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

I’ve been in a courtroom only a handful of times, and it was never very interesting—no spontaneous applause, no hilarious banter between country judge and city attorney, no climactic “It was him!” shouted from the witness stand.

Mostly, it was boring, almost-unintelligible back-and-forths about how to file paperwork correctly.

Far from that picture is the one painted by Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).

Do our judges think of themselves as separating sheep from goats? I wonder—when it’s up to the judge alone—what those few moments are like after he’s made his decision but before he’s proclaimed it to all the world.

When he knows the verdict—but he must wait for it.

Today, that’s the difference we need to understand, the distinction that must be made.

As a judge knows the verdict before it’s read out loud, salvation is a question asked and answered before even one sheep is separated from the many goats.

There’s a lot going on here.

Jesus says, “He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:33-34).

The sheep on His right are blessed by God the Father. They’re called to inherit was was prepared—for them—from the foundation of the world.

Which is great—and we don’t have a problem confessing salvation by grace or a judgment by works.

Our problem is the waiting. The daily grind.

The doctor’s appointments.

I made the joke recently that all the overreacting about COVID was a ploy by doctors’ offices to get people to be happy to wait in the lobby again.

Would you be happier if you could wait inside?

Don’t you look forward to waiting inside again for your doctor’s appointment? “Oh, this is nice!”

Or—rather—do you look forward to having no need of the earthly healing arts?

We believe in and confess the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

So why doesn’t God just hurry it up already?

Maybe He, too, wants you to be happy to wait in the lobby, so to speak?

My point is, the waiting isn’t necessary for God.

“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years [is] as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

He waits if He wants to. For Him, it is when He says it is. So, the waiting is for us.

For the Last Day and the Final Victory, that we have to wait at all emphasizes the “not yet” part of our “now and not yet.”

We have these things now: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. We have them because the Holy Spirit has given them to us. And we have them truly.

“But—“ that voice will say, “Do we really?”

“Do you feel like you have them?”

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We have those things now and truly. And—we must also say that we do not have them now like we will have them then.

The waiting is a race of endurance, a test of faith.

That the waiting seems prolonged, though, that goes against our common wisdom, doesn’t it?

Does anyone actually prefer to rip the Band-Aid off slowly, drawing it out, one hair at a time, one fleck of scab at a time?

Potential bad news aside, does anyone actually prefer the waiting room and lobby to the exam room?

There’s nothing worse for anyone than being told by an important person, “I need to talk to you…tomorrow.”

The prophet Tom Petty was right: the waiting is the hardest part.

There’s a lot going on here, but—so far—that’s just our side of the argument.

So, thus says the Lord: The waiting is for us.

Not a single one of us enjoyed waiting inside the lobby at the doctor’s office, but all that changed when our freedom to sit inside and wait was taken from us.

None of us like waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promises. But there are imposters of the faith among us.

We don’t know who they are. God does.

We can’t see them. God does.

We may not even care. God does.

So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

God sees the general lack of contentment in your life: the comparisons, the gripes, the lists, the not-so-subtle suggestions.

For the sake of those who are still on the fence about this whole “salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone” thing, He waits because He wants to.

And the waiting is for us.

He could take it all away, and when He does, we notice. He’s drawing us to Himself.

So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

And more than that—He waits because verdicts, by their very nature, are public.

You’re wrong if you think victory is enough.

It must also be proclaimed.

Made manifest.

Revealed to all.

Thus says the Lord, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).

But why would I want to eat in front of them?

Everyone knows this.

Victory isn’t enough. You have to show the losers.

It has to be published in the paper, with pictures.

The winning team must parade through town.

It has to be posted to Facebook—or it’s not real.

That’s what Judgment Day is.

We know the verdict. We have it and live it every day.

The verdict was known from before the foundation of the world. It was promised and prophesied the full four-thousand years before Christ. It was fulfilled finally, in Christ, at His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father.

We’re not the Judge, but we know the verdict.

We’re waiting for the verdict to be enforced.

It’s true now. We know.

Thus says the Lord: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Enter into eternal life (cf. Matthew 25:46), for you loved Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

You saw Him hungry and fed Him, naked and clothed Him, sick and you visited Him.

We know the verdict.

We’re just waiting for it to be enforced.

Which means now, right now, is the worst we’ll ever have it, the worst we’ll ever endure.

We have the victory—but it hasn’t been shown to the losers.

Learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

In love for all who’ve lost, our Lord delays, desiring that all should reach repentance.

There’s time.

For your son, your daughter, your friend.

There’s time.

For my dad, your neighbor, your wife, your husband.

There’s time.

But not much.

That day will come like a thief, and all our works will be exposed (cf. 2 Peter 3:10).

This, then, is the lesson. And this, the rule.

Learn contentment. Practice the faith. Grow in maturity as Lutherans. Rejoice in God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32).

Wait patiently—in your car, in the lobby, and wherever else God wills it.

He desires that all should reach repentance.

You know the verdict: “There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Wait for it.

He is coming soon.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Second to Last Sunday, 2020
Matthew 25:31-46
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