The Last Days According to Jesus
Ten Sleepy Virgins
Matthew 25:1-13
 
In almost 30 years of ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to officiate at dozens of weddings and I will tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever participated in one where everything went the way it was planned.
 
I’ve had the groom pass out during the ceremony.  I’ve had brides late coming down the aisle.  I had one where the groom didn’t have pants to wear.  I’ve had the bride’s father forget what to say when giving away the bride. 
 
And apparently I’m in pretty good company because in today’s text, Jesus tells about a nighttime wedding where everything seems to go wrong. As we’ll see in a moment, the groom shows up so late that the bridal party falls asleep by the side of the road.
 
When he finally arrives at midnight, half the bridesmaids have forgotten to bring enough oil for their lamps and end up being banned from the celebration.
 
As the story concludes, the rejected bridesmaids are standing outside the door asking for admission, but to no avail. They have been shut out from the wedding banquet. It is a sad, strange ending to what should have been a most joyful occasion. Other than that, it was a perfectly normal wedding!
 
Now Jesus wasn’t just telling us that sometimes wedding plans go astray.  He is using this parable Jesus told to illustrate a certain truth about his Second Coming.
 
And in my opinion, the parable itself is a masterpiece, with each detail adding a piece of crucial information.
 
Now there are a lot of different things to glean from the story, but my attention kept coming back to one phrase in particular found in verse 10.  Notice the little phrase, “And the door was shut.” There is an awful finality about those words. It means that the door was shut and locked and would not be opened again. Those on the inside were safely inside; those on the outside could never get in no matter how hard they tried.
 
And what Jesus is telling us is there is a “door” that leads to heaven. It is the door of God’s grace.  It was opened 2,000 years ago by the by the bloody cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ. And from that time to this, that door has been open to anyone who wants to enter it.  In fact, it’s open to you today if you’ve never trusted Jesus as Savior. 
 
And if you look closely, you’ll see inscribed on that door a reminder that “Whosoever will may come.” Anyone, anywhere, anytime can go in that door and find new life, salvation, forgiveness, freedom, and eternal life.
 
But there is a companion thought made very clear by the story Jesus tells also and that is that door won’t be open forever.
 
All around us are reminders that life is short and very uncertain. Sometimes the door of opportunity shuts through death. And once death shuts the door of God’s grace, the only thing left is to face God in judgment. There is no “second-chance” beyond death for those who had no time for Jesus in this life. Once you die, the door is shut forever. Either you go through the door while you are alive or you will never go through at all.
 
Sometimes the door shuts through indifference.  There are a lot of people who have no time or interest in God and what they may discover one day is that God has no time or interest in them.  It’s possible to sin away your day of opportunity and discover that the door of God’s grace is locked tight. 
 
And in this story, Jesus uses this parable to remind us that one of these days the door will be shut because the Lord has returned and there are no more opportunities. 
 
In order to fully appreciate the impact of this story, we need to know something about first-century Jewish wedding customs. In those days you got married in three stages.
 
First, there was the formal engagement, which was almost always arranged by the parents.
 
Some months later (up to a year or more) came the formal religious ceremony in the bride’s home. That would be something like our modern wedding ceremony.
 
Third, there was a wedding banquet (or feast) at the groom’s home. That banquet took place sometime after the formal ceremony, usually at night. It might happen the same day or it might take place a week or so later.
 
And in certain cases that “banquet” could last up to seven days. So it was quite an elaborate affair that cost a lot of money, and therefore it was a major social event that everyone wanted to attend.
 
When it was time for the banquet, the groom would travel to where his bride was and together they would walk to the groom’s house. The road before them would be lit with lamps held high by the wedding party.
 
The bridesmaids would take part in this ceremony of welcoming the bridegroom as he prepared to come for the banquet. It would be a major breach of etiquette for anyone in the wedding party not to be by the road ready to welcome the bridegroom.
 
And that’s the background of this story. The engagement time is over, the formal ceremony has already taken place, the ten virgins (the bridesmaids) are by the road waiting for the groom to appear. Their lamps are lit as they anxiously await his coming. And when he is delayed, they all fall asleep.
 
Finally at midnight someone shouts the good news, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming!” The virgins wake up and prepare to relight their lamps, which had gone out while they slept. Five of the virgins had brought extra oil and so could relight their lamps. Five had no extra oil.
When the first group asked to borrow some from the other five virgins, they were refused. While they went off to buy some oil, the bridegroom appeared and the five virgins whose lamps were lit went in with him to start the party. The door was shut by the time the other five virgins returned.
 
Here is the sad end of the story, “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you’” (Matthew 25:11-12).
 
