Yixing Teapots

Register

Log in

Topics

Archives

Stöckhardt on Trinity 27 – Last Sunday in the Church Year

by pastorjuhl ~ November 14th, 2011

There is precious little available among the 19th century Lutheran fathers on the Parable of the Ten Virgins. I haven’t checked my copy of Walther’s “Licht des Lebens,” but there is nothing I have from Walther on this text. Stöckhardt did preach on this text for Trinity 25, but only because Trinity 27 rarely was celebrated. Whether you preach through Trinitytide and skip to Trinity 27 each year (as LSB would have you do), or adapt the three Last Sundays of the Church Year from the Three-Year cycle to the One-Year cycle (as some do, and I won’t speak against doing so), it is nice to see something from at least one LC-MS father on this text.

There now follows Stöckhardt’s sermon on Matthew 25:1-13 in its entirety. This is from Koehlinger’s translation of Gnade um Gnade. I wish I could choose selected quotes, but the whole sermon is very helpful as a thought-starter for this parable. Enjoy!

This is the gospel for the twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity. Since this Sunday is seldom celebrated, we today wish to use this weighty text before us for the final Sunday of the old church year. It is a powerful reveille that we hear at the end of the church year. The parable before us runs out into a warning: Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. At the end of the chapter from which our text is taken Christ says: When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.

We are never to lose sight of the great day of the revelation of the glory and majesty of the Son of God, the day that ends the course of this world, the present time of grace. To be sure, the Bridegroom is delaying for a long time. For that reason we easily become sleepy. Granted he is delaying, but he is not procrastinating. He is being patient. He does not want anyone to be lost but all to come to repentance. For that reason he grants sinners time for repentance. He does not procrastinate. He vigorously pursues the work he still has to perform on earth. After a little while, it will be completed, and then he will appear in his glory. We do not know the day and hour when the Son of man will come. but he will come quickly, unexpectedly. The bride has the promise from her Groom: Behold, I come quickly. We preachers proclaim to our congregations: The Bridegroom will come soon. Watch therefore! Watch and hasten to the coming of Christ!

The Lord’s call: Watch! has special significance in our parable. By means of the parable of the ten virgins the Lord admonishes us to prepare ourselves for the day of his return. Watch!, that is to say: Arise, take up the lamps! Hallelujah! Get ready for the wedding!

Our text reports that even the wise virgins fell asleep. Even Christians, believers, do now always, day and night, have their mind and thoughts steadily fixed upon the Lord  in heaven and upon his glorious return but often lingeringly look upon the fun and games found in this perishable existence. The Lord does not expressly rebuke this sleepiness in our text. The wise virgins have, nevertheless, readied their lamps. Believing Christians are prepared to receive their Bridegroom, whether he comes today or tomorrow. They have put on their wedding finery. They are properly dressed for the wedding. the Lord does not censure the foolish virgins so much for their sleeping as for their carelessness and negligence in not filling their lamps with sufficient oil. Against such foolishness the Lord wants to warn us. This is therefore the Lord’s intent, this the teaching summary of our text:

Watch, ready your lamps!

1. Fill them with oil while there is still time;
2. When the Bridegroom comes, it will be too late.

1.

Get yourselves ready for the wedding! Watch, ready your lamps! Fill them with oil! Light your torches! This is what our text enjoins. They act wisely who betimes trim their lamps and fill their vessels with oil so that their light will not go out one day. And now is the opportune time to buy and store up oil. It is very foolish for one to while away the time and let the lamps go out and the oil in the vessel run dry. So, be wise in order that you may on that day with the Bridegroom enter into eternal joy.

This truth, this admonition, the Lord confirms in our text by means of the parable of the ten virgins. The virgins are a picture of Christ’s Church. At the entrance to famous old German cathedrals you see painted the figures of these ten virgins. the congregation that was entering and leaving was in this panel to discern a reflection of its own personality and character. Christ is the Bridegroom, the Husband, and the Church, the congregation, his bride, his wife. Christ has bought his Church with his own blood. He has firmly chosen her for himself from eternity. But of course, of five of the ten virgins, of the foolish virgins, the Lord testifies: I know you not. These five do not belong to the Bride whom the Groom has chosen for himself from the beginning. they are not his own.

