Jesus tells many parables about the Last Day, and in all of them he stresses two things. The first is that it will be unexpected. You don’t know the day or the hour, we just heard. He says it will come like a thief in the night. He says two people will be working in a field and suddenly one will be taken up in the air and the other left. He compares it to a master of a house who left a servant in charge and no one knows when the master will be back. At one point, Jesus says that even He – according to His human nature, which was humbled to bear our sin – even He didn’t know when the day would come. And this unexpectedness, this not knowing when the day will come, Jesus constantly preaches to warn us to be ready constantly. If we knew the Lord would come on November 30th we would set our house in order before November 30th. We would forgive those who sinned against us, we would throw off all grudges, we would forget about vengeance and revenge, we would be constantly reading Jesus’ word, praying to Him, we wouldn’t really care how much money we had or how great our health was or how nice our car was – these things would become very obviously unimportant in comparison with being right with our God, with being prepared to meet Him. We would make sure to be in church at every opportunity. We’d go to Bible Class and read the Bible at home. But we don’t know when it will be, and so Jesus tells us to always be ready, always live life like this, as if Jesus is coming, to have our house in order always and always to think little of the concerns of this life in comparison to the concerns of meeting our Lord face to face.
That’s the first thing Jesus stresses. The second is that He will come. Jesus will come to be our judge. It is a guaranteed reality. It is the end to which all time and all history of the world is heading. As surely as Jesus lived for us and died for us and rose again for us, He will come for us. And so the preparation for His coming is not a scary thing or a horrible ordeal for us who trust in Him. It’s instead the goal of our lives, the one thing that really warrants our excitement and our anxious waiting – everything else we look forward to in this life, everything else we can’t wait to see, can’t wait to experience, ends up disappointing in one way or another, but this will bring everlasting contentment, to see our Lord. So in the end, all those who were actually waiting for him, expecting His coming, they are marked with joy – they enter the wedding feast, they enter into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. And those who did not actually expect Him to come are marked with distress and surprise and punishment.
What is very clear is this – since the Son of God became a man in the womb of the virgin Mary, since He lived in Palestine some 2000 years ago, since he performed miracles and cast out demons, since he was crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised from the dead three days later, it will most certainly happen that He will come to judge the living and the dead. It is 100% certain. If we are not playing here, practicing religious games, but instead Jesus really comes to us and gives us His body and blood, forgives us our sins, then He will return for us and this must be our greatest expectation.
The parable of the ten virgins stresses these two things very pointedly. The Bridegroom is delayed. They don’t know when He’ll come. But He does come. It is a reality. And so it was no game the virgins were playing as they sat there waiting for Him. And the five virgins who brought the oil knew it was no game. They were prepared. They so lived their lives that they actually expected the Bridegroom to come and welcome them into the wedding feast. But the five foolish virgins – they were pretending. It was like little girls playing at tea party with no tea. They had lanterns with no oil. It was all a game.
This is a picture of the church, that some play at it and some actually believe the truth. Beautifully this doesn’t mean that the Christians who actually believe the truth are perfect, that they never grow weary themselves, never doubt. No, Jesus tells us that both the wise and the foolish virgins fell asleep. Both grew tired in the watch. The disciples in Gethsemane fell asleep in exhaustion when Jesus told them to watch and pray, and Jesus spoke with pity when He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Peter sank down into the water when he took his eyes off Jesus, and it was with compassion that Jesus said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The life of the Christian is not without doubt, not without sin, not without growing tired of the watch.
But this life is also marked by trust in the Son of God, not by playing a game, but by faith in what is surer and more certain than heaven and earth. And so faith doesn’t look at itself. It doesn’t trust in itself. It trusts in Jesus. As the Easter hymn confesses, “Faith’s strong hand the Rock has found, grasped it, and shall leave it never.” It is the reality of Jesus crucified for us and living for us and giving us His body and blood and coming for us to be with Him forever, this reality that is the strength of faith.
The five foolish virgins didn’t bring any oil. Oil is faith. They sat with the wise virgins, and waited with them, they fell asleep with them, but when they woke up, they were filled with dread and terror, not joy. Why? Because He actually came and they didn’t expect this. The wise virgins were filled with joy. He’s here! He finally came! Thank God. But the foolish seriously didn’t expect it. They were just playing games. That’s why they had no oil, why they couldn’t light their lamps. Totally unexpected. This they never prepared for. To look him in the face and see it was all real. Everything they heard in church, the body and blood they took into their mouths, the water that washed them, real. Not so much religious ceremony. Divine reality. And so it is with the unbelievers who pretend to be Christians, who come to church, who mouth the words, but don’t believe it’s all real.
