Oil Enough and More

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Bulletin: 2017-11-26 Last Sunday of the Church Year

Once again, during the final Sunday of the Church Year, we return to our Lord’s teaching during the final week of His earthly life. That final week, He spent much of His time teaching in the temple. He taught about the greatest commandment, about being a Christian in two kingdoms, even about His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we turn to some of our Lord’s teaching on the End Times. It’s fitting that we talk about the close of the age as we are at the close of the church year.

The focus of our Lord’s teaching today is this, as Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”[1] Jesus taught the parable of the Ten Virgins to emphasize to His Disciples that His return to judge and bring in the New Creation would not be an immediate thing. This fact doesn’t surprise us, some 2000 years later, but it was new for them. It’ll be, Jesus said, like the days of Noah. People were eating and drinking and marrying up until the Flood and caught them all unaware. Today, we confess that our Lord’s return will be sudden and unexpected, but He sustains us in our watch through His Word and Sacraments.

I.

As usual, when we dive into a text it’s important to understand the context. The context of our passage today is that comes from a chunk of Matthew where Jesus is speaking about the destruction of the temple and signs of the end times. It happened that, as they were walking out of the temple, Jesus told the Disciples a time would come when none of its stones would be left standing. That prompted them to ask what the signs of would be of Jesus’ coming at the end of time. Then, Jesus taught them the passages we’ve all heard about wars and rumors of wars. As we live amidst what seems like endless wars and disasters, our minds sometimes fall with the Disciples – that maybe the end is near. Every so often someone gets on TV, the radio, or internet and proclaims that they know the exact day. But, the point of Jesus’ teaching today is that His return will be unexpected.

Just before today’s Gospel, Jesus taught in chapter 24 that no one knows the day or hour of His return – not the angels, not even the Son of God – only the Father. Following our text, is the Parable of the Talents. That’s where the master left his money with his servants and went away. When he came back, he expected his servants to have done something useful with what he gave them. The meaning of that parable is that we should wait for our Lord’s return, making faithful use of the things God has given us. God has blessed each of us with many talents and skills, and we are to use them in loving service to God and neighbor during our exile here below.

But, we sometimes take all this for granted. It is not news to us that our Lord’s return wouldn’t be immediately after His Ascension. But it was news for the first Christians and even the Disciples. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians twice concerning it. First, they thought Christ had already come and they missed it. Then, when they heard it may not be soon, they grew idle and lazy. St. Paul wrote them every parent’s favorite verse, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”[2] Even the Disciples had trouble with this. Just before the Ascension, they asked Jesus if He would restore all things right there. He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.”[3] The point being, they were to wait and watch; as are we. Such, Jesus explains with a parable.

II.

It’ll be like ten virgins, Jesus said, who took lamps to meet the bridegroom. The custom at the time was that the bridal got prepared and then waited for the groom to come and get them. When arrived, they would all proceed together to the wedding hall for the ceremony and feast. Jesus said, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”[4] It happened that the groom was delayed in his coming, and all the virgins grew tired and slept. Then, at midnight came the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The wise were prepared and had oil, but the foolish had run out.

The foolish virgins 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.’[5] The foolish virgins did not expect the delay. And, when the cry came, it caught them unaware. They left to go and buy oil. And, while they were out, the groom came. He gathered the wise virgins, they went to the wedding hall, and the door was shut. The foolish virgins knocked at the door saying, “‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’[6] Jesus interpreted the parable for us. As we heard before, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

III.

This is a parable directed to and concerning the Church on earth. Very seldom, if ever, in Scripture, is the word “virgin” used for anyone other than a believer in Christ. The ten virgins in the parable are members of the visible Church on earth. In the parable, they were all called to await the bridegroom. Likewise, as Christians, the Bride of Christ awaits His return. Our job is to wait and keep watch for His coming. We are to be alert and expecting His return at any moment.

But, on this end of things, it appears to us that Christ’s return is delayed. At the very least, we’ve been waiting a long time. This will be my 28th Advent. That means I’ve heard the story of the Triumphal Entry read and preached 56 times, each time mentioning the fact that Christ will someday return in glory to take me to heaven. Most of you have heard it more, and we’re still waiting. Waiting, like forgiving – which we talked about a few weeks ago – and praying, can make us grow weary.

