By Simon ManchesterSunday 20 Oct 2013Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 15 minutes
I heard a story through the week of a couple who moved into a new home and a florist arrived with a large wreath of flowers. And on the wreath of flowers was an RIP,and the couple rang the florist to complain and the florist said,’We’re very sorry about what’s happened,there must have been a mix up. But look on the bright side,some where there’s a funeral going on with a large bright bunch of flowers saying ‘Welcome to your new location.”
And the aim of this morning,the aim of this morning is to get our location right. That’s the aim. So what are we going to do for eight weeks is to look at the last four chapters of Matthew. These are really wonderful chapters,where Jesus prepares himself to die and rise. But he also prepares the followers,because he’s going to be gone,and they need to be patient and faithful and focused. And they’re going to see him again. The one absolutely certain thing in the universe is that everybody is going to meet Jesus. Either he will come to us quickly or we will go to him eventually.
And if we know Jesus at all from the New Testament,we know that he will do everything possible to make the meeting safe and wonderful. And that’s why he will do the most vital thing of all which is to die on the cross so that he can deal with what will disqualify us which is our sins and that’s why he also says,the absolutely vital things that we need to know so that we can focus and be ready.
The story which we had read for us just a minute ago,from Matthew 25 is part of the vital teaching. It’s basically about ten bridesmaids. The stories of Jesus are very powerful stories. Across the city some suburbs away from us this morning there is a friend we know,called John Bales. He worked as a minister here,he’s working with Muslim friends to try and explain the good news,the gospel of Christ. And he uses regularly stories. Stories are such an effective way of getting attention.
So he’ll tell a story something like this. A man falls into a well and the Buddha comes to the well. What will the Buddha say? Well the Buddha will say,’You must do your best to come to grips with what’s happened. You must learn to accept what’s taken place’. And an atheist comes to the well and says,’This is tragic. I’m so sorry.’ And Mohammed comes to the well,and says,’You must strive your very best to rescue yourself.’ And then Jesus comes to the well and he says,’I’m coming in. And I’m going to lift you out.’
So stories are extremely useful. Now the stories that Jesus told were not just to make things simple. He was not treating his listeners as if they were children. The stories that Jesus told had a separating effect. So people who were listening eagerly would latch on. And people who were eager to get away would get confused. And that’s the way these stories would work.
And as Jesus is walking to Jerusalem,he begins to say a lot about his spectacular return using lots of stories. And the first thing he tells us is that’s it’s going to be a big global event. It’s not going to be local. When Christ comes,it’s not going to be through Sydney Head,it’s going to be a big global event,everybody will see him at the same time. He is after all the King of the Universe.
And then he tells us that his return is going to be sudden. Thousands and millions of people living normal lives,going to Woollies,filling up their tank with petrol. Reading the paper or whatever they’re reading,and then suddenly everything changes. And he also tells us that his return is going to be a day of reward,a day of recompense. Have we responded to him,have we received him,have we done what he’s asked us to do. Or have we done what we want him to tell us to do,but he hasn’t told us to do.
So it’s going to be a day of reward. And he tells us in Matthew chapter 24,that the faithful will be richly rewarded. And those who are unfaithful will be seriously dealt with. And then we come to chapter 25. And we’re dealing with another second coming story. And I want say again,these parables are not just all saying the same thing. They’re all saying different facets of the diamond. And the question for this morning,from the parable which had read for us about the ten bridesmaids is. This is the question,’Can you be ready and steady right to the end. Are you,okay,with a long delay. Or will you lose interest and will you drift away?’ Because we know that so many people,thousands and thousand in this city began and gave up. The question that this parable is asking is can you believe and stay.
And I want to look at it with you under three quick headings. The first is the gift of being ready to meet Jesus. That’s a wonderful gift. The second is the gift of being steady,right to the end. And the third is the gift of being able to go into God’s presence.
