But we desperately want each of you to show the same effort to make your hope sure until the end. This is so you won’t be lazy but follow the example of the ones who inherit the promises through faith and patience.
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil. “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’ “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.
This reminds me of a Jasper tradition that was really prevalent when I first moved there in 1980 and it has died out a bit. Maybe it was or is a tradition here too. After the wedding, the wedding party loads into a wedding party bus and hits as many bars as they can before the reception to get free drinks. I didn’t understand why the reception was about 2 hours after the wedding. I thought it was rude and it could get real boring sitting at the reception waiting, plus it made for a long day. Of course when my brother-in-law got married in 1991, I got to get on the bus and it was before I knew Jesus so…..it was quite a bit of fun. That was a Jasper tradition.
The Jews had traditions as well. Some time after the groom had asked the bride to marry him and gotten the consent of the parents, he would go over to the bride’s house at some time during the early evening and escort her to the wedding banquet. Now their tradition was close to Jasper’s. The bride and groom would meander around on a long route. Somewhere along the way and close to the banquet, the bridesmaids would wait for the groom and bride to come, and escort them to the place of the festival with lamps. This was tradition.
God has a tradition that He has going as well. He has a tradition of keeping His Word. He has promised that His Son will come in the clouds on Judgment Day. He will take some to be with Him on His triumphal procession to heaven, while He will leave others behind to suffer in hell. Some will be triumphant, others won’t. The question is, how can we be one of the triumphant ones?
Jesus shows us how to be triumphant saints today. Looking at both the wise and the foolish bridesmaids, we’ll notice something in common with them. They’re both waiting for the coming of the groom. So who do these bridesmaids represent?
Not everybody in the world is waiting for Jesus to come on Judgment Day. So these bridesmaids must be representative of the people in this world who are waiting for the Second Coming of Christ. These are people who know who Christ is, who have heard that He was coming, who have some knowledge of the Bible. So these bridesmaids could be compared to people who go to church and know that Jesus is coming again on Judgment Day. He will take some of these who are waiting for him to heaven, and others will be left to hell.
The question is, “how can we be one of the ones who are ready for the Groom to come?” Notice from the parable that all of the bridesmaids wanted to get to the marriage feast in heaven. But just wanting to go isn’t enough. We need to be like one of the wise bridesmaids in the parable. If we are foolish, we won’t be let in.
What’s the difference? There were two things that made the 5 bridesmaids wise, and the other five foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The foolish bridesmaids thought that the bridegroom would come right away.
They assumed they would have enough oil to escort him into the banquet hall. They assumed that their oil would last, but it didn’t. They were foolish for making such an assumption. They didn’t plan for the improbable, that the bridegroom would show up in the middle of the night. But that’s exactly what happened. When the groom arrived late, they didn’t have enough oil.
What does this mean? What does the oil stand for? Scholars debate this. Luther felt that oil was faith. Others have identified it as piety. Piety is dutifulness to religious activities. Others have defined the oil as good works but from Matthew 7 we find, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” That calls just good works into question. All these things seem insufficient.
Others and myself define the oil as having a real personal ever growing relationship with God, Jesus. Psalms 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey.”
Constantly reading and studying the Word of God keeps our lamps of faith burning. The more you hear the Word, the stronger your faith will become. Romans 10:17 tells us that “Faith comes from hearing the message.” If you don’t have God’s Word, the oil, your lamp of faith won’t keep burning. It will go out.
God wants us to keep feeding our lamps of faith with God’s Word, so it doesn’t burn out before Judgment Day. It’s such a simple formula, read the Word, really study the Word, hear the Word, believe in Jesus, keep your lamp burning, go to heaven. So obviously, you’ll want to keep your faith alive by keeping in the Word.
Staying in the faith is a lot like staying in shape. I used to be able to eat all I wanted and stay lean. But now that I’m getting older, it isn’t so easy to stay in shape. Back in the day I even bought some insurance to assure me that I would stay in shape – a Bowflex and an exercise bike. But then I found out something. Just buying them doesn’t keep me in shape. You actually have to use them!
Just because I once was an athlete doesn’t mean I am an athlete now. Time and again I have made a promise with myself to use them. Then I could easily stay in shape. No big deal, right? I could handle that. But guess what they do? They sit idle in the basement, just like many Bibles sit idle in our houses. Never used. And my waist has gone from 32” to 34” or more.
That’s the way faith is. Everybody wants to remain a believer. It seems so easy at first. Just stay in the Word. Come to church. Have devotions. It doesn’t take much work. Just believe in Christ, right? But what happens? If we aren’t careful, we start becoming spiritual blobs. Coming to church doesn’t seem as exciting as it may have earlier. It gets boring. So you may start daydreaming during the service or sleeping.