When we grow weary, we are troubled by temptations of two sorts. The first, is to fall away from our watch. Some cease coming to church. It usually doesn’t happen all at once. But some fall away from regular attendance, and their lamps go out. The other temptation is to become focused on other things. We might still be here to receive God’s Word and Sacraments, but the temptation is for our lives to really revolve around something else, be it sports or family, or some collision of the two. We become so focused on other things that we forget what we’re watching and waiting for.

So that we might keep watch, Christ has given us and sustains us with His Means of Grace. This is important because, if we’re being honest, waiting for Christ to come is hard. Every year the Church calendar starts up again and the secular calendar after that. It’s hard, but the hope that has been poured into our hearts will not put us to shame. Through His Word and in His Sacraments, Christ forgives us our sins. The Lutheran Confessions say that the Holy Spirit works through these things as through instruments to give to us the forgiveness Christ won on the cross. But, through these things, also, is our watch sustained.

The temptation with this parable is to try and nail down what the oil is and how to get enough. I’m not sure we want to go down that route. Rather, let us stick to our Lord’s interpretation, that His return will be sudden and unexpected. Therefore, we are to keep watch. Though our flesh is weak, His Spirit is not. So that our watch is sustained and filled with hope, Christ gives us His Word and Sacraments. Through these things, our lamps have oil enough and more. And when the Bridegroom does finally call us, we will enter the wedding feast with joy.


[1] Matthew 25:13, English Standard Version.

[2] 2 Thess. 3:10.

[3] Acts 1:7.

[4] Matt. 25:2-3.

[5] Matt. 25:8-9.

[6] Matt. 25:11-12.

“And in Jesus Christ, Our Lord – Pt. II”

Text: The Second Article

Today we continue our Lenten study of the Apostles’ Creed. So far we’ve learned from the First Article about God the Father. We’ve learned that He has made us and all creatures, and has given us all we need to support this body and life. And, He still continues to take care of us. He guards and defends us against all evil. We don’t deserve any of these things; God does them because He is love. And, because God is love, the Father sent forth His only-begotten into the flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.

Two weeks ago we looked at the words of the Second Article up to our Lord’s death and burial. For us and for our salvation, Christ our Lord stepped down from His throne on high. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He became both fully God and fully man – but not by changing from one into the other; instead, by taking our humanity upon Himself. For our salvation, He became subject to God’s Law and kept it perfectly. As payment for our transgressions, Christ offered Himself up on the cross and breathed His last. The Son of God did truly die and was buried.

This week we pick up with what happened next. After Jesus died and was buried, He was made alive again. After He had risen from the dead, but before leaving the tomb, Christ descended to hell. He didn’t go there to suffer, nor to release anyone, but to proclaim His victory over death and the devil. On the third day Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to His disciples and others for forty days. He did many things to prove He was alive and taught His disciples about the kingdom of God. After the forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God, where He rules all things for our benefit. On the Last Day He will come again to judge both the living and the dead.

I.

In our last look at the Creed we learned that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. In theological talk this idea is called, “The Two Natures of Christ.” It means that Jesus, fully and at the same time possesses, both divine and human natures. In Christ these natures are so united that we can’t separate them without doing great harm to the faith expressed in the Scriptures. We confess that Jesus Christ is fully God because the Scriptures clearly call Him God, they describe His divine attributes, and they show Him doing things only God can do. We confess that Jesus is man because the Scriptures also clearly call Him a man, describe His human characteristics, and show Him doing and suffering things as humans do. Only as man could He take our place, suffer and die. Only as God could His death atone for the sins of the whole world. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is both God and Man, or that He possesses two natures.

Today we’re going to learn another idea. It’s called, “The Two States of Christ,” which are the Humiliation and the Exaltation. All the things we’ve talked about so far have been part of Christ’s humiliation. His humiliation is the time, beginning with His conception, when Christ did not always and not fully use His divine powers. He did use His powers when it was appropriate to His work, but in His humiliation He refrained from the full and total use of His power. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”

Christ’s state of humiliation is the time when He did not fully use His divine power. It began with His conception and ended with His death. His exaltation is the time – now – when He always and fully uses His divine power. His exaltation began with His descent into hell, continued in His resurrection and ascension, and still is going today as Christ cares and watches over us from the right hand of God the Father. St. Paul wrote, “[Christ] humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death…therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”

II.

