Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
20 August 2023
This Worship Service @ Home is set for the day of the women’s World Cup Final. This is the message given at Bethel Baptist Church whilst the cup final is actually taking place. May we be as enthusiastic (or more so!) about our Lord Jesus Christ, as many people are about England reaching the World Cup Final.
Please read: Matthew 25:1-13 (The Parable of the Ten Virgins)
Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, addressing His disciples and the crowds who had followed Him, Jesus spoke these words:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”Matthew 7:21
In some theology we hear the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church: the visible church are all who you may see on a Sunday morning, all who are at least sympathetic toward the Gospel; whereas the invisible church are all those who have responded to the call of the Gospel. We cannot make that distinction reliably, but God does. Today let us consider how we can be sure that we are doing the will of the Father in heaven.
There are various parables about the return of Christ – you may like an interesting exercise to identify them, I will touch on a few in Matthew’s Gospel. I want to suggest that the Parable of the Ten Virgins is most stark, and it is unique to Matthew’s Gospel. In the parable, all ten virgins were undeniably looking forward to meeting the bridegroom. All ten of them went out of their way to show their devotion to the bridegroom – they took their lamps and went on a journey to meet him. Five of the virgins wanted to see the bridegroom, but they were not prepared – they did not think to take oil for their lamps. It turns out that they needed the oil, and they had to go out to make the purchase – it is certainly not the case that they gave up at that point, they did not decide that it was not worth the effort to go and buy the oil and that they should abandon the prospect of taking part in the wedding, they were quite prepared to spend money to get what they needed. But it was too late – I am sure they thought that the bridegroom would take pity upon them and let them into the wedding feast, but he comes across as quite severe – he was not pleased with them and told them that he did not know them.
This morning I am going to make a few references to “the visible church” – which is all the people that you see in church, or people associated with the church. The visible church contrasts with “the invisible church” or “the true church”, which is the set of true believers or real Christians.
Christ is coming again. The ten virgins are the visible church. Most people who are part of the visible church would claim that they love Jesus and they look forward to seeing Him. All can claim that they give up their time most Sunday mornings in order to attend the worship service. Many will claim that they give far more than that – they give financially, they may well put in time and effort to some of the practical activities and duties of the church. But the parable tells us that many are not ready – possibly even 50% of the visible church, if we take the numbers of wise and foolish virgins at face value. A significant number of those who we find in our churches today are not ready, they are not prepared for the return of Christ. When Christ comes again, He will declare that He does not know them. What a shock! How can this be? How can somebody call himself or herself a committed member of the local church fellowship, and yet Christ will turn that person away?
The church is a mixed body
“The second coming of Christ will find His church a mixed body, containing evil as well as good”.
“All church members are baptised in the name of Christ, but not all really hear His voice and follow Him. All are called Christians, and profess to be of the Christian religion, but not all have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts and are really what they profess to be.”
J C Ryle
In our church, we baptise believers, who are required to profess their faith. But you must never think that baptism makes you a Christian, or that you are a Christian (or must be one) because you have been baptised. We could list other false signs:
- I have always been to church – I am there most Sundays.
- I take communion, declaring that I love the Lord Jesus Christ.
- I come from a Christian family.
- I am British – I live in a Christian country.
- I try to do good to other people.
- I have never done anything particularly bad.
- God loves all people, Christ died for all people, including me, so I am alright.
“Oil represents the Holy Spirit – are you full of the Holy Spirit?”
“Remember the virgins did have lamps. I think this is a real wakeup call to those who may go to church but are not really walking with God. In other words, those who have empty lamps. More than ever before if you are not walking the way you should this is the day to get it right. Not only because Jesus could return at any moment but because life is so fleeting.”
Clarence Haynes Junior
What does the parable tell us about true believers?
The parable should teach us diligence and faithfulness.
