End Times 3a

Preached: November 13, 2011

Keep Genuine Faith Burning
Matthew 25:1-13

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It had been a long day, Tuesday of Holy Week -- just three days before his death. On that day Jesus faced the questioning of his enemies trying to trap him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matthew 21:23 NIV1984), was the challenge from the chief priests and elders. “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17 NIV1984), was Pharisees and Herodians’ attempt to trap him. If a woman’s husband dies and she remarries and this happens seven times, “at the resurrection, whose wife will she be …” (Matthew 22:27 NIV1984) was the Sadducees’ effort to discredit Jesus, since they deny the resurrection of the dead.

Jesus met these challenges and silenced his opponents. And he did more that day. He taught the people with parables picturing the dire consequences of refusing the Lord’s invitation. He spoke his warning of woe against blind guides (Matthew 23:16) and white whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27). And he longed with all his heart to gather even his enemies under his wings of salvation, but they were not willing.

As evening falls, they leave Jerusalem that Tuesday. Reaching the Mount of Olives, the disciple ask Jesus about the signs of the end of the age. Now even though it had already been a long day of confrontation and teaching, even though Jesus was feeling the weight of the sins of the world as his cross quickly approached, he gives his effort and energy to speak to his disciples of the future. So, dear friends, if Jesus thought this so important, we do well to pay close attention. In his words recorded in Matthew 24 and 25, he again and again drives home to his disciples and to us to always be ready and watching.

When you see the signs of wars, earthquakes, famines, false teachers, and persecution of the truth, be ready and watching. The Last Day will come like a thief in the night, so be ready and watching. The master will return at an unexpected hour. As a faithful servant be ready and watching. How are we ready? How do we keep watch? Think about that as you listen to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to wait for the bridegroom. Five of them were wise, and five were foolish. You see, the foolish ones took their lamps but did not take oil along. The wise took oil in containers along with their lamps. When the bridegroom was late, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight a cry sounded: “Look, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. But the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil because our lamps have gone out.”

The wise virgins answered, “There would surely in now way be enough for us and for you. Rather go to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.”

But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was closed. Later the other virgins also came and said, “Lord, lord open up for us!” But he answered, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.”

Therefore, watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13).

Which of the virgins were ready? The ones with oil to burn in their lamps. How are you, dear Christian, ready for Jesus to come, even at the midnight hour? With genuine faith burning in your heart. Ponder that theme and put it into practice, dear friends. Keep genuine faith burning.

A. How similar the outward appearance!

To help picture the parable, recall the wedding customs of Jesus’ day. A man and woman would make their mutual promises to be husband and wife until death parts them. That’s similar to what we hear in a wedding service today. But right after they exchanged their vows, there was no big celebration, and the couple did not live together as husband and wife. They went back to their own homes, or their parent’s home. Then at the appointed time, the groom would come to take his wife to his house. Friends of the bride would await that day and light the way for the groom with their lamps. That’s what the ten virgins were to do. What an honor, like being a bridesmaid today! And when the bridegroom brought his bride home, then the wedding celebration and banquet began, often lasting seven days.

Now as you meet the bridesmaids, the ten virgins in the parable, can you see which five are foolish and which are wise? Jesus tells us it’s so, but can you see any differences? Both the wise and the foolish have been invited to wait for the bridegroom. Both take their lamps to light the way. When the bridegroom was a long time in coming, both appear to wait until the call rings out. Only then did the difference become apparent. Until that point how similar the outward appearance!

So it is among us Christians today. There are the wise and the foolish, those with genuine faith and others with only an imitation. But how similar their outward appearance! They both call themselves Christians. They both claim to believe in Jesus. They may both go to the same church and even sit in the same pew. They can be members of the same family. They both can be concerned parents, loving children, generous givers, eager volunteers. They both can be dedicated, hardworking members of the community. How similar the outward appearance! But one has genuine faith and the other does not, just as the foolish virgins did not have oil for their lamps when the bridegroom came.

This parable, dear friends, addresses you and me, who call ourselves Christian. Examine your heart. What is this oil, this genuine faith, which must always be burning in our hearts, if we are to be ready and watching? Genuine faith is not simply having your name on the church roster. It’s not simply showing up for services. It’s not confined to Sunday mornings only. It’s more than knowing about Jesus. It’s more than getting confirmed or growing up in a Christian home or figuring you got your religious training as a child and can now focus on with adult things. The foolish virgins started with oil but then ran out. Genuine faith is more than the outward appearance.

