Matthew 25:1-13 STAY AWAKE! Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 31st, 2015. To listen to the audio, click on this link – Matt.25a.
If you read through the Gospels, you eventually come to passages like Matthew 24-25, that talk about God’s judgment and the “Day of the Lord.” These can be frightening passages and, I think, for many of us, there is a tendency to avoid or skip over these types of passages–not to look at them, while in the back of our minds we nurture a vague dread. However, we want to care about what is true and not just comfortable. We are not well served by vague dread. It is better that we should take such passages head on and look directly at what Jesus says, so that we can live wisely.
This morning I want to take a look at the parable of the ten bridesmaids. But before we do, I want give you some background.
Context: The Message of Matthew 24: Jesus’ disciples were noticing and pointing out the beauty of the Temple at Jerusalem, when Jesus responded by saying that the buildings would be completely destroyed. This pronouncement seems to have taken the Disciples by surprise, so they asked Jesus when he would return and what the sign of his return would be–probably expecting to hear about how all the bad people (the Romans, Pagans) would be judged, and about how they would enter into a time of great joy and reward. Their expectations made Jesus’ response all the more shocking. In short Jesus warned them that his followers would face times of hardship, deception and evil…
Don’t Be Deceived…
- Expect false prophets and Messiahs.
- Expect suffering and hardship and persecution.
- Expect many people to be deceived, for their love to grow cold, for them to be led into sin and betray you.
- Expect evildoing to increase.
- Expect wars and famines and earthquakes
- Expect the Gospel to spread and be preached all over the world.
- Expect the Son of Man to return at an hour you do not expect.
This was not the kind of thing Jesus’s disciples were looking for or expecting to hear. However, Jesus then followed up these warnings with several parables that were intended to describe how the disciples, and we who are his followers, should stay awake, not be deceived and be ready for his coming.
Stay Awake! (Remain Responsive to the Spirit).
Keep the Fire Burning: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”
When I read this parable, I am aware of a certain amount of anxiety which, I feel like, is intended in a parable calling me to “Stay Awake!” My anxiety is over the question of what it means to have or bring oil. The whole point of the oil is that it was going to be required to keep the fire lit. And this image of a lamp, or torch, should draw our minds to Jesus statement to his disciples that, “You are the light of the world.” So the question, then, is what makes us the light of the world? Or to use the parlance of the parable–What is the oil?
Not merely our good works. Although we are told that our godly character and good works–while not to be practiced for the praise of other people–should be evident. But, rather, the scriptures, often refer to oil as a symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit at work within us–God’s internal, motivating, convicting, encouraging presence.
The oil of the parable is the Spirit moving, convicting, compelling, instructing, guiding us–that inner life which is from God, given to us through faith in Jesus Christ–which moves us to act, think, speak in ways that honor God and bless people–which moves us to love worship, to experience God’s presence–that moves our hearts to love what is good and to hate or shy away from what is evil–to say “No!” to temptation and yes to God.
No Automatic Faith: “Afterwards the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
So Jesus sets up this parable for his followers, telling them that, as they wait for his delayed coming, there will be those people who have oil (that is, the Spirit of God at work in them, moving them with a vital influence), and there will be those with lamps but no oil. Who are the foolish bridesmaids?
It seems clear that, in this parable, the lamps are the profession of faith, or of belonging to Christ. One of the things that Jesus is clearly saying to the disciples is that there is a difference between what is merely professed and living faith. Jesus says to them, in effect, Many people will profess faith, but many of those who profess will not have a living faith.
This is bound to make some people uncomfortable. It seems like we are always looking for security–a way to make faith safe and automatic. Jesus saw clearly that profession would be one of those ways–something that people would do to feel safe.
This parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, is not the only place Jesus addressed this issue. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord, but refuse to do what I say?” Or in another place, “Many will come on that day and say to me, ‘Lord, did we not prophecy in your name…, but I will say to them, ‘Away from me you followers of your own ways. I never knew you.”
Choosing to Be Wise or Foolish Bridesmaids: The foolish bridesmaids are those who profess faith, who plan to be part of the bridal party. They have lamps (professions of faith), but they have brought no oil. To me, that signifies something of a choice.
Jesus is not saying that God gives his Spirit to some of us and withholds it from others. Rather, the New Testament tells us repeatedly to, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the deeds of the flesh.” Paul spends time spelling out exactly what this means in Romans 8. Yet, even if we had never read Romans 8, we are all aware, on some level, of the continual choice to respond to God’s Spirit. We can listen to the convicting voice of the Spirit, or ignore him. We can hear the call of the Spirit, or ignore it. We can receive encouragement from the Spirit, or choose to remain despondent and disbelieving. We can be moved by the conviction to love others, or hate them and shut the voice of the Spirit out.
Paul tells us to “Keep in step with the Spirit.” I find that the Spirit is present, but my flesh is weak. I am capable of ignoring the Spirit’s conviction to go talk to someone–His call to pray rather than to rush off and look busy–His conviction to turn from bitterness or resentment and to forgive–and so are you. We are capable of choosing, and this, I think, is what Jesus is saying about being wise or foolish bridesmaids. We can bring the oil (respond to God’s presence at work in us), or we can ignore the oil and leave it behind–choosing to listen to our own way.
Stay Awake! (The Darkness is Growing).
The Image of Midnight: “Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’”
The other major image, as the bridesmaids wait for the bridegroom, is darkness. As the afternoon progresses to evening, the bridesmaids fall asleep. When they wake up, hearing the call that the bridegroom has come, it is midnight. The bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, when it is darkest.
What is Jesus saying? The disciples were shocked at Jesus’ words in regard to his coming. They expected light and joy, but Jesus clearly says to them that before there can be light and joy, there will be suffering, trial, deception, temptation and sorrow.
These things, Jesus tells us, will separate those who merely profess faith from those who truly live. In the end, those who are responsive to God’s Spirit will have enough light (oil) to walk in the way that leads to the Bridegroom’s house. Those who walk in the light (who confess their own sin and live in the freedom of grace and God’s favor, being cleansed and forgiven of sin) will have light. Those with no oil, who walk in the darkness (“those who claim to be without sin” – who do not live in the continual, cleansing grace of Jesus – 1Jn.1:5-10), are those who end up outside, to whom the Bridegroom replies, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
Warning and Comfort: This parable is certainly a warning against empty profession of faith. However, we truly misunderstand it unless we see, in the final analysis, that Jesus tells this parable because his motive is not to give a cold threat, but to rescue us from blind, cold-heartedness. Christ, who has given his life for us, longs for us to be his bride and to come into the great, eternal celebration.