MESSAGE DELIVERED: OCTOBER 16, 2016
When hurricane Matthew came roaring up out of the Caribbean, taking dead aim on the American East coast, dire predictions were made for the outer islands and coastal cities. But the majority of the damage was caused far inland. Places that had never flooded before were inundated. Small towns and villages hundreds of miles inland bore the brunt of the storm and whole towns were left under water. They weren’t prepared for what happened.
It is really hard to look at events like these…the flooding of New Orleans, the flooding of New Jersey and New York City…the unprecedented wild fires ravaging many parts of the West and the unheard of number of tornados that flattened so much of the heartland…and not think that all these things just might be what Jesus called “The beginning of sorrows”.
It is hard not to think that, very soon, we should see the long anticipated “rapture of The Church”. That glorious event where the Lord comes and calls for His own bride to come to Him. And then, when we are safe in Heaven, that dreaded “seven years of tribulation” will break out on Earth, and on all those left behind.
So what I want to ask you is: are you ready for that? That is what today’s text is talking about. Different Bible commentators will identify those ten virgins differently. Some call them the saved and the lost of the Church age. Others call them the saved and lost of the tribulation period. But if you will bear with me for a bit, I want to present them as something else.
In my thinking, and not to denigrate those other learned men, but I believe “opinions” are like belly buttons; everybody has one. Just mine is a little different (not my belly button, but my opinion). And I see all ten of those bridesmaids as professing Christians. And I put heavy emphasis on that word “professing”.
Jesus told us that in the “last days” many will come to Him saying “Lord, Lord, in your name we have done many marvelous things”…only to hear Him say “depart from me, I never knew you”.
And I see those as the five foolish virgins. They are people who have been invited to the wedding, and have seemed to have accepted that invitation. But we can see from their actions that they did not take that invitation very seriously. Or possibly they were misled, whether intentionally or not, by the men trusted to deliver that invitation. And I think you can figure out for yourselves who those men were, or are.
But this much I want you to understand: the very best literal translation of that word “foolish” is “stupid”.
Here is what is being talked about. In Jewish tradition, a couple would become engaged to wed. That was called a “betrothal”, a legal and binding contract. At that point the prospective groom would leave to prepare a suitable home for his future bride.
When the home was ready; the bridegroom, preceded by his best man, blowing on a trumpet to announce what was about to happen, would come for his bride and take her to that prepared home. The entire wedding party would follow, and the festivities would begin.
Midnight would be a highly unusual time for a wedding to begin. But then, what Jesus is talking about is a highly unusual wedding. It is His own! And the bride is all true believers. So the midnight time frame is just another way of telling us not to get too comfortable in thinking it will take place according to our schedule. This is God’s event, and it will take place on His timing.
So, everybody is invited to the wedding, and have all accepted the invitation, and they all go to the home of the bride to await the Groom’s call. And from what I just told you, you should be able to identify the bride’s home as “The Church”. As in, joining with, or identifying yourself with The Church.
But, some who go to church are serious about attending that wedding, while others are not so serious. I read an article a while back, about how some people love to be in church. They love the stained glass windows, the music of the organ, the beauty of the hymns, and the whole atmosphere of the church. But they also say they have no belief in God. It is just the church itself that they love.
And there are probably people like that in every church body. They go because they like the atmosphere, or because their friends go there, or maybe because they think it is expected of them, or for any number of reasons, all except the right one…going there to meet Jesus…going there to have an encounter with the God of the universe.
Those are foolish people, who will, one day, find a door has been shut in their faces.
Midnight is an unusual time for a wedding. And it is an impossible time to find a merchant open and willing to sell them the oil they need for their lamps. So those who made no preparations, and whose lamps have gone out, could not possibly catch up with the bride’s party after it has left the bride’s house.
And if that is a veiled reference to the time of the rapture, it also gives a veiled “hint” as to when it will take place. Obviously we cannot know the hour or the day…but we can get a glimpse of the situation that exists at that time. First there is a LONG period of time between the wedding being announced, and the time it actually takes place.
It was so long, in fact, that ALL the bridesmaids had fallen asleep. Well, we have been waiting 2000 years, and that certainly is a long time. And a real good definition of The Church today is “the sleeping giant”.
We do not have the same burning desire to spread The Gospel that the church of the first century had. Oh, we still move around a bit, but it is more like the tossing and turnings of a restless sleeper, than like the determined efforts of those who still had the words of the invitation ringing in their ears…fresh in their minds.
