I think it’s impossible to be a compassionate human being and not wonder why the wise virgins offer no real help to the foolish.

Why don’t they share?

Why don’t they share their oil with those who were ill-prepared? Why not see to it that they enter into the joyous feast together?

If this parable were about the golden rule, that would be a great question, but this parable’s not about the golden rule.

Today’s Gospel lesson occurs in a section of Matthew that begins: “But concerning [the Day of the Lord, the final judgment, the Second Coming of Christ, concerning that day and hour] no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

After that, five parables follow, including today’s Gospel lesson, each dealing with being prepared for that Day.

In all five parables, something or someone arrives suddenly, creating a panic.

In three of the five, a key figure is delayed.

In four of the five, we’re exhorted specifically to watch and be ready.

In four of the five, the characters are divided into wise, faithful, and good or wicked, foolish, and hesitant.

The last three show us a scene of judgment where the faithful receive a joyous reward while the unfaithful receive ruthless punishment and banishment.

These parables aren’t about the golden rule and how you treat others.

They’re about the kingdom of God and how—or by what means—salvation comes to you.

The question is, then, why were the foolish virgins unprepared, and—for us today—are you prepared?

What does it take to be prepared for the end?

What makes the foolish virgins foolish?

What made the wise wise? And what’s the difference?

Well, we have to start with what they have in common.

That it’s two groups of virgins, this isn’t a comparison between churched and unchurched. Rather, it’s a comparison between the members of the visible Church.

The wise and foolish virgins is a picture of the Church on any given Sunday.

They all have lamps, that is, they all have the Word of God. So—for us—it’s like they have Bibles, the Small Catechism, and a Lutheran hymnal.

I say Lutheran hymnal because Methodist hymnals don’t teach what Lutherans believe.

The Word of the Lord is a lamp to the Christian’s feet and a light for his path (cf. Psalm 119:105), and Jesus says in Matthew chapter five, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Both wise and foolish have the Word.

They even have good-looking works.

That’s not the difference between them.

Nor is the difference something like Confirmation. Every confirmed Lutheran can say that they were confirmed, obviously. But can every confirmed Lutheran say that they’ve remained in the faith that they were taught?

Have you nurtured it, picking up stones and pruning out thorns?

The difference between wise and foolish isn’t confirmation, or an old German bible, or a Small Catechism with your name printed on it.

What an obvious thing to say, though, right?

No one thinks that’s what makes you wise, merely possessing the Word.

But how many Christians read their bible to their children daily—or gladly, to have in mind the Third Commandment?

And let’s hear that in the past tense, too.

How many heads of house heed the words of the catechism, teaching it simply to their household?

You’re right, of course, to think it the pastor’s responsibility to teach the faith. But you’re wrong if you think that implies parents shouldn’t, can’t, or don’t.

The difference between wise and foolish isn’t in the outer observances of the Word: going to Church, opening a bible, being Baptized, receiving the Sacrament, or helping your neighbor.

The difference is: the foolish look to humanity for their salvation, and the wise look to Christ, the Bridegroom.

For salvation, the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit, the oil of faith, that fears, loves, and trusts Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our life and faith.

Fools look to human reason and trust in the merit of man. When an unbeliever dies, you’ll hear he was a good person, and you’ll be encouraged to donate to the Humane Society—as he did.

But you’ll hear nothing of Jesus.

Or—maybe he followed Jesus with what he said.

Or maybe he followed Jesus with what he did.

But with an unbeliever, it’s never both.

The will of the Father is as foreign to them as the explanation of the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Possessing the Word isn’t what distinguishes wise from foolish—but faith.

The object of their faith.

What their faith clings to.

Because the wise look to Christ, as faith always does.

The wise trust Him to look upon them as a groom does his bride, caring for her—not her beauty or wealth, God sees not as man sees. He cares for her—not the defects the world would make you aware of—just her.

That’s how Christ looks at you.

He doesn’t want your beauty or your wealth, those fleeting things. He doesn’t care to hear about your defects from the world.

What are those anyway, when they’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Faith that believes God has forgiven your sins in Christ  is the oil that separates wise from foolish.

