Being Ready

Matthew 25:1-13

August 31, 2013 | Brian Bill

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of officiating at many weddings and at most of them something invariably goes wrong.  I can think of one wedding where I made the mistake of calling the groom by the wrong name.  At least I got the bride’s name right.

My biggest wedding blooper happened when I was pastoring in Rockford.  The couple wanted their wedding outside next to a beautiful lake.  As the plans unfolded, they began adding elements that they thought would make for a memorable marriage ceremony.  

This couple really liked boating so they decided that the wedding party would take a pontoon boat from one side of the lake to the other.  I guess it was their version of walking down the aisle.  As I waited on the pier with the groom the wind started blowing and the temperature dropped.  

If we squinted we could see the pontoon boat making its way toward us.  But because it was so windy, the boat was struggling to make any headway.  When they finally came into focus, the bride had a scowl on her face to match the summer squall that was blowing her dress and threatening to whip off her veil.

When they finally docked, the wedding party and guests were giggling but they held it in because the bride didn’t look very happy.  Someone tried to help her get out of the boat but just then a big wave hit and she fell into the water!  

A holy hush came over the crowd and then I started laughing and couldn’t stop.  Has that ever happened to you?  It’s really hard to stop snickering when you’re someplace serious, isn’t it?  I’ll never forget the icy stare I got from the bride as she climbed out of the water.  I don’t remember much about the service except that I think I raced through the ceremony and got out of there as quickly as I could.

We’re concluding our “Practical Parables” series today.  The setting is a wedding ceremony where the groom, not the bride is delayed and a few things head south during the celebration.

Next week we’ll begin a new series entitled, “Step it Up” from the Old Testament Book of Malachi.  I encourage you to read this brief book a few times beforehand.  

In Matthew 24 we see that Jesus is doing some private teaching with his disciples in response to their questions about His second coming in verse 3: “Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” We don’t have time to dive deeply into everything but suffice it to say that there are signs that His coming is close and that His appearance will also be very sudden.

Today’s parable from Matthew 25 is more of a warning. I’m praying that God will use His Word to shake us out of our spiritual slumber.  If you only remember one thing, remember this: Prepare for a delay, but be ready today.

Here Comes the Bridegroom

Let’s pick it up in Matthew 25:1: “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” While this wedding didn’t commence with a cruise on a lake, we’re introduced to ten bridesmaids who are waiting for a wedding to begin.  Weddings back then were the biggest social event in a village and were quite different from the way we celebrate them today.

The father of the bride (no, not Steve Martin) and the father of the groom would get together and draw up an official contract.  This was considered the engagement period, which was followed by the betrothal that involved vows and binding promises between the couple.  Purity was expected and faithfulness the norm.

The betrothal would last up to a year and during this time the bridegroom would prepare a place for them to live, which would often be an addition to his father’s house.  When he was finished he would then go to the bride’s house to pick her up and then take her home to their new place to start their life together.

Incidentally, the Jewish wedding ceremony provides the backstory to the wonderful words spoken by Jesus in John 14:2-3: “In My Father’s house are many mansions [rooms]; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

That’s what we see here.  All the preparations have been made and the bridegroom is coming to get his bride.  This would often happen on a Wednesday night and so the bridesmaids would light their lamps to provide light for the joyful procession.  People got married young back then so the “ten virgins” were young teens who had never been married.  

Bridesmaids today carry flowers but back then they carried fire, which looked something like a “tiki torch.”  By the way, are you aware of the history behind brides carrying flowers?

Back in the 15th Century, most people got married in the month of June because they took their yearly baths in May and wouldn’t smell too terribly a mere month later.  

To be on the safe side and not drive the groom out the door gasping for fresh air, brides began carrying bouquets of flowers to hide their body odor.  Aren’t you glad you now know that?

First century bridesmaids held short wooden poles with a dish at the top, in which rags, having been dipped in oil, burned brightly.

In verses 2-4 we see that half of them were ready for the wedding and half were not: “Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.”

The five foolish ones didn’t bring any fuel with them.  The word in the Greek is moros, from which we get our word moron, or stupid.  

The wise women on the other hand, had pouches filled with oil to keep their lamps lit.  This was very important because it was quite common for the bridegroom to be delayed.  In our culture people would be worried that he somehow got cold feet but this groom is simply taking his time.  

In our setting, the bride is central and the groom is just the guy sweating as he stands next to the preacher.  Look at verse 5: “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.” Many a preacher understands how someone can start nodding and then nod off in the middle of something very important…but that would never happen here.

They slumbered, and then they slept. Notice that all ten took a power nap.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it was probably a good idea because the upcoming festivities would last a long time.  But only half of them were prepared.

