One event that all Christians must wait for is the return of Christ. How do Christians wait for Jesus to come again? The first Christians waited with the same kind of excited expectancy that we had as we awaited the birth of our children. However, I suspect that many Christians today wait for Christ with uncertainty and some anxiety. What does the Bible say about how we should wait for Jesus to return? In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus teaches us the importance of waiting and also how to wait for him to return.
I. Let’s look first at what it was like to be waiting for the groom.
First we must understand the background of a typical Jewish wedding in those days. There would be three stages in a couple’s marriage ceremony. First was the engagement where both fathers agree to the proposed marriage. The next stage was the betrothal, a legally binding agreement where mutual promises or vows would be made in the presence of witnesses. The final stage was the wedding ceremony itself which would not occur until approximately one year later.
This wedding ceremony itself began with the groom going to the bride’s house accompanied by his friends in a joyous procession. They would then get the bride and return to the groom’s house. Then they would celebrate the wedding banquet often lasting for a full week. More than likely, these girls are waiting for the bride and groom to return to the groom’s house for the marriage feast.
The point is that this is a time of happy anticipation. It has been a full year since the marriage was made official. Now the time for the actual wedding has come. But before the celebration can begin, they must wait. Jesus’ point is that when he returns again to earth it will be like a wedding scene.
Jesus sets the scene by describing 10 girls, virgins, waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. These 10 girls are all expecting the groom to arrive, but no one knows exactly when. They all expect to go out to meet him and join in the wedding procession. But there is also a major difference between them as is seen in their lamps. These lamps had a bowl on the end of a rather long piece of wood. The bowls would contain rags which would be soaked in olive oil. When this was lit, it would provide a bright light for about 15 minutes. Then the fire would dim and the rags would have to re-soaked and lit again.
II. Then the groom arrives and the girls are awakened from their sleep at midnight.
The cry goes out, “The groom is on his way and is almost here!” Now there is just enough time to get their lamps or torches ready. It is at this point that the foolish girls realize to their shock that they aren’t ready! They tried lighting the lamps, but there was not enough oil left to burn. So they rather sheepishly ask the 5 wise girls to share their oil with them. And, somewhat surprisingly, the 5 wise girls refuse. In fact, the answer is quite a bit stronger than the simple “No” that we read in verse 9; it’s more like, “Never!” or “Not a chance!”
That answer may seem odd to us, but in fact, their response reveals their wisdom. If these 5 girls had shared their oil, there would not be enough for the procession. Imagine 10 cars that are going drive across a large desert like Death Valley. Of these 10 cars, 5 had full tanks and 5 only had a couple gallons of gas. There are no gas stations and it takes a full tank of gas to make it across. Now it would be very nice for those with full tanks to share but then no one would have enough gas to cross; all would be stranded. If the wise girls share with the foolish girls, all ten lamps would be burning at the beginning of the procession but the oil would run out about half way through. Then the whole procession would then be left in the dark. The wise tell the foolish to “go, get your own” for they cannot share their oil with them even if they wanted to.
III. Then Jesus relates the tragic ending.
While the 5 foolish girls are off looking for oil, the groom finally arrives. The 5 wise girls go out and join the joyous procession to the place of the wedding feast. This feast, of course, is Jesus’ way of describing the beautiful scene in heaven when all who believe in him will spend eternity with Jesus. Jesus describes heaven as a happy party, a time of joy and activity. We don’t know what heaven will be like, but we can be assured that it is going to be far better than anything we can possibly imagine.
But what about the 5 foolish girls? The foolish 5 return after finding oil and, finding the doors to feast shut tight, ask that the doors to the wedding feast be opened. Now at a real wedding feast, that would be no problem. The groom would likely open the doors and the 5 forgetful girls would be likely teased about their forgetfulness or perhaps given disapproving looks by others. But Jesus’ teaching is that the kingdom of God does not have story-like endings. The kingdom of God is a true fact and sometimes a harsh cold reality. And there is a harsh reality for those who are like the 5 foolish girls.
The fact is that when the groom returns, it will be too late for some. And what is sad – and frightening – is that Jesus will speak these words, “I do not know you!” to those who fully anticipated sharing the joy of heaven with him. Jesus is not speaking here of those who wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He is speaking of those who felt they knew Jesus and who anticipated being in heaven and sharing the joy and the blessedness that heaven brings. They will not be there in heaven because they weren’t really prepared.
So Jesus concludes: “Keep watch because you do not know the day or the hour.” Be alert, constantly watching for Jesus and doing what Jesus wants you to do. But even more, be prepared by constantly thinking of and focusing your hearts and lives on Jesus as you await his coming. There will not be time for last minute conversions or repentance when Jesus comes again because we don’t know when Jesus will come. God has said that no one knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return. Thus the Bible also says now is the day of salvation; now is the time to respond.
IV. The message is the same for us as we are waiting for our Lord.
Most everyone here this morning believes and expects that Jesus will return someday. There is a very sobering and important warning here for all of us. Remember: all 10 girls were expecting to join the groom in the wedding feast. But in the end, only 5 were really ready to join with the groom. Just because you are here this morning does not mean that you are ready. Jesus will come unexpectedly so that we must always be living faithfully for him. We must be certain that we are always ready for him. We must not only wait for Jesus to return; we must be prepared.
But how can we be prepared? The answer is really quite simple. First, by believing that Jesus’ death took away my sins and that he died for me. Second, we must give the Lord complete control over every part of our lives so that everything we do is for him and not ourselves. Question and answer 50 of the Heidelberg Catechism says: “Why the next words: ‘and is seated at the right hand of God?’” Answer: “Christ ascended to heaven, there to show that he is head of his church, and that the Father rules all things through him.” Let’s not lose perspective on the rule of the Lord of lords and King of kings.
In fact, we can even take great comfort as we wait for Jesus to return. To some the end of the world brings thoughts of fear, distress, uncertainty and agony. Those who believe, however, have nothing to fear and everything to rejoice in. That is what the Questions and Answers 51 and 52 state so powerfully. Question 51 asks, “How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?” Answer: “First, through his Holy Spirit he pours out his gifts from heaven upon us his members. Second, by his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.” Question 52 asks, “How does Christ’s return ‘to judge the living and the dead’ comfort you?’” Answer: In all my distress and persecution I turn my eyes to the heavens and confidently await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in my place before God and so has removed the whole curse from me. All his enemies and mine he will condemn to everlasting punishment: but me and all his chosen ones he will take with him into the joy and glory of heaven.” When Jesus returns and finally establishes his kingdom, we too will enter and share in that heavenly kingdom and God will bring the full justice we long for.
There is one more thing in this parable and reflected in this last question and answer. We must be prepared, but what of those that we know who are not prepared? Don’t you feel just a bit sorry for those 5 foolish girls in this parable who were so close but were still excluded? Perhaps there are many people you know of who will at this point likely not participate in God’s heavenly kingdom. These people need to hear of Jesus’ love for them. Perhaps there are others you know of who are somewhat blindly assuming that they are going to heaven, but are not really prepared. Maybe some are members of your family or people that you work for.
If you feel pity for the 5 foolish girls in a story, shouldn’t you feel pity for real people who are in spiritual need around you? I challenge each one of you to think of just one person who doesn’t believe, who will likely be left outside if Jesus were to return today. I urge you to pray daily for that person, so he or she may accept Jesus as Savior. I challenge you to be ready to be used by God to share this message with them. For you see, Jesus is coming again! We don’t know when, but he is coming! Are you ready? Are you prepared as you wait? Are you helping others to be prepared for Jesus’ coming as well?