It’s not a lack of sin.

Both fall asleep.

So then, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) since we belong to the day.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Faith that believes this is the oil that prepares you for the Bridegroom’s return.

The difference between wise and foolish is faith.

Both appear to have good works, but that which does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:3).

The faith of the wise trust Jesus.

The faith of the foolish trust in themselves.

Consider this:

The foolish ask the wise for oil—not God.

They’ve never asked God for anything.

They’ve never expected God to help.

They don’t look to Him in faith, so, doubting all, they look to man.

In the Gospel according to St. Luke, the rich man, in hades, asks Abraham to send Lazarus for aid.

He never asked God for anything.

So why start now?

When we regard Jesus as Lord only, that’s not enough. There’s no consolation, no redemption, if all Jesus is is Lord.

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

If God is only “awesome,” that’s not enough.

If God only “walks with you,” that’s not enough.

What separates foolish from wise is faith that trusts Jesus to look at you as a groom does his bride.

The foolish have no oil, no faith.

When trouble comes, they don’t know God as merciful. They don’t know the things that make for peace. They don’t know how to seek righteousness, because they don’t know where righteousness is preached, proclaimed, poured out, and given and shed.

But the wise—the wise acknowledge sin and repent of it. They trust God, who forgives, to also forget, to remember the sin no more, since it’s washed in the blood of the Lamb.

You know the things that make for peace, because you know where God is.

You know that He fights for you.

The wise call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. They look for mercy, they seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

They ask. They knock.

And to all the wise—to you—God opens the door to the feast, calls you in, rejoices in you—who you are in Christ.

He loves you, because He knows you as His own.

And then He shuts the door.

In Jesus’ name, Amen! 

Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2021
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When driving, if you see a sign that informs you that the exit you need is in one mile—or, if you hear, “In one mile, turn right,” what does that mean? 

It means slow down, right? Your turn’s coming up.

Pretty simple.

But on my way to an appointment with the eye doctor, I heard, “In one mile, turn right.” And what did I do?

I heard the announcement. I wanted to listen.

I wanted to do as I knew I should.

But—when the cry went up, “Turn right,” it was too late. Like so many, I had received the warning, but I did not heed it with care. I was distracted from the way.

In a car, this is no big deal. You slow down, turn around, and make the correct turn. Or—you can do what I did and slam on your breaks and make the turn at the last possible moment.

If you never want to ride with me—I’ll understand.

But the point is, we see and hear the warning—we want to heed it—and we get distracted.

Repent!

I’m not talking about you missing the exit on the way to the doctor, the restaurant, or the shop.

I’m talking about the doctors and nurses, the business owners and employees, and the consumers who are on the Way but may miss the Exit.

Or, to say it this way: live as though you believe Jesus who says, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).

In a car, when someone tells you the turn is coming, you drive very strangely: you sit forward, open you eyes, turn the radio down (all the better to see with), and look back and forth.

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish, and five wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13).

Are you ready to meet Jesus?

Because the hour is coming.

The bridegroom is on His way.

We know he’s on his way.

We don’t know when exactly He’ll arrive.

We simply have to be ready. Prepared.

And all of them fall asleep.

Preparedness is not perfection but faithfulness.

It is enough that they are awoken and alerted by a cry.

But after the cry—it’s too late.

Are you familiar with the phrase “it’s all over but the shoutin’”?

I knew the phrase growing up—and I discovered it again in one of my favorite Southern authors. It means the conclusion is known—but mom and dad or whoever just have to shout about it.

Today, I mean that when the cry goes up, it’s no longer possible to prepare. Now, the only thing that’s left is the “shoutin’”—the wedding feast, the shut door, and the judgment.

Because it’s impossible to share oil.

It’s impossible for your faith to win another to Christ.

Don’t make the mistake of comparing this parable to the golden rule, thinking that the wise should have shared with the foolish.

But this parable isn’t a comparison to the golden rule, it’s an allegory for end time equipment.

It’s not that the wise should share with the foolish; but that the foolish should not be so.

The weaker brother argument doesn’t work here.

What separates wise from foolish is hearing and heeding the warning to be ready for the bridegroom.