It was not enough for the virgins to say that they wanted to see the bridegroom. It is not enough for us to say that we love Jesus and want to see Him. Our words are proven by our actions. Our actions do not save us, but they do provide evidence as to whether we are saved.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.Matt 7:15-23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Many people can come to church with a little oil in their lamp – the appearance of loving Jesus, but it is temporal, they have nothing in reserve. Jesus is looking for committed Christians who have enough oil to last the night – or enough grace and patience to withstand the trials and temptations. The parable of the wedding feast is about the great division between those who are truly Christians, who love the Lord and devote themselves to serving Him; and those who appear to be Christians and who want to be part of the club, but they are not prepared, and do little to show their love and devotion to Him.
Perhaps the foolish virgins represent those who like coming to church, and readily join in all the social events of the church; but they do not talk about the Lord outside of the church, and their day to day lives are indistinguishable from the people of the world. They do not appear at the prayer or Bible study meetings during the week, nor do they take part in any of the real work of the church.
The GotQuestions website says this about the foolish virgins:
The five virgins without the oil represent false believers who enjoy the benefits of the Christian community without true love for Christ. They are more concerned about the party than about longing to see the bridegroom. Their hope is that their association with true believers (“give us some of your oil” of verse 8) will bring them into the kingdom at the end.
Be on the alert, be prepared, be ready
What does it mean to be on the alert, to be prepared, to be ready?
The parable ends with the words “Be on the alert then” (13), but this cannot be a condemnation of sleeping, because all ten fell asleep – we need to be prepared rather than continually awake.
D. A. Carson (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
“None of the maidens are censured for sleeping, only for not being ready (not having spare oil).”
“The coming of Christ and the revealing of the Kingdom of Heaven brings salvation but also judgement. The time to prepare for salvation is now – it will be too late when He comes.”
Frank Stagg (Broadman Bible Commentary)
I was delighted to read a comment on the BibleStudyTools website:
One important aspect of the parable that does not usually receive a lot of attention is that all the virgins became drowsy and sleepy. In many ways, this shows that even believers will get caught up in the day-to-day trials and tribulations that can distract them from keeping their eyes on the Lord. People will be born and die, waiting. Believers and unbelievers alike are subject to passage of time and the effects of the world. The difference between the two is that when the herald announces the bridegroom’s arrival, which in the parable represents the signs of the End of Days, the believers will be ready. When Jesus returns, they will be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven, and attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, as shown in John’s Revelation.
I love that comment – it is down-to-earth and realistic. I am in full time work. We have family to visit – a few weeks ago we spent a long day away at a family wedding – we went to meet the bridegroom, and fortunately he arrived in the middle of the day, not in the middle of the night. Earlier this year we moved home, we are still getting the settling-in jobs sorted out, and it is going to take some time yet. There are many worldly responsibilities and things to do which I am quite sure are not wrong. Is my mind upon the Lord 24/7? No it is not. All ten virgins became drowsy and sleepy. My attention is often elsewhere. The wise virgins were not condemned for falling asleep, because when the bridegroom arrived, they immediately awoke and were ready with their lamps to greet him. So we can be busy with other concerns, as long as we are ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and greet our Lord, and we bear in mind the warning about the foolish virgins – who thought that they were ready, but when the bridegroom appeared, they realised that they were not ready, because they had not brought any spare oil.
This reminds me of Luke 9:57-62 – how several people responded to the opportunity to follow Jesus:
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”Luke 9:57-62
So it is not wrong to hold worldly responsibilities, as long as we put Jesus first, and drop them as soon as is appropriate.
The GotQuestions website observes:
As seen in the fact that all the virgins were sleeping when the call came indicates that it doesn’t matter what we are doing when Christ returns. We may be working, eating, sleeping, or pursuing leisure activities. Whatever it is, we must be doing it in such a way that we don’t have to “make things right” (get more oil) when He comes.
The Bible Study Tools article from which I quoted a couple of minutes ago also identifies that there is much in 1 and 2 Thessalonians about how to be ready for the coming of the Lord. We have responsibilities in this world – and we are to fulfil them. 2 Thes 3:11-13 makes it clear that we are expected to keep busy and earn our own living. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.2 Thes 3:11-13
So we must not claim that we are constantly watching expectantly when actually we are being idle. The Bible Study Tools article goes on to state:
In essence, believers should continue to work, have families, do good to one another and to share the Gospel. They should look for the Lord’s return, but take care of what God has given them through hard work and by blessing others.
