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Parable of Ten Virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."Matthew 25:1-13

It’s amazing to me to read these parables of Jesus and understand how some people challenge the demands that God has placed upon humanity. A judgment is coming. This story is all about the Day of Judgement; it’s eschatological in theme, as most of His parables were.

In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, or “Ten Bridesmaids”, Jesus tells a story about a party of these girls being some sort of torchbearers for a procession; they were chosen to participate in a wedding that would take place at night. Each of the ten virgins is carrying a lamp or torch as they await the coming of the bridegroom, which they expect at some time during the night. Five of the virgins are wise and have brought extra oil for their lamps. Five are foolish and have brought their lamps but no extra oil.

At midnight, all the virgins hear the call to come out to meet the bridegroom. Realizing their lamps are going out, the foolish girls ask the wise ones for oil, but they refuse, saying that there will certainly not be enough for them to share. While the foolish young ladies are away trying to get more oil, the bridegroom arrives. The wise bridesmaids then accompany him to the celebration. The others arrive too late and are excluded from the event.

The parable is one of several Jesus gave when asked the question: “When shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”  (Matthew 24:3, King James Version)

So this parable is a warning addressed specifically to those inside the professing church: “Do not to assume that your future is certain because you’ve been invited to the party.” Jesus does not criticize the virgins for sleeping, since both groups do that, but for being unprepared for the coming of the groom, since they brought no extra oil. The rising action of the parable is the preparation for the coming of the bridegroom, but a crisis occurs for five of these girls when the bridegroom is delayed.

Many believe that this parable shows "the necessity of good works," with the spare oil symbolizing good works stored up by faithful Christians, and the lax Christians being those whose faith did not compel them to active love or good deeds, i.e. good works equals salvation.

Some say that the lack of oil in the lamps of the foolish virgins means a lack of good deeds in their lifetime, but I don’t think that this interpretation is correct. Why should they be lacking in good deeds, if they are called virgins, even though foolish ones? Virginity is the supreme virtue, an angelic state, and it could take the place of all other good works. I think that what they were lacking was salvation from God. These virgins practiced the virtues, but in their spiritual ignorance they supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works. By doing a good deed they thought they were doing the work of God, but they cared little whether they acquired the new birth that Jesus said was essential. A lot of folks see Jesus as this kind teacher that asks nothing from us except that we’re nice to others.

Chesterton said: “We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed the most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful.” The true image of Jesus, if you read the the New Testament, has been reduced to some sentimental kind of love that does not represent Jesus or His Holy Father. We’ve been deceived. Jesus demands that we are born again, that we die to self and that we are prepared live for Him. Christianity is not a religion that says, “Come as you are, stay as you are, and be blessed by God”. Jesus would tell us that we should come to Him when we are ready to be His disciples and follow Hime—even to death.

There’s a new mental health syndrome that was diagnosed several years ago. It’s called FOMO: “Fear of Missing Out.” It’s the the fear of not being included in something. It’s ‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing something, in the know about something , or in possession of more of something better than you’’. In one study, nearly three quarters of young adults reported they experience this phenomena.

As you can imagine, FOMO is especially associated with social media engagement, texting, iPhones, chatting, etc. The New York Times called this, “Instagram Envy.” FOMO leads people to check social media right after they wake up, right before they go to sleep, and every ten minutes or so in between.

It’s driven by the dreadful thought that you might be left out in the cold. But young people and camp staff, please listen to me: social media presents a fantasy world that simply does not exist! It’s an unrealistic highlight of other people’s fun times and achievements, that can easy make our own seem rather dull and boring. Turn off your phones and tablets!

We all crave relationships, we are social creatures, we created in the image of a very personal God. We naturally fear exclusion—not being a part of the pack. Loneliness is one of the primary causes of depression. And the Bible speaks of one event that we should all fear missing out on— it’s not just the social event of the year or of the decade— it’s the event of the ages—more precisely of the age to come. It’s pictured in the Bible as a great feast— a magnificent wedding banquet, full of joy and celebration. The prophet Isaiah speaks of it this way— “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. (25:6-8).

Rev. 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. The messianic wedding banquet—the time when the Lord will come to set all things right in this fallen world.the time of great celebration when he will gather his people in great joy and praise.That is an event that we don’t want to miss!

So FOMO--the fear of missing out can be a good thing— it is positive if it encourages us to follow Jesus—who alone can overcome that fear by showing us the way to share in this joyous celebration.

