Title: Ready or Not
Text: Matthew 25:1-12 
FCF: We all struggle living as if His return is certain and soon.
Prop: Because there is still time to avoid the catastrophe of being unprepared for the sudden coming of the Son of Man, we must be prepared for His coming.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 25. We are halfway through the Olivet discourse. Which began with the disciples asking Jesus 3 questions. About the destruction of the temple, the sign of His coming, and the sign of the end of the age. Jesus spent the first 35 verses of chapter 24 answering their questions. But in verse 36, I don’t know if you noticed or not, but Jesus shifted the discussion. He moved away from answering their curiosity, to words of caution. He desperately wants them to know that no one, not even He knows the exact moment that He will return. But it is absolutely essential that they be ready. Today we will wrap up this theme within his greater discourse.
Which actually affords us a unique opportunity to not only see another nuance of this message in the parable of the 10 virgins, but also an opportunity to apply a rather large portion of scripture to our lives, as we see all the various components as a whole.
Let’s begin in verse 1 of chapter 25. I’ll be reading from the NASB this morning but you can follow along in the pew bible on page 1123 or whatever version you brought with you. If you don’t have a bible, please take the one in the pew for your own.
I have to admit that this text was one of THE most difficult to interpret that I have ever encountered. I wrestled myself back and forth on this for several hours spanning several days. But when I was graced to finally grab hold of the meaning of the passage – all of a sudden I found unity in what Jesus has been saying and will continue to say in His discourse. So I hope you find it engaging and relevant. Let’s start unpacking what I found in verse 1.
I. The Son of Man’s coming will be delayed, at an hour we least expect, so we must be prepared for His coming.
a. [Slide 2] 1 – Then the Kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
i. Notice that Jesus gives a summery verse here in verse 1. This is to emphasize that the kingdom of heaven is not like the virgins, but like the entire story. Therefore we must fight to understand the entire story – every detail as it is presented – and only then can we understand Jesus’ teaching. Virgin here has less to do with their sexual activity and more to do with their status toward the bride.
ii. A virgin in this context would be young maiden attending to the bride. Kind of like a bridesmaid but, perhaps, younger.
iii. [Slide 3] In this context we need to understand a little bit about Jewish Marriage festivals.
1. An invitation would be sent to all the invited guests informing them of the date of the wedding, and more specifically the wedding feast. The wedding ceremony was actually a private event, only attended by the wedding party.
2. Then a second invitation would be sent at a later time informing the invited guests that the feast was prepared. That served as their cue to assemble at the groom’s house to await the bridegroom and his bride’s arrival.
3. At the time of the wedding feast being prepared, and the second invitations being sent, the groom would come to fetch his bride.
4. Because of the nature of ancient Jewish weddings, the bride never actually knew the exact moment the groom would come. She would know the general timing because of the wedding invites being sent, but she would not know the exact moment of his arrival.
5. Most often though, the bridegroom would arrive at night.
6. As he approaches, his groomsmen would cry out and shout that the bridegroom approached. At this point the bridesmaids would get everything ready, including lighting torches, and escort the bride to the designated meeting spot.
7. From there, the whole wedding party would proceed in dancing and music, torches lit the whole time, until they got to the groom’s home.
8. It would be there that the ceremony would be performed, the relationship would be consummated, and the wedding feast and celebration would carry on for a week or more.
b. [Slide 4] 2 – Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.
i. Like the previous parable, we are told upfront that 5 of these 10 virgins were foolish and five were wise. 5 were thoughtless and 5 were thoughtful.
ii. And as we will see, 5 were unprepared and 5 were prepared.
c. [Slide 5] 3 – For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,
i. The thing that makes this passage difficult is comparing the wedding ceremony to the text.
ii. As in our culture there are many variations on wedding ceremonies.
iii. This is why I began by telling you 1 specific version of the wedding ceremony that I discovered.
iv. In my research, this is the only ceremony format that makes sense when compared to the parable Jesus gives.
v. What makes this trickier still, is that Jesus includes several introductory and background statements before the actual story begins. Truthfully the entire story does not actually begin until verse 6. So everything up to that verse is just background information.
vi. That is important for us to note because this is the second time we see the bridesmaids taking their lamps. But we must understand that all of this is referring to 1 event. We are just being given some background information about this so that later in the story, when we see the foolish bridesmaids taking their lamps, we must remember… they took no oil.
vii. There are a couple things we need to understand about the oil and the lamps too.
1. [Slide 6a] These are not lamps in the sense that they have a basin full of oil in which a wick comes up and out of them. We know this for two reasons.
a. There is another Greek word in the New Testament when referring to such a lamp. Matthew 5 for instance when a lamp is placed on a lampstand to provide light for the whole house. Or Matthew 6 when the eye is the lamp of the body giving light to the inside. This is the Greek word (LUKE-noss).
b. Such a lamp was clearly meant for indoors as it cast very little and very dim light. It would not be sufficient, even in large numbers, to light the way for a group of greater than 20 in the dead of night.
2. [Slide 6b] Instead these are torches. The Greek word (lam- PAHS). You can see it is what is called a false cognate. Where a word looks like a word we have, but means something different. Torches would consist of a large wooden pole, the top of which would be wrapped in a ragged and coarse rags that had been dipped in oil and pitch and matted together.
3. Such torches when properly prepared would emit a bright light that would darken as the oil was exhausted and the rag charred.
4. Many would estimate the life of such a torch being 15-30 minutes. At which point the torch bearer would trim off the charred pieces, re-douse the torch in oil and relight. Such a process, although sounding complicated would not have taken much time at all with the proper preparation.
5. But absolutely essential in that process of relighting, is refueling.
viii. [Slide 7] But alas, the foolish bridesmaids neglected to take oil with them.
d. [Slide 8] 4 – but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.
i. The wise prove they are wise because they have prepared for what it means to be a bridesmaid.
ii. They understand what is expected of them. And therefore they have seen to it, ahead of time, that they are prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.
e. [Slide 9] 5 – Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.
i. Before, in the previous parable, Jesus warns against being found disobedient because the master returns sooner than expected.
ii. Here, it is clear, that Jesus is entertaining the other possibility. That the bridegroom returns later than expected.
iii. Since sleep is a common practice at a late hour – we cannot interpret this as apathy or disobedience. Instead, sleep here would most likely correlate to going on with life as it always had. Just as the two in the field did, just as the two grinding grain did.
iv. And this is a hint for us that Jesus’ point is not so much about constant vigilance as it is about preparing beforehand for what is to come.
v. Even though He is delayed beyond what they expected, had the foolish bridesmaids prepared ahead of time, it would not have mattered.
f. [Slide 10] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching His disciples and what is Matthew teaching the Jews? In these introductory comments, Jesus clearly teaches that his coming would be delayed. That it would not happen when they expected it. And unlike the previous parable where his coming was before they expected it, here his coming is after they expected it.
g. Passage Application: But what is the application? What does Jesus want His disciples to do or be from this? Already we can see it. Already we know which bridesmaid He wants them to be. He wants them to be prepared and ready.
h. [Slide 11] Broader Biblical Truth: Broadly we see that the bible teaches (and experience agrees) that the coming of the Son of Man will be delayed. That it is just enough time for people to go to sleep – to go back to everyday life. To begin to assume that life carries on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is just what is. And today life goes on. We each pursue careers, families, goals, dreams, hopes, desires. None of these are necessarily evil. But…
i. Broader Biblical Application: If we are not adequately prepared for the coming of the Son of Man – pursuing a career, a family, goals, hopes, dreams, desires, is absolutely foolish. Why? Because although delayed, He will certainly come. Although unexpected, He will certainly arrive. And with Him, the end of all that is. Sacrificing an eternal life on the altar of a temporary one is one of the most foolish things someone could ever do.
But informing us of a delay in His coming is not all that Jesus wishes to reveal with the parable of these 10 virgins. No, something far more important is yet to be seen. Let’s keep looking.
