Matthew 25:1-13 January 2009
THE UNEXPECTED RETURN
How many of you have had surgery? Even with anaesthetics we still have to go through a certain amount of pain and discomfort if the presenting problem is to be dealt with. In most many cases we have to go through the unpleasantness of pain before we can be healed.
It’s the same with our spiritual life – In Hebrews 4:12 the Bible says that “God’s Word is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, joint and marrow, exposing our innermost thoughts and motives.”
Sometimes God’s word is like a surgeon’s scalpel – it has to cut deep into our hearts to expose the true condition and deal with it before real healing can come.
And as we look at this passage this morning, it may have a similar effect. You may find the teaching of Jesus here uncomfortable, penetrating, revealing and painful – but if ever the teaching of Jesus was unpleasant or+
painful it was always with the purpose that people would acknowledge their true condition, change their attitudes and behaviour, seek God’s forgiveness and move through to healing and restoration.
I am the kind of person who would far rather stand up here and say things that are comforting, pleasant, agreeable and avoid offending or upsetting anyone, but if that is all I did, I would be like a surgeon who was afraid to tell his patients the truth and only what they wanted to hear so that they walked out of the surgery and never received any medical help.
Dr Howard a pastor from Australia was preaching in an American church when one of the leaders approached him. “We don’t want you to talk so blatantly about people’s sins and guilt and corruption. You might upset some people. Call it a mistake if you will, but don’t speak so bluntly about sin.”
Dr Howard took out a bottle and showed it to the leader. “See the label on this bottle. It reads Strychnine and underneath in bold letters ‘poison’. You are asking me to change the label. Should I paste over it the words peppermint essence? Then people would not be offended by it they would use it and die.”
As I have said before, if I am to be a trustworthy servant of Jesus I have to share with you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as he taught it.
In this passage Jesus continues to talk about His return to earth and how His sudden and unexpected return will expose and reveal those who truly belong to Him and those who don’t.
Time and time again in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus talks about those who claim to be His followers, but they are not. It comes out in the parables of the sower, the wheat and the weeds, in Jesus warning at the end of Matthew 7 and here again He speaks about those who claim to be His followers but His return exposes them for what they really are – people who are associate with His followers, attend the programmes, do all the religious external things but they don’t really belong to Jesus at all, because there is no real internal relationship with Jesus. It is just an outward façade.
Let’s look at the parable under the headings of:
The wedding, the bridesmaids, the bridegroom and the warning
In Jesus day a Jewish marriage consisted of three stages, the engagement, the betrothal and the wedding.
The engagement was an official contract made between the 2 fathers. If the 2 fathers agreed to the union they would meet together and come to an official agreement discussing things such as when, where, the dowry and the couple would be officially engaged.
Next came the betrothal. The betrothal was an official ceremony in which the engaged couple would come together before friends and family and make vows and promises to each other. Once they were betrothed they were looked upon as officially married even though the union was not consummated until the final stage. A betrothal was so legally binding that if they broke their betrothal it was considered to be divorce. During the betrothal period the woman remained living with her parents and there was no sexual relations.
Now you can see why Joseph who was betrothed to Mary decided to divorce her when he discovered she was pregnant.
The period between the betrothal and the actual wedding could be as along as a year, if not more. During this time the man would prepare somewhere for both of them to live. In most cases he would build an addition onto his parent’s home and then when it was finished he would return for his bride and take her to be with him in the full state of marriage.
This is the language Jesus used in John 14 when He said, “In my Fathers house are many rooms, I go to prepare a place for you and when I have prepared the place for you I will come back and take you to be with me so that we can be together.” It is the picture of a bridegroom going to prepare a home for His bride and retuning to collect her when the home is ready.
The actual wedding took place when the bridegroom returned. There was no official ceremony because that took place at the betrothal. What happened at the wedding was that the bridegroom would return for his bride and she would accompany him with her bridesmaids and close friends in a procession to their new home and they would enter the home and celebrate. The bride’s maids would carry torches – made of long poles with material soaked in oil wrapped around the end of them. They would also carry little flasks of oil to relight their torches should they go out.
After the celebration the friend of the bridegroom, the best man would take the hand of the groom and bride, join them together and everyone would leave.
These were generally unmarried friends and relatives and in this case there were 10. And they each had a torch to carry in the procession to the couples new home.
Jesus says that 5 of the bridesmaids were foolish and 5 were wise.
5 were not prepared for the bridegroom and 5 were.
5 were part of the wedding party but they did not have what was needed to be included and therefore they missed out. They had no oil for their torches.
They claimed to be part of the wedding party, they even dressed like the others and were with the others but at the end of the day they didn’t really have what was required.
This is what makes this aspect of Jesus teaching uncomfortable and disturbing, because there are many people who claim to be followers of Jesus, who attend church and even are involved in the programmes and organisation of the church, but they don’t have what required to be a true follower of Jesus.
They don’t have a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus. They don’t have genuine faith in Jesus which is demonstrated by obedience to His Word and growing Christ like character and behaviour.
In fact most of these so called Xs are depending on their
Church involvement and their attempts at living a good life to get them to heaven. They do not fully trust in Jesus alone to get them there.
There are many people who call themselves X who go to church and do all the religious stuff but they deliberately, knowingly and continually indulge in selfish, lustful, deceitful, greedy, unloving and uncaring behaviour and practices and have deceived themselves into thinking that they are true followers of Jesus. They are not. By their fruit you will know them.
