Watch! The Bridegroom is Coming!
Watch! The Bridegroom is Coming!
Matthew 25:1-13 T Last Sunday of the Church Year
“How much worse can the world get before Christ comes back?”
I hear this question echoed among Christians in the Church quite a bit.
Some in the Church ask the question from a place of fear –
A fear of the signs – the earthquakes, famines, wars – that happen before Jesus’ return.
Some in the Church ask the question from a place of faithless wonder –
Wondering how much time is left before we really have to clean up our act,
And commit fully to the Lord.
It’s tempting for the church to listen to the outside voices that say –
“If Jesus hasn’t come back by now, does He really even care? Is He really coming back? Does He even exist?”
Only Christians that truly believe in the return of the King can withstand such flaming arrows.
Only those whose faith burns brightly will be ready for the coming king.
All those who lack faith,
will miss out on the coming King, and the gate of Heaven will be shut.
And the worst thing the bridegroom could say would be said:
“I don’t know you.”
These 5 foolish virgins were invited to the wedding.
Yet they still missed out.
And what’s most peculiar about this story is that the bridegroom said
“I don’t know you.”
But notice, He never said “I never knew you.”
This parable is about the Lord knowing someone, but then they fall away,
and are unprepared for the Lord’s coming, whenever that may be.
The Ten Virgins in the parable are compared to the Church.
The parable teaches us about the difference between the visible Church,
and all the outside visible markers that help us identify “the church”.
And it also teaches us about the invisible church,
That is the church that’s truly righteous and has salvation by faith.
In the visible church are all ten virgins – five foolish, and five wise.
But in the invisible church are only the five wise virgins.
The visible church is marked by outward visible things.
The true church is wherever the Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments are administered rightly according to Christ’s institution.
So, Baptism saves us, and joins us to the visible Church,
because the saving waters join us to Christ.
Communion joins us to the visible church,
Because Christ’s body and blood are received by us and it connects us in confession and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ around us as we proclaim together the Lord’s death until He comes.
As Lutherans, we emphasize the importance of these sacraments.
And its for good reason.
For Christ uses these visible means of bread, wine, and water to give eternal gifts.
We emphasize the importance of this Sacramental Life,
Because these are the very ways we, the branches, are connected to Christ, the vine.
However, if we do these things apart from faith, it does no good.
Faith must receive the gift given in these outward visible signs for the gift to be beneficial to us.
For example, if someone got you keys to a Mercedes Benz for Christmas,
You would be called a fool to outright reject the gift.
You’d also be called a fool if you accepted the keys to never drive the car and just look at it sit in your garage.
Faith must receive the gifts Christ gives.
Otherwise, faith dwindles, and one becomes like the five foolish virgins.
That is, they become attached to the visible outward forms of the church,
But are never really “the church”.
Their names may be written in the Parish Register that we’ve had since 1883,
where we record the stats of who’s been baptized and confirmed here.
However, such outward and visible forms of attachment to the Church are useless without faith.
Christ knows you, based on whether or not you have a living faith.
So the five foolish virgins in the parable didn’t have a living faith.
Thus the bridegroom said “I don’t know you”.
They neglected the gift of faith and life they received in these outward, visible things,
that had been given to them by their Father in heaven.
They never replenished their faith,
By going to God who supplies faith.
In that way, those like the five foolish virgins are given a Mercedes Benz but let it just sit in the garage.
Faith receives and applies daily the gifts of forgiveness received in the outward forms of Baptism and Communion.
Faith trusts God daily.
Faith leads one to come back to church weekly to be fed and nourished.
True faith makes one like the five wise virgins,
Who’re ready for the return of the bridegroom at any time.
The seeming delay of His coming doesn’t faze them.
Rather, they trust that He’ll come. He’s promised it.
And so even though the wise virgins aren’t perfect,
and they doze off in slumber before His coming,
they’re nonetheless prepared to enter into the eternal feast with Him in Heaven.
How is one to be prepared?
Receive the outward signs of the Word and Sacraments regularly.
For that outward sign isn’t meaningless.
It actually nourishes and sustains faith.
Because Christ is in those outward signs.
But God’s gift of faith must be there too,
to receive the sustenance of what Christ gives in the outward sign.
If one were to eat food without your small intestines working properly,
The food they eat would be meaningless.
The body wouldn’t be able to absorb the nutrients from the food,
And the person would slowly die.
But with a fully functioning small intestine,
One would be able to receive life giving nutrients from the food one eats.
Likewise, receiving the outward forms of the church without inward faith working properly would be meaningless.
It would be like eating food, but getting no nutrients from it,
And it actually leaves you slowly dying.
But with faith, you receive nutrients from hearing the life-giving Gospel.
Your faith is strengthened by hearing the love of God on the cross given and shed for you,
Your faith is nourished by what’s received here at the altar,
not only by your mouth do you receive the body and blood of your Savior,
But it’s also received by your heart.
By faith, we receive the life giving and sustaining gifts of Christ.
So, today’s parable is to warn us.
To warn the church to stay on watch.
To pay attention to the faith we have.
For Christ is coming.
We don’t know when,
But we know He will –
Whether He comes to us in our earthly death when we enter heaven’s feast with Christ our Savior, or if He comes back again to earth before we die,
We know His time is coming.
For you, for me, for the church, for the world.
We’ll either be invited in, or we’ll be shut out.
The one who grasps onto Christ by faith daily doesn’t need to fear.
To be ready is to receive the sustenance for their faith regularly.
They take part of the outward forms of Word and Sacrament,
With a true trust and joy that through these things,
God provides all that’s needed for their salvation.
For this one, their name being on the church membership list isn’t their foundation.
Their foundation isn’t based on what once was in the past.
The one who is ready for Christ doesn’t talk about baptism in the past tense,
But in the past-present tense.
Not “I was baptized” but “I am baptized” –
For baptism is a present reality that’s living and active by faith in Christ.
Our foundation is Christ, and Him alone.
For He has purchased and redeemed His bride, the church,
with His holy precious blood.
Not with gold or silver, but with His Death. With His Resurrection.
Faith recognizes that we need Christ’s strength for our everyday lives.
That’s why we find value in attaching ourselves to Him, His gifts and promises.
Because on our own, we’re so corrupted by our sinful human nature,
There’d be no possible way we could even be numbered with the ten virgins awaiting the feast which is to come.
There’d be no way we’d be invited guests in the first place.
But by His gracious invitation, we can engage in the celebration and victory over sin, death, and devil by faith.
So keep watch. Be alert. Be awake. Keep sober.
Pay attention to the visible markers of the church and continue being regular participants in them.
But also, guard the faith God instills in you,
For God has not destined you to wrath,
but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us,
so that whether we are awake or asleep,
we might live with Him.