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 a RIP. 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, somewhere 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 is to get our location right. That’s the aim.
We’re going to look at the last four chapters of Matthew. These are wonderful chapters where Jesus prepares Himself to die and to rise, but He also prepares the followers because He’s going to be gone and they need to be patient, faithful and focused. And they’re going to see Him again, the one certain thing in the universe is that everybody is going to meet Jesus, either He will come to us quickly, or we’ll go to Him eventually.
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 necessary 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 important things that we need to know so that we can focus and be ready. And the story which we had read first just a minute ago from Matthew 25 is part of the vital teaching. It’s about ten bridesmaids. The stories of Jesus are very compelling stories.
Across the city, some suburbs away from us this morning there is a friend we know called John Bales, and he works as a minister. He’s working with Muslim friends to try and explain the good news, the gospel of Christ. And he regularly uses stories because stories are such an effective way of getting attention.
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, so sorry.” And Muhammad 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 gonna 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 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 Heads; 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.
Then He tells us that His return is going to be sudden. Thousands and millions of people just living normal lives going to Woolworths filling up their tanks 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 to say again; these parables are not just all saying the same thing. They’re all saying different facets of the diamond. And the questions for this morning from the parable which we had read first 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 thousands in this city began and gave up. The question that this parable is asking is can you believe and stay?
I want to look at it with you under three quick headings.
- The Gift of Being Ready to Make Choices
- The Gift of Being Steady Right to the End
- The Gift of Being Able to go into God’s Presence
The Gift of Being Ready to Meet Jesus
The main point of the whole story in case you missed it as it was read is that there are ten bridesmaids, they are meant to go and escort the bridegroom into the wedding feast. And they want to; they want to do that. 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 people like us. Are we going to be ready with joy or not ready?
Five of them in the story can meet the bridegroom and into the feast. Five missed 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 are being baptised and five have not been baptised. It’s not that five are religious and five are not religious. It’s none of that. The difference is in verses 3 and 4, did they take something? And the something in the story is oil.
A few weeks ago I was up in Queensland at the 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 often 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 at his door who had decided that they would give themselves to looking after people in the sex industry.
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.
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 a woman. That 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 supposed if we are 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 1 in Christianity is to take Christ, the one who’s died for you. And those wise bridesmaids took oil that they both had. They all had lamps, they all look 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 in 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 Gift of Being Steady
I’m suspecting that 90% of the congregation, I was sitting there this morning and thinking, “I know this stuff. Jesus is coming, get salvation, become a Christian. I know this. Tell me something I don’t know.” Why does it say in verse 5 that there’s a long delay of the bridegroom coming, and we know 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 if at this point the parable is saying something more than being ready for the second coming because all of the parables have little extra bits, facets of the diamond. And I wonder if these words in these verses here are loaded words, stay with me as I try to explain what I’m talking about.
In verses 5 to 6, I wonder if the words 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 6 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 6 if the word for cry or shout is a loaded word because Paul says in one of his letters that when Jesus returned He will give a loud cry or shout.
And that maybe 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 until you breathe 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 the faith, and you’re ready, and you’re steady.
I think this is a great question. It is wonderful, isn’t it, that Jesus can make a person steady to meet him. You just think of this. You’re going to meet the person who governs the universe, whatever your project, whatever your failures, whatever your buildings, whatever your medals, they’re going to look very small when we come face to face with the 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 that He begins in us, He’s going to finish. 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 3, “We eagerly await the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ who’ll transform our lowly bodies, so they will be like His glorious body.” That is amazing. And there are serious precious to give up Christianity. The air that we breathe in Sydney is full of unbelief. People that’s 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 every day, there is such a swamp of them that we wonder whether joyful, peaceful Christianity is possible. There are many of us who are dealing with so many details, so many difficulties; we wonder whether the Christianity that we’ve signed up to is the right Christianity.
Is it the Christianity that people sing about? Is it the Christianity that people testified because you say to yourself as I say to myself every now and again “Mine is such a mess.” And the global information that 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 nonexistence in that particular part of the world? Why are so many people far from Christ? Can the faith be true? It’s a swamping global information at us.
And Jesus said there’d be lots of 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 a 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 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. And so there was this serious battle for the soul. And yet we are told in the Bible that the man or woman who takes Christ receives a Saviour 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 can make His people steady right up to the time where they sleep. And midnight comes, and the cry comes and the words of verse 6, 25 verse 6, “come or go to meet Him.”
In the book Pilgrims Progress which some of you have read by John Bunyan, there’s an incident where a pilgrim walks into the house of a man called Interpreter, and Interpreter shows him a big fire in a fireplace, and he marvels at the fire. But there is a man standing in front of the fire throwing buckets of water into the fire, and the pilgrim asked the question, “Why is the fire not going out?”
And Interpreter takes him around to the back, and interestingly in the Pilgrims Progress, there is a man who’s piping oil into the back of the fire. And that’s what sustained him. And God can 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.
The Gift of Being Able to go into God’s Presence
And the third and the last thing this morning is the gift of being able to go into God’s presence. This is where we get to the end of the parable, verses 8 to 13, and we see that a serious separation takes place because the foolish five who said “No, no, thank you, don’t need this,” suddenly find that they cannot enter. And they discover that the oil which the wise bridesmaids have taken is non-transferable. And that makes sense, 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 9, “Well, why don’t you run off now and see if you can buy some?” Of course, that will never work. And verse 10, “Christ comes, the day of opportunity is over, the door shuts, and this very tragic cry goes out.” Now we realised 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 they had just lifted the bible off the shelf or read what was given to them or listen to what was said to them.
I hope 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 objection, and there’ll be no complaints. There’ll be lots of regrets, and there’ll be lots of joys, but there’ll be no objections.
Bishop Raul in the 19th century says this is a humbling picture especially for preachers and pastors because after all our preaching and after all our praying and after all our mission re-exertions abroad and all our ministries at home many will be found last to be lifeless. And so many who seemed to be wise will be shown to be fools, and so many who’s seen as believers to be fools will be seen to be wise.
When that door is shut, I don’t think we could 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. 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 the wedding feast that 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 has planned the perfect feast. And this Jesus can 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.