1 ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
As you may know, we have been studying TEOTWAWKI on Wednesday night. It has been interesting study of cults and personalities, and of what the Bible actually says.
History has countless examples of people who have proclaimed that the return of Jesus Christ is imminent, but perhaps the strangest messenger of all was a hen in the English town of Leeds in 1806. The hen began laying eggs on which the phrase "Christ is coming" was written. As news of this miracle spread, many people became convinced that doomsday was at hand—until a curious local actually watched the hen laying one of the prophetic eggs and discovered someone had hatched a hoax. A person was writing the phrase on the eggs.
The Millerites are another interesting group. A New England farmer named William Miller, after several years of reading his Bible, concluded that the world would end some time between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. He preached and published enough to eventually lead thousands of followers (known as Millerites) who decided that the actual date was April 23, 1843. In preparation for the day, many sold or gave away their possessions, assuming they would not be needed. Well April 23, 1843 arrived but Jesus did not. After that the Millerites eventually disbanded—some of them forming what is now the Seventh Day Adventists.
In May 1980, televangelist and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson alarmed many when — contrary to Matthew 24:36 ("No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven...") he informed his "700 Club" TV show audience around the world that he knew when the world would end. "I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world," Robertson said. Wrong again.
We can go on. The writings of Nostradamus have intrigued people for over 400 years. His predictions rely heavily upon very flexible interpretations and questionable translations. One of the most famous quatrains read, "The year 1999, seventh month / From the sky will come great king of terror." Many Nostradamus devotees grew concerned that this was the famed prognosticator's vision of Armageddon, but July 1999 passed without incident.
However, the prophets of disaster are never at a loss for a new date. According to God's Church minister Ronald Weinland, the end times are upon us. His 2006 book "2008: God's Final Witness" states that hundreds of millions of people will die, and by the end of 2006, "there will be a maximum time of two years remaining before the world will be plunged into the worst time of all human history. By the fall of 2008, the United States will have collapsed as a world power, and no longer exist as an independent nation."
We wonder, have these people no shame? They keep predicting the EOT and it does not happen, and they just issue new predictions. Today you can walk into a Christian bookstore and see dozens of books making bold predictions about the return of Jesus.
Jesus, on the other hand, insisted that we can not know the time of His return. Instead, He taught us that we ought to be prepared at all times. That is the point of the Parable of the 10 Maidens.
Notice, in the parable, the groom is the center of attention. In the male dominated society of Jesus’ day, that was the way of life. Not today. Now the bride is the center of attention. Everyone waits for her arrival. Everyone stands when she enters the room. Everyone stares at her beautiful dress. The groom is just the guy sweating it out next to the preacher. I like our way, but in Jesus’ day, it was the groom for whom everyone waited. Part of the wedding celebration was a feast that followed the ceremony. That is what Jesus speaks of here. It was traditional for the bridesmaids to wait at a home together for the bridegroom to take them to the wedding feast. Another part of the tradition was for the groom to negotiate with the bride’s family about a gift for the family in return for their daughter. Often, the proceedings would be slowed down by the bride’s parents as a way of negotiating a higher bride price. That would, in turn, cause a delay in the wedding feast. In the parable, the bridesmaids are waiting through just such a delay. They did not know when the groom would show up, so they must be ready at a moment’s notice.
I heard a story about the first date of a young man and a young woman. She was expecting him at a certain time. She was dressed and waiting. He did not show. After an hour, she decided that she had been stood up. So, she took off her makeup, put on her pajamas, made herself a snack. and sat down to watch TV. As her favorite show was beginning, the doorbell rang. It was her date. He was astonished at her appearance. He said, "I cannot believe this. I am two hours late, and you’re still not ready?" I suppose that if she had murdered him on the spot, a jury would have found it justifiable.
But maybe there is an application here. Jesus said, don’t let My return sneak up on you. Be ready all the time.
Back in the seventies, I used to watch the TV program MASH. I remember one episode where Hawkeye is called to the front lines due to a shortage of doctors there. When he arrives, bombs and bullets are flying all around. He suddenly realizes that he might actually be killed. So in the few spare moments he has, he takes time to write out his last will and testament. Eventually, Hawkeye returns to the 4077 MASH. He arrives late in the evening, enters the office, sits down and works on the conclusion of his will. Klinger comes in, asks what he’s doing. Hawkeye tells him. Klinger says, "No paper work is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow." Hawkeye replies, "I used to think that way too, but not anymore." It was not until Hawkeye had experienced his close encounter with death on the front lines that he realized the importance of living each day to the fullest.
