Go the Distance with Christby Myron Heckman on November 25, 2014
Go The Distance with Christ
Pastor Myron Heckman
Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church, Brewster,MA
Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church, Brewster,MA
Some days it can be hard to get out of the house as you try to think of all you need to take with you for the day, and you can't get out of your own way. There are times when I get to my car in the driveway and then remember something that I need to go back and retrieve. And then I may repeat the process a second time. By the third time I quit because I know my wife will be (unsuccessfully) trying to hide a smirk.
But in my defense (and of people like me) the consideration and reconsideration can mean I am better prepared for what is coming. So if sometimes you feel like you can't get out of your own way, there is hope - it may be you are putting on display what is also needed as a faith skill - that is to prepare for what is coming by a more careful consideration.
Jesus told a story of ten young women, five of whom should have used a little more time thinking things through before they left their houses to attend a wedding. And this story can help you think through things crucial for your perseverance in faith.
Matthew 25:1-13 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose 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, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
The context is an ancient wedding. One quite noticeably different custom compared to our day was in regard to timing. They didn't know much in advance when the wedding would happen as the day of the wedding was determined by when the groom was ready. A couple was betrothed in a binding agreement to be married in a year or so, and then the groom prepared the housing for their married life, often by building onto his father's house. When that work was done, perhaps after delays of supplies and construction problems, and when provisions for an extravagant celebratory feast were in place, the groom announced it was time for the wedding. He gathered his friends and went to the bride's house and she would gather her friends, and the wedding party would wind its way through the streets, often with torches and lamps to light the way, gathering other guests until finally arriving at the groom's father's house where the feasting began. Whatever time of evening it began - 6 pm, 9 pm, or midnight, everyone shared in a lot of food.
This parable focuses on ten of the bride's attendants, ten young virgin women. Each of the ten has a lamp with oil in it - it was part of the wedding party's duty to provide their own illumination. Right away they are divided into two groups of five each - one group is wise and one is foolish. The foolish virgins bring no extra oil, only that which is in their lamps, while the five wise young women carry with them an extra vessel of oil.
Then comes the problem - the bridegroom is delayed (v 5). We are not told why. The ten young women are waiting and as the night progresses they fall asleep. They are not faulted for falling asleep in the parable. The issue at hand is how much oil each one has.
Midnight comes, and a cry is head: "Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!" The bride's attendants rouse from their sleep and trim their lamps - whatever they had for a wick, it has to be trimmed to take away burned ends to make way for a brighter, cleaner light. And now the five foolish bridesmaids have a problem: they haven't prepared for this delay.
"Our oil burned out," they say to the other five. "Give us some of your oil."
"Oh, no," answered the wise five. "Then we won't have enough to keep our lamps lit. We'll all be short. You need to go to the market and buy some oil."
The five foolish ones made a mistake when they left their house. They may have thought - "Do I need more oil?...uhhh… no, I don't think so.." It's our bent to take the apparently easier way. "Should I go get that tool in the shed in case I need it? …uhhh… no!" And then we may well regret not taking that extra provision. "Should I take the diaper bag with me? It's just a short time I'll be out. Uhhh… no!" That simple decision could leave us woefully unprepared.
The foolish virgins need to make up for their lack of foresight. Off they go the find an oil peddler and by the time they purchase it and get back to the groom's house, wouldn't you know it, the door is shut tight to prevent wedding-crashers. The party has started and they are on the outside listening to a party on the inside. They pound on the door and shout - "We're here, open the door to us!"
And the voice of the groom comes back: "I don't know you!"
They are shut out of the wedding celebration. Absolute shock for the young women and it's a stunner for the reader of the parable as well.
Now let's get the lesson. The best way to grasp a parable is to understand they always teach a single point and you likely won't catch it until the end. If you get hung up on details in the story like the groom's apparent rudeness you will miss the impact. This parable is not a lesson in etiquette. The main point of the parable is in vs 13.
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."
Be prepared to go the distance with the Lord. "Watch" here means to be aware that God's end could be delayed, and to have the necessary spiritual goods to not miss out on the great celebration. You need plenty of oil to keep your lamp burning longer than you had originally expected
In this story clearly Jesus Christ is the groom, and it's about His Second Coming. An example of Christ as the bridegroom is shown when John the Baptist's disciples asked Jesus:
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:14-15).
When you are at a wedding you don't fast, you feast. While Jesus was physically present it wasn't time to fast. But when He was taken away from them, both through the cross and then the ascension, Jesus said His followers would fast.
One of the meanings of fasting is to say with our physical hunger that we are truly hungry for the bridegroom's presence, desiring to be in His eternal home and gardens (heaven) and to have His unfettered Presence with us now. That's why a number of Pastors through the Glory of God on Cape Cod are inviting others to join with us in fasting - on Tuesdays if possible to be on solidarity, but any day of the week if it works better for you - one meal, two meals, a day. Let our hunger be a reminder of our yearning for the Lord to move powerfully in our churches and in our communities. You might want to try once a week during Advent (Nov 30 - Dec 24), a traditional time for anticipation and self-examination.
Our Bridegroom has delayed his coming now for two thousand years. By Peter's reckoning a thousand years with the Lord as a day (II Peter 3:8), so it's only been two days. By our reckoning it is 2,000 years and our entire lifetimes. Are you prepared to go the distance with Him - are you making provisions to be faithful all the time while you wait for His return, or until your death?
By our reckoning revival is delayed. You need plenty of oil to keep your lamp burning. But we may begin choosing the immediately easier way. "Should I attend church this morning?...uhhh…no!" "Should I spend time with the Lord in His Word and prayer?...uhhh,…no!" "Should I take time to make that contact with that apparently hurting person?...ahhhh….no!" "Should I accept that ministry opportunity?...mmmm….no!" "Should I pray for revival and for it to start with me?...welllll….no!"
The key factor for the ten young women was wisdom. We face many decisions that call for godly wisdom. Our feelings will take us naturally toward foolishness - to make the quick decision that appeals to our flesh. The Apostle Paul warned us to make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14). We need instead to make provision for the Spirit - to always choose the oil of the Holy Spirit - to praise, to fellowship, to give thanks, to submit (Ephesians 5:18-21).
When fulfillment of our hope is delayed we may despair and run out of the oil of obedience. Revival may be delayed and we run out of the oil of persistent prayer. Our hearts may grow cold, and we run out of the oil of worship. Of praise. How dangerous is that? Would we hear Jesus say to us: "I do not know you!" May it not be.
By the thoughtfulness of wise decisions make provision in your life to go the distance in daily faithfulness with Jesus Christ.