Get Ready. Stay Ready. Be Wise.
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Delivered By
Rev. Jonathan Gruen
Delivered On
November 9, 2014
Central Passage
Matthew 25:1-13

Rev. Jonathan Gruen
November 9, 2014
Text: Mt 25:1-13 – The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Get Ready. Stay Ready. Be Wise.

            I remember my high school band director had a motto before a concert, or playing in church, or a competition.  It was “hurry up and wait.”  My college band instructor was the same way.  He didn’t use that exact phrase, but the way we operated fit the “hurry up and wait” motto.  The idea is simple to figure out.  Don’t mess around.  Get set up.  Get warmed up.  Get tuned up.  Do this right away so you don’t run out of time to do these important things.  Hurry up.

            And then wait.  And that was the challenge, because waiting a little while was no problem.  But waiting a long time, or longer than you expected, was difficult.  You buzz into your mouthpiece to keep your lips ready and limber.  You blow warm air through your horn so it doesn’t get cold and out of tune.  And mentally you want to stay just the right amount of anxious – neither too carefree nor too on edge.

            I think athletes can relate.  They stretch out.  They warm up their muscles.  They regulate their breathing.  They focus on the contest about to unfold.  But if there is a delay you see them pacing, jogging, stretching, jumping, trying to stay ready.

            Get ready.  Stay ready.  Be wise.  That really is the point of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25.  Except, he’s not talking about a concert or a contest, but rather about his return.  Remember, he came, he died, he rose, he ascended, he’s coming back.  And when he returns, it is “the day of judgment,” as Jesus himself likes to call it in the book of Matthew.

            Are you ready for that day?  Are you staying ready?  Are you wise unto salvation?

            In Jesus’ parable, five virgins were wise.  They brought extra oil for their lamps because they were smart enough to anticipate the possibility of a delay.  Five virgins were foolish and brought no extra oil.  When the bridegroom’s arrival was delayed, they all fell asleep.  But then at midnight the cry rang forth “Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!”  The five wise virgins adjusted their wicks, added some oil, and they were ready to join the wedding procession to the banquet hall.  The five foolish virgins were not prepared and had to go out to search for oil.  When they returned, it was too late.  They were not there to meet the bridegroom, or join in the celebration of the procession, they were not there to enter into the feast.  When they came back, the door was shut.  They were excluded from the wedding banquet.

            Now, we could spend a lot of time studying ancient wedding customs to see if we could figure out why Jesus told the story the way he did – why virgins, why lamps and oil, why were they waiting, and so forth – but honestly, we don’t have to spend too much time on that because Jesus cuts right to the point for us, “Watch therefore,” he says, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  The point is, Jesus going to return, and we don’t know when.  Get ready.  Stay ready.  Be wise.

           Now, this bridegroom metaphor describing Jesus frequently appears in Scripture.  Jesus is the Groom, the Church is the Bride, and the image is used to communicate the faithfulness we are to have to Christ, the joy that is ours when he returns, the eternal bond we have, and the celebration and feasting there will be in heaven’s abundance.

           This parable uses that imagery and speaks of the time when Jesus Christ will return to take his Bride.  What we learn in this parable is that though everyone is invited, no one knows the date.  It’s a surprise party.  And there is trouble when the bridegroom is delayed longer than expected.  Get ready.  Stay ready.  Be wise.  For the foolish are left out of the joys of heaven to remain in the eternal night.

            So, what is it that makes us ready?  What is it that keeps us ready?  What is it that makes us wise?  Proverbs tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Pr 9:10).  Fear of the Lord (which is another way of talking about our humble faith relationship with God) is much more than just the starting point of wisdom.  It is wisdom.  It is the source of wisdom, the purpose of wisdom, the epitome of wisdom.  One who fears the Lord loves good and hates evil.  One who fears the Lord worships and serves Him only.  One who fears the Lord is righteous, holy, and walks in the way of the Lord.

            A wise person recognizes the wisdom of God, especially as he worked through the person of Jesus the Christ.  This is why Jesus is sometimes described as Wisdom Incarnate.  If you want to be wise, then know Wisdom Incarnate.  You see, the very Eternal Word, the Son of God, came down in human flesh to walk among us.  He is all-wise, all-knowing.  He embodies wisdom.  He was wisdom in action.  He was always alert.  He watched and prayed.  He was ready to do good.  He was ready to heal, ready to restore.  He was ready to forgive, ready to reconcile. 