With a slightly different emphasis, the “Finding God Among Us” website states that:
We often dismiss or dislike the term the fear of the Lord, but a healthy reverence for the power and authority of God can help us resist evil and stay vigilant in our Christian walk while we wait for our final judgment. The foolish bridesmaids weren’t vigilant and they paid the ultimate price.
What can we learn from the other parables about the return of Christ?
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.Matt 24:42-44 The head of the house and the thief in the night
The head of the house will not normally know when the thief is coming and he cannot stay awake all night every night – perhaps it is inevitable that the thief will get in. Jesus’ words are cautionary – many people will say, “If only I had known what time He was coming, I would have been prepared”. Realistically, we need to be prepared for a break-in, but I cannot be at home all the time or awake all night – we need to secure the home, which today means locking doors and windows, and perhaps installing an alarm or security cameras. That requires commitment and cost, and the self-discipline of ensuring that everything is locked when it should be locked – if you do not want to bear this cost, or go to the effort of the self-discipline, you are not prepared.
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow-servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Matt 24:45-51 The faithful servant and the wicked servant
Many people are not as extreme as the wicked servant whom Jesus describes, but just like the wicked servant, they always put off being ready for Christ and serving Christ for another day. “Not today – I have other things I want to do today. Maybe tomorrow or next year I will have time to be a better Christian.”
Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’Matt 25:14-30 The parable of the talents
The master entrusted five talents to one servant, two to another, and just one to the third servant. We all have different abilities, and the Lord expects us to fulfil what we are able to do – not more, and not as much as someone you may know who is clearly much more gifted than you.
Just like the foolish virgins, the one-talent servant convinced himself that he was doing all that was necessary to keep his talent safe, and that the master should be pleased with him. The parable shows that the Lord will not reward us for playing safe – we are expected to work, to engage in service for the Lord, and to bring fruit. Suppose there were another servant to whom the master had also given one talent, and that had gone and spent it on booze, so that he had nothing to give back to the master – the servant who hid the talent in the ground receives no more commendation than the drunkard.
Christians are expected to do more than play safe: to do nothing particularly bad is not good enough. We need to work for our Lord.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”Matt 25:31-46 The parable of the sheep and the goats
Once again, those on the left, the goats did not think that they had done anything wrong. One way of serving and honouring the Lord – an important way – is to care for and to help other people. We can show the Lord’s love to others in practical ways, it does not always mean explaining the Gospel to them, although we should be looking for those opportunities.
A different view
When I am asked to speak at church, I am keen to look up commentaries and online resources, as I do not want to present what is simply my own interpretation of a passage. There are many different resources available, and whereas most identify this parable as being about the visible church when Christ returns, I found one rather different interpretation of the parable. I do not want to cause any confusion, and if you prefer just a simple message, please ignore this next bit.
On the Blue Letter Bible website, Thomas Ice offers a very different interpretation of the parable. In order to be brief, I am summarising rather than quoting him directly. He says that the ten virgins represent the nation of Israel, not the church. He says that the rapture has already happened – the church has gone, and that this coming of the bridegroom is about Christ’s final return, for those who were not taken in the rapture, and particularly the nation Israel. The great tribulation takes place between the rapture and Christ’s final return, and the summoning of the virgins to the wedding feast occurs during that period. See https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/ice_thomas/Mat24-25/Mat24-25_Part37.cfm
Maybe Thomas Ice is right, but this is not the universal view, and not the predominant view among commentaries. Regardless, I believe that we still need to be ready for the return of Christ, and that requires alertness and preparation on our part.
A challenge: let us assume that the parable is about the church when Christ returns. Are you a wise virgin or a foolish virgin? Are you a committed Christian, or just playing at being a Christian? You may say that you love Jesus Christ, but are you ready to meet Him?
It’s easy to say I am a Christian, but how ready am I to meet my Lord and Saviour? Lord, You know how much I love You. Show me when I love the world too much. Show me when my fear of what people in the world may say or do keeps me from serving You and speaking for You as I ought. You should always be first in my life: help me to make that the case now.