Are You Ready?
Matthew 25:1-13 NKJ "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 "Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 "Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 "but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 "But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 "And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' 7 "Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 "And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 "But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' 10 "And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' 12 "But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."
Itís foolish to be a pretender. Just ask John Corcoran. John never learned to read in elementary school. Somehow the teachers just kept passing him along. When he got to high school he became at expert at cheating. He turned in other peopleís work. He said he couldnít read letters, but he could read the system, and he could read people. He learned how to fake his way through college and graduated from Texas Western College with a teaching degree. For the next seventeen years he taught high school students without being able to read or write. Somehow he always arranged to have others do the reading and writing for him. John eventually left teaching, and he did learn to read and write, but his story is an amazing example of how it is possible to be a pretender. (Charisse Yu, "Retired Teacher Reveals He Was Illiterate Until Age 48," 10News.com)
Pretending can be very dangerous. People have pretended to be doctors, airplane pilots, lawyers, and police officers. They can get away with it for a while, but eventually there comes a day of reckoning. By far the most dangerous thing people can do is to pretend to be a Christian.
The Parable and Itís Meaning
Jesus spoke this parable to keep us from being pretenders or in other words "hypocrites." The meaning is straightforward. First, Jesus tells us that the world will come to an end. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." The kingdom of heaven is now mixed in with the kingdoms of man. There is much sin and suffering in this world, but those who hope in Jesus have found salvation. He came to conquer with holiness, obedience and love. His death became the sacrifice for the sins of all. But not all accept this. In fact, most do not. The day will come when Christ will return Ė not in humility and grace for salvation, but in power and glory for judgment. In addition there are some who are associated with this kingdom, but they are not really in it. These are the foolish virgins or bridesmaids who have lamps but no oil for them. They know that Jesus is coming, but they are not ready. They do not have true faith. The wise and foolish virgins fall asleep. We will all fall asleep in death unless we live to see the last day. Finally the cry will be made: "The Bridegroom cometh!" At that time the foolish bridesmaids will recognize their lack of oil or true faith in Christ. They will ask the wise maidens for some of their faith. But, alas, it will be too late. No one can be saved by the faith of another. While they are trying to find that faith, the Bridegroom will arrive, and the doors will be shut. Though they will cry out: "Lord, Lord, open to us!" He will answer, "Verily I say unto you I know you not." They are excluded because they have proven to be pretenders.
Since the Bible speaks so often and so strongly against the problem of hypocrisy it is essential that we understand what it is. Do you remember the story of Job? Job was a righteous man, but God allowed him to be tested by Satan. His friends came and began trying to figure out why Job was suffering. They accused him of being a pretender (Job 8.13). We have to be careful about throwing the accusation of "pretender" around. Sometimes Christians go through periods of weakness, temptation or testing, but that doesnít mean they have turned away from Christ. The other extreme, however, is to use the cover of "weakness" for that which in reality is "lack of faith." How do we know which is which?
The most common characteristic of the pretender is that they associate themselves with Christians. With their lips they profess to be disciples of Jesus, but in their hearts they are far from God (Isaiah 29.13; Mat 15.8). There are many examples in the Bible: Cain worshiped but didnít have faith. King Saul offered sacrifices but didnít trust in the Lord. Judas walked with Jesus for three years, but didnít believe in him. The true test of faith is not found in the knowledge of God. You do not need faith to know about God. Some of the greatest Bible scholars of all time were not believers. The test of faith is not in works. There have always been many "noble pagans" who are good and upright people. They do many things for others, and yet they do not have faith in God. The test of faith lies in repentance. If you are sorry for your sins, and if you believe that only Jesus can save you from your sins, then you are a true believer. Pretenders rarely talk about repentance. They are uncomfortable with it. You will not find them in their rooms alone crying out in their prayers, "Lord have mercy on me!" The repentant heart is the most difficult thing to fake! The pretender may go to church for different reasons. They may go to gain knowledge. Most go to do a good deed (or to keep the pastor from visiting them!). But they donít go because they know they need Jesusí forgiveness. They donít go for the cleansing of repentance and forgiveness.
What does it take to be turned around if you are a pretender? Dr. Nick Yphantides can help us. Although he was a true Christian he was living part of his life in a purely hypocritical manner. Dr. Nickís specialty was preventative medicine. Every day he was trying to help people live a healthier life. But his own life was anything but healthy. Dr. Nick struggled with his weight. His bathroom scale only went to 350 lbs. For some reason when he maxed out at that level he stopped thinking about his increasing weight. Finally he decided to buy two bathroom scales for each foot. He was shocked to discover that adding them both together he now weighed in at 467 lbs. Something had to be done. How could he give everyone else advice, but not take it himself. At age 31 he discovered he had cancer that required surgery. It was not until he faced his own mortality that he turned to God and asked for help. (www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2005/001/8.28.html)
The cure for pretending entails at least these two things: First, we have to face reality. The Apostle Paul said, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13.4). Again he said, "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged" (1 Corinthians 11.31). We need to ask ourselves questions such as these: Am I concerned about my sins? Have my prayers been empty routines? Have I maintained outward respectability but neglected to strive for holiness without which no man shall see God? Am I bored with Jesus and the Bible, or do I hold on to Him and listen carefully to what He says? Secondly, the hypocrite needs to consider the coming day of reckoning. Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?" (Luke 18.8) Will He find faith in me?
If youíre sitting here right now or reading this sermon, and thinking "I donít need to ask those questions?" Or, "You can ask me to think about those things, but my response is, ĎOf course Iím a true Christian! How dare you to even bring up such a subject?í" I would say that you are listening to the Devil and not to Jesus. Why do you think Jesus spoke this parable? This parable calls us all to think about the potential for hypocrisy in our lives and to turn to Jesus and say, "Lord, forgive me for any hypocritical part of my life. Keep me from temptation. Preserve me steadfast in the faith."
Helping Other Pretenders
I hope that we would all respond to this parable in this way. While God asks us to be careful about pretending, He also comforts us with His promises: "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1.6). We look to the "Ö Author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12.2). No one has to fear the temptations of hypocrisy if they are willing to admit that the temptations are there and hold on to Jesus to get us through them and beyond them.
Another response to this parable should be this prayer: Lord, use me to help my neighbor. Help me to bring the oil of faith into their hearts. Look how many people there are around us who care nothing about Christ. There are others who have lamps, that is, they have the outward symbols of faith Ė they worship occasionally, they profess to be Christians, but their lifestyle consistently says otherwise, and thereís no repentance for it. Give me the wisdom to talk to them as Jesus would talk to them. If nothing else, help me present this parable to them for consideration. Help me to pray for them and to be an example to them. Our goal as Christians is to be disciples and to help others become disciples. Our focus is continually on the return of the Bridegroom Ė Jesus and our readiness to meet Him. We look forward to the banquet that He has prepared, and we want to bring as many with us to that feast as God would allow.
The Bridegroom comes awake! Your lamps with gladness take!
With bridal care Yourselves prepare / To meet the Bridegroom, who is near.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Twenty-sixth Sunday After Pentecost, November 9, 2008
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2008
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