The first event of Christ’s exaltation is, as we confess in the Creed, “He descended into hell.” The reason why we believe that His descent is not part of His suffering is because of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished.” Jesus meant that His work of atoning for our sins was complete with His death. Therefore, anything which comes after that is not part of His suffering, but His exaltation. This is how St. Peter frames it, “Christ also suffered once for sins…that He might bring us to God, [having been] put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” The word “proclaimed” is understood by its context to mean that Christ descended to hell neither to suffer, nor to offer a second chance to those who were there, but to proclaim to the devil and the souls of the unbelievers that He had conquered. The when of Christ’s descent is after His resurrection but before leaving the tomb. As for the how, we will have to leave that to when we know more in the new creation.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. That is the chief confession of our faith. We can leave the narrative of Easter to when we celebrate it again in few weeks. The Scriptures teach that after Christ rose from the grave, He remained on earth for forty days. Scripture gives two reasons for His appearances after the resurrection. It says in Acts 1, “He presented Himself alive to [the disciples] after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking to them about the kingdom of God.” Jesus appeared to the women, to Peter, to the rest of the disciples, to the five hundred brothers at the same time, to James, and to Paul. He allowed them to touch Him and even ate to prove to them that He was alive. Then, as St. Luke writes, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

III.

When the forty days were complete, Jesus led His disciples as far as Bethany and, as the Creed says, “ascended into heaven.” We learn from Scripture that this was a true and literal ascension. Jesus was visibly lifted up into the clouds before the disciples’ eyes. After ascending into heaven, Christ resumed His position at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The Right Hand of God is not one literal location, but it extends everywhere and every place. The Right Hand of God means that Christ now rules and fills all things.

He can now be in all places at all times, which is a particular comfort for us in our suffering. Because Christ has ascended into heaven and no longer refrains from using His power, He can be and truly is with us at all times and in all places. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “[God the Father] raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Finally, in the Creed we confess, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Scripture says, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” We believe that on the Last Day – God the Father alone knows the date – Jesus will return. When He returns He will raise the bodies of all the dead and, as our Lord Himself says, “will sit on His glorious throne,” to judge the world in His righteousness. Those who rejected Him and His Word will return, in both body and soul, to eternal torment. Those who believed in Him and His Word will enter into the eternal joy of the new creation.

Now, how may all of this be a comfort to us? We confess that Jesus Christ suffered once for the sins of the whole world. By suffering in our place, He who is both God and Man, secured for us the forgiveness of our sins and the joy of eternal life. When He had risen from the dead, He descended into hell to proclaim His victory. This comforts us because Christ truly has defeated death and the devil; they no longer have any claim over those who are in Christ. He proved throughout those forty days that He was alive. So, too, will those who believe in Him rise from the dead in glorified bodies. By His ascension to the right hand of the Father, Christ continues to be with us at all times and in all places. He is able to comfort us in all distress and provide us with His own body and blood in His Supper. When He returns, He will gather us together with all the faithful to Himself to live in eternal peace and happiness.

Next week we will finish our Lenten devotion by studying the words of the Third Article.

The Righteous Branch, Advent Midweek I

Text: Jeremiah 23:(1-4) 5-8

The Lord declared through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” These words are quite similar in tone to the words of John the Baptist, and they should remind us of him. John the Baptist, you remember, came ahead of Jesus to prepare the way of the Lord. Jeremiah also came preparing the way of the Lord, though in a different way. Jeremiah came as the weeping prophet, whose ministry contained harsh words of judgment against Judah and the resulting destruction coming its way. And yet, with these words of judgment came also words of promise. In our text today Jeremiah proclaims the coming of the Righteous Branch, the shoot from Jesse’s stump. The days are coming, says our text, and are yet here, when Jesus the Righteous Branch will cause His people to dwell securely.

I.