However, before the Lord now, in order to awaken Christians and spur them on, describes more exactly the difference among the virgins, he speaks of peculiarities and functions that are common to all ten. And we must sharply look at, and form a mental picture of, all facets of the parable.

Of all ten virgins it is said that they took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Christians in general to out, have gone out, separated from the world, go out to meet the Bridegroom, seek to obtain a kingdom that is not of this world, desire to be untied with Christ and through Christ with God. They have all been baptized and in Baptism have been removed from the kingdom of darkness and been united with the Bridegroom, been translated into the kingdom of Christ. In Baptism they have all denied the devil, his ways, his works, and have promised to be faithful to Christ. Later, when they were able to reason and became of age, perhaps in confirmation, they deliberately renounced the vanity of the world and the prince of darkness and gave themselves to Christ when they sang: Jesus I will never leave. Or others in later years have come to the knowledge of Christ and have left the world: Farewell I gladly bid thee, false, evil world, farewell; thy life is vain and sinful, with thee I would not dwell. They have resolved from henceforth to live to the Lord and to serve him: One there is for whom I’m living, whom I love most tenderly; unto Jesus I am giving what in love he gave to me. It appears as though they all went the way of heaven, as though they must all reach the blessed goal while the godless world is hurrying on the way of damnation and hell.

There is also a difference between the virgins and the world which lies in darkness and wickedness. Christ’s Church, each congregation, is a city set on a hill, visible from a distance, set apart from her environment. She lets her light shine into the darkness of the world. The ten virgins all have their lamps in  hand, and the lamps are lit. The lamp, the light-giving beacon of Christians, is faith. Christians believe and confess: We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s and Mary’s Son, our Lord, who has redeemed, bought, obtained, won us lost, condemned creatures with his own blood. And Christ, our Lord, our Friend, will soon come to judge and condemn the world and lead his believers into the joy of heaven. This confession becomes known to the whole world, and the faith of Christians otherwise wells out into all kinds of good works, just as light in its rays. Christians let their light shine before men in good works, in obedience, uprightness, purity, patience, kindness, meekness.

All ten virgins, however, are alike also in another respect. While the bridegroom tarried, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. Not just the foolish but the wise virgins as well fell asleep. Between the beginning of faith, of Christianity, and the end there lies still a great span of time. The Bridegroom tarries. Christ permits his Bride, the Church, to wait abroad for a long time. And too, this period that lies between believing and seeing, in which we are presently living, is an evil time. The devil with his thousand artifices, the world with its thousand temptations, every day life with its thousand vanities lulls also Christians to sleep. Sand is thrown into the eyes of the believers, the virgins. They all at times are lulled to sleep.

Ah, who of us wants to maintain that he has always been wide awake? Have we at all times, day and night, given thought to how we might please the heavenly Bridegroom, or haven’t we rather lived to please the world, to please human beings? Have we every day and hour set our mind only on obtaining the kingdom of heaven? Or have we not often feasted our eyes upon earthly gain and pleasure? In time of need and tribulation have we always waited on the Lord’s goodness, help, comfort and have not at times lost courage and trust? Even the wisest of all virgins, even the great apostles, were overpowered by temptations in Gethsemane and were lulled to sleep. This is of comfort to us weaklings. Ah, indeed, it is not good, it’s not right, not wise when a Christian falls sound asleep. But in our text the Lord does not explicitly rebuke the sleep of the virgins. The lamps of the wise virgins still burn brightly and have enough oil in their vessels.

And this is now the great, grave difference between the five foolish and the five wise virgins. The one group has provided ample oil for its lamps. The other group did not take any oil along. The wise virgins, the true Christians, buy oil in good time.