So first of all,the gift of being ready to meet Jesus verses one to four. The main point of the whole story,in case you missed it as it was read,is that there ten basically bridesmaids. They are meant to go and escort the bridegroom into the wedding feast.
And they want to,they want to do that too. They want to go into the wedding feast. The bridegroom in the story is Jesus. It’s very interesting that Jesus calls himself the bridegroom because in the Old Testament,the bridegroom was always God. God the bridegroom,his people,the bride,and now Jesus steps up and says ‘I’m the bridegroom’. It’s a very clear claim to deity. And the bridesmaids are basically people like us. Are we going to be ready with joy,or not ready?
Five of them in the story are able to meet the bridegroom and enter the feast and five miss out completely. The difference between the five and the five is not that five are nice,and five are nasty. It’s not that five are good and five are bad. It’s not that five have been baptized and five have not been baptized. It’s not that five are religious and five are not religious,it’s none of that. The difference is in verses three and four. Did they take something.
And the ‘something’ in the story is oil. A few weeks ago I was up in Queensland at a Christian conference and I was sitting at a dinner for the very last evening,and I was sitting opposite a man called John. Heavily tattooed,tattoos all around his neck. You don’t see enough of these guys at Christian conferences. And I said to him,’John,how did you come to Christ?’
And he told me his long story,and basically he was a transsexual prostitute on the streets of Brisbane for nearly 50 years. And when he was in an absolute pit of desperation. He did what he swore he would never do. Which is to pray. And he prayed to God,and almost within minutes of sending up this prayer,two nuns knocked on his door. Who had decided that they would give themselves to looking after people in the sex industry.
And they took him to a Pentecostal church. A very interesting step for two nuns. And somewhere in the year he heard the message of Christ. And he became a Christian. Wanting the word of God and to be fed more,he started to go along to an Anglican church. He’s now married to one of the ladies on the staff of the Anglican church. And they work together in various ways to reach people who are really outside the church.
Now,I was not shocked that Christ could save somebody who’s been in such a different world. That didn’t shock me. I know that Christ can save anybody. I was shocked that the Pentecostal church welcomed and loved a man turning up for a year dressed as woman. That really sobered me. I wondered whether we could do that. I wondered whether I could do that. But the thing that transformed this guy is that he took Christ.
So I suppose if we’re trying to work out what the oil is,we want to say primarily that the oil is to take Christ,or maybe the grace of Christ. We need the grace of Christ. Or maybe forgiveness or the salvation or the eternal life,but it’s responding to Jesus Christ. And he sent me this week a DVD of his story,his testimony and it’s called,’Jesus,The Only Real Man in My Life.’
So this oil,this taking is the key to the future. If you want to be ready to meet Jesus don’t try and do something impressive. It’s not about what you do or what you don’t do. It’s whether you take. Christianity 101. Step one in Christianity is to take Christ. The one who’s died for you. And those wise bridesmaids took oil. They all had lamps,they all looked pretty much the same,but some had taken the oil,and they were ready to meet Christ.
And everybody who takes Christ here,is ready to meet Christ there. Or to put it into one sentence,in another part of the New Testament. Christ in you,the hope of glory. So that’s the first thing,the gift of being ready to meet Christ.
The second thing this morning is the gift of being steady to the end,verses five to seven. I’m suspecting that 90% of the congregation are sitting there this morning thinking,I know this stuff. Jesus is coming,get salvation,become a Christian I know this. Tell me something I don’t know. So congregation,what is verse five all about. Why does it say in verse five that there’s a long delay of the bridegroom coming and we know that that. And then the bridesmaids,all of them,the wise and the foolish,they all got drowsy and fell asleep. What is that all about?
Is it okay,for them to fall asleep? Is it irresponsible that they fell asleep? Is there any criticism in the parable that they fell asleep? Doesn’t look like it to me. Does it endanger anybody that they fell asleep? Why does Jesus include the idea that they fell asleep. And I wonder at if at this point the parable is saying something more than ‘Be ready for the second coming’. Because all of the parables have little extra bits of facets of the diamond. And wonder if these words in these verses here are loaded words,stay with me as I try and explain what I’m talking about.