Because the five faithful bridesmaids were ready, they could sleep peacefully. The other five were sluggards and were sleeping the sleep of slothfulness.  While the bridesmaids are snoring, suddenly out of the darkness and the stillness of the night we read in verse 6: “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’” 

This was a loud cry.  The Greek indicates that it was an outcry or a clamor.  Have you ever heard a cry in the middle of the night?  It’s piercing, isn’t it?  I can remember one time when our girls were young we went camping with my parents.  One of our daughters was a baby and started screaming in the middle of the night.  I’m sure she woke up the entire campground.  I ended up putting her in her car seat and did laps in our minivan around the campsites until she dozed off.  I got a lot of bad looks from bleary-eyed campers in the morning.

Midnight in the Bible is often when deliverance would arrive.  In Exodus we read: “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt.’”  Samson took out the gates of Gaza at midnight and Paul and Silas were set free from prison in the middle of the night.  Maybe that’s why the rabbis used to say that the Messiah would come at midnight.

We know from other passages that Jesus will come like a “thief in the night,” when we least expect Him.  According to Matthew 24:31, there will be a loud trumpet call to announce His coming and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” His coming will not be quiet!

According to verse 7, all the bridesmaids wake up and light their lamps.  The word “trimmed” means that they removed the burnt parts of the linen or torch so that they would burn cleanly.  But here’s where we see the huge difference between the bridesmaids.  

Listen to verse 8: “And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’”  As the fire goes out they’re filled with fear.  The idea is that it’s a gradual process that leads to their flame being extinguished.  According to verse 9, the five who have enough oil because they were prepared ahead of time, turn and tell the others, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” 

They are not being “bridesmaidzillas” but are simply being wise.  They knew that the groom would have been disgraced had they all run out of oil.  This was their way to bail the bridegroom out because at least their lamps were burning brightly.  

I’m reminded of Proverbs 13:9: “The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out.”

They knew that if they shared their oil that none of them would have enough and so they tell them to go over to Super Wal-Mart and buy their own.  Oil was plentiful back then but hard to get at midnight.

Verse 10: “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.” The idea here is that the door was “shut and stayed shut.”  Doors back then used a very heavy and cumbersome bolt that would have made a grating noise when secured.  Like the door on the ark, it sealed in those where were ready and sealed out those who were not.

I did some digging this week to find out more details about first century celebrations.  At all formal banquets, the invited guests presented their cards to a servant stationed at the door, whose job it was to keep out the uninvited. When everyone was assembled, the “master of the house” shut the door, and thereafter the servant was instructed not to allow anyone to enter, no matter how insistent they were.  

We see something similar in Luke 13:24–28: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from.  Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”

Those who were prepared got to go to the party while the unprepared were left out and locked out.  Incidentally, this celebration often lasted seven days.

On the surface the bridesmaids appear to be very similar.  They had all been invited and they all responded positively.  They were probably dressed the same and got their nails done at the same place.  All ten had gone out to wait for the bridegroom with their lamps.  They were in the right place at the right time.  

They all had some oil in their lamps at the beginning and they all fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom.  They all woke up when they heard the cry and they all scurried to light their lamps.  On the outside they all looked the same.  And yet there was one crucial contrast.  One group was prepared and one wasn’t.  And notice it wasn’t because there was a lack of information.  

They all knew that there was a possibility the groom would be delayed but five of them procrastinated while five prepared themselves. The message is clear: Prepare for a delay, but be ready today!

Later, the five others arrive, presumably now with oil, and they shout out, “Lord, Lord, open to us!”  Being a bridesmaid was a great honor and privilege.  They were on the list but were too late.  To be unprepared and shut out of the reception was the stuff of which young women’s nightmares were made.  

They not only missed the entire procession back to the groom’s house, along with all the festive dancing and singing, they also missed the moment when the bride was brought into the groom’s house under the wedding canopy.  This would have greatly insulted the dignity of the host.

Their pathetic cries were of no avail.  Verse 12 is chilling: “But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”  The word “but” shows that they are firmly excluded and the word “assuredly” means that there is no doubt and that there’s no possibility of an appeal.  

It’s interesting that they are not told, “You’re too late” but are instead dismissed with the devastating statement, “I don’t know you.”  They expected to be on center stage but are now excluded and treated as if no one even knows who they are.

I can’t imagine anything more frightening than to hear Jesus say these words.  It should send a shiver down our spines.  Those who were unprepared were unable to enter.  Even some religious people and those who engage in ministry will hear something similar according to Jesus in Matthew 7:23: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

Point of the Parable

The main point of this parable is to be prepared and is found in verse 13: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”  The word “watch” means to arise and denotes attention and alert earnestness.  

Jesus says something similar in 24:42 when He warns people to “watch” and in 24:44 to  “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

prepare for a delay, but be ready today

Because we don’t know the exact time, we must prepare for a delay, but be ready today.  The reality of Jesus’ return should make us watchful, alert, self-controlled and holy as we long for His appearing.  Here are some ways that we can be ready today.