Ill. During the 42 years I have been a X I have known of church going people who were carrying on adulterous relationships while attending church and in some cases leading churches, others were carrying on deceitful and underhand business practices, others were constantly criticising and bad mouthing people, others were abusive to their wives and children and what struck me most was that there was no shame, remorse or repentance – they had no intention of changing. That is why Jesus said, “Many who carried out Christian ministry in my name will not enter the Kingdom of heaven – because it was all an external show, a cover hiding continual offensive and sinful behaviour.”
A true believer does fail and fall at times, but they feel so stink about it and are genuinely sorry and repentant. A true believer does let God down at God at times but if they are true believers the last thing they ever want to do is offend the Lord who gave His life for them and the underlying desire and tendency of their heart is to obey God and do only what is pleasing to Him.
There is a vast difference between that and knowingly, deliberately and continually carrying on sinning against God without real repentance.
NB. It wasn’t one out of ten that weren’t ready. It was 5 out of ten. There are a lot more unprepared believers in the church than we realise.
That is why this makes uncomfortable reading.
The other thing to notice about this is that the bridegroom took a long time coming. They thought he would have been their earlier but the time dragged on and on until finally they all fell asleep.
Jesus did not know the exact day or hour He would be returning but He must have known that His return would be delayed for a long time. This is also born out by Peter.
This also says to me that because the Lord’s return is taking a long time many believers have grown tired of waiting and watching and talking about it – lost interest.
The wise bridesmaids grew tired of waiting, but they still remained prepared.
At midnight someone announced the bridegroom was coming. This is very unusual – a wedding ceremony beginning at midnight. I believe what Jesus is saying here again is that He will come at the most unexpected time. It may well be when many believers are tired of waiting and have given up waiting.
The Bridesmaids who were prepared poured oil on their torches and lit them, the foolish ones didn’t have any oil and asked the wise ones to given them some of theirs.
They said, “If we do that there mightn’t be enough – go and buy some for yourselves.”
Listen friends, if you are not prepared when Jesus returns no one will be able to help you. Your opportunity will be over.
Now is the time to prepare.
The bride and the groom with the bridesmaids who had lighted torches led to procession to the couples new home and they shut the door and began to celebrate. The foolish bridesmaids, unable to buy oil at midnight turned up at the house but found themselves locked out. None of them were allowed in without a lighted torch.
This is probably the most fearful teaching Jesus ever gave and its something he reiterated over and over again. If Jesus says something repeatedly we really need to take notice – it is vitally important.
Which brings us to the last point:
There are many people who call themselves Christians who are unprepared to meet the Lord should He come today or should they die today.
They claim to be X, they may even go to church and be part of the programme, do a lot of religious stuff, but the bottom line is that their faith is not living faith – it is what James calls dead faith. It does not affect their lives, attitudes, their behaviour – there hasn’t been real deep repentance and turning from all that is offensive to God, there is no real growing, life changing relationship with Jesus marked by obedience to His Word and the desire to do His will. It’s all just a cover up without the inward relationship.
The Bible clearly states that we are not saved by our good works. We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus – but if we have been saved by the grace of God through in Jesus – the evidence will be there. Jesus stresses this and so does James. If it is not – we haven’t been saved.
In 2 Cor 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is in you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”
The first letter of John was written for the specific purpose to help us know whether or not we are truly God’s children through faith in Jesus.
I’ve been through this with you before but I felt it would be good to look at it again this morning and take some time to examine ourselves and test ourselves to see whether we are truly God’s children, truly saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
Evidence that we are God’s children:
Seek to be honest with God, others and ourselves 1 John 1:5-10
Desire to obey the Lord 1 John 2:3,3:24
Desire to be like Jesus 1 John 2:5
Love our fellow believers 1 John 2:9, 3:14
Hate the godless system created by man under Satan’s direction 1 John 2:15
Desire to do God’s will 1 John 2:17
Seek to do what is right 1 John 2:29
Do not habitually, deliberately and continually go on sinning 1 John 3:6,9
Believe that Jesus has come in the flesh 1 John 4:2
Have God’s Spirit in them 1 John 4:13
Believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah 1 John 5:1
Have the inner assurance that Jesus is God’s Son 1 John 5:10
How do you fare in this test?
As I was reflecting on the current attitude of Xs towards the return of Jesus I thought of a friend of mine.
Ill. I first met Wally 40 years ago. He lived in Auckland and had a son living in Wellington. One Holiday Wally went with his wife to Wellington to visit their son, daughter in law and grandchildren. They hadn’t seen them for some time and were so excited to able to go and visit them. As they got closer to Wellington they just couldn’t wait to be with the family they loved so dearly.
They parked the car outside the house and walked up to the front door. Wally’s son opened the door and instead of a warm loving welcome he looked at his father with a cold indifferent stare and said, “You have come at an awkward time, we have just had dinner.” Poor Wally was so deflated. He had been looking forward to this for months and now he was made to feel unwelcome and as though he was an intrusion. He told me that he felt like getting into the car and driving back to Auckland that very night.
Have you ever had an experience like that?
I believe that there are a lot of so called Xs particularly in the western world who will react like that when Jesus returns. To them Jesus will be an unwelcome intrusion into their self-centred, materialistic, greedy, comfortable lives and that is one of the main reasons we don’t talk too much about the second coming.
In places like North Korea, Sudan, Myanmar, Muslim countries, Jesus return will be the most wonderful event
they could ever wish for.
May God forgive us if we have become so entrenched, so anchored to this world that we would not welcome the return of Jesus. It would definitely reveal where our hearts truly lie. Paul says one of the marks of a true believer is that they long for His appearing.
Prayer. Not ready or you have the wrong attitude towards Christ’s return.