For us to understand the idea of the Righteous Branch, this king who will come and will deal wisely and execute justice, it’s important to understand the context of our reading. Jeremiah’s ministry lasted a long time – from the reign of the good king Josiah until fall of Jerusalem – over 40 years. His time was a very political time. Assyria in the north, had control of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and was declining. In its place Babylon was rising. Now, throw Egypt into the fray as a world power and it all became one big powder keg. Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Judah, sat in the middle of it all – quite literally, geographically speaking. And they got nervous. Everyone had different opinions about what to do. In all of it, the Lord consistently and faithfully sent them prophets to show His people the way. These prophets told the people God’s will, but they ignored it. Everyone had an idea about what to do, and none of them were God’s.

This refusal to submit to God’s will resulted in a very high turnover of kings. Egypt would come and displace some, Babylon some others. Thus, in absence of true kings, the nobles of Judah gained much power; but, rather than use it to lead God’s people wisely, they abused it. God had spoken through Jeremiah that Babylon was going to come and destroy Jerusalem – though complete disaster would be averted if they would just listen to the Word. Instead, they allied with Egypt – an alliance that ended poorly. Because of all this the Lord says in the verses leading up to our text,

You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”

The kings and leaders of God’s people were poor shepherds. They did not listen to God’s Word nor teach the people to. Instead, they substituted their own thoughts and dreams. God would later chastise them for not seeking the council of the Lord. Therefore, He would attend to them for their failure to attend to His people. He will fix it all Himself by gathering His flock from all the countries where they have been driven and by placing shepherds over them who will care for them. Under His care they will fear no more, nor be dismayed, and none shall be missing.

II.    

This is how the Lord will fix everything. He says,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

This is what the Lord says. He will deal with the poor shepherds of Israel and care for His people by fulfilling the promise He made to David in 2 Samuel 7, that an offspring from David’s line will sit on the throne of the Lord forever. The “forever” part rules out Solomon as the fulfillment of that promise and makes it squarely about the Messiah. The Lord says the days of the Messiah are coming. He will reign as king and deal wisely with the people. The Scripture teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is how this Righteous Branch will rule and reign, through the wisdom of God’s Word. The result will be that, in His days, Judah and Israel (the whole Church) will dwell securely and call upon the Lord, who is our Righteousness.

The Lord speaks again of the coming Righteous Branch. He says,

Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”

The days are coming, says the Lord, when His people will no longer look to the past for the mighty deeds of the Lord, for they shall forever be in His presence.

It will not be like how God’s people would celebrate the Passover to remember His mighty deeds of old. Instead, this passage brings us to the end of Scripture, to the new heaven and new earth, where at His return Christ recreates all things as they should be. We get a picture of this in Eden, but even that doesn’t compare to the glory that awaits us in the presence of Christ. This Advent, let us then fix our eyes on Jesus our Righteous Branch. We remember and celebrate His incarnation in the manger, but we pray for His glorious return, where He will gather all His people and cause them to dwell in security and joy forever.

 

Blessed Endurance

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; Mark 13:1-13

Jesus said to one of His disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In our text last week Jesus taught the people to beware of the scribes. Afterward, He and the Disciples left the temple and one of them marveled at its wonderful stones and buildings. Buildings are temporary, even the temple, said Jesus; There will be a time when not one of those stones will be left standing. A minor fulfillment of this prophecy would come some 40 years later when the Romans come to destroy Jerusalem. Its major fulfillment will be at the return of Christ when He sets all things in order.

We’ve now hit the final two Sundays of the church year, and our readings take a turn toward the somewhat dire. For example, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” That doesn’t quite sound like the Gospel words we’re used to, or maybe prefer. We might’ve forgotten that Jesus Himself said that He did not come to bring peace, but division. (Lk. 12:51) That is the result when sinful man hears the Word without the aid of the Holy Spirit. He rejects it and those – like us – who receive it with joy. In our world today, and increasingly in times to come, this results in brother delivering brother to death, hating each other on account of Christ’s holy name.

Just where is Jesus going with this? “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus tells us all this plainly so that we will not be deceived. My first sermon as a pastor I used the phrase, “The times, they are a changin.” This is going to become increasingly true of the world’s tolerance for the one true faith. It’s going to get worse, until it won’t. Christ tells us all these things so that we may have the blessed assurance, the blessed endurance, that we will be saved in the resurrection of the flesh.

  1.  

