Matthew 25:1 – He said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lampstands and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. And afterward, the other virgins came also saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He answered, ‘Truly I say unto you, “I do not know you.”’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Well, that seems pretty simple doesn’t it? I mean, it’s pretty obvious what that is talking about. I was looking in the commentaries and they said, “However, there is no end of interpretation of this parable” – that you can put a lot of meanings to it. And they’re probably all true. So I want to remind you, though, that this all started – this parable and the two that follow it in Matthew 25 – with a question that Jesus was asked. And we read that in Matthew 24, verse 3. It says in Matthew 24:3:
Matthew 24:3 – As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately saying, “Tell us, when will these things be and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”
So the context of this parable is about end-time events. And the specific point Jesus is making – even though He was talking to His disciples, it not just to them, but it’s for all Christians…. How do we know that? Because all the people there had oil and that is representative of the Holy Spirit, according to the Bible. So it’s a dire warning for Christians.
Let’s go through this verse by verse and see what we can make of it. Verse 1:
Matthew 25:1 – Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lampstands and went to meet the bridegroom. Well, they have oil. They have the Holy Spirit. What is that supposed to mean?
I had an interesting experience this week that kind of reminded me of what it means. A man came to my office with his son, who has some disabilities. His son is twenty years old. He’d desperately been trying to find a therapist and got a referral and came to see me – brought his son with him. I said, “So how did you come to find me?” He said, “You were referred to me by a therapist. But I went on your Website and I read about how you’d done a lot of youth work and that you were a Christian?” I said, “Oh. So you’re a Christian?” He said, “Yes, I am. I’m almost apologetic to ask you this, but would you be offended if I asked you to tell me about your faith?” And I said, “Well, that word has several meanings. Do you want me to tell you what I believe?” He said, “No, that’s not important. I want you to tell me about your faith.” And I said, “Well, when I was eighteen years old, I made an agreement with God. And I got the better end of that bargain. I got all of my sins forgiven for the rest of my life in exchange for my life. And I’ve been living my life to try to do what God wants me to do ever since then – not very well, but I’ve been trying.” And he said, “That’s what I needed to hear.” See, he didn’t care what I believed, except to know that I had surrendered myself to Christ. And that helped him believe that I was going to take care of his son the way he wanted him taken care of.
I started thinking about that. I made a deal when I was eighteen. I did. And so have most of you that are listening to me. The fact that these young girls came out with lamps that had oil in them is indicative of people who have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. That’s what we’re being told there. They had a lampstand that they put their lamp on. You know, you don’t put your light under a bushel. You put it up on a stand so it can be seen – “…so it will shed light through the house,” Jesus said. So that’s what we can learn from that part of the verse. And then it says, The kingdom of heaven will be like….” So this has to do with the kingdom of heaven – being in the Kingdom of God and entering into it.
Now, I want to turn to Hebrews 9 – keep your place there in Matthew – Hebrews 9:28. Paul said:
Hebrews 9:28 – So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him. These girls were that, weren’t they? They went out to eagerly wait. And that’s good, isn’t it? That expectant attitude of faith in those who wait for Christ to return and who wait to be with Him. That’s what they were doing.
So this is a warning to the committed – that’s us. There is something that can derail us there. Five were wise and five were foolish. In what way were they wise? And in what way were they foolish? Well, verse 3 tells us:
Matthew 25:3 – When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them…. Wise Christians have lots of extra oil, because they didn’t know how long they were going to have to be there. Foolish Christians don’t. Bare minimum, right? Bare minimal effort. Bare minimal activity. Bare minimal preparation. Just getting by – doing the bare minimum.
The lamps that they had weren’t like our flashlights. We could say, “Extra batteries…” maybe, if we wanted to use that analogy – or a Coleman lantern. But what in the world good is a lantern with a little tiny fuel capacity if you have to stay long term, and if you have no fuel for it after you use up what is in it? You have to have an oil can or a fuel can to keep extra fuel in. It needs to be full, if you’re going to go long term.
So what is the oil again? The Holy Spirit. Right? We don’t think about quantifying the Holy Spirit too much, but in this analogy, He’s just trying to make a point about something. And we don’t quite know what it is yet.
V-4 – …the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps – it says in verse 4. So they had extra oil with them. It was full – that flask that they had.
I used to camp a lot and I have a great big, old metal can that I keep my fuel in – five gallon can. I guess for the lanterns, it was a gallon, but it had a little funnel and all that. And I could pour it in there. Maybe you’ve had that experience, too.
Okay, the oil that’s needed – the extra oil – that’s the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do for us? Let’s read in Galatians 5:22.
Galatians 5:22 – The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience – would you need patience to wait? – kindness, goodness, faithfulness – would you need faithfulness to hang in there? – gentleness, self-control – would you need self-control to wait and to load up the flask and bring it with you and all that? – against such there is no law.