Then you feel like you need more “me” relaxation time. Mowing or housework or sleep or scheduling a “worldly” event seems a better use of time on Sunday morning. Even reading the Bible or doing a devotion takes time and you don’t have time. Before you know it, your faith is flickering, and you are unsure of your salvation, because you aren’t in the Word. But the consequences are more than spiritual sloppiness. You may end up in hell.
This is exactly what can happen to us. Our faith can die if it doesn’t get the Word of God. We tell our children, “you’ve got to keep coming and learning.” We tell our adults, “keep listening to the Word.” Keep the oil in your lamp. But many people who once were ready for the coming of Christ on Judgment Day, are no longer ready.
I believe you cannot expect to stay in the faith by coming to church when it fits your time schedule rather than God’s. Church keeps us checking our oil level and keeps our faith alive.
However, many of us still come to church. We may read our Bibles at home. What God is saying to you today is “KEEP IT UP! Stay wise!” You never know when something terrible will happen to you, when you’ll need that extra boost of God’s Word in your life.
Jesus was not just a great teacher. Jesus came so that we might do everything in our power to be more made in His image. Jesus desires a relationship with Him and relationships take work so that we can be ready when disaster strikes. Are you ready? How will you respond? How is your oil level? Our odds for handling life’s great problems increase when we stay in the Word.
There was one other thing that made these bridesmaids foolish. When the foolish bridesmaids realized that they didn’t have enough oil, The foolish ones said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil because our lamps have gone out.’ “`No, Because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” They tried to join the wedding procession by using the other bridesmaid’s oil. As they did that the bridegroom came, and the door closed. The groom did not acknowledge them or let them in, because they missed their chance to join him the first time.
What does this mean? This is representative of the way some in the church will react when they find out their lamps really weren’t burning. They’ll try to get into heaven by the help of their friends. These are members that think if they go through the motions, be good people, come to church, take communion, and do some service work and they’ll somehow go to heaven. They figure if they look like Christians, God will accept them as Christians.
They put on the Christian mask, and try and borrow some oil from the rest of the church people. These are the kind of people that come to church, but never get into a worship service. These are people who think they are serving God when in fact they are serving for their own pride, or they are serving for something which isn’t part of God’s plan.
They go through the motions, and don’t ever really feel like they’re getting anything out of it. The Word of God seems boring to them. They never feel a sorrow over their sins. They never rejoice in the fact that their sins are forgiven. Their flames aren’t really burning. If their friends didn’t come and relatives didn’t come, then they wouldn’t either.
On Judgment Day, they won’t be able to get into the kingdom by the shirttails of their relatives. God judges each person individually. The wife who went to church just to appease her husband, or the husband who comes to appease their wife, will be left out in the outer darkness. The children who went to church just because their parents made them will have the door of heaven slammed in their faith. The parents who came to church just so their children could come to church will be left out in the heat of hell. The faith of your parents or your spouse will do you absolutely no good on Judgment Day.
But there’s good news from this parable. 5 of the bridesmaids were wise. They brought extra oil. They woke up, lit their lamps, and kept them burning. They stayed in the faith. And the bridegroom brought them into the wedding feast. They didn’t have to break down the door. They didn’t have to pay the groom to let them in. The groom just let them in for free. They were there for the procession, so the groom let them in.
Jesus, the groom, went through much for this banquet. He had to use His own blood to open this wedding hall to all. The groom had to put himself up on a cross, be put to death, buried, and rise from the dead, just so we could live in happiness forever. That’s quite a bit of work just to prepare for a wedding feast. But this is an eternal wedding feast, so it cost much more than a few hundred bucks. When Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the dead, He bought you the ticket to heaven. He gave this ticket to you by the Gospel promise.
If you are a person who feels crushed when God’s law strikes your heart, and who feels happy when you are told you are forgiven, then you are holding that ticket to heaven right now AND if you are growing in relationship daily with Jesus. You are in that procession. As long as you are sorry for your sins, and believe in Jesus as your Savior, your lamp is lit. Jesus promises you that you don’t have to try and bust your way into the wedding feast. You don’t have to knock. You don’t have to plead. He is offering you a free ticket to the feast.
Think about all the work that God has done to make sure that you could come to the Wedding Feast. He’s paid for your ticket so that you can go to heaven free of charge. He used His own blood to pay for it. He’s given you a lifetime supply of oil in the Word of God. He’s given you the lamp of faith. He’s made all the preparations. He wants to see you there. Don’t disappoint Him. Don’t let all His work go to waste. Keep your lamps alive. Keep your fire of faith in Jesus burning, so that you’ll be a Triumphant Saint when the Bridegroom comes. Amen.