            And he was ready to save.  In what could be considered the most foolish thing ever conceivable, God proved his Wisdom when he died on the cross for us.  That’s right – Wisdom is God crucified.  Wisdom is God raised back to life.  Wisdom is God living in us to make us wise.  Wisdom then is us living forever with God.

            Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1.  It’s page 952 in your pew Bible.  1 Corinthians 1, starting at verse 18, “18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (Now keep your Bible there for a few moments).

            It is wise to know and believe what God’s Word says about Jesus Christ, Son of God, crucified king, risen savior of the world.  We will be regarded as foolish by those perishing, but what of it?  Look at how Scripture now elevates us ordinary foolish folks who have been given the wisdom of Christ!  1 Corinthians 1 goes on; verse 26, “26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

            So I would be lying if I called you fools.  For Wisdom Incarnate has made you wise through faith in him.  The wisdom of God has been delivered to you in your baptism, has been fed to you in Communion, and sustained you through the Holy Word.  God has made us wise.  Therefore, we are made ready and kept ready for the coming of the Bridegroom and the Day of Judgment, just like the 5 wise virgins.

            But it is difficult to stay ready.  It is hard to stay alert, to keep spiritually awake, to be on guard, to continually drive sin out of your life, and to stand against a constant onslaught of temptation from the world and the devil.  It is too easy for us to become un-ready, un-prepared, and un-wise (or foolish) again.

            Sometimes Satan likes to use brazen and blatant evil attacks to try and undo wisdom with doubt.  Usually, however, he likes to use distraction, illusions, sleight of hand.  He tries to hypnotize us into spiritual slumber.  He tries to get us out of our wise habits of spiritual disciplines so we foolishly concentrate instead on everything earthly to the extent that we neglect the wisdom of God.  He would like us to be caught up in work, school, celebrities, television, all the horrible news out there, sports, theater, music, anything and everything that could distract us from God and his Wisdom. 

            He often succeeds.  We become apathetic about our faith.  We get lethargic in our devotional life or slow as a sloth in serving others.  We procrastinate our participation in ministry.  We become lazy in doing good, but busy in everything else.  We become bored with holy things and seek out Satan’s scintillating seductions.  And whenever Satan draws people away from Christ, Scripture reveals that those fools are held accountable for they have forsaken Christ and relished their wickedness.  And it is revealed in the wisdom of God that hell will punish fools for eternity.  It’s not a popular teaching in our culture, to be sure.  But the wise know the truth.  They take this seriously, and they are therefore on guard.

            Now, Scripture reveals many things that we should be doing during this time of waiting.  I’ll briefly make 3 points.

            First of all, be involved in the ministry of the Church.  The wisdom of God is freely given to teach us and prepare us.  By regularly learning at the feet of Jesus we grow in our wisdom and are better able to see through the transparent temptations of the Evil One.  Our wisdom ought to be reflected in our attendance in worship, in Bible studies, Midweek, Sunday School, a personal devotional life, and Christian fellowship with its encouragement – all these deliver God’s wisdom to equip us and our children to grow up alert and watchful.  Be involved in Word and Sacrament ministry.

            Second, serve your neighbor.  You see, we have been made wise, not just to be wise, but also to practice righteousness.  We were created for good works.  Wise people live not for the benefit of self, but for the service of fellow man.  Wise people do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, pray for those who persecute them, turn the other cheek to those who strike them, give to those who steal from them, love their enemies, and dedicate their resources for the work of the Gospel.  Sound foolish?  Some say yes.  But we who are made wise in Christ recognize that through these actions, some fools learn God’s wisdom and come to believe in his Son’s death and resurrection.  Be involved in Word and Sacrament ministry.  Serve your neighbor.  And…

            Third, pray.  A wise person recognizes the value of prayer and is careful not to neglect it.  It is foolish to underestimate the power of prayer.    A wise person understands that God allows himself to be persuaded by his faithful people.  Remember, how in the garden of Gethsemane our Lord went off by himself three times to pray for an intense hour, and upon returning he said to his sleeping disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

            Get ready.  Stay ready.  Be wise.  The teaching today would be an impossible command for you if God was not the one doing the work in you.  So, hear it today as a gracious invitation.  You have been invited to the wedding celebration!  But since Jesus didn’t put a date on the invitation, we are to keep watch and pray, we are to serve and live in love, and we are wise to dwell in the Word and receive the Sacraments which ready us for an imminent or delayed return of Christ.

            And when the Bridegroom finally approaches, the cry shall ring out, “Here’s the Bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!”  By the saving act of Christ, we shall be ready.  We will be among the wedding guests, and will enter through the open door.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.