In verses five to six I wonder if the word ‘sleep’ is a loaded word. I wonder if it’s a loaded word for death. All of them died. We know that Jesus used the word ‘sleep’ again and again for the subject of death. He would talk about a little girl having slept and everybody laughed and said,no,she’s died. And Jesus said,’No,she’s sleeping.’ Wakes her up. Paul uses ‘sleep’ for ‘death’. I wonder if the word midnight in verse six is a loaded word.
Jesus speaks of the owner returning at midnight a critical moment. The moment of return,the moment of the end. And I wonder even in verse six if the word for cry or shout is a loaded word,because Paul says in one of his letters that when Jesus returns he will give a loud cry,or shout. And it may be you see that this parable is not just asking the question ‘Are you ready to meet Jesus?’,because so many here this morning will say yes,but I wonder whether the parable is asking can you go to the end. Ready to meet Jesus.
Because that is a very different question. ‘Can you stay ready to the end?’ Right up until you fall asleep. Right up till you breath your last,’Can you stay a follower?’ So that when midnight comes and history is over,and the great shout goes up and he returns,you’ve kept faith,and you’re ready,and you’re steady.
I think this is a great question. It is absolutely wonderful isn’t it that Jesus can make a person ready to meet him? Just think of this,you’re going to meet the person who governs the universe. Whatever your project,whatever your successes,whatever your failures,whatever your buildings,whatever your metals,they’re going to look very small when we come face-to-face with man,the God who’s made the universe.
And he’s so holy that sin cannot stand in front of him. And yet he’s made it possible for you and me to stand before him,forgiven,spotless,joyful,loved,accepted. That’s amazing. It’s also amazing that he’s able to make us steady,right to the end. Even though we’re very weak and we’re very worldly,but the life that he gives to his people is eternal. And the work he begins in us,he’s going to finish. And the rough material that he works with is going to end up perfect and sinless.
Now I know my congregation reasonably well,and I know that some of you are very rough material. The fact that Christ is going to turn you into his character is unbelievable. But the fact that he’s going to turn me into his character is even more unbelievable to me. But that’s what he promises.
Paul says in Philippians III,’We eagerly await a savior,the Lord Jesus Christ he’ll transform our lowly bodies so they will be like his glorious body’. That is amazing. And there are serious pressures to give up Christianity. The air that we breathe in Sydney is absolutely full of unbelief. People are chucking their faith away all around us. They’re living successfully without Christ,and then you know what they do. They just rewrite the end,they say ‘Christ is irrelevant,I’m on my way to heaven. It’s a big mistake,you don’t need him.’
And we who are holding scripture look so stupid. Because it all looks as though it’s working perfectly. The number of details that we have to deal with. The number of difficulties that come to us everyday. There are such a swamp of them,that we wonder whether joyful,peaceful Christianity is really possible.
There are many of us who are dealing with so many details,so many difficulties we actually wonder whether Christianity we’ve signed up to is the right Christianity. Is it the Christianity that people sing about. Is it the Christianity that people testify because you say to yourself as I say to myself every now and again,’Mine is such a mess.’
And the global information is coming at us,which we’re expected to absorb and process and explain,’Why is this happening in the world? Why are these people suffering as they are? Why is Christianity almost non-existent in that particular part of the world? Why are so many people far from Christ? Can the faith really be true?’ It’s a swamping global information at us.
And Jesus said they’ll be lots dangers on the way for those who follow. He said some people will build on bad foundations like sand and they will be removed. Some people will have faith which is so eaten up by thorns,worldly worries,treasures,idols,false gods that they will quickly give up. Some people in the churches seem to actually thrive in the thorns. They walk into the thorns,they play with the thorns. And then Jesus said there going to be lots of false prophets even false Christs who will deceive. So there is this serious battle for the soul,and yet we’re told in the Bible that the man or woman takes Christ,receives a savior,and a Lord,and a King and a Shepherd who is forever. The new life that Christ gives to you is forever. The grip which he has on you is forever. The promises which he gives to you are forever.