And then Jesus makes a very simple application to his Second Coming in verse 13, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
 
That’s the story. It’s a little slice of life from a wedding that went haywire. The focus of the story is on the ten virgins. Five were prepared and five were unprepared.  Five had oil and five didn’t Jesus refers to them as wise and foolish. Five were ready and five weren’t ready. Five entered the wedding banquet and five were refused.
 
And all of this is meant to teach us that some people will be ready and others won’t be ready when Jesus returns to the earth.
 
Let me point out some very obvious observations from the story. 
 
1. All Ten were Alike in Many Ways
 
One of the most striking facts about this story is how similar the ten virgins appear on the surface:
 
- All had been invited to the banquet and all had responded positively.
 
- All ten had gone out to wait for the bridegroom.
 
- All of them had their lamps with them.
 
  • All the virgins wanted to see the bridegroom.
  • All were in the right place at the right time for the right reason.
  • All of them wanted to go to the wedding banquet.
  • All had some oil in their lamps at the beginning.
  • All fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom.
  • All were awakened by the midnight cry.
  • All ten virgins got up to prepare their lamps.
  • All appeared to be equally prepared for the bridegroom’s coming.
Now let that last statement sink in for a moment.  They all appeared to be prepared for the bridegroom’s coming.  In fact, I’m confident that if we could ask the ten virgins to stand in front of us in no particular order, we would be hard pressed to distinguish the wise from the foolish. 
 
We might argue about it and say, “Number 2 looks a little bored. Maybe she’s a foolish virgin.” Or, “Look at Number 6. She’s chewing gum. How wise can she be?” Or, “I know Number 10. There’s no way she’s a wise virgin.”
But it wouldn’t make any difference. I submit to you that there was no way to tell in advance who was wise and who was foolish because to the untrained eye, they all looked the same.  However, there was
 
2. One Crucial Difference
 
You couldn’t see it by casual observation because it wasn’t a matter of dress or outward appearance. I imagine that all the bridesmaids dressed alike and looked alike. But there was something else, something not readily visible that separated these young girls from each other forever and because of this one crucial difference, five entered the wedding banquet and five were excluded.
 
So what made the difference?
 
Verse 5
 
So what caused the delay?  The text doesn’t say.  Do you know why we aren’t told?  Because the reason doesn’t matter. If the wedding had been last week and the groom had to travel through Atlanta, then it was probably the ice storm that caused his delay!
 
Maybe it was a natural disaster that delayed him. Or perhaps he had business to attend to.  Maybe his parents were ill. Maybe he was ill.  Perhaps he had travelled to a distant city and was hurrying home as fast as possible and had a camel emergency!
 
It had to be something important because the delay apparently was not because he didn’t want to get married because when he finally showed up, even though it was midnight, instead of postponing the party, he orders that the party should begin right then.
 
And that brings us to the key point of the parable. Five of the virgins anticipated him being late and brought some extra oil with them. That’s why they were prepared when he finally showed up. The other five virgins evidently never thought about the possibility that he might be delayed. Or if they thought about it, they dismissed it as so unlikely that it wasn’t worth worrying about. After all, who is late for their own wedding celebration?  Either way, they weren’t prepared when he finally and suddenly arrived at midnight.
 
Now at first glance, there is a tendency to feel sorry for them.  But before you do that, think about this:  All of the girls knew the bridegroom was going to get married, they knew he would come to the banquet, and they knew they needed oil for their lamps. It’s not a matter of a lack of information or having the wrong information. All ten virgins started with the same facts. But these five, even though they had all the information they needed, still weren’t ready!
 
Now notice, they do rush out and buy more oil, but they still don’t get in.  Why not? 
 
They waited too late! No doubt their intentions were good, but good intentions were not enough. Once the door was shut, it would not be opened again no matter how long they stood outside or how loud they shouted.
So what does the oil represent?  I think it represents salvation.  The oil is making sure you are ready for the coming of the Lord and the 9only way to get ready for the Lord’s return is to be saved. 
 
In fact, if you study the subject of oil in the Bible, you will discover it represents the presence of the Holy Spirit.  When you get saved, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell you.  Every Christian is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit of God. 
 
And the five wise virgins represent those whose hearts have been truly changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and the five foolish virgins represent those who are religious on the outside but have never been changed on the inside.
 
Now with that background in mind, let’s draw the spiritual lesson that come from this little parable.  And remember, this is a story for “insiders.” This is Jesus talking to church members and religious people.  It’s for those who claim some attachment to Christ and who profess some allegiance to him.  So what are the
 
3. Lessons for Modern Churchgoers
 
Lesson #1 is about
  • The True Nature of the Visible Church
Every Sunday two churches gather at 320 N Washington in Ardmore, OK.  There is an inward church and there is an outward church. 
 
The outward church is everyone who gathers whether in presence or claim. It consists of members, regular attenders, friends, visitors, and this great mass of peripheral people who rarely attend but still consider this church as their church.
 
