Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on March 26, 2017

“The Tragedy of the Unprepared Life”

Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13

          In the 24th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples that God’s Final Judgment is immanent and He describes the signs they will observe before that fateful day (Mt. 24:3-31). He concludes His teaching about the coming Judgment Day with four parables: the Faithful Servant, Mt. 24: 45-51; Ten Virgins, Mt. 25:1-13; Bags of Gold, Mt. 25: 14-30; and the Sheep and Goats, Mt. 25:31-46. Each parable communicates the same warning: Be prepared for His Return!

Jesus was concerned about the readiness of His followers for the time He returns to judge the world. The issue of Christ’s return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 20:11-21:5) should be ever-present in our mind for it sustains our Christian faith. Its importance is emphasized every Sunday in worship when we recite the Apostles’ Creed. In that creed we affirm that Jesus “shall come to judge the quick and the dead. Whenever we join together in praying the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Your kingdom come.” Both statements point to Christ’s Second Coming.

Do you really believe Jesus will come again? I dare say most of you would enthusiastically answer, “Yes!” However, there is another vital question to ponder when we consider Christ’s return. If He should come today, “Would you be ready?” Jesus’ parables in Matthew 25 are delivered to ensure that His followers will be ready when He returns.

There’s a true story that comes from the sinking of the Titanic about a man named Arthur Peuchen. Peuchen was an extremely wealthy Canadian businessman. He was making his fortieth transatlantic voyage on April 15, 1912 when the Titanic struck an iceberg. When the order came to abandon the ship, Peuchen rushed back to his cabin and grabbed three oranges and a family pin. He left behind $200,000 in stocks and bonds, his jewelry and gifts for his children.  What is incredible about Peuchen’s choice of three oranges is that thirty minutes earlier he would have chosen his stocks, bonds and jewelry. But death had boarded the Titanic. When the end was in sight, priceless things instantly became worthless. Once worthless things instantly became priceless. When confronting his possible death Peuchen preferred three small oranges to documents worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

There are events in life which quickly change the way we look at the world. Jesus’ parable about ten young virgins or bridesmaids offers one of those events, for

this parable is really about being prepared for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The context of the parable is a wedding. Throughout history, weddings have been times of joyous preparation and celebration. In Biblical times wedding festivities would last a whole week.

The high point of the week-long wedding celebration occurred when the groom would arrive at the bride’s house to escort her to their new home. Great pageantry and drama surrounded this event. The bride would have selected ten of her friends to be bridesmaids. Their special task was to join in the parade which would journey throughout the village, receiving the cheers, gifts and congratulations of the townspeople as they made their way to the wedding couple’s new home. Usually this procession took place at night, requiring the women to carry oil lamps in order to light the way of the meandering wedding party.

The arrival time of the groom was kept secret so as to build the excitement. Since the groom’s arrival was a surprise, the bride and her bridesmaids waited eagerly for the shout that the groom was near. All ten bridesmaids had lamps, but in Jesus’ parable, there were critical differences among the ten. Five wise bridesmaids realized it might be the middle of the night before the groom arrived and the parade started to the couple’s new home. So the wiser bridesmaids brought extra olive oil with them in small flasks to fill their lamps. The five foolish bridesmaids made no preparations for their lamps running out of oil. Tragedy awaited them!

As they anxiously waited for the groom and his friends to arrive, all ten bridesmaids grew drowsy. They carefully placed their burning lamps in a safe place and dozed off. Finally, a cry was heard in the street, “The groom’s here! Everyone come out to meet him.” (25:6). The traveling party could now begin.

Guests and family poured out into the street. All ten young women arose quickly and “trimmed their lamps” (25:7)“Trimming” the lamp meant adjusting the wick and replenishing the oil reserve inside the lamp. To their horror, five bridesmaids suddenly realized their mistake. Their lamps were almost out of oil and they hadn’t brought any reserves (v.8). The five foolish women crowded around the five well prepared women demanding, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out” (25:8). Politely, but no doubt firmly, the prepared bridesmaids replied, “We don’t have enough for you. Solve your own problem!” (paraphrase  v.9).

No doubt irritated, the five unprepared bridesmaids stomped off to beg, borrow or buy a bit of oil – in the middle of the night. In the meantime, the bride, groom and the rest of the wedding crowd entered the new home and shut the door (v. 10). In the final scene of the parable, the five short-sighted bridesmaids acquired some oil and finally arrived at the wedding party. They knocked on the door and pleaded to be part of the festivities, “Lord, open the door for us!” (25:11). But the groom replied, “Sorry, I don’t know you” (v. 12). Basically he was telling the five bridesmaids, “If you belonged here, you would have already been present.”

         Jesus concluded this parable with the warning, “Therefore keep watch, because you don’t know the day or the hour” (25:13). What had caused the rejection of the five foolish bridesmaids? It was their failure to prepare for the groom’s untimely appearance. Jesus used this parable to warn His disciples to be ready for His return which He had earlier told them about (Matt. 23:39; 24:30-31, 36, 42, 44).

Some Christians today are expecting Christ’s return, but they are not preparing for it. Jesus repeatedly told His followers that He would return in glory so that Christians would not be caught unprepared. “Preparing” means living life in a manner which glorifies Christ. He died for you, He gave you His Spirit. Now live for Him!

 

Christian history is replete with well-meaning believers who have attempted to identify the date of Christ’s return:

  • A Christian named Ignatius wrote in 110 A.D., “The last days are upon us. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible.” He was mistaken.
  • An early Church leader named Hippolytus wrote in 236 A.D. that Christ was sure to return by 500 A.D. He was mistaken.
  • It is a little known fact that Christopher Columbus was a student of Biblical prophecy. He wrote a volume entitled, “The Book of Prophecies,” in which he predicted the world would end in the year 1656. He was mistaken.
  • The predictions never stop. In 1992, Christian author Harold Camping wrote that Jesus would return in 1994. When it did not happen, Camping wrote another book predicting 2011. He was mistaken again.

Sadly, all those trying to predict the date of Christ’s return ignore His very words, “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father… So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’ (24:36, 44).

There is a balance in the Christian life between knowing that Christ may come back tomorrow, yet living as if He may not come back in your lifetime. Therefore, our preparation for His return cannot be a last minute thing. Rather, it is a lifestyle; an ongoing readiness. Jesus deliberately expects us to live between two tensions: patiently waiting while eagerly preparing.  Many people have heard that Jesus Christ is coming back – but they don’t believe it. One thing is for sure: Jesus cannot lie and He said HIs return will be like “a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 16:15).

Jesus is coming back – just like He said He would. Be watchful and be ready!