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Last Sunday of the Church Year – Matthew 25:1-13

by pastorjuhl ~ November 17th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            The parable of the Ten Virgins is the perfect way to end Trinitytide and the Church Year. You might wonder why a parable about five foolish and five wise virgins waiting for the Bridegroom to appear at a wedding banquet is such a perfect ending. The reason is that you cannot see the point of this parable in Matthew chapter 25 without seeing the point of what happens three chapters later.

The lectionary series used here features Jesus talking to Nicodemus about being born from above for the Holy Gospel on Trinity Sunday. That’s a great way to start the “green season.” The Spirit’s work among us in the Means of Grace: Baptism, Absolution, Gospel, and Sacrament, is what Trinitytide is all about. You grow in Jesus Christ’s grace with the Spirit pointing you back to where Christ is found.

Another lectionary series features Jesus’ last words to His disciples in Matthew chapter 28 for Trinity Sunday. It is in light of our Savior’s last words to His disciples, the so-called “Great Commission,” that begins the circle completed by the Parable of the Ten Virgins today. Because you recently did not hear that account, I’ll read it for you.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The first key phrase in Jesus’ farewell words to the Eleven is when Matthew says, And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. That’s how it is in the Christian Church. All worship Christ and receive His gifts, but some doubt that Christ will do what He says He will do. That is why five virgins are wise and five are foolish. Five of them took oil in their vessels with their lamps. The other five took their lamps, but brought no vessels to keep oil.

What is the oil Jesus mentions in the parable? The oil is the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word to create and sustain the flame of faith in Christ. Some doubted Christ when He ascended into heaven. Some doubted that what He was about to tell the Eleven would actually happen. They doubted all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Him.] When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, they doubted the Word of the Lord would grow. Some may have figured Jesus came, did what He said He would do, and then split the scene, leaving it up to mankind to figure out what next to do.

That’s the picture of the five foolish virgins. They have oil, no doubt about it. But while the Bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. The Bridegroom comes and goes. The five foolish virgins attempt to mooch oil from the five wise virgins. No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves. By the time they return from the marketplace, the door was shut. It was too late. I do not know you.

There’s a lot to take in here between the so-called “Great Commission” and the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Simply put, don’t waste the oil given to you by those called and commissioned to fill up your lamps and vessels with oil. When you first heard the Word, it kindled faith within you. Christ is your Savior from sin and death. He is the priceless Pearl, the Stronger Man, and Wisdom from on high. Here is where the difference between a wise virgin and a foolish virgin begins.

Foolish virgins do not make diligent use of the oil of faith. They have received enough of what they need. Now they will live off it as if it is a large lottery jackpot. They bury the treasure and dig it up only when it is to their advantage. They will not carry a vessel because they know someone else will pitch in to help them.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Consider the many people you know, or perhaps to whom you are related, or even yourself at one time, who have squandered the oil of faith. They are baptized. They are confirmed. They come to Divine Service when they need their “booster shot” of grace. Otherwise, they get by with a little help from their friends. On Judgment Day, when the Bridegroom comes and it’s time to trim their lamps, perhaps some of their regular church-going friends will give ’em a hand, you know, a little extra something-something for old time’s sake.

The answer they will receive is the same one the wise virgins give. No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves. You cannot enter eternal life on the back of someone else’s faith. Someone else’s something-something means nothing to the Bridegroom. Everyone must believe in the Triune God for themselves. You are given oil. How you manage the gift of oil makes all the difference in eternity. Either you make diligent use of what’s given you, or you run around looking for extra oil and miss the Bridegroom’s arrival at the wedding feast.

Wise virgins are disciples from all nations, baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They are taught the sternness of the Law and the sweetness of the Gospel. They come to God’s House to learn the family story of salvation. They hear Christ-centered, cross-focused preaching. They are taught to confess their sins and receive Holy Absolution. They receive the True Body and Blood of Christ. They pray without ceasing, lifting up holy hands to petition their heavenly Father, who is all ears to hear and answer according to His good and gracious will.

Wise virgins carefully use what is given to them. They make diligent use of the Means of Grace, just as they promised when they were confirmed. They don’t sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know. That’s how far my faith will grow.” They are prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom. They are ready for the never-ending wedding feast of victory.

Foolish virgins figure there is always plenty of time before the banquet starts. In God’s time, everything runs on time, every time. When the Bridegroom comes, there are no more time outs. There are no second chances. Either you have oil in your vessels or you don’t. That is why Jesus ends the parable with the ominous words: Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. You can’t figure out God. You believe what He says. When He says there isn’t much time left so you should watch for My coming, you should take Jesus’ words at face value.

The Church doors are open every weekend for the foretaste of the Bridegroom’s wedding feast. Martin Luther wrote something similar about oil vessels when he wrote about God’s children toting sacks. Every time you walk through the church doors for Divine Service, you have an empty sack in desperate need of being filled up. When you leave church, your sack is full of forgiveness and life. You are fed with the Means of Grace. Christ’s merits in His death and resurrection are applied to you. You walk out of God’s House with a full sack, not to hide it because no one will appreciate what’s in the sack. You walk out with a full sack in order to spread God’s grace to your neighbor. You love him. You forgive him. You comfort him. You care for him. You are Christ to him, and He is Christ to you in return. Come next weekend, your sack is empty and ready to be replenished.

Only a fool would bury God’s grace. Only a fool would believe that you could get to heaven riding piggyback on someone else’s faith. Only a fool would not bring extra oil in vessels while waiting for the Bridegroom to show up at a wedding feast. Wise virgins who are baptized, bodied, blooded, absolved, and have full sacks of God’s grace ready to give lavishly still fall asleep waiting for Jesus. However, they sleep with one eye open, as it were, watching for Jesus to appear. They don’t know when He is coming. They know that He IS coming. God bless your waiting for the coming of Jesus, as you bid farewell to this church year and prepare to start another year of God’s grace, waiting for the first coming of Jesus this Advent in order to welcome Him with great joy at Christmas. As the ancients prayed, so do you: Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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