The man or the woman who takes Christ is going to be sustained to the end. And he is able to make his people steady. Right up to the time where they sleep. And midnight comes and the cry comes,and the words of verse six,twenty five verse six. Come or go to meet him. In,’The Pilgrims Progress’,which some of you’ve read by John Bunyan,there’s an incident where Pilgrim walks into the house of a man called Interpreter. And Interpreter show him a big fire in a fire place,and he marvels at the fire but there’s a man standing right in fire throwing buckets of water into the fire. And Pilgrim asks the question. ‘Why is the fire not going out? And Interpreter takes him round to the back and interesting in the Pilgrims Progress there is a man who is piping oil into the back of the fire. That’s what’s sustaining.
And God is able to sustain us so that we’re steady right to the end. The gift of being steady. Of course he calls on us to be steady,but he will steady us. The gift of being steady. And the third and the last thing this morning is the gift of of being able to go into God’s presence. And this is where we get to the end of the parable,verses eight to thirteen and we see that a serious separation takes place. Because the foolish five who’ve said ‘No,no thank you,don’t need this.’ Suddenly find that they cannot enter. And they discovered that the oil which the wise bridesmaids have taken is non-transferrable.
And that makes sense really doesn’t it? I can’t give my salvation to another person. I can’t give my eternal life to another person. I can’t save another person. The saviour is Christ and this desperate suggestion is made in verse nine,’Well why don’t you run off now and see if you can buy some?’ Of course that will never work. At verse ten Christ comes,the day of opportunity is over,the door shuts and this very tragic cry goes out. Now we realize our mistake. ‘Please open.’ But it’s all over. I hope as you listen to this you won’t say to yourself,’Well God is terribly unjust.’ Because remember that this is a word to people who’ve had a lifetime of opportunity.
Think of the millions of people in this city who are going to get to the end of their life and suddenly wish that had just lifted the Bible off the shelf. Or read what was given to them,or listened to what was said to them. I hope that you won’t also think that this is a problem for some far off person somewhere and how the whole plan is corrupt because we know from the rest of the Bible that on the last day,everybody will say to God,you’ve done everything perfectly. They’ll be no objections,and they’ll be no complaints. They’ll be lots of regrets and be lots of joys,but they’ll be no objections.
Bishop Riley in the 19th century says this is a humbling picture. Especially for preachers and pastors because after all our preaching and praying and after all our missionary exertions abroad and all our ministries at home,many will be found at last lifeless.
And so many who seem to be wise will be shown to be fools. And so many who seemed as believers to be fools,will seen to be wise. When that door is shut,I don’t think we can put into words the absolute delight of being inside by the goodness of God. By the kindness of Christ,to be inside that wedding feast. I don’t think we could put this into words.
To be in the presence of Christ and knowing that the door has been shut on sadness and shut on evil,and it’s been shut on sin and there are no more burdens to carry and there are no more heartaches to experience. And there are no more scars and there are no more tensions and there’s no more sinfulness,and there’s no more waiting rooms to go and sit in. And there are no more funerals.
I have a big funeral tomorrow. I expect the building tomorrow at 11:00 to be fuller than this. With all the film industry,I’ll appreciate your prayers tomorrow to pray,to preach,with the few minutes that I have with love and courage. But the door is going to shut on all of that. And the door is going to make the people of Jesus Christ secure and thankful.
Part of a wedding feast which Jesus,who’s the genius behind the universe has planned for unworthy people like us. But he has made it possible through his death on the cross. And he’s planned a perfect feast,and this Jesus he’s able to make you who are listening to me today ready,wonderfully ready. He’s able to make you steady right to the end. And he’s able to make you go in.