We turn back to the the text. The occasion is that upon leaving the temple, a remark is given about how great the buildings are. For a first-century Jew, the rebuilt temple of Herod the Great was about as close to the glory of Solomon as one could get. Surely its storied halls were a sign of God’s benevolent love. Not so, according to Jesus. The larger context is that we are in Holy Week. Jesus had already cleansed the Temple of those buying and selling, and last week He set the scribes straight. He is endeavoring now to tell the Disciples what will soon happen to them, and what will happen to the Church before His return. Jesus says,

See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

There again is why Jesus is telling us these things, so that we are not led astray. Scripture tells us that Christ will come again in the same way that He left – on the clouds – and the whole world will see it. But that will not stop many from falsely coming in His name. Recent history has shown us examples of that, as in ancient history some claimed to be Moses reincarnated and led many people to their deaths. There will be wars and rumors, but these things must take place. And yet, these are but the beginning.

This continues to bear immediate implications for the Disciples. “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.” This was true for the Apostles. Save St. John, all died martyrs’ deaths, along with many other early and present-day Christians. St. Paul was beaten in synagogues, stood before governors, and even Caesar before his martyrdom in Rome. They all stood before governors and kings bearing the Word of Christ. We, likewise, are called to bear witness to Christ before the world. Some of us may be called to suffer directly for His sake.

That is a scary thought, though, isn’t it? Many of us struggle sharing the faith with people in our regular lives; how could we possibly testify before kings? At various times in the early church there were persecutions. But, if a Christian brought in would just offer a small sacrifice to the gods, all would be forgiven. They could just forget all the bad stuff. Do you know how many are remembered in history for doing that? None. For Jesus says, “When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

We have been given the Words of the Holy Spirit. We hear them weekly in church, we have them in written form in the Holy Scriptures, and we have all received the Holy Spirit in our hearts through the washing of Holy Baptism, whereby our sins are forgiven and faith is received. Jesus says that things are going to get worse. More and more persecutions of our faith will come, but Jesus is telling us these things so that we do not lose heart. When these things do come, we will endure. We will speak not our own words, but the words of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

  1.  

Many of you probably know and love the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” It is actually based off a verse from our Epistle text: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The author to the Hebrews is reminding them and us that we have been sprinkled clean with the blood of Christ and washed pure from our sins through Holy Baptism. That is our blessed assurance in the times of trial that we are in now and in the ones to come. This blessed assurance gives us what I would call the blessed endurance. We have the endurance of the Holy Spirit, given to those whose names are written in the Book of Life.

The Lord gives us a picture of where this blessed endurance leads in Daniel 12. Our Old Testament text is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible that speak specifically about the resurrection of the dead. We confess it almost every Sunday in the Creed, but what will it look like?

There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The Lord tells Daniel that there shall be a time of great tribulation, a great persecution of the true faith of the Church, such as has never been until that time. But, those who belong to the Lord will be delivered – everyone whose name is written in the Book of Life. That’s you. When you were baptized your name was written in the Book of Eternal life and inscribed upon Christ’s palms. When He stands before the throne to plead on behalf of sinners, He intercedes for you. When we die we go immediately to heaven and are with Christ. We become those who are standing before the throne with palm branches in our hands as we await the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise our bodies from the dust of the earth and bring us into the New Heaven and New Earth.

We’ve covered some pretty heavy stuff today. We began with the teaching of Christ that more persecutions will come. Before He returns, the world will grow increasingly cold to the warmth of the Gospel and we who bear it in our hearts through Baptism. We may be called to suffer for His sake, but we need not worry what to say, because it will be the Holy Spirit who will speak through us. St. Paul writes that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. This is the blessed endurance that we have received. The Holy Spirit will keep us in the true faith through all persecutions until the return of Christ. When He comes back, our bodies will be raised to shine like the stars and we will live forever in both soul and body with Christ and those who love Him.

