Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 25:1-13 (Amos 5:18-24)
Dear bride of Christ awaiting His return: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Judgment Day will come, and we know neither the day nor the hour. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, will return as He has promised, and He will take His bride with Him into the great eternal wedding feast.
Since we do not know when Christ will return, we must watch and be ready at all times. When Christ returns, it will be too late to open our ears to God’s Word. It will be too late to repent. It will be too late to receive forgiveness.
Good intentions to hear God’s Word later, to repent later, to receive forgiveness later will end like the foolish virgins’ trip to the marketplace to buy oil. It will be too late. Jesus will answer those foolish virgins, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
The church on earth is like the ten virgins in Jesus’ parable. They all identify as the bride of Christ, the Church. They gather together with others who confess to be Christians. They are part of the group. They have their lamps and they live externally holy lives, which is why they are called virgins. It is not necessarily possible for us to tell the foolish virgins from the wise.
However, the foolish virgins were not ready for the bridegroom’s coming. They had no oil. An oil lamp is useless without oil. The flame will not burn without oil. If you don’t have oil, you may as well not have a lamp.
These are people who identify as Christians. They gather together on Sundays with other Christians. They are part of the group. They live externally good lives. But their hearts are far from God. They harden their hearts when they hear God’s Law. They don’t believe when they hear the Gospel. The Word of God bores them because they think they already know it all. Later, they say. I will open my ears to God’s Word later. I will repent and turn away from my sin later. I will receive forgiveness later. But later it is too late.
Since we do not know when Judgment Day will be, we must be ready now. We must open our ears to hear God’s Word now. We must repent now. We must receive forgiveness now.
The Word of God gives faith. The Word of God sustains faith. Being immersed in the holy Scriptures makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 3:15) so that you will be like the wise virgins and have oil in your lamps. The Sacrament of the Altar gives you Jesus’ body and blood so that you will be ready when He returns so you will go with Him into the wedding feast.
This does not happen by the mere outward act of sitting in church or kneeling at the altar rail or eating and drinking. It is through faith that Jesus’ death was for you. It is through trust in Jesus’ words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It doesn’t happen by the mere outward act of being baptized, but it is through faith which trusts in God’s promise that Baptism rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.
Mere outward worship is useless. God said to the Israelites concerning their insincere worship, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:21-23)
The Israelites were celebrating the feasts God had commanded them to celebrate. They assembled for solemn prayers and sacrifices offered on a daily and weekly basis. They gave offerings to the Lord and sang songs to Him. Yet, they did not submit to God’s Word. They lived in whatever sins their hearts desired and had higher priorities than worshiping God and hearing His Word. They thought everything would be alright as long as they went through the motions of worship, singing, and giving offerings.
They were like the foolish virgins, identifying as God’s people, gathering together for worship, going through the motions. They were like the foolish virgins and were not ready when God came to visit them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel perished and was sent into exile in Assyria, with their land was repopulated by foreigners by the command of the Assyrian king (II Kings 17).
What is it that God expects of His people? That we live perfect lives and never sin? That our minds never wander, not even for a second, during worship? That somehow we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ Second Coming?
No, none of these is possible.
God expects a broken and contrite heart and trust in His promises. We do not create these ourselves. We cannot break our own hearts or create contrition in our hearts. Rather, the Law of God breaks our hearts and creates contrition in our hearts. The Law of God shows us our sin so that we would hate it and turn away from it. The Law of God crushes our hearts with guilt and holds us accountable for what we have done and what we have failed to do so that we have sorrow over our sins and repent.
We also cannot create faith in our own hearts. God creates faith in our hearts through the Gospel. The Gospel binds the wounds that the Law has made and soothes consciences and hearts. The Gospel gives us the free forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for us by His holy life, death, and resurrection. The Gospel is that God forgives our transgressions and covers our sins (Ps. 32:1). He washes us thoroughly from our iniquities and cleanses us from sin (Ps. 51:2). God hides His face from our sins and blots out all our iniquities (Ps. 51:9). He creates a clean heart within us and renews us with a right spirit (Ps. 51:10).
God opens our ears to His Word now. God’s Word brings us to repentance now. God’s Word promises and gives us forgiveness now. We don’t have to wait.
Absolution is God’s Word which forgives your sins now. The Lord’s Supper also gives you forgiveness and strengthens your faith now. God’s Word reminds you now, that He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).
God gives and does these things for you now, so that you will be ready for when Jesus returns, no matter when He comes. God prepares you now so that whether you die now or are still alive when Christ returns, you are and remain ready. God gives you forgiveness in these different ways to give you oil for your lamp so that when the call goes out to invite you to the wedding feast you will be a wise virgin, ready for the feast, ready for the bridegroom, ready for eternal life.
We don’t need to know either the day or the hour when Jesus returns because we are ready now, and we will be ready at all times. With our sins forgiven, nothing stands in the way of eternal life for us. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, has prepared us for His return, and will return as He has promised to take us with Him into the great eternal wedding feast. We are ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.