by His Word. He declares you righteous by faith. He begins to make you righteous in this life, but will do so entirely on the day you fall asleep in Him. He has given you faith to believe and trust in Him. Now stay close to Him in His means of grace since those are how He strengthens and replenishes the oil of faith so that your lamp may burn bright. Live each day as one who waits for return of your heavenly Bridegroom. The world wants to distract you from the fact that He will return. Your flesh wants to entice you away from the means of grace through sin and pleasures. The devil wants you to wait for anything else in this life rather than the coming of Christ. But Christ says “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Be ready each day by repentance. Be prepared every moment by faith. Take heart as you look forward to that day. As the world gets more depraved with age, set your minds on Christ’s promised return, so that each day you think, “Today may be the day,” the day in which your Bridegroom comes to whisk you away to eternal feast of innocence, righteousness, and blessedness forevermore. Watch therefore. Amen.
May the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.