“For those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (cf. Matthew 25:10).

The wise enter in, the foolish are left without, and the door is shut in such a way and by such a one that it is not reopened.

When the cry went up, it was all over but the shoutin’.

And the shoutin’ is what Jesus says to the foolish who know the right words but apart from and without faith that trusted them: ”’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (Matthew 25:11-12).

He doesn’t say, “I didn’t know you” or “I didn’t want to know you.” He doesn’t say, “I never knew you” or “Never wanted to.”

They were included. They heard. They knew.

But they did not prepare. They were not ready.

So many parables seem to contrast obvious differences: sheep and goat. Lost and found. Good soil and bad. But here—the contrast isn’t in appearances.

They all look like church-going Christians.

They’re all virgins, that is, they know the Bridegroom.

The Word of God is the lamp for their feet (Psalm 119:105).

They’re in the right place at the right time—initially.

You can’t always look around and tell, because you can’t look around and see the heart that God will judge.

Jesus says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

The difference between wise and foolish, the oil necessary for the watch, is faith that submits to Christ:

Vigilance, not a passive watching and waiting, but  active and responsible service.

I don’t mean good works get you to heaven.

I mean faith is active in love.

The faithful and wise servants who hear God’s Word and do it need not worry about when Jesus returns.

But we learn in this parable that the required oil, the faith necessary for salvation, can’t be purchased or borrowed or stolen.

God gives it freely in the proclamation of His Word, but there is an end to His patience.

God gives the faith required for salvation freely.

What Jesus earned on the Cross—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation—God gives to us by means.

But there is an end to His patience.

He commands that we be ready, because He is coming soon.

He commands that we watch. That our faith be active in love, sharing with others what we have first received.

Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

Your exit is coming.

No U-Turns. No round-the-blocks or “I’ll just take the next one.”

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

And I’ll add this—and this is glorious.

Though judgment and the finality of the End can weigh heavily on us and sometimes seem like a drag, this is how the greatest hymn ever written has us sing it:

“Zion hears the watchmen singing, / And all her heart with joy is springing; / She wakes, she rises from her gloom.”

The church hears her pastor’s call for repentance and faith, and her heart, with joy, wakes from the gloom of sinful complacency and repents.

Of course she repents! She knows what’s coming.

“For her Lord comes down all-glorious, / The strong in grace, in truth victorious; / Her star is ris’n, her light is come.”

Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).

“Now come, Thou Blessèd One, / Lord Jesus, God’s own Son, / Hail! Hosanna! / We enter all / The wedding hall / To eat the Supper at Thy call” (“Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying,” LSB 516:2).

We rejoice in all that we have now—thanks be to God.

And—Come Lord Jesus—we rejoice that we are prepared to eat the Supper at His call.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2020
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1).

Who wants to talk about virgins?

There are few questions that make us as uncomfortable as quickly as does that one.

Nevertheless, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

And not only are we uncomfortable talking about virgins, virginity, chastity, and self-denial, we’re uncomfortable using that language to describe the Church—Christianity in general and us Christians specifically.

Chastity is, to us, a name of ill-repute.

It should be—and is—a virtue—not a joke.

But the parable of the ten virgins is largely ignored.

It’s no one’s favorite, and when it comes up in the lectionary, pastors often preach on the Old Testament lesson or the Epistle.

It’s not even about virginity, and it makes us uncomfortable—which is exactly why Jesus says that, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” (Matthew 25:1-2).

Jesus needs to unseat us from our comfortable silence, our blissful ignorance.

In opening the kingdom of God to us, by means of a parable, Jesus compares the Church to ten virgins—five wise and five foolish.

Foolishly—we’re uncomfortable with this.

And so we show, already, before a single word of explanation, which group of five we often belong to.

As we seek to understand this parable, we’ll recognize in the moronic virgins our great and many sins.

And, as we seek to understand this parable, we’ll also recognize in the wise virgins, the fact that, in the Church, there’s no such thing as a crisis.

Wouldn’t that be something—no such thing as a crisis.

When was your last crisis?

