The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Listening to the parable that is our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus isn’t exactly teaching a mysterious riddle, is He? We understand the warning here about meeting the Lord in judgment, either when you die or on Judgment Day (whichever comes first); the warning about not having “oil in your lamp.” The bottom line: You don’t want to be found with no oil when the clock runs out. I don’t need to try and build on this by going all “doom and gloom” on you. I don’t need to try to scare you into being a faithful Christian. This parable does a great job all on its own of presenting the terrifying reality of the foolish ones who are found to have no oil in their lamp when it’s their time to meet the Bridegroom. Darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. “Go away. I don’t know you.” That’s terrifying.
Now take heed! Your Lord taught this parable as a loving warning to His disciples; that is, to all those who consider themselves to be “good Christians,” to all those who are in danger of getting complacent in the faith. This isn’t a parable about unbelievers, and thank God we’re not them. Nope! This is a “Gospel wake-up call” FOR YOU. You don’t know when your clock will run out, do you? You don’t know when Christ will say, “That’s it. Time’s up.”
And before I go any further, I do need to make clear that this isn’t simply a warning about not “showing up” and participating in worship. Many a “good Christian,” maybe even you as you sit here today, hears the words of this parable and immediately comforts themself with a Pharisaical assurance that “this doesn’t apply to me. I go to church regularly. Word and Sacrament? I fill up all the time… not like those other people. There’s no danger of me dying without oil in my lamp.” My dear fool: This is EXACTLY what your Lord was teaching about! Imagine a bucket with a hole in the bottom of it. How full will that bucket stay if there’s a huge hole in the bottom of it? And pay careful attention: This isn’t about spilling over in abundance. This is about leaking out the bottom. The bucket never really fills up, does it? The bigger the hole, the quicker it leaks out and empties the bucket. So it is with the Christian who is content (and unrepentant) in their sin. Sure, they’ll show up and participate. They may even have perfect attendance. They’re here every time there’s something going on at church. And yet… their bucket of faith—their lamp of faith—empties out because the holes of sin remain.
Don’t think any of this warning stuff applies to you? Who here sins? Who here has blown off God and His means of grace? Who here has had “more important” things to do than to be in the presence of God, receiving His gracious oil of life? Who here has been lazy for God and His gifts? “Yeah… but that’s not me!” *Who here fails/refuses to forgive as they’ve been forgiven? Who here wants to see the person who supposedly wronged you suffer? Who here gives thanks for the fact that they have been reconciled to God in Christ, but also refuses to be reconciled to a brother/sister in Christ? “Grace for me, but not for thee.” Your words may say one thing, but the fruits don’t lie. Who here will talk the game of humility and mercy and grace, but still unapologetically and purposefully bear fruits of discord, division, and enmity? But it’s okay in your instance, right? It’s different in your case, isn’t it? Who here would rather argue their case than repent of their sin? My dear Pharisee: There is a hole in your bucket of faith! You’re running on “Empty,” and you refuse to acknowledge it! This is why our Lord teaches us this parable. Apathetic, lazy, proud, spiteful, “bully/mean girl,” it doesn’t matter. The end result of all of it is “Empty—all out of oil.” Is this how you want to leave this world and enter into eternity? Is this okay with you? It’s clearly not okay with God! Repent, and flee to Him. Be filled with this oil of life! The time of God’s grace and patience and mercy is NOW.
You see, that’s the difference between the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins. The wisdom of faith rightly focuses, not on the self, certainly not on indulging the self, but on the Gospel that is Jesus Christ. The wisdom of faith isn’t concerned about being “right,” but about being righteous. The wise ones of faith confess their sin and repent of their sin. The wisdom of faith truly strives to mortify the sinful flesh and its sinful desires. (Do you see why this is a good text to meditate on as we prepare to enter into the penitential season of Advent? What better time to really try to not be such an empty fool!) The wisdom of faith, in humble repentance, watches for and gathers around Christ and His gifts. Why? Because it is through these means of grace that the Holy Spirit patches the holes in our sinful buckets and fills our lamps of faith with His oil. The Light of Christ within the wise ones burns bright, running on the fuel that is Him and His Word and Sacraments; His grace, His mercy, His peace. It’s actually very simple to understand, so simple that even the smallest of children understand.
