Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
November 9, 2014, Pentecost XXII
Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13
From the Book of Exodus:
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!
Ever since Jesus Christ told His followers that He would return, there have been predictions as to when that would be; Even though, Christ Himself said “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
A well known Christian wrote, “The last days are upon us. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible.” That was not written by a modern prophecy expert. It was written by a man named Ignatius about 110 A.D., just a couple of decades after the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.
Another Christian wrote, There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.” That was written by an influential Christian named Martin about 375 A.D.
The years surrounding the year 1000 were filled with predictions about the imminent return of Christ – to the point where Christians didn’t plant crops for the next year, buildings weren’t repaired and the details of daily life were ignored.
In the 1500’s, Martin Luther wrote, “We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world will not last any longer…than another hundred years.”
A little known fact of the life of Christopher Columbus is that he was a student of biblical prophecy. He wrote a volume called “The Book of Prophecies,” in which he predicted that the world would end in the year 1656. He even wrote, “There is no doubt that the world must end in one hundred fifty-five years.”
In the1800’s a man named William Miller predicted the return of Christ. He laid down the date of somewhere between March 1842 and March 1843. The hopes of the Millerites were dashed when it didn’t happen. Their hopes were down but not out. In New Hampshire, in 1844, one of the brothers stood up and declared His return would be in the seventh month of the current Jewish year. More fervently than ever, the Millerites set out to warn the world. They pronounced that October 22nd that the world would end. In ten weeks, the great day was at hand. In a Philadelphia store window his sign appeared, “This shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings who will appear about the 20th of October. Get ready friends, to crown Him Lord of all.” A group of about 200 left the city. They waited – the days passed – and nothing happened. Five years later, another date was set, and another date passed.
These predictions continue to this day. With all the evil in this world, it’s not hard to think that maybe the end is near. This was the very thing Jesus was trying to prevent, and yet Christians persist in trying to predict His return. In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus gave us another parable to help us to understand His return.
A wedding in that day had two parts. First, the bridegroom and his friends would go from his house to claim the bride from her parents. Then the bride and groom would return to the groom’s house for the marriage feast. The suggestion here is that the groom has already claimed his bride and is now on his way back home. However, we must not press the image of the church as a bride too far, because much of this truth was not revealed until the ministry of Paul (Eph. 5:22ff).
Notice that in this story, it is the groom who is the center of attention. That was the way it was in Jesus’ day. Times have certainly changed. Now it’s the bride who is the center of attention. Everyone waits for her arrival. Everyone stands when she enters the room. Everyone stares at her beautiful dress. The groom is just the guy sweating next to the preacher – the one lucky enough to have won the heart of the beautiful bride. But in Jesus’ day, it was the groom for whom everyone waited with bated breath. Part of the wedding celebration was a feast that followed the actual wedding ceremony. That is what Jesus speaks of here. It was traditional for the bridesmaids to wait at a home together for the bridegroom to negotiate with the bride’s family about a gift to give them in return for their daughter.
Often, the negotiations would be delayed by the bride’s parents as a way of communicating that they thought their daughter was worth much more than the groom had gestured by his initial gift. That would cause a delay in the wedding feast. In Jesus’ story, the bridesmaids are waiting through just such a delay. In such a delay, they were to be ready at any moment for him to arrive and escort them to the feast. Five of them, however, were not ready. They had time to get the extra oil they needed, but they did not feel the sense of urgency to do it right away. Their procrastination caused embarrassment when the groom came and they had to run to the store for more oil. The problem was that when they returned and sought entrance to the feast, they were considered no different than other uninvited seekers. The feast had begun and the doors were locked. It was too late. And Jesus says His return will be like that.
Be prepared – the bottom line of this story – whether the oil represents your faith, the Holy Spirit, Christian character – it doesn’t really matter. Why? Because each feeds the other. It could be any or all three that Jesus had in mind – the message of James. The main message is to be ready, prepared, all the time!
We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, “For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, ‘there is peace and security,’ then suddenly destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”
Many years ago, I used to watch the TV show MASH, which first aired on September 17th, 1972 and ended on February 28th, 1968. I remember one episode where Hawkeye is called out to the front lines due to a shortage of doctors there. When he arrives, there are bombs and bullets flying all around. He suddenly realizes that his own life is in danger. So in the few spare moments he has there, he takes time to write out his last will and testament. Eventually, another doctor arrives at the front and Hawkeye is able to return to the 4077 MASH. He arrives late in the evening, enters the office, sits down at the desk and works on the conclusion of his will. Klinger comes in and sees him and asks what he’s doing. Hawkeye tells him and Klinger responds by saying, “no paperwork is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow.” Hawkeye looks at him thoughtfully and says, “I used to think that way too, but not anymore.” It was not until Hawkeye had experienced his close encounter with death on the front lines that he had come to realize the great importance of being prepared for death and living each day to the fullest; that you never know when the end is coming.
The church has known for 2,000 years that Jesus is coming again, and yet many believers have become lethargic and drowsy. Some people may have given up waiting. They are no longer excited about the soon-coming of the Lord. As a result, there is little effective witness given that the Lord is returning.
Like many of the parables Jesus told, He emphasized gracious invitations, offers of mercy, and that’s the way this story starts, but then there are those words – “and the door was shut.” That’s so final. And Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like this story.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd – He wants to find every last sheep. But there is an end to the window of opportunity, and it comes at death or the second coming, whichever comes first for you.
This story is not somehow a contradiction to grace. This story does not teach that you are saved by good works – as if that were the oil in the lamps. But if you receive the grace of God by faith, you will be changed, transformed, continually, over time. That’s what happens when you receive Christ by faith. The Holy Spirit does a number on you…unless you resist, unless you didn’t really have faith to begin with…unless you think you have a plenty of time to come to Christ. So are you prepared?
So how do I keep plenty of oil in my lamp?
If you have never placed your faith in Jesus, that’s where you have to start. When you become a Christian, you receive the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives you a new nature. You begin to draw from that never-ending well to change your life from the inside out.
If you have already placed your faith in Jesus as Savior and Boss of your life, then you daily seek to freshen and deepen that relationship through prayer, study of God’s Word, fellowship with other Christians and by cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He guides you.
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, how would you live differently? Would you spend time with your family? Would get drunk and carouse all night? Would throw a party for yourself and invite your family and friends? Or would you confess your sins? Would you decide to accept God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus? Would you talk to God more in prayer? You know the expression, “Don’t put off to tomorrow, what you can do today.” Well, what if today is your last day!
Just as the bridesmaids eagerly awaited the bridegroom, we should be prepared and eagerly await the return of Christ. We read in Revelation 16:15, “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!”
The Christian doctrine of resurrection assures us that death is not the end. The grave is not the end. The body goes to sleep, but the soul goes to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:20-24). When the Lord returns, He will bring the soul with Him, will raise the body in glory, and share His glory forever.
Ask yourself this question: Do you anticipate His return or are you distracted by other things of this world? Perhaps you feel that, “well, I don’t know when it’s going to be, so I’m not going to concern myself.” Jesus ended this parable with the warning He had uttered before: “Watch” (Matt. 24:42; 25:13). This does not mean standing on a mountaintop gazing at the heavens “to stay awake and be alert!” (Matt. 26:38-41). It means to always be ready – to be prepared; it means to walk in His way; to be lead by His Holy Spirit.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Behold, I shall make all things new” (Rev. 21:3-5).
If we really believed and trusted Jesus to prepare a place for us that beats anything here on earth, then we should be prepared for His return.
Let us pray:
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God, and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.