Are You Ready for Jesus?
Matthew 24:36-44; 25:1-13
Stephen H. Becker, M.Div.
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church
1st Sunday in Advent; December 2, 2007
I once saw a story on the evening news where a photographer was also a skydiver, and he jumped with a number of skydivers from a plane to videotape the dive, filming the group as they each individually dove out of the plane and opened their parachutes. As the video was being shown of each member of the crew jumping out and then pulling their rip chord so that their parachute opened to the wind, the final skydiver opened his chute and then the picture from the cameraman shot went berserk. (pause) The announcer reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death, having jumped out of the plane without a parachute. It wasn’t until he reached for the ripcord that he realized he was free falling without a parachute. Up until then, he was enjoying himself and was absorbed in what he was doing. But tragically, he was unprepared for the jump. It didn’t matter how many times he had done it before or what skill he had. But by forgetting the parachute today he made a foolish—and deadly—mistake. Nothing could save him, because his faith was in a parachute which he had never taken the trouble to buckle on.
Granted, this story sounds funny, but it is tragically true. And it’s a story not unlike the parable we read a moment ago here in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus told about the foolish bridesmaids forgetting to bring something very important and necessary. Like the bridesmaids, the photographer was not ready. He was unprepared. It would do no good to try and borrow a parachute of someone else on their way to meet the ground. He was not prepared and he passed the point of no return. And he had to pay with his life for this deadly mistake. Let’s pray…
Jesus’ parables are timeless. They taught important lessons 2,000 years ago, and they continue to teach us equally as important messages today. The first message in today’s lesson is, we must be spiritually ready for His return. If there is one thing that Jesus consistently and continually preached it was that we need to be ready. Over and over again we hear him say, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44). Remember without Jesus, we are lost. Without Jesus, we are freefalling without a parachute, on a collision course the ground that’s going to kill us. So what do we need to do to be ready? Well, listen on…
We in this culture try to live as though there is no tomorrow. Our finances reflect this. The way we eat and treat our bodies reflect this. And certainly the moral lives of some Americans reflect this. One of my great concerns for our country, and even within the Christian church, is the great moral disconnect between personal faith and ethical / moral behavior. Many people in the Christian church, as well as outside of it, seem to have lost their conscience or the ability to respond to it. A few weeks ago we talked about the Eastern spiritual paganism that has crept into our society. Two weeks ago we looked at the ethics of many people, especially as it relates to their job…whether they work to survive or whether they accept Jesus as their means of life. See, the whole message of Jesus’ warnings to be ready had to do with preparation. Being ready meant actively living in faithfulness to God. And that’s more than just calling yourself a Christian.
I heard a story once of a guy once who had an emergency and needed his suit dry cleaned before he left on a business trip. He remembered one store with a huge sign, “One-Hour Dry Cleaners.” It was on the other side of town, so he drove across town to drop off his suit. After the clerk filled out the necessary information, he told her, “I have some errands to run but I’ll be back in an hour to pick it up.” She said, “I can’t get this back to you before next Thursday.” “Well wait a minute,” he said, “I thought you did dry cleaning in an hour,” “Oh, no,” she replied, “That’s just the name of the store, we don’t actually do that.” And unfortunately there are many folks today who wear a sign saying they are a Christian, but then they fail to deliver the goods.
If there is one thing I could get across to every Christian here in America it would be Jesus’ message of Spiritual readiness! Preparation for Christ’s return and growth in our faith does not just happen by itself. It comes as a result of intentional habits built into one’s life. You can’t depend on a Sunday morning service to provide all your spiritual needs. You can’t depend on Christian fellowship to provide you with spiritual development. It comes through by practice, by living what we preach, by keeping our eye on the ball, by keeping our eye on the Light of Jesus. Some weeks ago I talked about the spiritual disciplines as those means of being spiritually ready…those means of getting used to living a Christian life, making Christian ethics a natural, normal part of your. Being prepared comes by taking time for prayer and being alone with God, by reading God’s Word, by acts of service to others, by moral faithfulness and loving obedience to God. It comes through spending time with other Christians for mutual prayer, study, encouragement, and or course worship of our glorious God. These are the things which enable a person to grow in Christ and be spiritually prepared for His coming, as well as helping us to be prepared for the normal difficulties of everyday life here in this fallen world. Without these things you will not be prepared. And you know, it can’t be hit and miss. It can’t be postponed. You cannot procrastinate—or it may be too late. You need to develop some holy habits in your life which take precedence over other interests and claims on your life. As these habits become developed, they cease to be a struggle and begin to be a source of strength and true blessing to your life. They make your life powerful against the onslaught of the world and of Satan. Being a Christian is like anything else — the harder you work at it, the better it becomes. But it doesn’t just happen by itself.