Consider them Rended

Text: Isaiah 64:1-9

Look down from heaven and see, from Your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are Your zeal and Your might? The stirring of Your inner parts and Your compassion are held back from me…Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence.”[1] This a power request, a prayer and a plea for mercy spoken by Isaiah. In his prayer he recounts the steadfast love of the Lord, all the goodness He has granted to the house of Israel. For, “[The Lord] said, ‘Surely they are My people, children who will not deal falsely.’ And He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”[2]

Isaiah speaks of how the Lord became Savior to His people, how He was with them in their suffering. He was afflicted with them, and in His love and pity He redeemed them. He carried them all the days of old. But in response to His love, the children of Israel rebelled. They rejected the Holy Spirit and made God their enemy. They allied themselves with foreign nations and false gods. And so God hid Himself. He let His children have their evil ways, and they became like people whom God never ruled. His own people hardened their hearts and made themselves those who are not called by God. A nation that used to be filled with such promise and hope now became plunder for God’s enemies. And so Isaiah asks, “Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name?”[3]

Though God is the ruler of the world, it has become such that it is almost impossible to believe that there is a caring God out there. Even in Isaiah’s time, over 700 years before Christ, the world was broken and filled with evil. Isaiah almost screams, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.”[4]

Isaiah prayed, and we would too, that God wear tear open the heavens, that He would rip open reality, and come down. If He did the mountains would quake and melt and the nations would tremble as the holy and righteous God comes thundering against the forces of sin. Isaiah prayed that God would come and put an end to all evil. And He certainly can; there is no God beside Him. No one has ever heard or seen a God besides Him, who actually acts in the lives of those who wait for Him. History has never borne witness of the acts of any other “god.”

II.

Isaiah prays that God would come down from heaven, but he soon realizes what that would actually mean for us. Truly God is near to those who work righteousness, who delight in His Law. But what about us? Isaiah asks, “In our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?”[5] Our God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Isaiah prays that God would come down and destroy evil, but what does that mean for those like us, who have “all become like one who is unclean, and [whose] righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”?[6] Nothing good. Already, we as humans are like a leaf that fades in the fall. We have fallen off the tree and we perish. Our sins, like the wind, carry us away.

God does meet those who joyfully work righteousness and remember His ways, who call upon His name and wake up early to study His Word – but how often does that describe us? Instead we already melt in the hand of our iniquity. If the Almighty God tore open the fabric of time and space to put an end to all evil and darkness, He would be putting an end to us as well. It would be like in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant is opened and everyone literally melts at the power of God.

III.

And so Isaiah pleads, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.”[7] God is our Father, and without Him we would not even be here, where we are now. Like clay in the hands of the potter, so are we in the hands of God. We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. When we pray that the righteous God would come and put an end to evil, we pray that He would also be true to His mercy and goodness. As He has remembered His promises to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and many others, so we pray that He remember His promise to remember our sins no more.

Like Isaiah we are surrounded by an evil and corrupt generation. Our world is filled with sin, death, and destruction. As faithful Christians we are a minority, and we are a target for those who hate God and His Word. We pray that He would end it all, but we realize if God were to put a sudden end to sin in fantastic manner, of our own power we would not escape it. And so we continually pray for God’s mercy. What does God say in return? From next week’s lesson: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”[8]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is. 63:15; 64:1.

[2] Is. 63:8–9.

[3] Is. 63:11–12.

[4] Is. 64:1-4.

[5] Is. 64:5.

[6] Is. 64:6.

[7] Is. 64:8–9.

[8] Is. 40:1–2.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

In the first stanza of our opening hymn we sang, “O Lord, how shall I meet You, how welcome You aright…O kindle, Lord most holy, Your lamp within my breast to do in spirit lowly all that may please you best.” (LSB 334) It’s an Advent hymn, but it helps set our minds to the theme of the close of the church year: Christ’s return. Jesus uses the parable in our text to illustrate what His return will be like on our end. He shows us that there will be two types of people, those who are prepared and those who aren’t. He says that the wise virgins were those who had enough oil to keep their lamps lit, and we will see that the lamps of the wise are kept lit by a faith that is continually fed through the Means of Grace, Jesus’ Word and Sacraments.

I.

The text begins, “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. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”[1] Jesus often uses imagery of a bride and groom to describe the relationship between Him and His bride, the Church. Earlier in Matthew 9[:15], after Jesus was asked why His disciples don’t fast like John the Baptist’s, He responded that the wedding guests cannot mourn while the Bridegroom is with them. In this He was referring to Himself. The Church is described in Revelation 21[:2] as the holy city Jerusalem, which has been decked out as a bride adorned for her husband.

