Tuesday, November 14, 2017
The Light to endure delay. . .
We say it every week. After the sermon we confess our faith in the words of the creed & we say Christ will come again. Our risen & ascended Lord will come on the Last Day to judge the living & the dead. When this day will be...no one knows, so we need to be ready. We need to watch & be wise so that when He does come we’ll enter the everlasting feast He’s prepared for us.
The people of God have always known that Christ would come on the Last Day. Job confessed that he’d see the Redeemer on that day. On the Mount of Olives, Jesus’ disciples asked when that day would be. They wanted to know what signs would precede His second coming (Matt 24:3). Jesus warned them saying, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name saying ‘I am the Christ,’ & they will lead many astray” (Matt 24:4-5). This warning Jesus gave so that His disciples would be ready to withstand foolish false teachers, men who spoke against God’s Word.
As Jesus’ apostles went out proclaiming the Gospel, they talked about Jesus’ return. The people of Thessalonica were waiting for Christ's return, but they had a question about it: what would happen to all the faithful who’ve died before that day? Paul assured them those saints wouldn’t be forgotten. In the epistle he writes: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, & with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, & so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:15-18). The day Christ comes again, we’ll know it. There’ll be no mistaking it for any other day. The dead in Jesus will be raised, the faithful still living will join them in the clouds, & all will enter into the everlasting feast that Jesus’ has prepared for us. All the faithful will receive their salvation in full. But...we don’t know when that day will come.
We want to know so we can mark our calendars, but Jesus is clear, no one knows: not the angels, not even Christ Himself. Only God the Father knows...so we need to be ready for it now. We need to be encouraged to endure any delay. All of this is done through God’s Word. You’re made ready for Christ's return and encouraged to endure any delay by God’s Word preached & received in the Sacraments.
Jesus talked about being wise and ready for the last day with His disciples in the parable of the 10 virgins. This parable takes place in the context of a wedding, so to understand it, we need to know a little about 1st century Jewish wedding tradition. Before the wedding day, there was a time of betrothal; & during this time the bridegroom would make ready the home that he & his bride would live in. Once everything was ready, the bridegroom would travel to the bride's house with his attendants. Once he got there, the bride with her attendants would come out and they’d all parade to the new couple’s home where the feasting began.
The 10 virgins in the parable are the bride’s attendants, bridesmaids. Five were wise & took extra oil for their lamps, & five were foolish taking no extra oil. They all waited for the coming of the bridegroom, but he was delayed, & they all fell asleep. At midnight there was an announcement that the bridegroom was coming. The wise virgins rose & trimmed their lamps, but the foolish virgins had no oil, so they had to go buy some. While they were away, the bridegroom came & everyone went into the feast, except for the foolish virgins. They weren’t ready to welcome the bridegroom & they were left out in the darkness.
We’re familiar with this story, & when we interpret it, we often place ourselves into the role of the virgins. We think Jesus is telling us about something we need to do in order to be ready to welcome Him. We need to take extra oil with us...whatever that oil is. But let me tell you, you’re not the virgins. You are the bride. You are the Church, the Bride of Christ. He is your Bridegroom. He has prepared a home for you in heaven. There’s nothing you do to make yourself ready for Him. He came to you & gave Himself up on the cross for you, so that He might sanctify you, cleansing you with the water and the Word (Eph 5).
So, if you are the bride, & Christ is the bridegroom, who are the virgins, & what are the oil & lamps? The oil & lamps are God’s Word. The Psalmist writes: “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet, & a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). The light of God’s Word shows you your Savior, your Bridegroom. It proclaims the forgiveness and life you have in Him. It creates faith in you, faith that trusts in Christ, faith that is ready for His coming. This light, the Word of God, it’s given to the virgins, to the attendants of the Church, to God’s pastors.
Jesus spoke this parable to the disciples, the very men He sent out to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. At the Great Commission, He instructed the apostles to teach everything He commanded, all of His words. The disciples were to keep Christ’s Word close and only proclaim His Word. Scripture says wisdom holds firm the Word of God. The apostles were to be the wise virgins, & so too are pastors today. They’re to keep the light of God’s Word.
When the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him about the His second coming, He warned them against false teachers, men who don’t keep God’s Word. These are the foolish virgins. Instead of holding on to Christ’s teachings, they go out looking for other things to replace the Word: worldly wisdom; a social gospel; anything and everything that satisfies their wants and desires. These teachers won’t be ready to welcome the Bridegroom Christ. When Jesus comes they’ll knock on the door, but our Lord will answer “I don’t know you” (Mat 25:12), & they’ll be left out in the darkness, along with all those they lead astray.
But not you. You won’t be left out in the darkness. You have the light of God’s Word, a light that never goes out. This light you receive in God’s Word preached each and every Sunday. This light you receive in God’s Word in the waters of Baptism. This light you receive in God’s Word in the Sacrament of the Altar. This light makes you ready to receive your Bridegroom.
We don’t know when Christ will come again, but we know He’s coming. He may come in a few moments, He may come tomorrow, or the next week. He may come next year, or several hundred years from now. But no matter when He comes, no matter how long He may be delayed, you’ll be ready for it because you’ve been made ready through the Word of God. By hearing God’s Word preached by faithful pastors, by receiving it in the Sacraments faithfully administered, you have Christ always before you. You have the light no darkness can overcome. And with faith in Him you’ll be ready to welcome your Bridegroom. In Jesus’ name...Amen.