Remember, we become Christians when we realize that we are sinners who are going to hell. Then we hear about Jesus, we read about Jesus in the Bible, we pray about Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit comes to use and says Yes! Jesus is my Son. Jesus has died for your sins so that you might live. The Holy Spirit says to you, “Believe in Jesus and live!” My friends, this is conversion. This is salvation. You see, when you give up the ugly habits of this sinful world and begin to live a life as Christ wants you to, this is like your old self dying and your new self—your new, saved self—being born again in Jesus. So as Christians, we die to live! So Spiritual Preparation includes living a life that Christ would want you to…avoiding sin while glorifying God. You don’t do this in order to be saved because you already are saved by your faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. No, you die to live to grow your faith, to protect your faith, to help bring others to faith, and to glorify your God and Savior.
I find it interesting that in the parable, the bridesmaids all appeared to be alike. They all thought of themselves as bridesmaids. They all dressed alike. They were all expecting the bridegroom. They all thought he was going to be their husband. When the bridegroom was delayed they all fell asleep. They all had lamps. All of them trimmed their lamps. They all wanted to be a part of the wedding feast. But not (pause) all of them were prepared. So this, then, is a warning from the parable: Be sure (pause)…Be sure that you are truly prepared, because it is possible to look just like everyone else, talk like everyone else, carry a Bible and desire to go to heaven, think of yourself as a Christian, yet ultimately be unprepared. It is possible to know about Christ yet not know Christ personally. It is possible to know the Bible and not be living for the God of the Bible. It is possible to be a nice person and know all the right doctrine, yet have no relationship with God. It is possible to look like everyone else, and wear your Christianity on the surface, while never allowing it to penetrate who you really are, and change the way you live.
The second lesson of the parable is: No one can do it for you. No one can wear a parachute in your place. It doesn’t work that way. You need your own. The foolish bridesmaids saw that they did not have enough oil, and they asked their wise friends to loan them some of theirs, but that was not possible. This means that another person’s faith will not cover you. Just because you were reared in a Christian home or you are in church with other people of faith each Sunday does not necessarily mean that you have faith. It will not rub off just by sitting next to someone who has a vital relationship with Christ. You can’t “catch” faith like you catch a cold. You can’t borrow it from your friends, and you can’t get it from your parents. Think about this: God has no grandchildren, only children. Every spiritual birth comes directly from Him. Your faith must be your own faith. So friends, don’t try to borrow someone else’s oil, don’t hope for someone else’s parachute, but instead be sure to have your own. Good moral character can’t be borrowed. Neither can a relationship with God (pause) be borrowed. God is the dispenser of oil, and you need to come to him while there is still time. Like the parachuting camera man, don’t let the moment of death be the thing that alerts you to your own spiritual poverty. You will reach for a rip chord (pause) that is not there.
And a third message of the parable is: There is a time called “Too Late.” A few weeks ago in the Adult Bible class we were talking about how frightening the thought of death is for non-Christians while the experience of death is the great hope for Christians — likewise the return to earth of Jesus Christ. The second coming of Christ will be awesome and final…just as Jesus promised. The foolish bridesmaids cried for the door to be opened to them, but their cries were insincere, for even though they said they wanted in, they never made preparation to enter. Their preparation would have been the proof of their true desire. Do you remember the old expression: “Actions speak louder than words?” We are to live in constant expectation, because there is coming a day when the future will be a thing of the past — don’t ignore the warning; don’t ignore Jesus.
The Bible encourages us with these words in Hebrews 3:12-14:
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly, till the end, the confidence we had at first”
Let me close with a promise that God has made to us: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3) Friends, be spiritually ready…be prepared, because Jesus is coming! Amen.
Now may the true faith…