But God knew that, as The Church got further and further away from the “freshness” of The Gospel, that its zeal would begin to fade. And that is why the scripture says “they all slept”.
But, regardless of how you interpret the people in this story, the meaning of the story is crystal clear! There are people who know about this coming event, but who will miss it, because they did not make the necessary preparations. And that is the question I am asking YOU today: are you ready? Are you prepared?
Right now, right this very minute, if a heavenly trumpet should sound, and the archangel should shout, and the sky roll back like a scroll, to reveal the risen Savior…and He calls His bride, His Church…are you absolutely certain that, as the Church rises to meet her Lord, that YOU will be one of them? There is no more important question to be dealt with.
I have heard that, up in Idaho where they do a lot of logging, high in the mountains, that there is a certain rough dirt road that those log trucks use to bring the lumber down out of the mountains. And occasionally sportsmen; hunters and fishermen, will try to use those same roads to reach the hunting and fishing areas up there.
However, that rough road is not wide enough for two vehicles. And if a fisherman going UP that road, should meet a logging truck barreling DOWN that road, then the fisherman better learn how to fly, because there is no place for him to go! For that very reason, there is a crude, hand painted sign posted at the entrance to the road. The sign reads “prepare to meet thy God”.
I think that is a fair warning for a lot of people, who certainly should know better, but are still determined to travel the WRONG road!
There was a preacher once trying to describe to his congregation what that ‘last day’ would be like. He said “thunder will crash! Lightning will strike! Rivers will overflow! The sky will be in flames! There will be terrible storms and floods and earthquakes…” and a little boy in the audience leaned over to his mother and whispered “Mommy, I won’t have to go to school that day, will I?”
A German preacher named Herman Thielicke tells about visiting in Stuttgart, Germany shortly after the war, and being shown a gaping hole that had once been a cellar where 50 people had taken cover during an air raid. A bomb had scored a direct hit, killing everyone inside. While he stood there, a woman approached him and said her husband had been one of the people in that cellar at the time the bomb had gone off.
She said all they ever found of her husband was his hat. And she also said “We were both here the last time you preached in our little village church, and when you gave the invitation, my husband believed! He told me so! So I just wanted to thank you for preparing him for eternity”.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a life insurance salesman, because Christianity has a lot more to do with living than with dying, but we sometimes have a tendency to gloss over some difficult truths, in order to avoid those hard questions. We really prefer to look at life through those ‘rose colored glasses’, but that’s not always the way life is. Life is just full of those unexpected events.
Just a couple years ago, a stranger burst into a McDonald’s restaurant in California and began randomly shooting at everyone in sight. You ought to be able to feel safe in a place as familiar as a Mickey Dee’s. But as the paramedics and the police arrived and began carrying out the dead and wounded, the answer became “apparently not”!
Or, kids excited about the end of the school year, show up for class and two of their own classmates, armed with guns and homemade bombs, go on a killing spree for reasons that have never been determined or even adequately explained. Can’t our kids feel safe in school? Again, apparently not.
Life is a fragile thing, and we live in a fragile world. If you’ve ever had a teenaged child get their first driver’s license, then you realize some of the risks we face. And as we get a little older and our friends begin dying, from cancer, heart attacks…we begin to wonder “will I be next?”
Even our relationships are fragile. It’s said that one out of two marriages will end in divorce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And almost half of all children in America live in homes with only one parent present. That’s a fact of life today. But it’s a fact that the churches sometimes have trouble dealing with.
There was a woman in a certain church who had been married three times. Her first two husbands died, but the third abandoned her, forcing her to file for a divorce. And what was the difference in the way the church responded? According to the woman in question, it was a difference like night and day.
When her first two husbands had died, the church had responded by orchestrating funeral services, sending cards and flowers, bringing her food…but when she became a divorcee, she received neither consolations nor casseroles.
Even though she was every bit as devastated by the divorce as she was by the deaths, the church by and large ignored her now. She later responded bitterly; “I should have killed him! At least the church knows how to forgive murderers!”
Life is uncertain. Families are fragile. There are no guarantees of success or happiness for any of us. And that is true, regardless of the depth of your religious commitment.
During that senseless massacre at Columbine High School, I’m sure you remember, one of the killers pointed his gun at one girl and asked her if she believed in God. When she proudly affirmed that she did, he shot her.