II. The consequences of being unprepared for His coming are catastrophic, so we must be prepared for His coming.
a. [Slide 12] 6 – But at midnight there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
i. Midnight would have been quite a peculiar time for a bridegroom to arrive.
ii. Nevertheless, the shout rings out. – THE BRIDEGROOM IS HERE! Come out to meet him.
iii. Shaken from their slumber the bridesmaids set out to do their duty.
b. [Slide 13] 7 – Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps
i. So all 10 wake up and trim their lamps.
ii. But what is meant by trimming?
iii. An alternative interpretation of this passage rests on this verse. Because if the lamps were trimmed, it would mean that they had been burning all night and therefore the foolish bridesmaids were not foolish for bringing no oil, but for not bringing enough oil.
iv. But there are two major problems with this.
1. There is absolutely no reason to have the torches burning all night. These bridesmaids, at least the wise ones, would have understood the culture, and known that they would be warned when the bridegroom was coming, with enough time to light their torches.
2. These, as we have said, were not lamps. They were torches. Not only WOULD they not burn the torches all night, they COULD NOT burn the torches all night. The torches would burn for at most an hour before going out.
3. So why are they trimming it? Two explanations.
a. First, and perhaps the most convincing argument, is that this Greek word translated trimming here is used 10 times in the New Testament and is only translated trimmed here. Elsewhere it is translated prepared or decorated. Obviously of a lamp with a wick, if you were to prepare it, it would mean trimming it. But if you are talking about a torch, you would probably use the word – prepare. It is one of those instances where, perhaps, interpretation has guided translation and not the other way around.
b. But even if we do leave it as trim – it does not mean the torches have been burning all night and that is why it must be freshly trimmed. Why? It would be foolish to trim a torch and then put it away for the next time you’d need it. The exposed fibers of the cloth would absorb dirt, oils and other particles throughout the time of non-use and make it that much more difficult to get the oil to soak in and light when they actually needed it. So they would trim it so that there would be freshly exposed rags, maximizing the effectiveness of the oil and the light.
v. So no the torches have not been burning all night. The foolish bridesmaids were not guilty of not bringing enough oil, but of not bringing any. They were not unprepared for the delay, they were unprepared for their part in the wedding.
c. [Slide 14] 8 – The foolish said to the prudent, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”
i. Perhaps they attempted to light the torch previously and saw that it would light without oil.
ii. Perhaps this was the first time they had ever been in a processional for a wedding.
iii. We are not told the specifics, we are simply told that they were completely unprepared.
iv. Here they attempt to light the freshly trimmed torch, only to discover that without oil, the torch burns out quickly.
v. Perhaps they are walking with the brides party, trying desperately to keep their lamps lit. But they are going out, and they haven’t even made it to meet the groom yet.
vi. They realize their error. Perhaps they see the other bridesmaids dunking their torches in oil.
vii. Their only choice if they want to stay with the wedding party… Please share with us.
d. [Slide 15] 9 – But the prudent answered, “No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”
i. The wise virgins do not give them oil. We may be tempted to think this is very unkind of the wise bridesmaids.
ii. But Jesus’ point is beyond the moral implications of their stinginess. It is bigger than that.
iii. The oil they have is only sufficient for them. It cannot be shared, it cannot be stretched. They have exactly what they need… no more and no less.
iv. Although it is probably foolish to try to understand what the oil in the parable means… we can clearly see a spiritual parallel here. What the wise have, is only for them. A Father cannot use some of whatever saves him to save his children also. He has only enough for Himself.
v. In any event, the wise instruct the foolish to go purchase more for themselves.
vi. What does this tell us about the wise virgins?
1. They do not know how long it will be before they meet with the bridegroom and his wedding party. Although they do know it is soon.
