You Are Not Born with Wisdom

Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 26, 2017

Matthew 25:1–13

Those who were ready went into the wedding feast and the door was shut. Later, when the other maidens arrived, they knocked on the door and said, “Lord, Lord, let us in!” But He said to them, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.”

Is there anything sadder than this picture of those who are left out? There is a finality about it. They are left out and there is no second chance.

Jesus has done much teaching about the Last Day and here He speaks a parable of it. Parables are notoriously misunderstood and if you look at this one and see that the reason they weren’t ready is because they had not brought extra oil it seems almost silly. Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meaning. But that doesn’t mean that the stories describe exactly the way things work in life. When Jesus teaches in parables He uses the things of the world and the experiences of the world to teach His eternal truths. But He often will tell them in a way where the story is strange or even seems silly.

These young maidens, they were waiting for the bridegroom to come so that they could celebrate with him in the wedding feast. Why weren’t they just waiting outside the door so that there would be no need for lamps? And when the foolish maidens ran out of oil, why couldn’t they have just tagged along with the wise maidens who still had oil because they had brought extra? And why did the wise maidens tell the foolish ones to go buy oil when all the shops were probably already closed? But on a bleaker note, why did the bridegroom not let the foolish maidens in just because they were late?

Being an earthly story, it contains things we’re familiar with, a wedding, people invited to the wedding, waiting, lamps, oil. But how the story unfolds doesn’t sound familiar at all, just a little odd. But the heavenly meaning, the eternal truth, is unmistakable. We need to be ready. When our Lord comes, if we’re not ready we’re left out forever. Don’t get caught up in what the lamps mean and what the oil signifies and why the foolish maidens couldn’t just make use of the light provided by the lamps of the wise maidens. Hear the clear message that Jesus says at the end of the parable: Be ready, you know neither the day nor the hour.

Jesus says that those who are wise are the ones who are ready. In the parable the wise maidens were prepared by bringing along extra oil. All the maidens came for the same purpose. They were going to meet the bridegroom. But some of them just went out. They expected to meet him and then they would go on into the party. What made the wise ones wise is that they not only expected to see him but they were prepared in the event it would take a while for him to arrive. They wanted to see him and join the party but if they had to wait for it they were prepared.

How is it that they were wise? How did they come to see that it might take a while for the bridegroom to come? This wisdom came from knowing who the bridegroom was. It came from trusting that his timetable was the right timetable. Those who were foolish didn’t think much about the bridegroom in that they expected him to arrive according to their own timetable. It is a startling fact that within the holy Christian Church there are those who are ready for the Lord’s return and those who are not. Many Christians say they believe in Him but they are not ready. They operate on their own timetable. When Jesus returns in glory they will not be ready. They will be left out of the eternal wedding feast of heaven.

It’s another startling fact that this is our natural condition. We are foolish by nature. We are born this way, we are born in sin. We do not naturally gravitate toward wisdom. Our natural disposition is not to wait for our Lord. From our birth we demand the world revolve around us, our timetable. I need to be fed now, diaper changed now, cuddled now. It’s true that when you were a baby you weren’t consciously deciding those things. But that’s the worst of it, it’s the way you were just by being born. You are under the sway of sin and you can’t escape it. As you grew you became more and more demanding. Certainly not everyone grows up to be a self-indulgent slob. But each one of us is not fully trusting in the timetable of God where He gives His gifts when and where He pleases.

You are not born with wisdom. You are born in sin. The only way you gain the wisdom characterized by the five wise maidens is by the Holy Sprit. The Holy Spirit gives you eternal wisdom in the new birth of Baptism. When you died and rose with Christ you were renewed in heart and mind. You are now able to see things in a new way. You now trust that when the Lord says it’s the right time it’s the right time and that is even if it means waiting. You now see that being prepared is more important than living your life in the way you see fit.

In this parable what is the focus? It is the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom is the one all the young maidens are waiting for. Every single person in the holy Christian Church is waiting for the Lord Jesus to return in glory and welcome them all into the biggest and the only never-ending party there is. Since Jesus says to be ready, how is it that you are ready? You are ready not by your own feeble wisdom but by the wisdom from above. Be ready. Wait as those who are wise wait. Take extra oil. You will need it if you are going to wait according to the timetable of your Lord.

As the apostle Paul warns in the Epistle reading, don’t listen to those who say that things are fine; there is peace and security. Things are not fine. We live in a fallen world and each one of us does not contribute positively to it with our continued sin. Those who go about life with no thought of the return of our Lord will meet with the sudden destruction that will come upon them. As the Epistle reading says, they will not escape. As the Gospel reading says, they will be left out. The pertinent thing for you is to take this to heart that so that you are ready, so that you will enjoy the great wedding feast of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ and His Bride, the holy Christian Church.

See how beautifully Paul connects this with Jesus’ love in His death for us: “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” We obtain salvation through His death. We have eternal life, lived out even now in this life. And the waiting of the parable is not sitting around waiting. It is trusting His timetable. The being prepared is not making sure you have all your supplies with you. It is living an active life of faith as is described in the Epistle reading: we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

Living soberly, trustingly. Living in faith, love, and hope. Being prepared. Being wise. The wisdom that comes from above is given in the things here on earth. In words proclaimed, forgiveness pronounced, water splashing over a sinner, wise yet unworthy saints gathering around the Table of the Lord. Unworthy in knowing that we are sinful, wise in knowing that this is the place where our Lord would most have us be, celebrating His Feast with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Wise in preparing for His return by receiving Him bodily as He comes to us even now in His Holy Supper which is a foretaste of the Feast to come and which is referred to in the parable.

On our own we wouldn’t think of this. We would take the practical route of the foolish maidens. We take what we think we need and expect to meet Him. But being wise and shedding our foolishness, we take what our Lord gives us and we stock up on it, making sure we have more than enough of His Gospel-goodness and live in peace and confidence, ready. Amen.