Most people have an answer, but in the Church, wisdom and oil—faith—prepares you for whatever comes.

“When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them” (Matthew 25:3).

Without oil, they’re woefully unprepared for anything that’s not exactly what they expect.

Maybe you’re a pessimist, expecting sickness before, during, and after the holidays.

Maybe you’re an optimist, expecting your family to get along this year.

Maybe you’re a realist, and have planned, already, your escape route and which friend will call you with an “emergency.”

Regardless, “the Lord—knows the thoughts of man, He knows that they are futile” (cf. Psalm 94:11).

Not a single one of us can plan so perfectly as to negate the possibility of a crisis.

The pessimist’s day can always get worse. He would agree.

The optimist hopes for the best, but his hope is not a certainty but a wish that he maintains.

The realist may seem unaffected, but he, too, has a bottom to hit. He’s not there yet, but when he is, he’ll tell you.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins. Five wise and five foolish. The foolish virgins take no oil with them. But they still look the part.

Dressed the way virgins dress, speaking the way virgins speak, walking the way virgins walk—they’ve been baptized, catechized, and confirmed in the Church.

They’ve been hatched and matched in the Church.

And yet they lack saving faith that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.

The oil is the faith, hope, and love given by God in the proclamation of the Word.

The oil is the faith, hope, and love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:7).

The oil is that which enables you to live in the Lord and that which prepares you to die in the Lord.

That you may be dispatched from the Church to the Lord.

Oil, faith, prepares the Christian for all the unexpected trials and tribulations, tests and temptations, that come our way. It doesn’t make it easy—but it does make you prepared.

Because the Bridegroom is delayed.

We’re drowsy, and we sometimes sleep. We drop our guard. We don’t rule over all temptations, and we sin.

The ten virgins all appear the same. They’re in the Church. All ten fall asleep. The Church is filled only with sinners.

Some are prepared. Some are wise.

And some are not.

“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out’” (Matthew 25:6-8).

With oil, a lighted lamp lights the way—you will not dash your foot against a stone (cf. Psalm 91:12).

Wise Christians know no such thing as crisis, because faith prepares them to endure all things.

Christians know crosses, and they bear them. In sadness, in misery, and in patience, and faith.

Without oil, there is no light in you. And “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness” (Matthew 6:23).

Foolish Christians are unprepared. They know not rest but crisis. A crisis for every day and every day a crisis.

“Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out,” they say.

But the oil of faith is not a commodity for which you trade. It’s not stocked on the shelves for you to buy.

If it is not given—you don’t have it.

“The wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves’” (Matthew 25:9).

They don’t say this because it’s possible.

The cry went up at midnight. The dealers aren’t there. There is no 24-hour Walmart in Jesus’ parable.

The foolish virgins weren’t prepared.

To them, when they try to enter the feast, they will call out, “Lord, lord, open to us!” But the Lord will answer: “I do not know you” (cf. Matthew 25:11-12).

The unwise virgins in the Church look the part but lack faith. They attend and receive but do not hear and believe. They cover their own shame and display the shame of their neighbor. Out of the same mouth flows blessing and curse. With these, there’s love of money, not God. Love of self, not neighbor.

To them, the door is shut.

For them, it’s too late.

Because they lacked oil.

They weren’t prepared.

They were in the Church but not of the Church.

And when their final crisis comes, they won’t be ready.

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

That last part Jesus says to us all—to foolish virgins and to wise—to all the Church.

Faith sets a watch, waiting patiently for the Lord.

But even the faithful become drowsy and sleep. Our attention is at least occasionally turned to the cares and worries of this life. But faith reminds us of and directs us to the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.

We’re prepared for whatever comes.

We have a hope, a certainty, a promise, and a God who lives and reigns to eternity.

We’re ready.

Confident and trusting—with a certain hope—we know that when trials and tribulations, tests and temptations come our way, God will sustain us, to the end, that by His grace we may come to everlasting life.

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Watch. Listen. Hear. Behold.

The Bridegroom comes—to live, to die, to rise.

To save all who believe in Him.

Watch. Listen. Hear. And behold.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will know no such thing as a crisis.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2019
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt