24th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 27) LSB #’s 331, 525, 554
Text – Matthew 25:1
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps & went to meet the bridegroom.
IS JESUS REALLY YOUR KING?
A Sunday school teacher was attempting to explain a word that theologians throw around even in lessons with small children. It’s the word omnipotent. The teacher defined it as ‘all-powerful,’ & continued by saying, “It means that God can do anything.” As usual, little Johnny immediately responded, “I know something that God can’t do!”
Wanting to continue without embarrassing the child, the teacher said, “Now think really hard about this, & remember God can do absolutely anything.” But Johnny insisted, “No, I mean it.” “Well then, what is it?” the exasperated teacher asked. Johnny said, “Even God can’t please everyone.”
Yes, God cannot please unbelievers because they reject Him as their Lord & Savior. Sin has twisted our hearts & minds as well such that even God cannot please you or me all the time. As followers of Jesus, our sinful nature still rebels against, not only the will of God, but against the very goodness of the great I Am.
So I ask, in all seriousness, “Is Jesus really your King?” When the sermon title first appeared on the wall, did you say to yourself, “Well, yeah!”? In that case, the follow up question is, “Why is Jesus your King? How did He end up that way? Was there a moment in time when you claimed Jesus as your king?”
If it’s up to you, to claim Jesus as your king, what happens if you are struggling with doubt when you die? If it’s up to you to make Jesus your Lord, what happens if you slack off; what happens if you get preoccupied with all the things to do in your life? I’ve prayed with people who were in a coma before they died. Did they still know that Jesus is their king? What if you end up with dementia & can’t remember your own name, let alone who is your king? How would these words from the Gospel reading apply to you?
“And while they were going to buy [oil], the bridegroom came, & those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, & the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:10-13 ESV)
I think all of us have at least seen a new puppy in action. They have a great desire to please their master & to obey her word. Once taught to lie down they may do so on command, but a new puppy can only do it for a moment. Then, it’s back on its feet running & jumping around. They are easily distracted. They forget what they’re supposed to be concentrating on.
Even Christians who love Jesus are like that puppy. No matter how much you or I want to please our Savior, we easily get distracted. No matter how much we love Jesus for rescuing us from the bitterness of this world’s lack of forgiveness, our attention span lasts only so long. Then, we’re off to find new challenges or to chase down the blessings we value of this world.
And our heavenly Father does certainly bless us in this life, but no matter how much we love those earthly blessings every single one of them will come to an end. When that happens, what will you be focused upon? What will be drawing your attention? As you consider that, listen to this Word of God from the book of Job:
“Now there was a day when his sons & daughters were eating & drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, & there came a messenger to Job & said, ‘The oxen were plowing & the donkeys feeding beside them, & the Sabeans fell upon them & took them & struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, & I alone have escaped to tell you.’” (Job 1:13-15 ESV) Three additional messengers arrived with similar results for Job’s sheep, camels & children – all of those blessings were now taken away from him. How did Job respond? He worshipped God & said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, & naked shall I return. The Lord gave, & the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 ESV)
As Lutherans, when we hear this parable, we tend to think of ourselves as the wise virgins. After all, we have been baptized, therefore Jesus is our king. So, it’s easy to become complacent & distracted by all the blessings Jesus has given to us. Without the slightest comprehension, we gradually allow those blessings to take the place of the King.
The ten virgins represent the visible church, those who claim to follow Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel often features the theme that among the visible company of Jesus’ disciples, not all will be found to be true followers when the Master returns. Judas becomes the epitome of that falling away as he hangs himself when he realizes the horror of his betrayal of God’s Son.
The five foolish virgins represent those who claim to follow Jesus, but when push comes to shove, they aren’t truly focused on Jesus. The bridegroom is late in arriving & they’re tired, so they fall asleep without making sure they are prepared for His return. There are many people today claiming to be Christians who are likewise not ready for Judgment Day.
It is certainly uncomfortable, yet Jesus tells this parable in order to confront you & me with that very real possibility. He does so because He does not want us to discover, on the Last Day, that we are lost. Then it will be too late.
So, at the end of Jesus’ ministry, His parables turn dark. His death is approaching & there’s a clear division between those who are disciples & those who are not, between those who are wise & those who are not, between those who are plotting His death & those who are not. Whereas earlier parables have proclaimed the gracious favor of God, these parables proclaim God’s judgment. They are the last effort of Jesus to call people to repentance & to prepare them for the reign of God’s Kingdom. When chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel comes to an end, the public teaching of Jesus will, in a very real sense, be over. This parable can be frightening because Jesus is no longer seeking the lost. He’s now shutting the door on them.