And that seems like a terrible waste of a promising young life. But because of her stance for her Savior, with death staring her in the face, her funeral was telecast all over the world. And as Franklin Graham led the service, all the major wire services paid to have the Gospel broadcast, worldwide!
And while a promising young life was so needlessly snuffed out is a tremendous tragedy, please don’t lose sight of that we know she will, one day, be reunited with her parents and loved ones, and by her death, millions of people heard the Gospel message. As Romans 8:28 promises, at least some good will come out of every tragedy, though often we are hard pressed to see it ourselves.
But our commitment to Jesus is no protection from the unexpected. All of us are vulnerable. Life itself has played some mighty cruel jokes on people whose commitment to Jesus is far greater than our own. Men like the apostles that Jesus called…and all of whom paid with their lives for the Faith they held so dear.
That’s where each of us have to lean on our Faith, and trust the Lord for today, because we have no promise of tomorrow.
Carl Sandburg, who is more famous for his poetry, also wrote a book called “The Prairie Years”, about the early life of Abraham Lincoln. In it, he describes life on the Midwestern prairies for the early settlers.
It wasn’t an easy life. Medical facilities were nonexistent. Sickness and death were always present threats. One out of every four babies born to those settlers would not survive. Lincoln’s own mother died early, as did one of his sisters, and one nephew.
In that book Sandburg describes the harsh life those people experienced. And he also describes how they would gather in their crude churches on the Lord’s day, and whenever a travelling preacher arrived, how in their low and humble state, they would sing:
“There’s a land that is fairer than day,
and by faith we can see it afar,
for the Father waits over the way,
to prepare us a dwelling place there.”
The lives of those pioneers were hard, so they prepared for the life to come. We, on the other hand, don’t experience the same harshness of life, the same hardships and deprivations. So we make a far different kind of preparation. Since our lives, compared to theirs, are soft and easy, we tend to make plans to enjoy this life, and often give little thought to what comes next.
Well, I’m not here to ask you if you’re prepared for the mishaps or misfortunes of life. I’m asking you if you’re prepared for what happens when this life is over. And I’m not trying to raise the level of your anxiety. Lord knows we have enough to be anxious about lately.
Instead I want to raise the level of your Faith, ‘if’ you’re a believer. If you can say with absolute confidence “Jesus is the Lord of my life”, then it’s time for you to put your whole trust in Him.
That is the very best preparation you can make, for whatever life can throw at us…that we first trust Jesus with our souls, and then we trust Him with our lives.
And for that, you first come to Him in sincere repentance and confession, and accept His precious gift of salvation, which He has purchased for you, with His own Life!
Then you need to put yourselves, and those you love, and everything you treasure, into His capable Hands. You need to put your whole Faith on HIM, no matter what comes your way. Whether good fortune or cancer…whether riches or poverty…you must be able to say, along with Job, who suffered more than we ever will…to be able to say with confidence in spite of circumstances: “I know that my redeemer lives!”
And then be able to say along with Paul, who also suffered more than we ever will: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”
And for each of us, “THAT DAY” will come. Hopefully, what you have committed unto Him, is your life…the lives of those you love…and all your earthly possessions that you hold dear.
Because then, and only then, will you be fully prepared for whatever tomorrow might bring.
So now it’s time for an invitation, and we need to remember those ten virgins, or bridesmaids we read about. And remember they had all been invited to the wonderful wedding party, and all had accepted that invitation but only half of them took the invitation seriously enough to make the necessary preparations to enjoy that party.
First, have you received your invitation, and have you accepted it? Because, God loves you so much, and not because you’re so loveable, but just because He chooses to love you. He gave His Son for you! And because the Son loves you so much, He gave His Life, on a cruel Cross, where He paid all your debts, and opened Heaven, if you’ll accept His Sacrifice. That’s what you must do, in order to be Saved.
Then having been Saved, is there oil in your lamp? You get THAT by committing your life, to live it for Him! That’s the difference between those who only accept the invitation, but make no preparation to RECEIVE it.
Jesus was really clear about that. There will be many, on that Last Day, who will try to tell Him about all the things they did for Him…but who really just did what they wanted to do, and called it, living for Him.
It doesn’t work that way. Living for Him means living His way! It means trusting Him with all that you are, have, and do. It means trusting Him with whatever MIGHT be, while looking ahead to what WILL be.