For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
We’re just at the start of week two in this series about, among other things, the return of Christ. From last week we had some reminders: no one knows when Jesus will come back but there are clues to help us understand times and seasons. That culminated in the simple truth that we must be ready. One word that stands out from Jesus’ discourse in Mark 13 (about the End Times), is simply the word “watch.” Are we in a constant state of watchfulness, knowing that Jesus could return at any moment? How are we prepared for that moment and what does it mean personally to be ready?
One parable that speaks about this topic directly is the Parable of the 10 Virgins. It’s account is in Matthew 25:1-13 and I wanted to include it here to help guide us:
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 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 and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and 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 25:1-13
Before diving in today, we must understand the cultural context of Jesus’ parable which would have been widely known by his hearers in early AD Israel. Wedding processions would often involve a large wedding party with multiple bridesmaids (“the 10 virgins”) and the bride awaiting the bridegroom. They would wait at the bride’s home and this would often happen after dark and stretch long into the night (for more background, see https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/parable-ten-virgins.html). In Jesus’ parable, this event was delayed because the bridegroom was late in arriving. The bridesmaids would have to have enough oil in their lamps to last until he came (literally so they could see). We see from this story that some were prepared while others were not. There were implications of having enough oil or running empty and Jesus ties all of this into the idea that we must be ready for the Bridegroom to return one day. Christ is the Bridegroom and in this story, we are the bridesmaids or virgins.
With some of that background established, let’s dive in once again and pull out some key points for our discussion today.
1. Being ready is wise. Not being ready is foolish.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
This is a basic point but it is worth noting. If the virgins had enough oil, they were wise. If they lacked oil, they were foolish. But what is the “oil” and why is it so important? You can go down a rabbit trail of sorts in regards to this question. Believe me, I Googled it! Common interpretations identify the oil as the Holy Spirit, faith, perseverance, purity, and so forth. I don’t want to get too caught up in making sure we have the “correct answer” without understanding the meaning in its context. To me, the oil ties into readiness. It means a preparedness plan that incorporates a knowledge of truth and being filled with the Spirit. It certainly meant (for the virgins), the ability to either see the Bridegroom approaching or to be filled with darkness and unable to see. And that is a key matter in all of this.
As we display wisdom as 5 of the virgins did, I believe others will be drawn to our light. Certainly, we must have a light on in order for others to see. The foolish virgins wished that they could see and asked the other 5 for some oil. But there wouldn’t be enough to spare for everyone. While they (the foolish ones) go and purchase more for themselves, the Bridegroom comes. They were unprepared. They missed it. The sad reality is that even some “Christians” today are going to miss it because they were truly not ready. They had knowledge. They had the ability to fill their lamps. They just chose not to do so.
2. Everyone gets drowsy, but is your lamp full?
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.
This verse leapt out at me as I read it and I realized there is some intentionality here. I believe Christ is saying the Bridegroom will be delayed. It will take longer for Jesus to return than any of us realize. But we have to understand readiness within the proper context. What happened to all 10 virgins? They all fell asleep. I believe this is different than the sleep the Bible warns about in passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:6 (So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober). In those passages, there is a reminder that sleep is akin to not being watchful, to not being ready. But the 5 virgins who had full lamps were ready; they just slept during the night as is a natural physical need. There was nothing unprepared about them.
From here it’s important to understand what a full lamp looks like. We get it by staying in God’s word. Staying in close connection with the Father. Prayer. Fellowship with other Christians. Being aware of the times and seasons (remember the fig tree). And we know that drowsy times may come but we face them with a lamp full of oil and our wicks trimmed. Again, we are always in a prepared state that this could be the day that He returns!
3. When the door shuts, it is final
And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and 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.”
There’s a song that the group DC Talk used to perform called I Wish We’d All Been Ready. It’s a cover by the late Larry Norman. In it, one of the lines states There's no time to change your mind, the Son has come and you've been left behind. It’s a song that is painful in some ways and it’s a reflection of what we will see someday when the Bridegroom truly does come. Some will have been wise and kept their lamp full of oil. They’ll get into the wedding feast and experience everlasting presence with the Bridegroom. But others will not have been ready. We wish they’d be there but the Bible is clear: some will be shut out. And when the door shuts, it is final.
What this parable impresses to me is that I must be thinking about eternity everyday. I spend a lot of time on things that have no eternal value. I waste a lot of hours and even days worried about cares that in the weight of Heaven, have no meaning. I want to know that my lamp is full and that everyday if Christ were to return, He’d find me ready. The evidence is there. In the same song Larry Norman writes: The Father spoke, the demons died, how could you have been so blind? God is always at work. I want eyes that see and are open to what He is doing!
What about you? As you contemplate all of this, what things come to your mind that are perhaps lesser than and unimportant in the light of Heaven? This isn’t a moment for me to poke or pry but to simply say, “Allow the Holy Spirit to reveal anything that is keeping your lamp from being full.” Sometimes even good things distract us. Certainly patterns of sinful behavior are clear roadblocks. But so is time misappropriated and misused. Time spent pursuing fleeting things. The older I get, the more I realize I want to maximize my days on this Earth. Each day is a blessing and a gift. We must steward our days wisely.
I hope this blessed hope series is impacting you! If it is, would you please be so kind to share it with someone or perhaps if you are on this email list, forward it to a friend. In addition, the AS BOLD AS LIONS PODCAST all month long overlaps with this topic. I want to engage people on as many platforms as possible with a message that I believe is for this very hour. Guys, let’s be in that group Jesus regarded as “the 5 wise bridesmaids.” We will never regret keeping our lamps full!
Until next time! God bless you today.
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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17