Sermon Notes for First Sunday in Advent 27 November 2016 (Evening Gospel) St Andrews Anglican Orthodox Church, Enterprise, Alabama
“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 25:1-13)
There are two major categories of members in the church – those who are devoutly centered by faith in Christ, and those who are intellectually and socially attracted. The distant between these two is tragically large – so very large that there true salvation is in question. The two groups of virgins discussed today are examples of these two categories. Both groups are comprised of morally ‘good’ people. Both possess the Bible and may be learned in it (Lamps). But the similarity ends there. The first category of five virgins have lamps AND the oil (Holy Spirit) to shed light on the Holy Scriptures and to open to them the mysteries of God. The second group is only worthy in appearance. They can give no light because they have received none. They have the knowledge, but not the Spirit our understanding of the Word.
As with all of the Parables of Christ, I love this one. The Words of Christ are full of life! Each time I read the Gospels, and especially the Parables, a new and meaningful insight presents itself as it does with all Scripture. Once, again, the central theme here is of a marriage supper – an event extremely important in imparting the importance God attaches to the estate of matrimony as well as to His Church as the Bride of Christ.
We observe in today’s text two different kinds of character and two different outcomes that ensue from each.
This is a Parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a picture, if you will, of the existence in the Church of those who are burning and sincere followers of Christ, and those who are only nominal Christians who make no preparation or study to be accepted of God. These are the two different kinds of hearts that are depicted. The lamps represent those hearts and the oil, the grace and love. The virgins represent the purity of doctrine and faith in the church. The Bridegroom, of course, is Christ. It is true that all of the oil in the world will not benefit us unless we have used it to fuel the FIRE of our Light. There is a subtle reference also to two doors – an open door, and a shut door.
“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.” So far, we have ten virgins whose appearance seem very similar, but those qualities not seen – such as wisdom and fool-heartedness – do not appear by simple observation. Perhaps more than 50% (and most certainly so) of all professing Christian fall into the latter category of being foolish. But they all subscribe to the same faith and truth of the Gospel. They appear righteous. They are good moral people for they are virgins. The church is comprised of both wheat and tares. The tares APPEAR to be wheat. They grow where the wheat grows. In every way, the tares look like wheat in texture, in color, and in size. So many Christians may have an intellectual assent of Christ, but they lack the oil and fire of true faith. They look like Christians. They talk like Christians. They attend church every Sunday. But they are lacking the testimony, love, faith, and grace of a true follower of Christ. The only Bible they know is that read by the minister or Lay Reader. They have hearts, but nothing to fuel the fire of faith in those hearts. Both the true Christians and professing Christians go forth to meet the Bridegroom. But five have a problem.
“They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.” Can you receive Christ in your heart but not love? These foolish virgins (professing Christians) took their hearts to Christ, but they did not allow Christ to enter those hearts. The oil that could have been purchased by Bible study and faithful service is lacking. Those who seem to strictly keep the commandments are often those whose hearts are the most devoid of love.
“But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.” The wise virgins had made preparation for this expected moment. They had purchased oil and carried it in vessels to take with their lamps. We cannot follow Christ in darkness. These wise virgins were not at all casual in their faith, but earnest and sober.
“While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” Note that all ten virgins slumbered and slept while the Bridegroom tarried. Those of mild conviction slept alongside those who took their faith seriously. We all need sleep. Because of their lack of real faith, the foolish virgins were able to sleep not expecting the Bridegroom. The wise virgins, because they DID have faith, slept in peace because they had peace in their hearts toward God.
“And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” The custom in Israel was for a man to seek a bride for his son. When a suitable bride was found, a meeting would be arranged for the young man and young woman to meet. They would meet at the home, and with the girl and her parents, of the young lady. There would be a cup of wine prepared on a table around which the company gathered. The boy and girl would chat a bit. After a while, if the boy found the girl acceptable to his liking, he would drink from the cup. The girl, if she found the prospective bridegroom acceptable, would drink from that same cup! That exchange of sups from the cup formally signified the betrothal of the couple. The son would then go to his father’s place and build a residence for his bride under supervision of the father. This may consume a period of one, two, or more years. When the father believed the provision constructed for the bride was acceptable, he would send the son to fetch the bride.
The bridegroom would send his groomsmen to fetch the girl. The hour was usually irregular for the sake of surprise, and most often at, or after, midnight. One of the groomsmen would sound a trumpet near the girl’s home. This was the signal that the bridegroom had sent for her. She and her bridesmaids would need to grab whatever bags and provisions desired and rush out to meet the bridegroom. How like that is the manner in which Christ will return for His Bride! “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor 15:51-52)
The point here is that the true worshippers must be ready at all times to go with Him. There will be no time to set our affairs in order once the trumpet sounds.
“Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.” See how similar are the actions of both groups of virgins! They BOTH arose, and they BOTH trimmed their lamps – the foolish virgins were going through the motions still of being prepared, but they were NOT!
“And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.” Those who are lazy and slovenly will always beg to enjoy the fruits of preparation of others. But in actuality, the wise virgins could not share their oil. There was only enough for themselves. That is true of faith. The faith of the most faithful mother in the world cannot be granted to a son to save him. We must all come to Christ by grace through that faith! “But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you.” The wise will always ensure that their faith is sufficient to receive sufficient grace.
“…but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” “Buy the word and sell it not!” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1) The wise virgins knew that it would be too late to purchase the oil and still meet the bridegroom, but they answer courteously and out of sympathy. If they did share, they knew that the oil would run out and both would be lost.
“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage.” Only those who are ready will go with Christ when He comes. It will be then too late to study, to nurture faith, to love more, and to trust God. These wise virgins went into the marriage through and open door. That door will open for those who are worthy through the imputed merits of Christ. “…..and the door was shut!” The door was open for those who were prepared and ready, but shut immediately behind them.
Now we come to the SHUT DOOR! “Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.” How seemingly tragic that many Christians will sit in church week after week and appear real and true Christians. The church door ahs always been open to them but, now, the door is shut in their faces at the end. They have put up a good front. They have worshipped God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Who shut the door? Was it the wise virgins? No, it was not. It was God who shut the door. Man has not the authority to shut the door of salvation on any man, but only God. Remember Noah and the Ark God commanded him to build. When the time was come, the Lord commanded Noah, not to GO into the Ark, but to COME into the Ark. Do you notice the important difference. Where God is, that is the place of safety. Where the bridegroom is, that is the place of blessing. “And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.” (Gen 7:1) So Noah went into the place of safety – the Ark. Then, after Noah entered the Ark, what happened? Did Noah shut the door of the Ark? No, man has no authority to close the doors of mercy on mankind – that is the prerogative of the Lord. “….and the LORD shut him in.” (Gen 7:16b)
“But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” If we do not take the effort to know Christ very well as intimate friend, Savior, Redeemer, and Sovereign, he will not know us either. For friends to be close, each party must know the other intimately. How tragic will it be to hear those words from the mouth of Christ!
“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” There are a lot of pseudo-prophets today attempting to determine the exact day and time of Christ’s return. Why is it so important to them? Perhaps it is the money they make in selling books with such sensational predictions. But, perhaps a more important reason is that they do not desire to serve God We presently. They prefer to hedge their bets and live according to the lust of their flesh for now, and then, as their presumed day arrives for Christ’s return, they will clean up their act, so to speak. It is the will and intent of God that we know not the hour or day of His return. We are to watch and pray our lives each day as if that were the day of His Coming.
I like what Horatius Bonar, an old-time minister and hymn writer of the Free Church of Scotland, says about this Parable:
“THE oil is the Holy Spirit. To oil he is likened throughout all Scripture, though in some places to fire and water, to wind or air. But it is as the light-giving oil that he is specially spoken of here; and the lack of him, as such, makes the difference between the foolish and the wise ; having not the spirit. (Jude, verse 19.) Thus a man may be very like a Christian, and yet not be one. He may come very near the kingdom, and yet not enter it. He may have all the outward features of a Christian, and be lacking the main one. He may have the complete dress of a saint, and yet not be one. He may have a good life, a sound creed, a strict profession; he may be one who says and does many things excellent; he may be a subscriber to all the religious societies in the land, a member of all their committees, or a speaker at all their meetings, and a supporter of all their plans; he may profess to be looking for Christ’s coming, and going forth to meet the Bridegroom, and yet not necessarily a Christian. He may lack the oil the Holy Spirit. A religion without the Holy Ghost profiteth nothing. There is the religion of the intellect, of the sense, of the fancy, of the flesh, of the creed, of the liturgy, of the catechism, of nature, of poetry, of sentiment, of mysticism, of humanity; but what are these without the Spirit. Christianity without Christ what would that be ? Worship without God what would that be? So religion without the Holy Spirit what would that be ? Go to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Not to men, or churches, or ministers, but to Christ. Go to him. He is exalted to give it, and he will. Apply to him ere it be too late.” .(Horatius Bonar).
Do we possess this oil? Do we have fire to cause the oil to provide light?