171112 Matthew 25:1-13

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 November 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Theme: What It Takes To Become A Triumphant Saint

What a difference a week makes! The focus of our worship last Sunday was the Last Judgment, a day that could be described as the most sobering Sunday of the Church Year. The dominant color of the day was red. We usually associate red with the Holy Spirit, but last Sunday red was also a visual reminder of the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41).

Today is drastically different. The mood is different. The music is different. And you probably noticed that the color is different too. White is symbolic of holiness and purity. White reminds us that even though our sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). White represents the white robes worn by the righteous in the book of Revelation (7:9).

And on this Saints Triumphant Sunday white reminds us of our loved ones who have finished their lives in faith and now rest from their labors. They are the ones who are wearing white robes. They are worshiping with the angels. Even now they are basking in the glow of eternal glory.

It's an amazing picture, isn't it? It is a picture of perfection. In fact, there is only one thing that could possibly make that picture better, and that would be if you and I were in it. If it sounds too good to be true, it's not. It's not just wishful thinking. A heavenly reunion is possible, and in the parable of the ten virgins Jesus tells us how to make this possibility a reality. Listen and learn from our Savior as he explains...

WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A TRIUMPHANT SAINT

Our text takes us to Holy Week, to a hill just east of Jerusalem, just a few days before Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus' disciples wanted to know what the end of the world would be like. Jesus wanted his followers to be ready for when that day would come. In order to accomplish both goals, in order to teach them and prepare them, he told them the following parable:

"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" (1-2). Jewish weddings were joyous occasions just like they are today, but back then a traditional wedding looked much different than what we would consider normal.

Instead of a church ceremony followed by a reception, the typical Jewish wedding looked more like a parade. The groom and his attendants marched from his family home to the home of the bride, and from there everyone made their way to the couple's new home for a celebration that could last for days.

The virgins mentioned in the parable were planning to join this grand procession and join in the celebration, but there was a problem. Half of them were unprepared. "The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps" (3-4).

In the light of day it would have been very difficult to identify who was foolish and who was wise. The virgins looked the same. They acted the same. They all had lamps, but when the bridegroom was delayed, when night fell and they all fell asleep, when the cry rang out at midnight, "Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!" (6), the difference became clear. Five of them had oil. Five didn't. Five lamps were burning brightly. Five weren't. Five were prepared. Five weren't.

The announcement of the groom's arrival put the foolish virgins into panic mode. Because they didn't have any fuel, their lamps fizzled out. They tried to borrow some oil from the wise virgins, and then they went out into the night to try to buy some more oil, but it was too little, too late. "While they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the banquet. And the door was shut" (10).

Eventually the foolish virgins came back to the banquet, and when they arrived they pleaded to get in. "'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us'" (11). They were hoping that the groom would be in a forgiving mood. They were hoping that the groom would give them a pass. But when the groom answered, any hopes they had were dashed. He said to them (and I picture him speaking through the closed door): "I tell you the truth, I don't know you" (12).

That's the end of the story, and it doesn't exactly have a happy ending. So why did Jesus tell it? Why did God consider this parable so important that he inspired Matthew to preserve it for us? What does he want to teach us? What does he want us to remember? What does he want us to do?

The purpose of a parable is to use an earthly story to express an important spiritual truth. The point of the parable of the ten virgins can be summarized in two words: BE READY! Be ready for the end of the world. Be ready when Jesus returns. Be ready every day because Jesus could return any day.

Jesus' words are simple enough to understand. Jesus' directions sound easy enough to follow. But as the parable demonstrates being ready when Jesus returns might be more difficult than it appears.

The ten virgins weren't asked to perform any extraordinary tasks. All they had to do was carry along a little extra oil, but half of them didn't. Why couldn't they perform such a simple task? Why didn't they do something so obvious? The parable doesn't give us a reason because there was no reason. They had no excuse. They were just being foolish.

When Jesus tells us to keep watch, when Jesus commands us to be ready for his return, he doesn't ask us to perform any extraordinary tasks either. There are several simple steps we can take to make sure that we will be ready on the Last Day. We prepare ourselves for our Savior's coming by worshiping him, by praying to him, by reading his Word and receiving the sacrament.

In this country we have the freedom to worship God without fear of persecution. In this congregation we have three worship opportunities every week. Thanks to the internet people have greater access to God's Word today than ever before in the history of the world.

Preparing for Jesus' coming should be easy, but perhaps it's too easy. It's easy to take these opportunities for granted. It's easy to neglect what is truly important, to let your Bible get dusty, to let your spiritual life become rusty. And without even realizing it you drift off into a comfortable, spiritual slumber.

And then a trumpet blast jerks you back into consciousness. And then the Lord descends from the clouds. And then the Judge takes his seat. And then you find yourself standing in front of a large door. On one side of the door there is the sound of singing and laughter. One the other side there is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth. On one side everything is bright. On the other side there is only darkness. One side of the door is covered with gold and precious jewels. The other side is marked by the desperate pounding and scratching of those who tried in vain to force it open.

Do you get the picture? Can you see the door? Can you see how different it looks on either side? Can you see the glory and the misery, the joy and the shame? If you can see it, if you have that visual image in your mind, I have only one more question for you: Which side are you on?

It's not just the foolish virgins who were being foolish. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that it's enough look like a Christian. It's enough to be a member of a church. All we need to do is show up once in a while and sing some songs and pray some prayers, and God will be happy.

Jesus was speaking specifically about that kind of attitude when he warned: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Jesus isn't impressed by outward appearances. Jesus isn't satisfied with our outward acts. He wants our hearts. He wants our hearts to be filled with the oil of a living and active faith because without it we will be left on the outside looking in.

So where does that leave us? If saints are holy people, and none of us is holy, should we give up? Should we give up any hope of seeing our loved ones in heaven? Should we scrap the idea of becoming triumphant saints and get rid of Saints Triumphant Sunday? No.

We have every right to think of ourselves as holy in the eyes of God, and we have every reason to call each other saints. Martin Luther observed that this was a common practice in the early church, and he argued that this practice should be retained: "When Christians call themselves holy after Christ, this is not arrogance; it is honoring and praising God. For thereby we do not praise the malodorous holiness of our own works but His Baptism, Word, grace, and Spirit, which we do not have of ourselves; He gave them to us."

Because Jesus sacrificed his life for me, I am forgiven. Because Jesus shed his blood for me, my sins have been washed away. Because Jesus lived a perfect life in my place, I am holy. I am a saint. And so are you.

Canonization is the official term in the Roman Catholic Church for recognizing the sainthood of an individual. Becoming a saint is a multi-step process that begins when a formal request is made on behalf of the deceased. A bishop then decides if the evidence is compelling enough to take the request Rome. If permission is granted, the candidate has to pass several tests (including proof of two miracles attributed to the person), and then by papal decree he/she is declared to be a saint.

Jesus' definition is much simpler. Jesus' directions are far less complicated. If you want to become a triumphant saint, you don't have to perform any miracles. You don't need to jump through any hoops. You aren't required to carry a lamp filled with oil wherever you go. Your saintly status doesn't depend on all the good things you do for God, but on the great things your Savior has done for you.

You are holy because he is holy. Because he died you will live. Because he lives you will live. Because Jesus triumphed over sin and Satan and death, you and I will be a part of that triumphant procession on the Last Day. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in the Lord. We will unite our voices to praise our Lord. And the celebration will never end. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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