A little more background on the parable: The story pictures ten bridesmaids is based on the marriage customs of Jesus' day --for normally, after the formal engagement, the groom would go away to establish a home for his bride. At some later date he would return to her parents' house where the bride would be attended to by her unmarried friends, or bridesmaids in our weddings. After the bridegroom met the bride, together with her attendants, they would go to his house for a week-long wedding celebration. Coming at the end of his teaching about his future return, Jesus uses this story to answer a central question— Who will be welcomed into this great wedding celebration? Who will be included in this magnificent heavenly feast?

Notice that it is clear that both the wise and the foolish virgins were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. Clearly, they all hoped to share in the wedding banquet. They all thought they were ready and would be included in the festivities when the bridegroom arrived. But only at the end does the wisdom of the one group and the foolishness of the other become evident. Only then is it clear which ones will be received by the bridegroom and which ones will not. Think of the what Jesus is saying:— knowing that He is returning or even hoping to be received by him when he does come, is not enough. Something more is required.

As Jesus tells it, this story in not about arrogant sinners-- the foolish virgins don't represent those who are vehemently anti-Christian, or sexually immoral, or atheists. No, they are obviously sympathetic to the Christian faith— today they might be church-goers, and they may know all about Christian things. They may look just like Christians— but they're not.They may even think they're Christians— but they're not. Only when it's too late, does their foolishness reveal itself.

The time at which the bridegroom came was unexpected. "They all became drowsy and fell asleep.” If they had known when he was coming, surely, they would have been awake, but Jesus teaches us that when it comes to his return such knowledge is not important. In fact, elsewhere he makes it quite clear that such knowledge is impossible. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Only those who were ready, only those whose lamps were burning when the bridegroom arrived, were at the feast. The others would be missing out. This is the heart of the story: ”Keep watch, or be ready, because you do not know the day or the hour. Jesus is calling each one of us who would claim to belong to Christ to be continually and constantly faithful until he returns.

Our lamps must be burning, but what does this mean? Your faith has to be alive! Not cold and extinguished. He expects us to be on fire for Him—not Lukewarm. Dependent on Him for our oil—not looking for the oil of others.

The oil that keeps the lamps burning (that is, living faith) is not transferable. Your parents may be Christians,and you may have grown up in a Christian home. Your husband or wife may be a Christian, or you may attend a very good church that is on fire for Christ— but is your lamp burning? He is the source for that flame—-you can’t steal or borrow it from others. It’s going to be a first hand experience with Jesus Christ if you want to be in heaven.

The parable teaches us that we must not be complacent about our faith. Remember that the lamps of all ten virgins were burning at one time. When Christ returns the question will not be were you ever faithful at some time in the past but are you faithful now. Jesus told his disciples that before he returns, the love of many will grow cold, but the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. (24:13)

You may have been baptized, or confirmed, you may have prayed a prayer, or walked an aisle,you may have been a Bible study leader,a Sunday School teacher, or even a church Elder--but what are you doing now? The fault of the foolish virgins is not wickedness, but lukewarm-ness. It's not atheism, but apathy towards Jesus. They took their participation in the banquet for granted, and as a result, they made no preparations. Their hope was real, but they did not have roots that went down deep—as in the parable with the sower.

We do not know the day or the hour when our time will come— and when it comes, it will be too late for those caught unprepared. You are foolish to procrastinate about making a decision to be born again.

C. S. Lewis makes the interesting observation that the Apostle Paul promises those who love God, not, as we would expect, that they will know God, but instead that they will be known by him (1 Cor. 8:3; cf. Gal. 4:9).“It is a strange promise,” Lewis writes. “Does not God know all things at all times? How could he say “I never knew you. Depart from Me.” “In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside –repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored.”

Yes, that fear of being left out ought to be very real to us all. Left out forever— in that darkness which no light can ever penetrate, experiencing an unrelenting loneliness.“We can be left utterly and absolutely outside –repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored.”“On the other hand,” Lewis writes,“we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged.We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities.” We must not say, “I'll attend to it tomorrow.” Do it now!

I think, lately, that the most over quoted but less respected verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Believeth in Him does not simply mean to believe that He is the Son of God—-the demons believe that, tremble and are still condemned to hell. “Believeth” means that you believe what He said about the the Kingdom of God is true! And that means that you must be born again, forgive, love and pray for your enemies! It means that you understand that you’ve been saved for the purpose of living a life dedicated to God, and that you prove that in the manner in which you treat others. And if this is the truth, I declare that there are some of you listening to me this morning or reading this devotion this afternoon, that are headed to hell, not heaven, no matter what you’ve confessed or believed. Your lamp is extinguished because His Holy Spirit was never ignited it. You’ve come to God on your terms—not His—and that’s not going to work.


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