What does the oil signify? In Scripture oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, through which the Holy Spirit comes and works. The seven-armed candlesticks in the Old Testament temple with their seven burning lamps were a picture of God’s people which lets its light of faith shine brightly. However, these lamps were daily fed with oil by the priests so that they never went out. This signified that the believers were continually in need of spiritual nourishment, in need of the Spirit and Word of God so that their faith might never cease.

And the wise virgins, the true Christians now nourish and strengthen the light and life of their faith daily from God’s Word wherein are Spirit and life. And they gather for themselves a reserve for the future. They are in good time intent on having their faith one day to stand the test in death, on Judgment day. Though they often become involved in earthly matters, they do not push God’s Word aside. They come faithfully and as often as they find the opportunity to hear the Gospel about the grace and truth of the only-begotten Son of God, the Gospel of their salvation. They daily search Scriptures and more and more clearly recognize the features, the precious image, of the Friend and Bridegroom, who out of pure goodness has drawn their souls to himself. They daily call to mind the cross, blood, and merit of their Savior Jesus Christ, with whom they hope some day to stand before God. And even though they daily stumble and err and become sleepy, God’s Word and, through the Word, Christ still lives in their hearts. What they not live in the flesh, they live in the faith of the Son of God. The Spirit of God dwells in them and drives and motivates them. For that reason they are children of God and heirs of life.

On the other hand, the remaining, the foolish virgins are content if the lamps give off but a mere flicker and take no thought of oil, make little inquiry about God’s Word. They are lazy and become even lazier and more inactive in spiritual matters. They are satisfied with what they have. They live on the past, on the remembrance of former, better times, feed on earlier experiences, and alas, their little reserve is soon used up. They are not worried about the future. They listen to preaching; they read the Bible half-heartedly, and only then when it’s convenient for them. Preaching, Bible, divine worship, prayer become more and more outward form and ceremony. They absorb no oil and vitality from it. They remain barren and dry. And so Spirit and life gradually disappear, and finally even the last sparks of faith die out.

Such is the foolishness of the foolish virgins. They have no oil. The little they had is soon exhausted; and when they had time, they did not buy any oil. They care little or nothing for God’s Word. The Lord warns us against such great foolishness and begs and exhorts us to emulate the wise virgins and to provide ample oil for our lamps, to ask for Spirit and faith, gladly to hear and learn God’ Word, and to make use of it while there is still time. Now is the opportune time. Now is the time of grace. The world stands right outside the door. The Gospel of the grace and glory of Jesus Christ is being preached. Hardly has the sound of it died away in the old year when it is heard again the new. Your limbs are still sound; your sight is good, and your hearing sound. You are still able to come, to hear, and to read. The times are evil. But now is the opportune time for you to overcome wickedness and to lay hold on salvation, on eternal salvation. So be wise and do not delay!

2.

Once the Bridegroom comes, it will be too late. Then it will be impossible to regain what has been let slip. In order to spare us from the foolishness of the foolish virgins and to motivate us in good time to become prudent and wise and to get our lamps ready to to supply them with oil, the Lord in the second half of the parable presents to us the final lot of the five wise and the five foolish virgins.

Around midnight, at the hour when one least expects, the Bridegroom will appear; Christ will appear in the clouds of heaven. And the outcry announcing his return resounds throughout the entire world. The wise and the foolish and all the wicked too will see him. To all is issued the call: Go ye out to meet him! All must appear before his judgment-seat. And then the Judge decides the destiny of each. But already upon death the destiny, the eternal destiny of man has been decided.