And this brings us to another very important point: Our Lord doesn’t just teach this parable as a warning. It is absolutely a necessary warning for our ears, but it’s not just a warning. Our Lord also teaches this parable in order to give us comfort, peace, and assurance. These lessons (all three of them) are focused on the Last Day (which is obvious). But… do you notice the joy in all these passages? Judgment Day and Christ’s return is often treated like a terrible thing; something to be feared. God knows we don’t want Jesus to come back and catch us! This kind of mindset can even bleed through into preaching, the focus [wrongly] being put solely on the foolish virgins and their wretched end. What about the five wise?! When the Bridegroom arrives they are invited in to the feast, just as they had been promised. Sure, things didn’t go according to their plan/timeline, but the Bridegroom did arrive in His good time and all went according to His good plan. The wise entered the banquet hall and partook in the royal wedding feast. This is Good News! This is reason to rejoice! No one ever seems to focus on that.
Consider, also, how God Himself repeatedly describes Judgment Day and the rest of heavenly eternity. You already know it well. The only ones who have to fear are those outside of Christ. For true and faithful believers it’s a never-ending wedding feast. Consider today, how we hear God Himself (OT text) use the language of Eden; of Paradise. The paradise of Eden is restored. The former (fallen and sinful) things are remembered no more. No more weeping or crying. No more sickness or death or worry or disunity/enmity. No more aches and pains and calamity and sorrow. Umm… isn’t all this reason to rejoice? Your Lord certainly thinks so. In fact, He commands it! “Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create. I will rejoice!” And pay attention to the tense here. God is creating—right now. This great reversal is already going on in the life of those wise in repentant faith. Rejoice now! Rejoice forever. For the wise one; the one filled with the oil of faith and light of Christ, meeting the Bridegroom on that last day in that holy setting is not something to be feared. “What if Jesus would come back within the hour? Awesome! Come, Lord Jesus, come!”
And in this way I hope that you do experience a bit of a change, not just in your understanding of these texts; i.e., warning for you… but not just warning, but I hope and pray that these words of God actually change you and how you go about your daily life, especially during these dark and uncertain days. Think about like this: If I know how a movie ends, it changes the way I watch/experience it. Instead of uncertainty and anxiety and fear, I watch with a certain sense of confident peace. I know the hero can’t die, even though it looks bleak. I know he wins. I know how it all ends. [Point to the cross/altar/font]: You already know how the story ends! God has been saying it all along since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, when He proclaimed that Christ would crush the serpent’s head. All that language out of the Isaiah text is cut-and-dry. There is no mystery. God wins! God has won. It is finished, once and for all!
Baptized into His death and resurrection, you already know how your story ends too. God has already declared it. He’s justified you, in Christ and because of Christ. This is our “now and not yet” reason to rejoice. By faith (and not by our own works) we are justified/forgiven/redeemed right now. Let there be no doubt. He has declared it. Rejoice! And even though we still have one foot firmly planted in this dark, shadowy valley, we also have one foot firmly planted in heaven; in Paradise. Through faith, by God’s grace in Christ and because of Christ, we already have one foot over the finish line! Your mansion has already been prepared for you. Your spot at the heavenly end of the feast table is already reserved. The resurrection in all glory and perfection awaits.
This Divine promise (and foreknowledge) should change you! You are a child of God. Talk about a confidant peace that surpasses all understanding! No matter how bad or dark or scary or uncertain things may seem, you have the victorious Christ right now with all His gifts, and it’s only going to get better. You already know, through faith, how your story ends. Now… can we see the finish line? Do you know when/how you’re going to die? Do you know when/how you’re going to finish your race here on earth and cross that finish line into Paradise? No… but we see the Victor, right where He tells us to look and focus and hear and receive. Until that blessed day when your Lord calls you home to heaven (or He returns in all glory and Judgment; whichever comes first), your Lord gives you all that you need to keep your flame of faith burning bright. He freely gives you His holy Word, His holy Baptism, and His holy Body and Blood. He gives you and overflows you with the over-abundant gift of Himself. “I am with you always.” And He is.
May this Christ-centered now-and-not-yet Gospel change you. You are a baptized/redeemed child of God. Act like it! May He and His unconditional and unfailing gifts of mercy and grace be your focus, your motivation, your destination, your reason to always give thanks in all circumstances, and your unsurpassing peace, now and into all eternity.
In His holy name… AMEN.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.