When we think about that, what we’re talking about here – right out of the Bible, right? – the fruit of the Spirit – are these characteristics. So there needs to be plenty of this in our lives – plenty of these characteristics. Against such thing there is no law. Nobody is going to give you a warning ticket for that.
2 Timothy 3:14 – another scripture related to this. We’re coming back to Matthew.
2 Timothy 3:14 – But as for you – he says to Timothy – continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it – faithfulness, continuance – right? – patience – and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work – including waiting. So those wise girls, they came equipped for the task. They were ready for it. They made their preparations as good as they could make them.
When I was 18, I had no idea how long it was going to take for Christ to return. I thought I did, but I had no idea that it would take as long as it has taken. I had no idea about all the things that were going to happen – things that I wouldn’t have dreamed would have happened.
I’ve told this story about when I came to college, I was telling some of my roommates that my parents didn’t understand the things that I had understood about the Bible. I asked them whether I should have been more aggressive in that. They all told me, “No, you’ll just mess it up. You should let one of the ministers do that.” And they rattle off the names of a lot of the people that were on the faculty at the church-school I went to – the “spiritual giants.” Hardly any of them are still in any faith. Most of them have just quit. Sad thing. I never would have thought of that. See, I thought that we were all a band of brothers and sisters. And I had no idea how many would tire, slow down, and finally, just stop altogether. No idea. Pretty scary, really. Pretty frightening. Verse 5.
Matthew 25:5 – As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.
What’s this about? It’s about the natural state of things. It’s very hard to stay in a state of heightened vigilance – very hard. We all have to sleep sometimes. And the harder we try to stay awake, the more sleepy we become, it seems.
Have you ever been hunting for white-tailed deer? The best way to hunt for a white-tailed deer – not so much the mulies they have out here in the west, but white-tailed deer are very wary creatures – the best way to hunt for them is to sit still and wait for them to make the mistakes, instead of blundering around through the underbrush, making all kinds of racket. I’ve actually watched a hunter being tracked by a deer. He was from behind. I was up on a hill overlooking the situation and this guy was fighting his way through a thicket. The deer, when he got to the thicket that he was on the other side of, got down and kind of crawled through the brush. It was following him. He had no idea, of course. It was just a little tiny fawn, too. It didn’t need to be a wary adult. It was smart enough to hear him coming a mile away.
It’s very hard, though, to sit still. It’s boring and you’re usually very cold, because you hunt in the fall. So most hunters get cold and they start moving. That’s when they start making the mistakes. The deer just move around them. Now, even if you take enough clothes to keep warm, you got up early and you’re sleep-deprived, so it’s quite likely that you’ll fall asleep. One of the friends I hunted with one time told me that he went to sleep out on his deer stand, and it had rained that night, and there were deer tracks walking right up to him and then away. So while he was asleep, this deer walked up and took a sniff of him and took off, I guess.
So, none of us are going to be awake. That’s what Jesus is telling us. Even the wise ones fell asleep. So what’s a person to do? Well, the answer is there, but it’s in code. Verse 6.
V-6 – But at midnight there was a cry. “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” And we certainly will be glad to do that when that happens, won’t we? All the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. That’s good, too, isn’t it? And they found out…. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” They didn’t bring enough. They weren’t ready. So now it all starts to come home to them. “I don’t have enough oil.” And then in verse 10:
V-10 – While they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast. And the door shut…and that was it! It was closed. It doesn’t work to say, “Can you wait a minute? I have to go get some more fuel. I’ll be right back.” That doesn’t cut it. You have to be ready when it’s time – no second chances. You have to be ready. You have to be ready when He comes. And we don’t know when that will be.
V-11 – Afterwards the other virgins came saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” Verse 12.
V-12 – But he answered, “Truly I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’” So you have to be ready. We have to make spiritual preparation ahead of time.
V-13 – Watch therefore – it says in verse 13 – for you know neither the day nor the hour. Jesus talked a lot about this. He said, “If you knew when the burglar was coming, you’d have the police there waiting for him.” He didn’t really say that, but…our talk today. The thief comes in the night when you least expect him to come. Even if you realize you could be burglarized, and there’s a burglar operating in the community, or whatever, it’s still a surprise, because you don’t really know when it’s going to happen. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. You know, Lenny Cacchio gave a really great sermon at the Feast about this issue. The point of prophecy is not to know when it’s going to happen, but to be ready.
So let’s talk about real-life application. We’ve just talked, using the code terms here – you know, the fruit of the Spirit and being ready. How much time do we have?
I want to read you something else that Paul said to Timothy. It’s in chapter 4, verses 6 through 8. Paul said…now Paul would be one who would be waiting, right? He would be one of the virgins who have oil, right – since he’s committed.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. He knew he wasn’t going to last long. He wasn’t going to last until Christ returned. He was starting to see that. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. “I still have my oil. I haven’t given up. I haven’t been discouraged. I haven’t been intimidated. I took everything that the devil threw at me and, with God’s help, I’ve kept the faith.” Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day – not only for me, but also to all who have loved His appearing – for the other virgins, who are all excited for the coming of the bridegroom.