Genuine faith is trust, but not trust in myself. “Just believe in yourself” has nothing to do with genuine faith. And it’s not trusting the effort to believe. That’s the way it sounds when someone says, “Just believe. All you gotta do is believe!” “You mean, I just gotta convince myself that I got something called faith?” No, that’s not genuine faith. And do we even need to say that trusting technology, medicine, human effort and advancement, or for that matter trusting any other religion, spirituality, or divine force is not genuine faith either, not matter how strong the trust, how sincere the belief, or how firm the hope?

Genuine faith trusts Jesus as our only Savior from sin and death. Genuine faith marvels at the cross and exclaims: “My God died for me. The Father gave his Son even for a sinner like me. Jesus paid for my sins to ransom me to be his very own and live under him who reigns forever and ever, my risen Lord and King.” Genuine faith cherish this Good News which promises full and free forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus alone. This Good News comes to you through the Bible, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper, so genuine faith treasures these means of grace as most dear. Genuine faith feasts on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, gladly hearing and learning it. Genuine faith calls out to God as our own dear Father, for through faith in Jesus, the Son, you are the Father’s true, forgiven child and heir. Genuine faith lives for him who died for you and rose again. Genuine faith is living and active, eager to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, waiting with sincere anticipation and firm hope for his return in glory.

Keep genuine faith burning, dear friends. Keep it burning in your heart, fueled with the Gospel of Jesus. For even though outwardly those without genuine faith appear so similar, so Christian, yet how different the final outcome!

B. How different the final outcomes!

The cry goes out, “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” (Matthew 25:6 NIV1984). The virgin’s trim their lamps, but the foolish don’t have the oil to keep theirs burning. They ask the wise for some, but then there would not be enough for both. For you see, your faith cannot save anyone else. If someone’s mother or brother or husband or wife has genuine faith in Jesus but this person doesn’t, that person cannot be saved by another’s faith, just as the oil could not be shared.

And when that call goes out -- whether that is on the day of death or the day of Jesus’ return if that comes first -- when that call goes out for you, it’s then too late to get genuine faith, just as it was too late for the foolish virgins to get oil. So don’t delay. Wake, awake, for night is flying! Pay attention to your faith today and every day. Keep it burning.

How different the final outcomes! Those with genuine faith are ready when the Bridegroom comes. Like the wise virgins, they are welcomed into the wedding banquet, the eternal celebration before the throne of the Lamb who was slain but now who reigns forever and ever. They are clothed in white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. God wipes every tear from their eyes. There’s no more death or mourning or crying or pain. The old has past; the new has come. The dark shroud is torn. The river of life flows pure. The tree of life bears abundant fruit. A blessed home beyond this land of woe. Oh, sweet and blessed country, the home of God’s elect. Jerusalem the golden. Yes! The marriage feast of the Lamb! They are ready. Genuine faith kept burning in their hearts. How different the final outcomes!

Then the door is shut. How dreadful those words those foolish virgins heard! “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you” (Matthew 25:12 NIV1984). How dreadful those words Jesus will speak to those whose faith was not in him alone! “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you. Depart from me … into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:12, 41 NIV1984). How different the final outcomes!

So dear Christian, keep your faith burning. That’s how you are always ready and prepared. That’s how we keep watch night and day. Keep genuine faith burning in your heart. Fuel it with God’s Word and Sacraments. Take his word to heart, for his word promises that Jesus’ righteousness covers you. Faith wears Christ’s white robe of righteousness, not efforts or claims of goodness, to stand before God as one of his saints, his holy people. Ponder the promises he made to you at Baptism, that washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, through which you became an heir of eternal life. Cherish your Savior’s body and blood given for you to eat and to drink in his holy Supper, given to bring you the forgiveness purchased for you by Christ on the cross where he sacrificed his body and poured out his blood once and for all for you. Faith, genuine faith, longs to hear these promises again and again. Genuine faith draws its strength, its power, it’s life, its light, its heat from these promises. Such faith shines out with the love and peace and joy these promises bring. Ponder his promises. Cherish his promises. Cling to his promises. That’s genuine faith. That’s your faith burning in your heart. Then you are ready and watching, dear Christian, waiting for the Bridegroom to come and call you to the marriage feast of the Lamb.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313