First in a series, “Irony in the Endtimes”
Matthew 25:1–13 // Amos 5 // 1 Thessalonians 4
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, especially the final words of Jesus, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today we consider the parable of the wise virgins and foolish virgins. What does it mean that the wise virgins were wise and how is it different from being foolish? What is wisdom? What is foolishness?
Wisdom is not only having knowledge. Wisdom is applying the right knowledge to the situation. Applying the right knowledge to the situation.
Even the foolish man knows that you need to put on shoes and socks. But the wise man puts his socks on before he puts on his shoes.
A wise mechanic knows which tool to use and when to use it. When to put on neverseize and when to put on threadlock. When to apply force to the rusty part and when to be gentle.
A wise leader is one who looks at the strengths and weakness of his people and places their strengths where his organization has need.
A wise pastor knows when to speak a word of warning and when to speak a word of comfort. When to challenge with a word of Law and when to console with a word of Gospel.
Wisdom is not only having knowledge. It is about applying the right knowledge to the situation. It’s about seeing how things fit together.
That’s why, in Proverbs, in the book of Wisdom, it says, “The fear of the lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” It’s saying, when you keep the broad perspective. When you remember how all the earth and all of humanity and all the universe fits underneath God almighty, When you acknowledge that the Lord is God and all belongs to him. When you fear the lord, it is the beginning of acting rightly. You are beginning to fit things together. You are beginning to get wise.
With that distinction, between wise and foolish, we go to our text. What you need to know about the wedding process in Jewish culture is that the legally binding agreement happened in the betrothal, a time like our engagement period. From the point of the betrothal, the bridegroom and bride separated and the bridegroom would begin constructing a room in his family's house, a room for the bride and the bridegroom to call their own. This construction project could take a month; it could take a year. But after he was done, he would take his friends and go over to the bride's house, and then they would have the wedding feast, a feast that would take a week or more.
The parable speaks of those who are waiting for an indeterminate amount of time, those waiting with the bride, the wise virgins and foolish virgins whose actions are much the same. Both are waiting for the bridegroom. Both have lamps that are snuffed out. Both fall asleep. Both are interested in getting more oil for their lamps. But the wise virgins are those who have acted appropriately. They have prioritized the oil in their lamp, they have done the first things first, and when the hour came, they were ready.
To be wise for us means being ready in the things that matter. Be ready. The foundation of your faith gets set when you are young, and throughout your life it is built upon. The basic beliefs of the Christian are learned in peaceful times, so that we can recall them in the trying times of our life. We keep the oil in our lamps because we never know when the world might go dark.
Consider the church of the medieval period. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, with the barbarians invading their borders, it easily felt like their country was falling apart, because it was. They were about to enter into a five hundred and more year period where their civilization’s achievements would not surpass their ancestors. It would’ve felt in some ways like the world was getting darker.
Stanley Hauerwas writes it like this: “The foolish bridesmaids failed to understand that [...] when you are unsure of the time you are in, it is all the more important to do what you have been taught to do. In the dark [especially in the dark] you must keep the lamps ready even if they are not able to overcome the darkness.”
Let me say that last part again. “In the dark, you must keep the lamps ready, even if they are not able to overcome the darkness.”
The foolish virgins were foolish because they did not hope in the greater story that the bridegroom was indeed coming and act upon that hope. They may have believed it with their words, but they certainly didn’t with their actions. The foolish virgins were foolish because they set their eyes on things below rather than the things that were to come.
We too, can be foolish. We can be foolish when we let darkness and despair wash over us when the nights get long. We too can be foolish, when we long for renewal and relief in this world without bringing to mind how Christ has won for us eternal life and everlasting forgiveness.
When you curse those who curse you, you are being foolish.
When you do not hunger or thirst for righteousness, you are being foolish.
When you are inhospitable to the stranger among you, you are being foolish.
When you cannot cry with the sorrowful or laugh with the rejoicing, you are being foolish.
When your success points you to something else than Christ... when your suffering doesn’t cause you to cling a little closer to Christ, there and then wisdom needs to replace foolishness.
On the other hand, when you find yourself first thanking God in prayer for every good thing, you are becoming wise.
When you find yourself first crying out to God in every trial and tragedy, you are becoming wise.
When you find yourself longing to gather around God’s Word and study it deeply, you are becoming wise.
When you find yourself longing to come to the Lord’s Supper and eat and drink his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, you are becoming wise.
To be wise is to be like the wise virgins. To be wise is to be watchful. Watchful to bring extra oil. Watchful because you know neither the day nor the hour when Christ will come back, but still you know that he will come at the perfect time. Watchful, because you are watching for the ways that God works, even in this sin-filled world, not letting the cynicism of this world taint the hope that remains pure in Jesus Christ. Watchful because it is through your hands and your feet, through your life and through the life of the church (and remember, the church is the body of Christ), it is through you that the kingdom of God comes.
Watchful because we know in the body and blood of Christ, the foretaste of a really, really good wedding feast, one that will have no ending, one that will be worth the wait, and we long for it in faith toward God, and we long for it in fervent love toward our neighbor. We long for the best feast ever, one where the bridegroom who laid down his life for his bride will return to make all things in the world right.
Today, and for the next three weeks, we are looking at Jesus’s teachings on the end times. There’s a lot that’s scary in it. There’s a lot that’s flashy in it. But the thing that matters most comes at the very end.
Christ who was dead has been raised from the dead. Even now he lives and reigns. And there will be a day when he comes back to make all things right.
Amen and amen.
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