The tragic thing about unbelief is that it remains so cold, even when the truth is right before its eyes. The foolish virgins ask for oil. They ask others for faith. Hey, you’ve seen me in church, I’m like you, give me what you have. They still don’t get it. They still don’t get that faith is a trusting that can’t be bought or given away, it’s a love and expectation for what we know will come. Instead of running to the Bridegroom and begging for his mercy, they run away in fear to purchase what they can’t buy. This is unbelief. It’s like the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man is in hell and he still doesn’t get it. He wants Lazarus to go and tell his brothers. But Abraham refuses – he says, they have Moses and the Prophets. No, the rich man says, no, but if they see someone rise from the dead, then they’ll believe. No. Not even if someone rises from the dead. Look at this. Someone rose from the dead. His name is Jesus. He is God almighty in human flesh. He bore our sins. He suffered their punishment. He destroyed the death that belonged to us. He conquered the devil and hell. He rose from the dead. And He will return to welcome His Christians into eternal bliss. This is reality. Why we’re here today. The foolish virgins didn’t believe it. The fake Christians don’t hope for it. They live their lives for this world and they hope in the few years God gives them on this earth, but they never stop to consider that all of what is preached from the Bible and what Jesus gives in His Church is real, he means it, it happened and is happening, He lived and died and rose to give it.
This is what gives the Christian all our joy and our comfort and our hope, this reality. This is why the five wise virgins have oil. They actually expect him to come. Despite their sin, despite their falling asleep, despite the fact that with everyone else they can’t claim to have been as vigilant, as watchful, as perfect as they could have been and wanted to be, they trust this, he is coming, and when he comes, I’ll be ready, because there is nothing that could rouse me from my sleep, nothing that could bring me more joy, than to finally see him, though he’s delayed so long. So I have my oil, and I will trim my lamp, and I will see His face, the face I’ve longed to see through it all.
And this is faith. It looks to Jesus. It expects Him to come. It knows it will happen. He said He would. And He can’t lie. Yes, He’s delayed. Yes, He said He will come quickly. But hasn’t he? He’s come to you. That’s why you’re here. He tells you your sins are forgiven. He’s washed you in your Baptism and made you His child. He’s fed you with His body and His blood. He comes to you now, He rouses you from your sleep, He tells you that His blood was shed for you and His body pierced for you, that He lives and reigns to all eternity to erase your sin and your death and give you His Spirit, He comes now to you, and so He will come, and you will see His face, your eyes and not another, as Job confessed so long ago.
Jesus tells this parable to us, His church, not so that we can look with suspicion on one another, wondering if others are fake Christians and looking at our own lives to see whether we are the real Christians. That’s not the point at all. It’s not like an even half of all people who go to church are faking it and the other half are genuine believers. And it’s certainly not the case that Jesus ever wants to point you inside yourself for your certainty. No, Jesus’ point is to rouse all of us from our apathy to realize what faith is – an expectation, a trust in reality, that locks eyes on Jesus and says, He is my Savior, He has lived for me, died for me, my sins which torment me, He has removed from me as far as the east is from the west, and this has happened, and so I really eat his body and his blood, I really hear his forgiveness, because his tomb is really empty and He reigns now over heaven and earth, and He will really come and I will see His face. This is faith, and so it brings us to the feast today and every Lord’s Day, to expect what our God promises and what our eyes will see on that Last Day.
And think of that day, when He does come. With all sin and all pain and all doubt removed forever, all we can’t see now we see with our own eyes. His hands pierced for us. His side wounded. The body and blood put into our mouths, now there before our eyes in splendor. Faith turned to sight, as we join in the feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. Let us pray:
Oh, joy to know that Thou, my Friend,
Art Lord, Beginning without end,
The First and Last, Eternal!
And Thou at length--O glorious grace!--
Wilt take me to that holy place,
The home of joys supernal.
Come and meet me,
Quickly greet me,
With deep yearning.
Lord I wait for thy returning.