Prepared, Not Distracted

A sermon preached on Matthew 25:1-13 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on November 15, 2020.

How quickly can you become distracted? The disciples tried to pray with Jesus for a few hours and got distracted, grew drowsy, and fell asleep. I have yet to meet someone who can listen to an entire 15-20 minute sermon without becoming distracted at least once. But we don’t even need that long. How often have you seen someone sit at a red light for maybe two minutes and become so distracted, they have no clue the light turned green.

We’re joining Jesus during Holy Week right before he is arrested and killed. He has been preaching about the last days using different pictures. He had just preached about sheep and goats. He was teaching he would one day come back and judge all people and separate them into two groups – those who believed in him and those who didn’t. And one thing was waiting for unbelievers: eternal hell prepared for the devil. Jesus didn’t want that for any of them or us – that’s why he came – to save us from the punishment our sins deserve. He was only days away from hanging from a cross and doing just that. But before that happened, Jesus would spend as much time as he could to prepare his disciples to be ready and watching for that last day when he would return.

To do this he told a story about a wedding feast and a group of virgins or bridesmaids. To get this picture, we need to understand how weddings were different in Jesus’ time. Back then, a man and woman, would be bound together as husband and wife but then they temporarily more or less went their separate ways. They didn’t live together, nor were they intimate together until a special wedding banquet was held. The groom would go and prepare a home for them. Once their home was ready, a wedding banquet would be held. On that day, the bride would have her bridesmaids wait along the road for the groom to escort him with joy to the wedding banquet and his waiting bride. In case it got late, they would bring lamps to light the way.

There were ten bridesmaids. They all take lamps. They all get tired as they wait and they all fall asleep. There doesn’t seem to be any difference to this point. At midnight the cry rings out “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” They jump up and adjust their lamps.

Now, five of them had come prepared with extra oil and they fill their lamps and have them ready. The other five had not come prepared for a long wait and their lamps were running low, maybe they were flickering. So they ask the five who had oil for some, but the wise bridesmaids weren’t going to take the chance of it taking longer and being unprepared. So while the foolish maids are running to the corner 7/11 for an oil run, the bridegroom arrives and the wise maids greet him with joy and burning lamps and they escort him into the wedding banquet. The other five bridesmaids return and pound on the door but the groom says – I don’t know who you are.

Are you watching? Are you prepared? Or do the demands of day to day life distract you just like waiting for the light to turn green? Jesus, our bridegroom, is right around the corner. But the stress of an election that is still not resolved, or the threats of new lockdowns in our nation sure make it easy to be distracted. You know, the foolish maid’s lamps were burning. They weren’t all the way out, they just weren’t burning brightly. The oil was low and they weren’t sure if they’d run out before the groom got there.

When Jesus is pulling up, it’s a little late to get serious about being prepared. In our prayer today, we’ll remember three sisters in faith that God called home to heaven this year as saints triumphant. One day, your name very well might appear in a bulletin because God decided the time was right to call you home. There won’t be any time to rush to the store and fill up on the oil of faith. If you knew you wouldn’t make it to next Sunday, would you do things a little different his week?

Jesus didn’t tell this parable to scare unbelievers. He told it to believers who can so easily become distracted. He calls out to you even in the middle of the night to remind you he is coming. He even uses a pandemic or a chaotic election to remind us he is coming. Today is the perfect day to be filled up with God’s Word and keep your spiritual tanks filled with oil. The wonderful fact is that it isn’t actually on me alone to be prepared. As I am in the Word, it is the Lord who shows me he prepares me and keeps me ready. So hear his Word every chance you have. Receive the Lord’s Supper when it’s offered – and I can’t wait to be back together next week to offer it.

And here’s the best thing God shows you and me when we are in his Word. Jesus is the groom. So yes he encourages us to be prepared in this parable when he talks about the bridesmaids. But the Bible is also very clear that you, the church, are the bride. He is coming for you. In the parable, the bride isn’t waiting to see if the groom will come and take his marriage vow. She’s waiting for him because he already has.

No matter how sinful we are. No matter how foolish I am and easily distracted I can be. Jesus has already made his promise to you. He has shown that his deepest desire is to be with you for all of eternity. He showed it by coming into this world for you; by resisting relentless temptations for you. He underwent rejection and ridicule and torture…for you. His entire life said – I want to be with you.

That is why I wait expectantly. Who cares if you miss a green light? But missing the wedding feast of heaven? That would be disastrous. Lord, keep us watching and keep us in your Word. As you see what Jesus has done to be with you, he will keep your lamp burning through the night. And you will be ready to meet him.