3rd Sunday of Endtime – Saints Triumphant
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear fellow saints washed in the blood of our Savior, do you like being prepared or are you a person who likes to do things off the cuff or make it up as you go? I like to be prepared and I think I partially have that trait passed down from my parents. They like to be prepared. My wife and I are reminded of this every time we go camping. One of the inevitable scenarios when you go camping is realizing that no matter how much you plan and prepare, you’ll likely forget something. Well, we inherited my parents pop-up camper and before my parents owned it, it actually belonged to my grandparents. It’s a 1974, but it’s been well cared for. Not only did we inherit the camper, but also everything in it. I mainly remember growing up using the camper probably mostly in the 1990s. Then it sat for about 15 years not being used before my dad gave it to us. Now, when we go camping, we inevitably forget something. “Oh, we forgot salt and pepper…what do you know, my mom has salt and pepper in the camper, probably has been in there for 20 years, we forgot toilet paper, what do you know, there’s toilet paper nicely preserved in a ziplock bag, we forgot paper towel, and what do you know, there’s an individually wrapped paper towel (and I even found a date on it from 1995, I think). The camper is furnished with just about every cooking utensil, every camping tool, just about everything you need. My grandparents gave it fully stocked to my parents, my parents gave it fully stocked to us, now we enjoy being prepared.
But that’s true in all kinds of scenarios in life, right? Do you like being prepared? No doubt, many of you will be making all kinds of preparations this week for a Thanksgiving dinner. No doubt you’ll be making preparations for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays coming up. You see, there’s a certain calmness and peace to being prepared. Financial experts will advise having an emergency fund set aside so you’re prepared for emergencies. Perhaps you have more food in your cupboard than you need for a day or a week or a month, just so you’re prepared. You go to sleep at night so your body is prepared to exert energy the next day. We generally like being prepared, don’t we? If you’re not prepared, you can easily be left out or miss out on something.
In our text this morning Jesus tells us a parable about being prepared. Now there’s a certain value in being prepared for earthly things in this world, but there’s an infinitely greater value in being prepared for what happens after this world, for what happens after you die. And that’s the point that Jesus is getting at in this parable.
In this parable Jesus uses a wedding custom of his time to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven will be like on the Last Day when Jesus returns. In Jesus’ day the custom was that when a groom and a bride were married they usually sat down with their parents at a formal meeting, made promises to each other, signed the papers so-to-speak, and were legally married. But, they didn’t live together as husband and wife for a period of time, perhaps weeks or months. The bride would stay at her parent’s house and the groom at his until all the preparations were made for their wedding celebration. When it came time for the wedding celebration the brides and her close friends or, to use our modern term, bridesmaids, would dress up and wait. The groom would then lead a procession to the bride’s home and bring his bride and all the bridesmaids in a great procession back to his father’s house and there they would have a celebration that would last days or even weeks.
Well, in Jesus’ story there are five foolish maidens and five wise maidens. Their folly or their wisdom is shown by their actions. The wedding celebration was going to be at night. There was no such thing as street lamps. They had lamps to light their way. The lamps were kind of like torches. Five of the maidens did something no bridesmaid would even dream of doing, they didn’t bring any oil for their lamps. This was unheard of, no bridesmaid would not bring oil for the procession for their dear friend on her night of nights! But Jesus is illustrating something unthinkable. Well, the bridegroom is late in coming and they all fall asleep. But then at midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” All the maidens woke up and it was only then that the foolish ones discovered that they had no oil! They want the wise ones to share, but that’s impossible, there won’t be enough for both of them. They are advised to go and buy some oil. But remember, it’s midnight, no shop is going to be open, but the foolish maidens go off. But while they are gone the Bridegroom arrives, the wise maidens joyfully went with him to the wedding banquet…and the door was shut. Later the others arrived: “Lord, lord, open the door for us.” And the response? “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” And then Jesus gives the point: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
What’s Jesus’ point? His point is: Are you prepared for the Bridegroom to return? Are you prepared for Jesus to come again in glory? What does this parable mean? Parables are mainly mean to give us one main point. The Bridegroom is Jesus. He’s going to return. The maidens are two kinds of people. But it’s not that the wise are faithful Christians and the foolish are the unashamedly, bold unbelievers of this world. The people who sin and sin and have nothing to do with Jesus or God’s Word. No, that’s not whom Jesus is addressing. Yes, all unbelievers will be shut out of the kingdom of God forever. But the people Jesus is addressing are people who at least on the outside appear to be waiting for Jesus’ return. The wise maidens are true, faithful Christians, but the foolish are those who only appear to be Christians on the outside but are really unbelievers. What does the oil represent? The oil represents faith. Only those who have faith in Jesus as their Savior and are richly supplied with that faith from hearing God’s Word regularly and receiving the Sacrament are those who have the oil of faith. Jesus’ warning is that there are people who look very much like Christians on the outside but on the inside, in the heart, in the soul, there is no oil of faith. And the reality is: Jesus could return at any moment. Yes, it seems like a long time has gone by, the Bridegroom is late in coming, but he will come. Will you be caught as a maiden without oil, without faith or will you be a wise maiden with oil and ready for the wedding banquet?
It can be easy for us to look at the horrible, vile, wicked, immoral people in this world and say, “They are going to end up going to hell.” And that’s true if they don’t repent. But it’s just as true that people who on the outside look very good, very upright, maybe even belong to a church, actively do good things, but if they don’t believe in Jesus as their Savior, if they don’t trust in Jesus and his blood and righteousness alone, the Lord says, “The door is shut, I don’t know you.” It’s a heart searching parable isn’t it? Have I lost sight of my Savior? Why is it that I do what I do? Am I more concerned with earthly affairs, with temporary things, with things that are passing that I’ve lost sight of the eternal? Am I busy feeding my faith, replenishing my oil by hearing God’s Word, considering it, receiving the sacrament? Jesus asks each of us the heart searching question: Are you prepared? Are you ready for the wedding banquet? Do you have oil in your jar?
You see, if it was up to us to be prepared for the wedding banquet, none of us would get there. If it was up to us, there would be no such thing as saints triumphant Sunday but only a fearful expectation of hearing those chilling words from Jesus, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” You see, Jesus has made you prepared. That’s why he came. He came to be the light of the world, he came to be the true bridegroom who laid his life down on the cross to pay for every single sin, every single wrong thought or deed or word you’ve ever thought, did or said. He’s come to you in the waters of baptism working faith in your heart to believe in him as your Savior, He’s come to you through the Word again and again to nurture and strengthen and replenish the oil of your faith. Don’t shut him out. Don’t neglect the opportunities God gives you to feed your faith again and again. Hear His Word with joy. Receive His peace in his own body and blood under bread and wine.
Why so? Because you know what’s coming. Throughout the ages there have been a countless number of people who were wise. They kept their lamps full of oil by believing in and trusting in Jesus as their only Savior and they are right now enjoying the ultimate wedding celebration. And by God’s grace, you too are included in that number, for the gospel has come to you, you know Jesus is your Savior, you know heaven is your home, you’re waiting for the bridegroom to come to take you to the celebration. So be wise, be prepared, keep watch, keep the oil of your faith richly stocked, for the Bridegroom comes, He comes to take you to the ultimate wedding banquet. Amen.