2. They only know that if they want their torches to light – they need oil.
3. Believers know He is coming, and they know He is coming soon, but they do not know the exact moment.
e. [Slide 16] 10 – And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
i. The foolish, to their credit, heed the warning of the wise.
ii. They go to purchase oil.
iii. But fatefully, while they were away, the bridegroom and his party met the bridal party.
iv. Eagerly, as a groom would, he does not wait for those who were unprepared. Rather he goes ahead without delay to marry his bride.
v. Who can blame him?
vi. And much like the ark was shut to those outside – the door was shut. No party crashers, no welcoming in those who were uninvited. Only those who were invited and prepared can enter.
f. [Slide 17] 11 – Later the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open up for us.”
i. Were they able to find the oil? We are not told.
ii. We know that the bridegroom came in the middle of the night and this is said to happen later. Perhaps they simply waited till morning to join the festivities.
iii. They are part of the wedding party. Selected by the bride. Surely they would be allowed to enter, even at this late hour, with or without their torch.
&nnbsp; iv. Surely based on who they were – they would be permitted in.
v. So they come to his house and say - Lord, Lord! Let us in!
vi. [Slide 18] Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven…”
vii. An obvious allusion that is made, certainly by the gospel writer Matthew, and probably by Jesus Himself. An allusion made clearer still by the response of the bridegroom.
g. [Slide 19] 12 – But he answered, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.”
i. His answer is shocking and in the story doesn’t make a lot of sense.
ii. But when you understand the reference back to Matthew 7, it makes perfect sense.
iii. I do not know you.
iv. You are not my own. You are no friend of mine.
v. [Slide 20] Matthew 7:23 – “I will declare to them, “I never knew you. Go away from me…”
h. [Slide 21] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching to his disciples and Matthew to the Jews in this second half of the parable of the 10 virgins? Jesus teaches the devastating consequences of not being prepared ahead of time for the coming of the Son of Man. There is no time to prepare once his arrival is announced. There will be no last minute changes, no last minute decisions. There will be no time.
i. Passage Application: The application is apparent. Jesus desires his disciples to be prepared ahead of time for the coming of the Son of Man. He does not want them to be taken unawares like the foolish bridesmaids.
j. [Slide 22] Broader Biblical Truth: Broadening this out to a whole bible truth, we are warned of the devastating consequences of an unprepared heart for the coming of the righteous judge. We know what the bible teaches. The bible teaches that those who are unprepared are cast into the lake of fire – eternal death where they only experience the wrath of God, and none of His grace. Not a place you would want to spend eternity.
k. Broader Biblical Application: So what then shall we do? We must be prepared. We must be sure that we have the ark done by the time the flood comes. We must be sure that we have oil for our torches before the bridegroom approaches. This way we can carry on living IN this life because we are adequately prepared for the next one.
[Slide 23 (blank)] But what does that mean? How can we be prepared for the next life?
The tragedy of the foolish bridesmaids was not that they did not have ENOUGH oil, but rather that they were completely unprepared for the entire wedding procession. They had NO oil.
Just like the ungodly in the days of Noah, the foolish bridesmaids were caught completely off guard.
But the wise bridesmaids, like Noah and his family, had prepared ahead of time for what they knew was coming. And thus, it did not matter the suddenness of the timing (7 days) or (hearing the call) because they were already ready.
So what is the difference?
Noah and the wise bridesmaids recognized their need. Noah and his family believed God and knew they could not save themselves. They must trust and obey Him with their lives. The 5 wise bridesmaids knew their torch wasn’t good enough on its own. It simply would not burn bright enough or long enough to make it to the wedding feast. They needed oil to light it properly.
Being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, is believing what He taught to the extent that you obey it. What did He teach? You can’t be good enough. So what do you do? He commands to repent and believe the gospel. He commands to start the life long process of putting your self-interests and desires to death, and to obeying Him no matter what it costs. He commands to keep seeking, asking, and knocking. To be prepared is to have is God change who you are because who you are isn’t good enough.
Such change comes at a cost. It is free in some sense. You can’t buy it. You can’t earn it. But in another sense, because of the nature of the gift, it will take everything from you.