And because of that, the truth is the outward church contains the truly converted as well as the unconverted. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are a lot of people whose names are on church rolls that will one day go to hell because they were church members but were never saved. 
 
So the outward church consists of some who know the Lord, some who are seeking the Lord, some who are nothing more than religious hypocrites.
 
Then there is the inward church and the inward has a very exclusive membership because only true believers in Christ who worship here week-by-week are a part of the inward church.
 
Now the point of Christ’s parable is to remind us that just because you go to church doesn’t mean you are truly born again. People come to church for all sorts of reasons, some are good and some not so good.
 
People come because of family connections or to see their friends.  Some come for social reasons or to get out of the house.  Some come because they like the music or to impress people or because of a feeling of guilt or obligation or because they think they can gain favor with God by being in church. Not all of those things are evil in themselves but any of them or all of them can be excuses that keep you from coming to Christ for salvation.
 
And the truth is, those two groups are found in any church of any denomination or doctrine.  You could be Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Church of Christ, Charismatic, or a member of Trinity Baptist Church and still not be a true Christian.
 
To some people that is a shocking thought, but it is true nonetheless. Church membership identifies you with the outward church, but only true saving faith makes you a member of the inward church of those know the Lord.
 
Here’s lesson #2:
  • You Can’t Borrow Faith
One of the interesting details of the story is the attempt of the foolish virgins to borrow oil from the wise. 
 
And by the way, the wise refuse to let them.  You may think that selfish or unkind unless you understand the situation. There is a very practical reason they refuse.  To loan the oil would mean that no one would have enough oil.
 
But there is also a spiritual reason and that is no one can “borrow” another person’s faith. You can’t get into heaven by living near a saved person. One day you will stand before the Lord and he will say, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” What answer will you give?
 
“My mother was a godly woman,” you might say. “And that’s why she’s in heaven,” the Lord will reply, “but what about you?”
 
“My dad was an deacon,” you say. “Fine, but that won’t get him into heaven and it sure won’t get you into heaven either,” the Lord replies.
 
“I went to a Christian school or university or seminary.”  Then you’ve had more than enough opportunity to hear the truth! 
 
Whatever it is you tried to borrow from or benefit from, the outcome will be same. You can’t “borrow” faith from somewhere else.  Salvation is always a personal affair. You can’t go to heaven by hanging onto someone’s coat tails. You must believe in Jesus on your own, for yourself, not relying on the faith of those around you.
 
And then think about this:  Lesson #3 is
  • You Don’t have Forever to be Saved
Remember verse 10: “And the door was shut.” No door stays open forever. The foolish virgins forgot to bring extra oil and then went out to buy some oil. By the time they got back, the door was closed. It was too late!
 
Today the door of salvation is wide open to one and all. When you die, the door will close. When Christ comes back to the earth, the door will close. What will you do then?
 
Some people act as if they’re going to live forever but they won’t.  There are no guarantees of a long life or another opportunity. 
 
Don’t say, “Someday I’ll come to Christ.” Come now. Don’t wait for “someday.” Don’t say, “I’ll repent later.” If you wait, you may harden your heart and never come at all. Come now.
 
And one final lesson:
  • Don’t Fool Yourself into Believing Everything is Okay
What a sad scene as the five foolish virgins plead at the door: “Let us in, sir. You invited us. We’re sorry we were late. We didn’t realize you would be delayed. Please let us in. We meant no disrespect.” But from inside comes the solemn reply: “I never knew you.”
 
Think about that:  These young women thought they were his friends to the very end. They were never his enemies and they thought they were ready to meet him but they weren’t. In the same way many religious people will be tragically surprised in that day when they present outward righteousness and inward emptiness only to hear the Lord say, “I never knew you.”
 
I am struck even more by the fact that these five virgins are never called sinners. They are never accused of gross immorality. By outward appearance, they seemed ready to meet the bridegroom. It is clear that they truly wanted to see him. That is part of the tragedy.
If they were visibly sinful women, we could understand their being shut out of the banquet, but between them and the five wise virgins, there is very little difference. 
 
Outwardly, they are all the same. But inwardly there was a huge difference. The five foolish virgins were not ready, they could not borrow oil and they could not beg their way in. These women did nothing—and that was their problem. They did everything right but the one thing that mattered most, and that is why they were shut out of the banquet.
 
Some people will miss heaven and it will be no one’s fault but their own. You won’t be able to blame your father or your mother or your friends or your ex-husband or your ex-wife or your in-laws or those hypocrites at church. If you miss heaven and wonder why, look in the mirror and you will have your answer.
 
Some people will find out the value of Christ too late. They will suddenly realize how wrong they’ve been, but the door will already be shut. Today the door of salvation is wide open. Someday it will be shut forever. Make sure you are on the right side of the door when that day comes.
 
Let’s pray.
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