Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity 11/22/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity27 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity, click here.
On December 31st, 2019, just around midnight, social media was flooded with people who were boasting that they had “2020 Vision.” And they have become a byword among the nations. Nobody had 2020 Vision. Nobody saw with the clarity praised by ophthalmologists what was going to happen.
Ever since then, most everyone has been begging to have their vision corrected. Most people can’t wait for this year to be over with. But they will still have to wait. They have to wait because, as it happens, the Church got there first.
Today marks the end of our calendar. It is midnight, but all is not still; because in the Scriptures, midnight happens to be when some rather important things happen. To name just two: midnight was when Jesus came the first time, and midnight is when He will come again.
With this in mind, Jesus would have us be awake, alert, and prepared. And so, He tells us this parable.
The first thing for us to know about this parable is that it is not about “us” and “them.” This is not a parable about the distinction between the Church and the world. That was last week, when we heard the parable of the sheep and the goats.
This is completely different. This is about the visible church. This is about you.
That’s why in the story, the virgins all look the same on the outside. All of them are morally pure; all of them are good in the eyes of others; all of them are invited to the feast, and all of them are present. All of them are, in fact, where they are supposed to be.
These are outward things like… going to church, singing the hymns, doing good works, and so on. Everybody is clicking “Like” on Jesus, and everybody is wishing Him happy birthday. All the virgins are the same in this. Just looking at them, nobody could tell the difference between the wise and the foolish.
That’s actually the part of this parable we think is insane. Sure, maybe in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries it happened with some frequency, but how ridiculous would that be now?
At least here in Boston, there are no real, public favors given to Christians. There’s no social requirement. And even despite the trappings of our musical programs, coming to church is not a gateway into high society. Rather, it is a decision that increasingly leads to ridicule and social exile.
So, it seems ridiculous to us that in 2020 Boston, anyone would fake it. But it does happen because Jesus says it happens. We are to take the warning and be on guard; not trying to figure out who the foolish are, but keeping watch on ourselves.
We are not beyond temptation. That’s another way in which all ten virgins and all of you are alike: everyone falls asleep.
If you knew Jesus was coming in one hour, you might be able to stay awake. You might be able to avoid grievous sins and stay fervent in prayer. But you don’t know. And so, the wise and the foolish both lose heart and give in to sleepiness. Neither act as if Jesus, the Bridegroom, will return at any moment.
So, up to this point, everyone appears the same. Everyone is outwardly pure and good, and everyone struggles with the sleepiness that is sin.
The plot advances now in the only way that gives anyone hope: that is to say that the story hinges upon grace. It is by grace alone that the Bridegroom doesn’t simply show up unannounced. It is by grace that He sends a messenger ahead of Him.
The midnight cry goes out:
Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him! verse 6
This is nothing other than the preaching of the Word. Wake up. Wake up and stay that way. The military has a great phrase that captures this idea: stay ready, so you never have to get ready.
It’s at this point I should recall Jesus’ opening words: this is what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. When the midnight cry goes out, it will be too late. That is why Jesus’ closing admonition is to watch, since you do not know the day or the hour.
Jesus tells this parable for posterity. He intends for you to hear it while there is still time. Otherwise, it wouldn’t do you any good, and the purpose of the warning would be lost.
So, if it helps, you can think of it this way: what you are hearing now, in this moment, is like a cry that goes out just one minute before midnight. And so, you can learn from what happens to the foolish virgins.
They’re foolish because they reject Wisdom. They don’t know the Wisdom of God. And so, they don’t know the character of the bridegroom at all. They don’t know that He’s gracious and merciful. They don’t know that He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This is why they don’t repent. Instead, they try to get ready on their own.
“Oh, we’ll go buy what we need” – but there’s no one who can sell you what you need. It’s given to you for free, now in this moment, when there is still time. The time for them to get what they need has passed.
Even if you could buy it, nobody is going to get oil at this hour. But there are places where unbelievers shop for whatever they use to replace faith, and most of them are open after midnight.
By the way, the wise virgins here aren’t being mean. Their reaction demonstrates the simple fact that no one can believe for another person. Everyone needs their own oil for their own lamp.
Knowing simply what everyone needs, here it is for free: the Bridegroom has come once already. He came to live for you and die for you upon the cross. He has baptized you into His Name and into His Kingdom. He has poured the Holy Spirit out on you and filled your lamps with the oil of faith.
You are not children of the night. You are children of the day. You know the character of the Bridegroom; He is your Brother, who loves you.
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. verses 9-10
So, as a dying man to dying men, I tell you: keep watch. Stay awake. Keep the lamp burning.
Do not let it go out. You can forfeit your salvation. It was given to you for free, and you can give it away.
Return to your baptism in daily repentance. Be filled here in the Lord’s Supper, where you can partake of the marriage feast that is coming.
You don’t know when He will come, and I don’t know either. But He is coming. We are not promised Christmas. We are not promised 2021. We are not promised even tomorrow. But we are promised eternity and life forever with Him, if only we would have it.
Prepare yourselves for that night as you prepare yourselves this morning. Clinging to the Bridegroom in faith, with open hearts and open mouths: Amen, come quickly, Lord Jesus.