That is the point of the parable of the ten maidens, we should live every day like Jesus is coming that day.
Years ago, 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers for a salesperson. One applicant replied: "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop in to see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair. I will have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer." From among more than 1500 applicants, this guy got the job.
What 20th Century Fox wanted to know was how he would do his job everyday, and he said, come and take a look. Jesus has assigned us a job on this earth. One day he will come and take a look at what we are doing. Jesus has called us to live a certain way here and now. That is how we prepare for the second coming.
The problem is that most people, even most Christians do not seem to be doing much in the way of preparation. And that can be disastrous.
In April 1988, the national evening news reported on a photographer who was also a skydiver. He jumped from a plane, and then began to film other skydivers. The surviving video shows each skydiver jumping out and then pulling their rip chord so that their parachute opened to the wind. The final skydiver opened his chute and then the picture went berserk. The announcer reported that the cameraman fell to his death, because he jumped out of the plane without a parachute. It was not until he reached for the ripcord that he realized his fatal error.
Most people live like that unfortunate cameraman, like there is no tomorrow. Our finances reflect this. The way we eat and treat our bodies reflect this. And certainly the moral lives of Americans reflect this. There is a moral disconnect between what we say we believe and how we act. Jesus told us to get ready by doing the right things right now. Being ready means actively living in faithfulness to God.
I heard a story about a man who had an emergency and needed his suit drycleaned immediately. He remembered a store with a huge sign, “One-Hour Dry Cleaners.” It was on the other side of town, but he drove over there, dropped off the suit, and told the clerk, “I’ll be back in an hour to pick it up.” She said, “We can’t get this back to you until Thursday.” “I thought you did dry cleaning in an hour,” he said. “Oh, no,” she replied, “That’s just the name of the store, we don’t actually do that.” There are many folks today who wear a sign saying they are a Christian, but they don’t actually do that. They don’t actually live like a Christian.
Spiritual readiness does not just happen. It comes as a result of habits built into our lives: Coming to church on Sunday that is a good habit. Being a part of a Christian fellowship. Taking time for prayer, being alone with God, reading God’s Word, acts of service to others. Such habits provide oil for our lamps, and prepare us for Christ’s coming.
I read recently some excerpts from actual performance reviews for American naval officers. “He works well under constant supervision.” Another read, “He works well when cornered like a rat in a trap.” Still another, “This young lady has delusions of adequacy. She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.” Those people did not get very far in the Navy. I suspect that they will not get very far in the Kingdom of God. Because being a Christian is like anything else — the harder you work at it, the better you get at it.
It is interesting that in the parable the bridesmaids all appeared to be alike. They were all expecting the bridegroom. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all fell asleep. They all had lamps. They all wanted to be a part of the wedding feast. But not all were prepared.
It is not that the foolish bridesmaids did not know that they needed oil. They knew; they just did not do anything about it. They were foolish and lazy.
Certainly one lesson of the parable is: No one can do it for you. No one can wear a parachute in your place. It doesn’t work that way. You need your own. The foolish bridesmaids saw that they did not have enough oil, and they asked their wise friends to loan them some, but that was not possible. This means that another person’s faith will not suffice for you. Your mother and father might have been faithful people of God. Good for them. But their faith will not save you.
The major thrust of the parable is a warning, a warning that we need to hear now.
The Chicago Tribune carried a story titled “Man Electrocuted After Ignoring Warnings .” 22-year-old Jason Grisham attempted to climb an electrical tower. Partway up the tower, 69,000 volts of electricity coursed through his body, knocking Grisham to the ground. Despite suffering burns to his chest and having his pants explode, the newspaper said the young man was admitted to the hospital in good condition. How did this happen? A seven-foot-tall fence, topped with barbed wire, surrounded the electrical tower. A company spokeswoman said the spot where Grisham climbed over the fence was bracketed by signs saying “Danger/High Voltage.” He climbed over the fence anyway. Climbed the tower anyway.
You might say, how could he be so daft? But most people are really good at ignoring warnings. Most people ignore Jesus warning. But Jesus is talking to you and me in the parable. He says, Live like you are ready for my return. That is your only warning.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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