Parables Alive! 8. Be Ready!
8. Be Ready!
Matthew 25: 1 - 13
We’re concluding our Parables Alive series today. The setting is a wedding ceremony where the groom, not the bride is delayed and a few things head south during the celebration. In Matthew 24 we see that Jesus is doing some private teaching with his disciples in response to their questions about His 2nd Coming - v. 3: “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” There are signs that His coming is close and that His appearance will also be very sudden. Today’s parable is a warning. I’m praying that God will shake us out of our spiritual slumber. If you only remember one thing, remember this: Prepare for a delay, but be ready today.
Here Comes the Bridegroom
v. 1 - We’re introduced to 10 bridesmaids who are waiting for a wedding to begin. Weddings back then were the biggest social event in a village and were quite different from the way we celebrate them today. The father of the bride (no, not Steve Martin) and the father of the groom would get together and draw up an official contract. This was the engagement period, followed by the betrothal that involved vows and promises between the couple. Purity and faithfulness were the norm. The betrothal would last up to a year and during this time the bridegroom would prepare a place for them to live - often an addition to his father’s house. When he was finished he would then go to the bride’s house to pick her up and then take her home to their new place to start their life together.
By the way, the Jewish wedding ceremony provides the backdrop to the wonderful words of Jesus in John 14: 2, 3: “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” That’s what we see here. After all the preparations, the bridegroom is coming to get his bride.
This would often happen at night and so the bridesmaids would light their lamps to provide light for the joyful procession. People got married young back then so the “10 virgins” were young teens who had never been married.
Bridesmaids today carry flowers but back then they carried fire. By the way, are you aware of the history behind brides carrying flowers? In the 15th Century, most people got married in June because they took their yearly baths in May and wouldn’t smell too bad a mere month later. To be on the safe side and so the groom would not be gasping for fresh air, brides began carrying bouquets to hide their body odour. Aren’t you glad you now know that?
v. 2 - 4 - half of them were ready for the wedding and half were not. The 5 foolish ones didn’t bring any fuel with them. The wise women on the other hand, had containers filled with oil to keep their lamps lit. This was very important because it was quite common for the bridegroom to be delayed. In our culture people would be worried that he somehow got cold feet but this groom is simply taking his time. In our setting, the bride is central and the groom is just the guy sweating as he stands next to the preacher.
v. 5 - They slumbered, and then they slept. Notice that all 10 took a power nap. There’s nothing wrong with that. It was probably a good idea because the upcoming festivities would last a long time. But only half of them were prepared. Because the 5 faithful bridesmaids were ready, they could sleep peacefully. While the bridesmaids are snoring, suddenly out of the darkness and the stillness of the night we read –
v. 6 - This was a loud cry. Have you ever heard a cry in the middle of the night? It’s piercing, isn’t it? Midnight in the Bible is often when deliverance would arrive. Exodus - “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt.’” Samson took out the gates of Gaza at midnight and Paul and Silas were set free from prison in the middle of the night. Maybe that’s why the rabbis used to say that the Messiah would come at midnight. We know from other passages that Jesus will come like a “thief in the night,” when we least expect Him. According to Matthew 24 there will be a loud trumpet call to announce His coming. 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” His coming will not be quiet!
v. 7 - all the bridesmaids wake up and lit their lamps. The word “trimmed” means that they removed the burnt parts of the linen or torch so that they would burn cleanly. But here’s where we see the huge difference between the bridesmaids.
v. 8 - As the fire goes out they’re filled with fear. The idea is that it’s a gradual process that leads to their flame being extinguished.
v. 9 - They are not being “bridesmaidzillas” but are simply being wise. They knew that the groom would have been disgraced had they all run out of oil. This was their way to bail the bridegroom out because at least their lamps were burning brightly.
Proverbs 13: 9: “The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” They knew that if they shared their oil that none of them would have enough and so they tell them to go over to the 24 hour garage shop and buy their own. Oil was plentiful back then but hard to get at midnight.
v. 10 - The idea here is that the door was “shut and stayed shut.” Doors back then used a very heavy and cumbersome bolt that would have made a grating noise when secured. Like the door on the ark, it sealed in those where were ready and sealed out those who were not. When everyone was assembled, the “master of the house” shut the door, and the servant was instructed not to allow anyone to enter, no matter how insistent they were. Those who were prepared got to go to the party while the unprepared were left out and locked out.
On the surface the bridesmaids appear to be very similar. They had all been invited and they all responded positively. They were probably dressed the same and got their nails done at the same place. All 10 had gone out to wait for the bridegroom with their lamps. They were in the right place at the right time. They all had some oil in their lamps at the beginning and they all fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom. They all woke up when they heard the cry and they all scurried to light their lamps. On the outside they all looked the same.