1. Reflect and repent. 

Shortly after I was saved, I carried a sheet of paper in my Bible that had a bunch of probing questions.  I remember one question in particular: “Do I want to be found doing this (fill in the blank) when the Lord returns?”  

Underneath this question was 1 John 2:28: “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”

Are you living in such a way that you would shrink away in shame if Jesus were to come back on a Friday night and you’re out doing whatever you’re doing?  Would you want Him to appear while you’re in the middle of gossiping about someone?  Would you want Him to show up at work and see your attitude?  Do you want to be yelling at your kids when Christ comes back?  Repent today to be ready tomorrow.

The story is told of a famous rabbi who was walking with some of his disciples when one of them asked, “Rabbi, when should a man repent?” The rabbi calmly replied, “You should be sure you repent on the last day of your life.” But, protested several of his students, “We can never be sure which day will be the last day of our life.” 

The famous teacher smiled and said, “The answer to that problem is very simple. Repent now.” The thief nailed to the cross had just one chance and he took it.  Could this be your last chance?

It’s interesting that in the Bible the church is referred to as the bride of Christ.  Have you fallen off the boat?  Have the waves of life capsized you?  Are you ready to get back on dry land?

Let’s go forth to meet our returning bridegroom and let’s be ready when He comes as Revelation 19:7 says: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”

2. Get ready to grow.

Are you spiritually stagnant?  Is your fire flickering?  Then it’s time to be proactive.  Those who believed the bridegroom was coming took some action.   In four weeks we’re offering some seminars that are designed to help each of us take the next step spiritually.  We’re using the numbers 101, 201, 301 and 401 to give you an idea of which one is a fit for you as it relates to membership, maturity, ministry and mission. Stay tuned for more details.  

We’re encouraging everyone at Edgewood to attend one of these sessions.  Growth is not automatic and no one can do your growing for you.  You will have to work at it. 

It’s time to stop being lazy and lukewarm.  Ask God to break you out of your spiritual slumber and refuel your lamp so you can burn brightly once again.  Hebrews 10:36-37 tells us that we will receive what is promised, “For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’” 

3. Tell lost people about the Lord.

Don’t get so caught up in the fine points of future events that you forget to point people to Christ.  

In Acts 1:7, in response to some questions about the timing of His second coming, Jesus said: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” 

We’re not to be focused on date setting but instead we’re called to be Spirit-empowered witnesses. Look at the very next verse: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).  That means we start in our own community with our family and neighbors and then move out to our county and then spread out to our country and then make sure we are taking the gospel to the continents as well.  It’s not an either/or proposition but an “all of the above” deal.

By the way, our involvement in God’s global plan of evangelism is linked to the timing of Christ’s return.  Check out Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

4. Believe and be born again. 

Jesus will come suddenly and unexpectedly and if you’re not saved, the door will be shut and you will be left behind.  His coming will be swift, certain and severe.

Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Let me give it to you straight.  If you are not born again, you will die and find out that it’s too late as Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” 

Or, Jesus will return and you will be left behind because you are not ready. The door will not only be closed, it will be locked.

Belief cannot be borrowed because salvation is nontransferable.  Just because your parents are prepared, it doesn’t mean you are.  Or just because your children are, it doesn’t mean you are.  God has no grandchildren; only children.  Faith must be personal; each bridesmaid had to have her own oil.  Don’t delay — you could die today!  Or, Jesus could come back while you’re having lunch this afternoon or before you leave this building.   

You’re either in or you’re out and if you’re not in, you’re out

2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified.”  It’s quite possible that some of you think you’re prepared but you’re not.  You’re either in or you’re out and if you’re not in, you’re out. 

John MacArthur says, “The only sure way to be ready on the unexpected day is to be ready every day.”  The time to prepare will soon be past, therefore prepare for a delay, but be ready today.

Do you know why Christ has not yet come?  It’s because He is giving you time to repent now…before it’s too late.  Listen to 2 Peter 3:9-10: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Friend, I don’t know how to say this any other way.  If you don’t know Jesus, you have an appointment with judgment.  Your future home will be in Hell and if you do nothing that’s where you’ll end up.  And there is no escape unless you put your faith in Jesus Christ this very moment.  It’s your choice.  What will it be?  Do you want to face ruin?  Or, do you want to be rescued?  Flee to Jesus now before it’s too late…before you’re left outside or left behind.

I repeat verse 10: “And the door was shut.”  “And the door was shut.”  “And the door was shut.”  Do you belong to the Lord through the new birth?  Are you prepared?  2 Timothy 2:19: “The Lord knows those who are his.”  Prepare for a delay, but be ready today.

Are you ready to get ready?  If so, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior right now…before the door is shut.  If you’re ready right now, pray this prayer with me.

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  I don’t want to be left out or left behind.  By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Thank for dying in my place as my sin substitute.  I believe your words are true.  I receive you into my life. Be my Savior and Lord.  I surrender to your leadership in my life. Make me into the person you want me to be so that I can be ready when you return. Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?