The reign of heaven can easily be missed in the brokenness of this life & many people are missing God’s reign today! The five foolish virgins fell comfortably asleep because they were not truly concerned about the arrival of the bridegroom. They’d seen this sort of delay many times & there were no real consequences before.
However, there will come a time when you celebrate your last Thanksgiving, your last Christmas, your last birthday, & it’s likely that you will not be aware that it is your last celebration of them here on earth. The sermon last Sunday was titled, “The King is Coming!” It leads nicely into the question for this morning, “Is Jesus Really Your King?”
It’s a troubling question, that springs from a troubling parable that has a lot to fear. The bridegroom comes unexpectedly, after all the bridesmaids have fallen asleep. The foolish ones find themselves without oil & their fellow bridesmaids will not share. They find that even buying oil from the dealer is not sufficient. Coming to the door, they say:
“Lord, lord, open to us.” But the bridegroom replies, “I do not know you.” (25:12) Such a stark elimination from the Kingdom of heaven is terrifying. Today, as the Christian church in many places is rejecting the clear teaching of Jesus, you & I should stand in holy fear & plead for God to save us from apostasy, for only He can preserve our faith in Him.
And because we can only be saved by the direct action of Jesus, should the primary focus of our lives be on Jesus? The answer should be obvious, & that is the main point of this text. Jesus tells this frightening parable not to scare us, but to wake us up to the dangers of life in this world. Hell is real & it is well on its way, but you need not be afraid because the Bridegroom is also on His way. We simply need to be ready. Jesus is our King, not by our actions, not by our watching, not by our decision, but through the waters of Holy Baptism that are connected to the all-powerful, life creating Word of the heavenly Bridegroom.
Yet Satan is at work too. He’s capable of deceiving our sinful hearts & minds. So one of the most troubling aspects of the parable is also key to understanding the grace of God. We hear these words in verses 8 & 9:
“And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us & for you, go rather to the dealers & buy for yourselves.’” To our sinful mind, the wise virgins sound heartless & cruel. In that Satan is deceiving us even through the very words of Jesus.
However, the saintly nature will recognize, in the words of the wise virgins, a whole-hearted dedication to the Bridegroom. Unlike a new puppy, they know to concentrate on Jesus. As He said earlier in Matthew’s gospel, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 ESV)
The Bridegroom, Jesus, should be the overarching focus of every aspect of our lives. If our understanding of the parable is preoccupied with the foolish bridesmaids, we’re left to fearfully wonder whether or not we have enough oil. Rather, the wise virgins help us to focus on the Bridegroom who is the focal point of the parable. Jesus is our King. Concentrate on Him!
The central function of the parable is that you be prepared for Christ’s return. Do not listen to the world & it’s siren song. Listen to Jesus. As He says, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour!” (25:13 ESV) Jesus speaks these words to His disciples, encouraging them to be prepared, to await His 2nd coming with longing rather than dread. Instead of asking what bridesmaid we are, Jesus invites us to see what a bridegroom He is. His love never grows weary. His promise will always hold true. He loves us & is coming to meet us. Jesus is coming with unquenchable love. The Bridegroom has been delayed, but He has not forgotten His bride.
The Bridegroom has a steadfast love, & He will come with joy to gather His people into an eternal celebration in His Kingdom where there will be no more waiting. As discipleship makes you feel weary, lift your eyes to Jesus. He took the initiative to call you by name & to welcome you into His kingdom through the waters of Baptism & the power of His Word.
That’s how you can be certain that Jesus is your King. He never rescinds His call to you. Though following Jesus is a tiring task in this sinful world, God never backs out of the covenant He made with you when He called you to be His child. The blessings He gives in this life are but a foretaste of the blessings to come. Moth & rust will never destroy them in heaven.
As saint & sinner, with our sinful nature being the stronger, the challenge of this parable is to wait for Christ with joy, rather than with fear. Yes, each of us will on many occasions become preoccupied with all the things to do in this life. Out of love, Jesus will provide opportunities for us to turn back to Him. For that we can & we should rejoice.
If the day comes when you can’t remember your own name, Jesus will never forget you. When the days come, that you lose some of the blessings of this life, focus on the Bridegroom Jesus. He will never lose you. Amen.
Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed o’er the grave & rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save. His glories now we sing, Who died & rose on high, Who died eternal life to bring & lives that death may die. Crown Him the Lord of heaven, enthroned in worlds above, crown Him the king to whom is given the wondrous name of Love. Crown Him with many crowns as thrones before Him fall; crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is king of all. Amen. LSB 525:4-5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet