One day Satan and his demons gathered for a strategy meeting. One by one his demonic chiefs presented their ideas on how to dissuade humans from following Jesus. The first suggested, “Let’s tell them that there is no heaven, no reward beyond their mortal lives.” Satan thought and said, “Good, good, I like that.” The second hellish general stepped forward and said, “Let’s tell them that there is no hell, no consequence for sin.” Again Satan nodded, “I like it, that has potential.” And then the third spoke up, “Yes, we could tell them that there is no heaven and no hell, but wouldn’t it be better to convince them that there is no hurry?” “Yes,” Satan shouted, “that’s it! Tell them to put off their good intentions, because they’ll always have more time.”
If there is any message that permeates the length of the NT it is urgency:
· Jesus began his ministry by preaching “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
· Acts 17:30 – “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”
· 2 Cor. 6:2 – Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
· Eph. 5:15-16 – Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
· Heb. 3:13 – Encourage one another daily as long as it is called today.
· Rev. 22:7,12,20 – “Behold, I am coming soon!”
To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I felt urgent. I don’t remember the last time I saw anyone act urgently. I’m not sure we believe it.
We put the car on cruise control, we put our lives on autopilot. We convince ourselves we will live forever – or at least act as though there will always be tomorrow. We don’t act as if we think Jesus is coming soon … if ever. There is no expectancy in our eyes, in our hearts, in our words.
We don’t live with a sense of urgency, of imminence.
Not the kind of urgency that keeps one eye on the sky – but the kind that keeps us expectant and hopeful, that keeps our lives prepared and in readiness. More than that – that urges others to join us. We are lulled into boredom – like the proverbial frog in the kettle. We sing “Jesus is coming soon” while we yawn. I’ve seen people get more excited about a tractor pull.
There is a sense of urgency in the world.
On April 15, if you haven’t done your taxes, there is a real urgency about getting them finished and sent in.
When the doctor calls and says he found something abnormal on a test and would you come in next Friday, I guarantee that there is a sudden urgency for Friday to come.
I wonder if any of those people in those twin towers on September 11 were thinking about mortgage payments and mowing the lawn. No, there was an urgency about things of life and death.
A moment of crisis is worth a thousand sermons.
The urgency of the world is born in crisis and feeds on panic. Worldly urgency says, live as you want as long as you can and when the crisis comes, cry out to a God you do not know. And the results? Suffer the consequences of waiting too long.
The urgency to which Jesus calls us is fundamentally different. The urgency of Jesus has nothing to do with crisis and panic. It isn’t based on having waited too long and come up too short. The urgency of Jesus is born out of a sense of the very real presence of God, and of living each day in readiness. That doesn’t mean we are any more certain of what’s going to happen than the man of the world, but sure beyond a doubt of who is in control and what’s most important. Results: Experience inner peace and confidence.
At least twelve of Jesus parables deal with this call to urgency about being prepared for God’s kingdom. In Matthew 24-25, Jesus tells parable after parable about urgency heading toward the judgment scene at the end of chapter 25.
24:1-31 – Crisis times are coming
24:32-35 – Parable of the fig tree
24:36-42 – No one knows the day or hour of the coming of the Son of Man
24:43-44 – Parable of the thief in the night
24:45-51 – Parable of faithful and wicked servants
25:1-13 – Parable of ten virgins or bridesmaids
25:14-20 – Parable of the talents, about three servants who were entrusted with their master’s money
In the middle of these two chapters is the parable of the ten bridesmaids.
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 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 bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Mt 25:1-13)
It is a parable that captivates our attention because it is so foreign to us. I’ve never been to a wedding like this – no definite time, appointments are obscure – my sense of fairness is violated. And yet, somehow, this parable tells us something about the kingdom of God that is of enormous importance.
This dynamic message of urgency is cloaked in the common – a wedding. It comes wrapped in years of middle eastern traditions. In fact, so strong are those traditions that modern Jewish weddings retain much of the same ceremonial details even today.
The perspective from which the story is told is interesting. At the center of the story is not the bride or the bridegroom, but the ten bridal attendants, the bridesmaids. They are the bride’s constant companions in the days preceding the wedding. And remember, Jewish weddings lasted several days, not just a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. We learn that an essential part of their supplies are the torches which provide, not only light, but ceremonial splendor.
When all of the arrangements for the wedding have been made, the bridegroom would come for his bride. It always began in the evening, but apparently, there was a certain amount of spontaneity to the arrival. At any hour of the night, on whatever day he chose, when the arrangements were ready, he would come.
The bridegroom would come from the house of his parents with his entourage of attendants – going through the streets in procession – a herald goes ahead of the party shouting, “Behold! The bridegroom comes!”
Now, there were certain rules and requirements of the wedding party. And one of those was that each of the bridesmaids must carry a torch, or a lamp to light the procession back to the groom’s house where the ceremony would take place. Without a lamp, she would be considered a party crasher.
The point of all this detail comes in the preparations the bridesmaids have made. Jesus characterizes them as wise and foolish. The wise ones are those who have made the preparations required to have enough oil to keep their lamps lit and ready for the procession. The foolish are those who have carelessly or thoughtlessly wasted their oil and not procured an adequate supply of oil for the night.
It’s not just a matter of a simple mistake. We listen to the story and feel pity for these girls who didn’t seem to do anything wrong except make a mistake in timing.
But in this story, there was one thing that was most important – and they had neglected it.
The bridegroom comes – off in the distance, the bridal party hears the music and the herald shouting in the middle of the night. (The point is not staying awake, but being prepared.)
They all realize their torches have gone out. The five foolish bridesmaids in a panic realize they have used all their oil. They beg the other five to let them borrow some oil, but that would leave those five without enough to complete the ceremony. And so the first five rush off to find a merchant in the middle of the night who will sell them oil. Apparently, having found oil, they rush through the streets and arrive at the wedding, but the door has been shut – they are too late – and entrance is denied.
And of course, Jesus’ real lesson here isn’t about wedding etiquette, but spiritual preparation. When the Son of Man comes, there will be some who are ready for his arrival and will find a warm welcome into the kingdom, and some who are unprepared and find themselves denied entrance.
Let’s look at three lessons that come out of this parable:
1) You cannot neglect preparation and be ready at his coming.
When the shout comes, the trumpet blows – it’s all over.
Jesus will tell another parable about a thief in the night. What if you knew he was coming – what preparations would you make? What if you were the servant whose master had left you in charge of his household? Would you wait until you heard the car pulling in the driveway before you started to get the house in order?
The preparations we need to make are like the ones a teacher expects her students to make before the final exam – not last minute cramming to pass a test, but consistent study over the semester to internalize the material and be ready for the test.
What does it mean to “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour?” There have been hundreds of people through the years that believed this meant speculating and calculating the exact day Jesus would come and then selling everything, sitting on their rooftops and waiting for the end. Entire religious movements were built on this misunderstanding of scripture.
Even Paul encountered this problem in writing to the Thessalonian church. The Thessalonian Christians had read Paul’s letter in which he told them that Jesus was coming soon and some assumed that meant immediately. They quit their jobs, sold their houses and possessions and waited on the coming of the Lord. In the meantime, they began to mooch off of their brothers and sisters, without making any kind of effort to provide for themselves. Paul writes to them in his second Thessalonian letter, “If a man will not work, let him not eat.”
Don’t disconnect from your life in this world, and go around with your eyes on the sky – this call to readiness isn’t a call to abandon your responsibilities in this life. It isn’t an excuse for irresponsible living. It means you make the kind of initial and continual preparations that keep you in a state of readiness – and allow you to live each day with confidence. Too many people live how they want for as long as they can, thinking there will be plenty of time to get their lives in order at the end. And Jesus says that is tragically short-sighted, because the thief will come on a day and hour you won’t suspect.
What kind of preparation are you doing? How consistent is your study of God’s word? As much as we give lip service to it – we still don’t do it. As essential as prayer is, what kind of prayer life do you have? More than that – is your heart ready? Do you live with the kind of eagerness and anticipation that Peter wrote about: Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12)
If suddenly the clouds were to role away and the sky open up, would your mind immediately go to celebration that you were going to see your savior, or would you be filled with terror over the things you had intended to do – the things you had promised yourself, “someday…” But now there are no more somedays.
You see, the foolish bridesmaids had let their supply of oil run low – they had just enough for the moment, without any thought for the coming event. It wasn’t that they couldn’t be ready – the other five were – they had neglected to be ready.
2) There are somethings you can’t borrow.
We feel sympathy for those foolish bridesmaids and indignation over the selfishness of the wise ones.
The point, though, is that we cannot make preparations for anyone but ourselves. I can’t be spiritual enough to get my kids into heaven, your aunt Gertrude really doesn’t have enough religion for her whole family. Regardless of the spirituality of the elders or the correctness of the church you go to, you can’t ride anybody’s coattails into heaven. You are responsible for your relationship with God, you are responsible for making the preparations to be ready for the coming of Christ. We are all individually accountable to God.
“Each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12)
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
“Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13)
“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)
God has entrusted a life to us. We make decisions, we choose certain lifestyles, we acknowledge God or we live for ourselves. But we will ultimately stand again before the judgment seat and answer for the choices we have made. What kind of life will we return to him? Scarred, worn and deformed by our constant compromise with the world? Or holy and godly lives, because we have entrusted ourselves to Jesus and lived for him?
3) You cannot recall lost opportunities.
Some of the most tragic words in the Bible are from the prophet Jeremiah who looked out on the Babylonian armies surrounding Jerusalem and realized that God’s people had squandered every opportunity to repent and return to God. “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20)
Just as tragic are the closing words of our parable this morning: “And the door was shut.”
One day, the doors of the kingdom will shut – all of our second chances, all our somedays will have passed.
James says, don’t ever put confidence in tomorrow – you may not have tomorrow. Live each day for Christ.
Christ did not come to teach you a better, more spiritual way of life – to enlighten your understanding of God’s character, to attack the abuses of religion. He did all that. But he came with a call of urgency – a call of radical decision for the kingdom. The kingdom is at hand, the bridegroom is ready to send his herald at any moment. You must prepare – not tomorrow, but today.