The Bridegroom Comes!
Saint Matthew 25:1-13
Over the course of the last three Sundays of the Church Year, beginning with last Sunday, our thoughts have been and continue to be guided to consider the coming end of this world and the beginning of the next. In today’s Old Testament Reading, you’re given a glimpse of the life that you will have after the Judgment, in the new heavens and the new earth that the Lord God is creating in Christ. That life will be a life of great joy and gladness; no sorrow or sadness will there be anymore. All the bad things of this present life brought on by sin will be absent because sin itself will be absent.
Now, there are some things that the Lord says in this Old Testament preview of eternity that merely represent and reflect the way that things will be, such as when He talks about death continuing to happen. It’s not that death and dying will have any part in the life that will be after the Judgment, but that the way of death that we experience now, that brings us such grief and sadness, will be no more. We’re given to think about life that is so very different than we know now—life without death, without war and crime and violence, where the “‘wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.’ Says the Lord.”
Well, that’s one way of looking at eternity and considering the life that is to come. In today’s Holy Gospel, another metaphor for the life to come is used by our Lord Jesus in His parable of the Ten Virgins. The picture of eternal life that He gives us is that of a marriage feast, a time of highest joy, a time of rich bounty shared, a time of great celebration. Our Lord Jesus, however, does not tell you about this marriage feast merely to inform your thinking about what is to come for those who believe and trust in Him. Rather, the purpose of His parable is to give you a warning of how it is possible for a believer like you to be shut out from the glorious feast. Of course, this is not a fate that any of you would want, for having the door to the feast shut on you would mean an eternity spent somewhere else—spent in that place where there is not even a drop of water to cool your tongue and give relief from terrible torment and suffering that has no end. This warning is graciously set before you, dear friends, so that you may, with the help of God, avoid being foolish in the way of salvation and everlasting life.
Last Sunday, a similar warning was set before you involving the danger to your faith that comes from this world in which we live—the danger that exists in sinful wickedness that you may come to view with less concern than you should—faith destroying wickedness that has become commonplace and even embraced by many as being good. The danger is in evil from the outside of you creeping into your life unaware and causing you to grow cold in your love toward God and neighbour. Today, the danger of which you are warned, comes not so much from external sources, but from within yourself—from the evil that dwells within you. And before you think, “Oh, not me! There’s no evil dwelling in my heart,” remember what your dear Lord Jesus has to say about that. In Mark 7, He says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Yes, they defile even you, and they make you to be foolish about your salvation and everlasting life.
In our Lord’s parable, there are ten virgins—ten young women of good character who have been invited to a wedding feast. They’re gathered together with others to await the coming of the bridegroom, whom they will escort to the banquet hall and enter therein with him. That’s the way they did marriages back then. With this particular wedding, though, a hitch in the hitching has developed. The bridegroom is delayed in his coming, and so all must wait for him to arrive. And by late, I’m not talking about a few minutes late. It’s more like hours! When he finally does arrive, it’s midnight, and five of those ten waiting virgins find that they have a big, big problem.
They discover their trouble when they’re awakened from sleep by a cry announcing the coming of the bridegroom. And their problem is not that they fell asleep—so did the other five. Their problem is that their oil lamps have pretty much run out of oil; the flames are beginning to sputter and go out. Now, the reason why this is a problem for them is that having a lighted lamp is how one is recognized as an invited guest and is admitted into the banquet hall. No lighted lamp—no joining with the bridegroom and going with him into the feast. Frantically, they turn to the other young ladies who have had the foresight to bring extra oil, and they say, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” However, what extra oil they have is not enough all of them to share. The ones without are, therefore, told to “go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And so they do. But “while they were going to buy,” we’re told that “the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.” When the five showed up later, they cried out, “Lord, lord, open to us,” and they were told in reply, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
In another parable about the door to heaven and eternal life being shut and people on the outside crying out as did the five virgins, “Lord, open to us,” Jesus says that they will be told, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil.” And among all those kept out there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus doesn’t say anything about the five virgins on the outside of the feast weeping and gnashing their teeth, but I bet they were. They truly wanted to be let into the feast. They were just like all of you in your desire to enter one day into the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. And they were also just like you in having something within themselves that kept them from being ready for it—that kept them from having that extra oil, like the other ones did.
Those young women who had the extra oil did not have it because they were the kind of people who are always super organized—the kind of people who make lists and actually pay attention to them. They had the extra oil because of the occasion—because of the wedding feast and the bridegroom—because it was so important to them that they weren’t about to leave anything to chance. That’s why they had the extra oil. The wedding feast and the bridegroom were also important to the other five, but there was something that got in the way—something that kept them from holding that nuptial feast as being more important than anything else.
Now, so far I’ve avoided using the “F” word, except for twice in passing. And I haven’t used the “W” word at all. But Jesus does use those words to describe the ten virgins. He says that five were wise and five were foolish. In His story, He divides them up into those two groups. When it comes time to apply this parable to you dear people, I can’t really say, as you probably would like me to say, that the wise ones are a picture of you and the foolish ones represent all those who do not believe. And this is because unbelievers, unlike the foolish virgins, have no desire to be saved; they’re content with what they have, or should I say, with what the world has to offer. No, what the parable actually portrays is how you are both foolish and wise at the same time. This is how it is for all believers in Christ—or as Luther says, you are all at the same time a saint and a sinner, a believer and an unbeliever, wicked and righteous.
The foolish part of you Luther also calls your Old Adam. He’s that sinful nature of yours that you inherited from your first parent, of the same name. Remember all those terrible things that Jesus says dwell in your heart—the “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,” and all the rest? That’s your Old Adam. And as far as you entering into the eternal wedding feast, that’s not something your Old Adam wants to see happen. He holds the opinion that it’s a big waste of time for you to concern yourself with the gifts God freely gives in Christ that will see you admitted into the banquet hall of salvation. To your Old Adam, it’s the things of this world that are more important, and to which you should be devoted.
The wise part of you, the “new man” raised up in the grace of God through Holy Baptism, stands in complete opposition to your Old Adam. To him, nothing is more important than the salvation and eternal life that you have in Christ, meaning that nothing should get in the way of hearing the Word of Christ and receiving His Sacraments, for these gifts bestow forgiveness and give life and salvation; they keep you in the faith, renewing you in the baptismal union that you have with your beloved Bridegroom Jesus, through whom the flame of righteousness in your life remains burning bright.
So, we see that the warning of this parable is not that you should avoid getting foolish about your faith, because you’re born foolish. Rather, the word of Christ calls you to repent of the foolishness that is in you—the foolishness that so often directs your life. Yes, dear friends, repent and turn, by the grace of God, through His loving and merciful help, to the wisdom of faith that God has given you and that is devoted to the sure promise of everlasting life and salvation that you have through our Lord Jesus Christ, “who,” as Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle, “died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” Watch, dear brothers and sisters. Abide in Christ—in His forgiving, faith strengthening Word and Sacraments—“for you know neither the day nor the hour,” when the cry will sound, “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him.” In the name of the heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who came to save you, who comes to forgive you, and who will come at the end to take you into His eternal wedding feast. Amen.