There was one crucial contrast. One group was prepared and one wasn’t. It wasn’t because there was a lack of information. They all knew that there was a possibility the groom would be delayed but 5 of them procrastinated while 5 prepared themselves. The message is clear: Prepare for a delay, but be ready today! Later, the 5 others arrive, presumably now with oil.
v. 11 - Being a bridesmaid was a great honour and privilege. To be unprepared and shut out of the reception was the stuff of which young women’s nightmares were made. They not only missed the entire procession back to the groom’s house, along with all the festive dancing and singing, they also missed the moment when the bride was brought into the groom’s house under the wedding canopy. Their pathetic cries were of no avail.
v. 12 – chilling - they are not told, “You’re too late” but are instead dismissed with the devastating statement, “I don’t know you.” They expected to be on centre stage but are now excluded and treated as if no one even knows who they are. I can’t imagine anything more frightening than to hear Jesus say these words. It should send a shiver down our spines. Those who were unprepared were unable to enter.
Point of the Parable v. 13
The main point of this parable is to be prepared. The word “watch” means to arise and denotes attention and alert earnestness. Because we don’t know the exact time, we must prepare for a delay, but be ready today. The reality of Jesus’ return should make us watchful, alert, self-controlled and holy as we long for His appearing. Here are some ways that we can be ready today.
1. Reflect and Repent
1 John 2: 28: “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” Are you living in such a way that you would shrink away in shame if Jesus were to come back on a Friday or Saturday night and you’re out doing whatever you’re doing? Would you want Him to appear while you’re in the middle of gossiping about someone? Would you want Him to show up at work and see your attitude? Do you want to be yelling at your children when Christ comes back? Repent today to be ready tomorrow.
The story is told of a famous rabbi walking with some of his disciples - one asked, “Rabbi, when should a man repent?” The rabbi calmly replied, “You should be sure you repent on the last day of your life.” But, protested of his students, “We can never be sure which day will be the last day of our life.” The famous teacher smiled, “The answer is very simple. Repent now.”
The thief nailed to the cross had just one chance and he took it. Could this be your last chance? In the Bible the church is referred to as the bride of Christ. Have you fallen off the boat? Have the waves of life capsized you? Are you ready to get back on dry land? Let’s go out to meet our returning bridegroom and let’s be ready when He comes. Revelation 19: 7 “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
2. Get Ready to Grow
Are you spiritually stagnant? Is your fire flickering? Then it’s time to be proactive. Those who believed the bridegroom was coming took some action. Growth is not automatic and no one can do your growing for you. You will have to work at it. It’s time to stop being lazy and lukewarm. Ask God to break you out of your spiritual slumber and refuel your lamp so you can burn brightly once again. Hebrews 10: 36, 37 tells us that we will receive what is promised, “For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’”
3. Tell Lost People about the Lord
Don’t get so caught up in the finer points of future events that you forget to point people to Christ. Acts 1: 7, 8 in response to some questions about the timing of His second coming, Jesus said: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” We’re not to be focused on date setting but instead we’re called to be Spirit-empowered witnesses. Look at the very next verse: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That means we start in our own community with our family and neighbours and then move out to our province and then spread out to our country and then make sure we are taking the gospel to the continents as well. It’s not an either/or proposition but an “all of the above” deal. By the way, our involvement in God’s global plan of evangelism is linked to the timing of Christ’s return. Matthew 24: 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
4. Believe and be Born Again
Jesus will come suddenly and unexpectedly and if you’re not saved, the door will be shut and you will be left behind. His coming will be swift, certain and severe. Proverbs 27: 1 “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Let me give it to you straight. If you are not born again, you will die and find out that it’s too late. Hebrews 9: 27 “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Or, Jesus will return and you will be left behind because you are not ready. The door will not only be closed, it will be locked. Belief cannot be borrowed because salvation is nontransferable. Just because your parents are prepared, it doesn’t mean you are. Or just because your children are, it doesn’t mean you are. God has no grandchildren; only children. Faith must be personal; each bridesmaid had to have her own oil.
Don’t delay - you could die today! Or, Jesus could come back while you’re having lunch this afternoon or before you leave this building. 2 Corinthians 13: 5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Jesus Christ is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” It’s quite possible that some of you think you’re prepared but you’re not. You’re either in or you’re out and if you’re not in, you’re out.
The time to prepare will soon be past, therefore prepare for a delay, but be ready today. Do you know why Christ has not yet come? It’s because He is giving you time to repent now…before it’s too late. 2 Peter 3: 9, 10: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Friend, I don’t know how to say this any other way. If you don’t know Jesus, you have an appointment with judgment. Your future home will be in Hell and if you do nothing that’s where you’ll end up. There is no escape unless you put your faith in Jesus Christ this very moment. It’s your choice. What will it be? Do you want to face ruin? Or, do you want to be rescued?