Do you know what that means? Paul sounds like a virgin waiting for the wedding, doesn’t he? He’s looking forward to his crown on the wedding day – I mean, if you marry a king, you get a crown, right? – and loving the appearance of the groom – that expectant anticipation of a faithful Christian. So when is that going to be for him? Well, it’s going to be when Christ returns. Yes, but he knows he’s not going to live to see it. So, when he breathes his last breath out and closes his eyes, the day of his resurrection will be an instant to him, because he will wait in the grave asleep – “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” Right? Those are his words.
So what does that mean, as far as this parable goes? What it means is that, unless Christ returns in our lifetime, we have a life to get ready. And we do not know when that life will end. I mean, we could step off a curb after church here, and get run over by a semi. We just don’t know. We could have a stroke – perish the thought. But there are no promises about any of this. So we don’t know when the bridegroom is coming for us. None of us do. So this parable is applicable not only for the people who are alive at Christ’s return, but for every Christian who is living now, will live, and who has ever lived – because you’ve got a lifetime, if you’re not one of the chosen few who will be alive at Christ’s return. That’s all you’ve got – a lifetime. “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Yeah, but what if you die tonight? That’s the point. That’s one of the points of this.
So what do we have to do to get ready? Well, the fruits of the Spirit – you have to have enough of the Spirit to last, right, through the ordeal. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That’s what we have to have enough of.
Now look at these things. It doesn’t say, “Keep the Sabbath.” It doesn’t say, “Keep the holy days.” It doesn’t say, “Tithe.” These are all attitudes and emotions, not behaviors. These are all things of the heart, aren’t they?
I’ve quoted this scripture recently. I’m going to quote it again. I gave a sermon a while back, based on a sermon by Martin Luther King. And in that sermon he mentioned that he gave that sermon once every year – at least. It was about loving your enemies. And he gave that because he said, “I keep learning more about it. So I update the sermon every year with what I have learned, because it’s so important to me.” Well, I’m kind of in that mode right now.
Matthew 15:19 – For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Those are all behaviors, aren’t they? Those are all behaviors. And He says, These are what defile a person. And they come out of the heart if we don’t have fruit of the Spirit in sufficient quantity. Right?
So I think that this parable is about preparing to be a Christian – about Christian life and what it means – the core of it – right down to the root. And I think that many of us don’t understand what that is really about. We think it’s about doing stuff. It’s about wearing a tie when you come to church, or putting on a suit coat – not that that’s bad. It is good. That’s not really what God is concerned about.
One of the best people I ever visited, and invited to church years ago, didn’t have a suit or a tie, so he came wearing his gas station uniform, neatly pressed. It had his name on the pocket – Bob. Right? And everybody was completely happy to see him, including God. So it’s not about lining the chairs up straight. It’s not about being ordained. It’s not about any of these trappings that we think are religion. It’s about these things. It’s about our heart and what our heart is like.
So my purpose is not to explain how to do inner work – I’ve done that and I’m going to do some more of it – but to explain what the oil is about. And I think we have done that. We’re about to begin a new series on How To Do Inner Work. We talked about that at the Feast a lot and had lots of requests for more information. So we’ll probably put the stuff we did in the workshops in series form and produce it that way. It’s to be a follow up to the sermons we gave at Sandestin, or maybe even include those, if we can’t get them published. So we hope that you’ll take an interest in that, because it will help you prepare for the day. We all have to. Nobody is excepted.
So that’s a bit about the ten teenage girls. Why do you suppose Jesus chose ten girls? I mean, besides that fact that girls all love weddings. Well, we’re all girls metaphorically, right, awaiting our marriage to the Lamb of God. Will we be ready? When we go out to meet the bridegroom, will our oil cans have sufficient oil in them? Will we have the sticking power to endure the wait? Or will we fizzle out along the way, like so many of my friends? And I don’t say that from a position of superiority. I’m just glad that God has seen me through and I have made it this far. Will we have allowed God into our hearts to change us – to give us the fruits of the Spirit? When that time comes, will we have the patience, the love, the self-control? Will our lamps be shining brightly when the bridegroom comes? Or will they have gone out?
The really good thing about this is, that outcome is not in the hands of someone else. It is not. Happily, it’s a choice that God gives to each of us. But it’s one that we cannot make as the bridegroom appears. If we try that, it’s too little too late. If we have minimal preparation – last minute slackness and we do just the bare minimum and float along through life – that won’t work. That’s that point. So we make that decision now. Every day, when our feet hit the floor, as we live out our time on this earth, we get to decide what we’re going to do. Are we going to float on? Or are we going to work on filling that oil can? Will your can be full? Will you have enough? It’s up to you and nobody else.