Perhaps most famously, this relationship between Christ and the Church is described in Ephesians 5. Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”[2] What Paul is describing is how we are made the Bride of Christ. On our own and by ourselves we are nothing. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Our every waking moment is spent either sinning, or wrestling with the temptation to sin. Jesus took that sin upon Himself. He carried our guilt and shame to the cross and died, to present us without spot or wrinkle, as holy and blameless. Through Baptism we are brought into His Church and made members of His Body, which He feeds and nourishes through the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments to give and strengthen faith.

The virgins in the parable are members of the visible Church, the church on earth. As members of the wedding party they were to keep watch for the bridegroom to arrive and take them to the feast. This was part of an Israelite wedding custom where the groom would go to the bride’s house to pick up her and her friends and then they would process joyfully to the home he had prepared for them. It was just accepted that waiting was involved, and in that waiting there was revealed two types of virgins: the foolish and the wise, split half and half.

The difference between the two is that while the wise took flasks of oil to fuel their lamps, the foolish took only what was in the lamp to begin with. If we look at text before and after this parable, especially the Parable of the Talents, it becomes clear that the oil represents a faith that is being continually fed. The wise virgins are like those who continually hear God’s Word and receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith. The foolish are those who say they are ready for the return of the Bridegroom, who believe in Him, and yet don’t ever hear the Word preached or receive the Sacrament.

II.

We continue on, “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.[3] As the virgins are waiting time began to pass and they fall asleep. As the hours of waiting went on, it seemed to the virgins that the bridegroom was delayed and they became sleepy. Surely at this point the wise virgins were okay, because they knew they had enough oil to carry them through the night; but the foolish haven’t figured, yet, that as the night drags on, their lamps are going to run out.

Then, at about midnight, there was a cry: “The bridegroom is coming! Come meet him!” All the virgins quickly arise from their sleep, when there is a terrible foretaste of the end of the parable. The foolish realized that their lamps were running out of oil, and so they asked the wise to give them some of theirs. The wise responded that there isn’t enough to give them, they cannot share their oil. It suddenly becomes clear, the wise are prepared for the return of the Bridegroom, and the foolish aren’t. The wise are the ones who have kept their lamps fed continually being in the Word of Christ. They have built their house on the Rock, while Jesus says of the foolish, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”[4]

The wise virgins confess that, as we sang in the opening hymn, we lay in sin’s fetters. And yet, Christ came to set us free. We stood moaning in shame, and yet Jesus came to honor us. In love Jesus came down to win for us the crown of life through His suffering and death in our place. We receive the benefit of His sacrifice only through faith. This He gives to us in Baptism. Faith is nourished in us through the preaching of His Word. He strengthens our faith as He gives us the forgiveness of sins through our His own body and blood. We are the wise. The foolish shun all of these things, assuring themselves that they do not need these things to be a Christian.

III.

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.[5] The brakes are hit for the foolish virgins. While they were out trying desperately to find oil for their lamps, the bridegroom came. He gathered those who were ready and waiting, whose lamps were lit, and brought them into his feast and shut the door. When the foolish arrive later they beg to be let in, but the only answer that came was “I do not know you.”

The foolish virgins were found without oil for their lamps, without a true and living faith, and then when they wanted to get into the feast, the kingdom of heaven, they were not let in. This is what will happen to those who remove themselves from a faith nurtured and fed by Christ. Here, Christ comes to us in His Word, in the Holy Absolution, and in Holy Baptism. If you want to see Jesus, look to His Word and to His precious Sacrament. It is by these things that we are made the wise virgins and welcomed into the wedding feast.

In the opening hymn we asked how we may welcome the coming Bridegroom, how we may partake of the wedding feast – It is only through the gift of faith that the Holy Spirit gives to us and that Jesus keeps alive in us through the preaching of His Word and the receiving of His Supper. Even as we bear a debt and burden of sin, the temptation to avoid hearing God’s Word, we know that will are covered by His grace. It says in stanza 6, “He comes, for you procuring the peace of sin forgiv’n, His children thus securing eternal life in heav’n.” In Christ you are wise, your sins are forgiven, and you are welcomed into heaven.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 25:1–4.

[2] Eph. 5:25–27, 29.

[3] Matt. 25:5–9.

[4] Matt. 7:26.

[5] Matt. 25:10–12.