Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13, for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost 2020 (A), "The Final Cut-Off Date"
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today’s parable of the Ten Virgins is a parable of readiness and faith. God has set a day known only to Him as a definitive, final cut-off date. Judgment Day, or the Day of Christ’s Second Coming, when He returns to judge the living and the dead. We confess every week in the Creed that “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead”. The final judgment. On that day, God will finally determine who are the just, who will join Him in eternal life, and who are the unjust, who will be sentenced to eternal punishment.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins symbolizes this “final cut-off date” when the Bridegroom arrives for the wedding celebration. Upon His arrival, five wise virgins are ready, prepared, and waiting. Five foolish virgins are not. They’ve left just before His arrival, and it is too late to enter in when they return. Pleading at the door emphasizes the finality. No extensions or delays are given after the final cut-off. All advance notice and warnings have been given, and everything needed for readiness was previously available to everyone. The difference was preparation. You can’t substitute for readiness and faith. You can’t borrow someone else’s readiness and preparation, just like we can’t have faith for someone else.
So let’s talk readiness. How do we get ready for Judgment Day? How do we prepare for the return of our Lord? Worldly fearmongering that sees doom and catastrophe everywhere won’t do. The world runs the extremes from fear to apathy, despair to ignorant bliss, but believers can’t fall into either the ditch. Don’t be conformed to the sinful patterns of the world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. In getting ready we must remember that delays are inevitable. 2,000 years have elapsed since Christ’s ascension, but we continue to wait with fervent expectation. The trouble is that it lulls us into the carefree sleep of the ten virgins…and can even lead some to scoff at Christ’s promise to ever return.
Consider several contrasts in how we get ready for Christ’s coming. First, we do not live in despair but do express sorrow and repentance over sin. The world may despair of hope, as it builds hope on the crumbling idols of power, prestige, health, and wealth. Any worldly hope built on these shaky idols is doomed to fail in time. Crises expose these shaky idols—not just with COVID but all previous disasters and wars. Crises expose the truth that man’s power, prestige, health and wealth are never guaranteed or permanent or as grand as we think.
Individuals may despair over their guilt, especially in light of the seriousness of God’s judgment. Individuals might build their worldly hope on a shaky idol of self-righteousness and success. When we fail ourselves, where is our hope? In personal crisis, shaky idols of our own making are not so grand and helpful. In the end, all idols, all false hopes must be replaced with the trust in Christ alone. He is the unshakable God and Savior of all mankind. Hope built on Him is solid and secure. While the Christian must not despair, sin and evil should create sorrow and repentance. We mourn and repent of our own sins, and we mourn the sins and evils of our society and world. Not in judgment, pointing fingers, but humbly seeking God’s forgiveness. We know sin always displeases Him. So part of readiness is repentance over sin.
Secondly, readiness does not look like fear but courage. Paul told Timothy that God blesses us not with a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. Jesus teaches us to read the signs of the end times, the disasters, diseases, and wars, and to straighten up and lift our heads because our redemption is drawing near. Our readiness is a watchful courage. The Psalmist describes the courage of the person who sees the earthquakes and mountains falling into the heart of the sea, but who stands on God our Eternal Refuge, and is not afraid or shaken because God is our Rock (Ps. 46; 18). Courage doesn’t mean standing on our strength or cleverness, but on God’s promises and God as our Refuge.
There is plenty of fear these days. Fears of climate change and catastrophes, fears about COVID, election and political fears about what a president might do, where our nation might be headed, what will happen with jobs or the economy, or what will happen to our families and loved ones. Fears can be real or unfounded, they can be accurate or exaggerated. Fears can’t all be swept away with the wave of a hand; but they can be faced and cut back down to size. The Christian must not live in cowardice or fear. Our hope is not in this world or earthly power, but in our heavenly citizenship and in Jesus’ return to judge the living and the dead on that appointed day. Another LCMS pastor reminded us on both sides that our nation and many other Christians throughout history have gone through far worse times than whatever we may fear—and Christ still rules on His throne interceding for us! So the Christian posture is courage, not fear, always trusting that God is still in control and our Rock and Refuge.
Thirdly, we are ready for Christ when we live by faith, not doubt. The foolish virgins in the parable symbolize those in the church who are not ready with extra oil, and their lamps burned out. The oil symbolizes readiness or faith, which can’t be borrowed or shared. Not something someone else can have for you. You can’t borrow someone else’s readiness without diminishing their readiness. You can’t borrow someone’s faith because we must believe for our own sake. When doubt creeps in, our lamp flickers and fades. Mercifully, we have a God who does not snuff out the smoldering or dimly burning wick, but desires to restore the weak and doubting. In Jesus’ ministry, He called the doubting to have faith, and one man prayed: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Christ is always ready to generously pour out faith upon us and strengthen the weak in faith. If you doubt, don’t delay praying for an increase of faith and His Spirit! Your prayer will not be denied!
To live by faith, and not doubt, we need only keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Note the wise virgins are not faulted for falling asleep during the wait. All ten slept but were wakened by the call. Only the foolish were not ready. Soon after this parable, Jesus’ disciples fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane while He urged them repeatedly to pray. He told them, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 25:41). Christ supplies us with the Spirit, and faith prepares for His coming by watchfulness and prayer. We live by faith not by doubt. His Spirit strengthens us when our flesh is weak. His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Finally, above all, our readiness is to look for and wait for Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom! Matthew chapters 24-25 describes readiness, watchfulness and waiting. Jesus says, “be ready”, “be watchful”, “stay awake.” Oil in our lamps and vessels is for readiness—even if we doze off, we are ready by repentance and faith in Jesus. Whenever Christ returns, we are ready to face the Lord and His Judgment. The only way to face God’s Judgment without fear or despair, is to build your trust on Christ the Solid Rock. Dying to our sinful self and raised to life in Christ, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Leaving sinful living behind and walking with courage and faith in Him, we are ready any day, any moment.
Do you feel ready, watchful, and awake? Have you grown weary and distracted by the wait, or are lured into the temptations of sin? Have you neglected the Holy Spirit and His free and endless supply of faith? Then there is only one solution: turn back to Jesus to supply your every spiritual need. In Him there is full supply, and there is future hope and joy at the wedding banquet. We have His invitation. We are the church, watching and waiting for His return, to enter the wedding hall with Him.
In baptism we are clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sins. We are dressed and ready to enter when His call comes. Store up a full supply of faith in your vessels, to endure the wait, and to drive away the shadows of doubt and fear, and live as people who have been given the Spirit of power, love, and self-control. And on that day when Christ returns, we will gladly jump to join in the celebration, and the feasting that is prepared by His love. He is the Groom because Scripture teaches that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” when He died on the cross. He rose to prepare a heavenly mansion for His church to dwell in. Our union with Christ is great joy!
So the final cut-off day is coming: the return of our Lord Jesus. Our readiness is shown not by despair, but sorrow and repentance over sin. Not by fear, but by courage. Not in doubt, but by faith, always looking for and watching for Christ’s return. All the surrounding events of life will go on, with or without our control—but God is ever in control, and His return ever approaches. We have all advanced warning and notice to be ready, and Christ’s gifts are freely given. He gives all we need! Joyfully and confidently let us wait for Him! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.