And now when the Bridegroom comes, at death, on Judgment Day, the wise virgins are ready and enter with him to the wedding. The last brief hour, Judgment Day, indeed comes upon them unexpectedly, around the hour of midnight. But they are not terrified by the cry: The Bridegroom is coming, go ye out to meet him! Joyfully they get up and trim their lamps. Joyfully taken by surprise they awaken from sleep. They have not been sleeping too soundly. They sleep lightly and uneasily, like a traveler who stays overnight in a motel and cannot wait till morning comes and gets up every hour and looks towards heaven and asks: Keeper, is the night about over? They sleep with hearts beating joyfully, like an anxious spouse awaiting at any time the return of her mate, who again and again rouses herself from sleep, pricks up her ears and listens for the knocking of the one she is expecting. The Bride is ready at any moment and hour to receive the Groom. Even though death and hell terrify and the whole world passes away with a great noise, the believing soul has found safe refuge, like a bird in a cave during a storm it is sheltered safely in the wounds of Christ. Believers are not fearful; they come, adorned in the blood of Christ, with confidence before the throne of the Most High Judge. They are firm and immovable in that great moment when time is swallowed up by eternity. They have been firmly rooted by God’s Spirit in the Word. Their lamp does not die out. They have plenty of oil. Jesus has been living in their hearts for a long time; they bear his image and seal and have preserved them; and when the Bridegroom now appears, they say to him: We know you, and receive the reply: I know you, you are mine! Enter into the joy of your Lord! And with him they enter the wedding hall and begin to sing a new song: Let us be glad and rejoice for the marriage of the Lamb is come. So prepare your heart now already for the place where you wish to be throughout all eternity!

In contrast, the foolish virgins will then be terribly disappointed with the Bridegroom comes, and too late they become aware of their foolishness. Sometime around midnight the Bridegroom will appear. When all over the earth deep darkness and feelings of security are evident, when men are building, planting, are marrying and being married, are eating and drinking and enjoying good things and have no forebodings of bad times to come, when godlessness and unrighteousness have reached their peak and the number of the believers and the righteous has dwindled, then will Christ return. And alas, those foolish Christians have along with the world been lulled into the sleep of death. They, of course, wake up when the cry sounds throughout the world: Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, then the final trumpet call resounds. Yes, they rise up, go to meet the Bridegroom, also trim their lamps, want to go along to the wedding but to their terror become conscious of the fact that they have not enough oil, that their lamps are going out. The foolish virgins, who have neglected their time of grace and the Word of God, who in good days could have prayed and sung with the pious and the believers, all at once realize when the living Christ nears that he is coming to death or to judgment, that their believing and their praying were all in vain. They had fancied another Christ, a Christ of straw, a phantom that was quickly to be consumed in the fire of judgment. Alas, they sigh and do not have enough strength left to pray. They just do not have God’s Word in their heart. They have no faith. In their final moment of fear, in the hour of death they turn, very desperately, to those standing around them, to their fellowmen, just like those foolish virgins turned to the shopkeepers. But they come too late. Their friends themselves do not have any faith and are unable to comfort with the Word of God. So they turn to the wise virgins, to the believing Christians, to the pastor. Surely they have oil, the Word of God, but it is too late for them to buy. They are unable to share and to draw off any oil. It is impossible for them in that last weak moment forcibly to implant faith into the one who is dying and groaning. Alas, there is a time when the voice is heard: Too late, too late! O arm yourselves in good time with the Word of God!

At the end of our text the Lord pictures for us a most terrifying scene. When the wise virgins had entered into the wedding with the bridegroom, and the door had been closed, the foolish virgins also came and said: Lord, Lord, open to us! but he replied: Verily, I say unto you, I know you not! When during the Middle Ages this parable was once presented by the monks at the cathedral at Meissen, listening and watching excitedly was the Elector of Saxony. But when the final act was staged, when the knocking and calling of the five foolish virgins before heaven’s locked door and the muffled voice became audible: I know you  not, the Elector was struck with such dismay that he fell out of his seat and died. Yes, that’s just the way it will be at the end of the world. Many will stand before the locked door of heaven, will hear from afar the dancing of the saints and will knock and call and scream: Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, did we not pray and sing, did we not listen to your Word? But he will reply: I know you not! I never knew you! Depart from me, ye evil-doers! And with the wicked they will go into eternal torment and regret forever and regret in vain because they did not in time heed what served their peace.

So seize the time of your visitation; take the grace that is now offered, hurry and save your souls! Amen.

Leave a Reply