The perfect illustration is Noah. God’s gift was a boat. God provided insight, and even provided the plans to make the boat. He provided protection to Noah as he made the boat, guidance for the animals to come to him, God shut the door of the boat, and guided it to safety as the flood waters rose. But it demanded over a 100 years of Noah’s life to make it. 100 years. That is a long time to live, let alone to make one thing. And when they stepped off the boat, his life was changed forever. Everything was lost in the flood. Only what was taken on that ark survived.
Noah’s salvation from judgment was a free gift… but it demanded His whole life.
Count the cost my friends.
Do you still believe that your torch is good enough? Don’t you realize that it won’t stay lit without oil? You are lacking. And what you lack you cannot make up for. What you lack you cannot earn. But you can ask and keep on asking. You can seek and keep on seeking.
And the cool thing is, God promises that He will answer those who are persistent.
Now look at verse 13.
[Slide 24] 13 – Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
This is not a verse that applies to the most recent parable only, but the entire teaching of Jesus since verse 36 of chapter 24.
[Slide 25] If you turn back to that we can see both components in this verse entwined throughout every parable.
· In verse 36, we find the teaching that none know the day nor the hour
· And in verse 42 the teaching to be prepared or keep watch. Be vigilant. The hour is unknown to all.
· Verse 44 to be ready because He will come at an hour they don’t expect
· Verse 50 about the master coming on a day and hour that is unexpected
· And then finally here in verse 13. And this is the last time Jesus says this, even though His discourse is not complete.
That tells us that he is completing this particular thought to move on to something related but separate.
[Slide 26] So how does everything Jesus has been teaching from each illustration feed into this comment “Be alert because you don’t know the day or the hour”
· In the illustration about the days of Noah, Both Noah and the ungodly were given the exact same information. A flood was coming, but God was providing a way of escape. But even though Noah’s family was only told a week before the flood that it was happening, they were still prepared because they kept trusting the Lord. But the ungodly were unprepared. Noah’s family, although not knowing the exact moment the Lord would send the flood, proved they were alert and ready by trusting God and obeying His instructions to prepare for the flood.
· The homeowner knows the exact 3 hour window the thief will arrive. So he is alert and takes measures to not allow his home to be broken into. Even though he did not know the exact moment the thief would come, he was alert and ready by acting upon what he knew to be true with vigilance.
· The slaves are given tasks to perform and the master arrives earlier than they expected. The wise obey and the foolish do not. Even though the wise slave did not know when the master would return, he proved he was alert and ready by being obedient.
· And finally here in the 10 virgins, 5 virgins assumed their torch would be sufficient for the procession and 5 knew their torch would not be sufficient, so they brought oil. Even though the wise virgins did not know the precise moment the bridegroom would arrive, they proved they were alert and ready by acting upon what they knew to be true and preparing ahead of time.
With all of this together it is quite easy to see how we can be alert and ready even when we do not know the time or the hour of the Son of Man’s return.
[Slide 27] Simply, it is to listen (to hear, understand and believe) and obey.
The last two parables especially have very obviously pointed back to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. There Jesus warns that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom. Lawbreakers will be cast out.
[Slide 28a] If you remember, Jesus concluded that sermon with a parable of two men. 1 who built his house on a rock. And 1 who built his house on sand. Both men experienced the same cataclysmic rain storm. But the house on the rock stood strong while the house with a foundation of sand was utterly destroyed.
Jesus said that the one who’s house stood firm is like someone who is hearing what He says, and is obeying Him.
[Slide 28b(end)] A person who is listening to what Jesus says and is doing what He says is a person who is prepared for His coming.
Would this be you? Are you a person who continues to listen to Jesus and continues to obey Jesus?
If you are this kind of person you know that you didn’t get that way because you were something special – but rather because God was especially merciful to you and continues to be especially gracious to you. Furthermore – if this is you – you are eagerly anticipating the glorious return of your King!
But if not. If you have tuned Him out. If you listen to some things, but not others. If you obey selectively what He has given you… A word of warning.
You are not ready for His coming.
But ready or not… His coming is certain… and His coming is soon.