Because Jesus Is Returning . . .
"Be Prepared - Matthew 25:1-13"
A well known Christian wrote, "the last days are upon us. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible." That was not written by a modern prophecy expert. It was written by a man named Ignatius about 110 A.D., just a couple of decades after the apostle John wrote Revelation.
Another Christian wrote, There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power." That was written by an influential Christian named Martin about 375 A.D.
Another early church father, Hippolytus, wrote in the year 236 A.D. that Christ was sure to return by 500 A.D.
The years surrounding the year 1000 were filled with predictions about the imminent return of Christ - to the point where Christians didn’t plant crops for the next year, buildings weren’t repaired and the details of daily life were ignored.
In the 1500’s, Martin Luther wrote, "We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world will not last any longer . . . than another hundred years."
A little known fact of the life of Christopher Columbus is that he was a student of biblical prophecy. He wrote a volume called "The Book Of Prophecies," in which he predicted that the world would end in the year 1656. He even wrote, "there is no doubt that the world must end in one hundred fifty-five years."
The year 1666 saw an explosion in end times speculation. One pastor wrote in his journal that every time a storm hit that year, his people would go to the church building to await Christ’s second coming.
In the 1800’s a man named William Miller predicted the return of Christ. He laid down the date of somewhere between March of 1842 and March of 1843. The hopes of the Millerites were dashed when it didn’t happen. Their hopes were down but not out. In New Hampshire, in 1844, one of the brothers stood up and declared His return would be in the seventh month of the current Jewish year. More fervently than ever, the Millerites set out to warn the world. October 22 - the end of the world was pronounced. In ten weeks, the great day was at hand. In a Philadelphia store window this sign appeared, "This shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings who will appear about the 20th of October. Get ready friends, to crown Him Lord of all." A group of about 200 left the city. They waited, but the days past and nothing happened. Five years later, another date was set, and another date passed.
It never stops. About 1992, I saw a popular book in Christian bookstores by Harold Camping. The title was "1994." Another date set. In 1993, he wrote another book called, "Much More Evidence That 1994 Could Be The End Of The World." 1994 came and went. Today you can walk into a Christian bookstore and see dozens of books making bold predictions about the return of Jesus.
This is the very thing Jesus was trying to prevent, and yet Christians persist to this day - The Left Behind Series does it too. Though it is presented as fiction, Tim Lahaye suggests that the events of our day point to the imminent return of Christ, fulfillment of end times prophecy.
Jesus, on the other hand, as we saw in Matthew 24 last week, insisted that we could not know the time of His return. Instead, He taught us through a series of several parables that we ought to be prepared at all times. Let’s look at the first of these this morning.
Read Matthew 25:1-13
"The kingdom of heaven can be illustrated by the story of ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish took no oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all lay down and slept. At midnight, they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and welcome him!’ All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Sir, open the door for us!’ But he called back, ‘I don’t know you!’ So stay awake and be prepared, because you do not know the day or hour of My return."
- Notice that in this story, it is the groom who is the center of attention. In the male dominated society of Jesus’ day, that was the way of life. Not any more. Now it’s the bride who is the center of attention. Everyone waits for her arrival. Everyone stands when she enters the room. Everyone stares at her beautiful dress. The groom is just the guy sweating next to the preacher - the one lucky enough to have won the love of the beautiful bride. I like it our way. But in Jesus’ day, it was the groom for whom everyone waited with bated breath. Part of the wedding celebration was a feast that followed the actual wedding ceremony. That is what Jesus speaks of here. It was traditional for the bridesmaids to wait at a home together for the bridegroom to come and bring them to the wedding feast. Another part of the tradition was for the bridegroom to negotiate with the brides family about a gift to give them in return for their daughter. Often, the negotiations would be delayed by the bride’s parents as a way of communicating that they thought their daughter was worth much more than the groom had gestured by his initial gift. That would cause a delay in the wedding feast. In Jesus’ story, the bridesmaids are waiting through just such a delay. In such a delay, they were to be ready at any moment for him to arrive and escort them to the feast. Five of them, however, were not ready. They had time to get the extra oil they needed, but they did not feel the sense of urgency to do it right away. Their procrastination caused embarrassment when the groom came and they had to run to the store for more oil. The problem was that when they returned and sought entrance to the feast, they were considered no different than other uninvited seekers. The feast had begun and the doors were locked. It was too late. And Jesus says His return will be like that.
Be prepared - the bottom line of this story - whether the oil represents your faith, the Holy Spirit, Christian character - it doesn’t really matter. Why? Because each feeds the other. It could be any or all three that Jesus had in mind - the message of James. The main message is to be ready, prepared, all the time.
I. Even Though He Delays
- Have you ever heard the story of Jeff and Janell Youngbluth’s first date?
- Janell was expecting Jeff to show up. She was dressed up and waiting patiently. However, by the time he was an hour late, she figured she had been stood up. So, she took off her makeup, put on her pajamas, gathered all the junk food in the pantry and sat down to watch tv with the dog. As her favorite show was just coming on, the doorbell rang. It was her Jeff. He stared at her wide eyed: "I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?"
- Jesus said, don’t let My return sneak up on you. Be ready all the time.
- I thought of the electricity crisis in California. It kind of snuck up on them this winter. But did it really? I mean, shouldn’t they have seen it coming and been prepared for it? Why did they ignore the obvious? No power plants built in 10 years while the population grew. Old plants closed for good and some closed for repairs. Did it sneak up on them? They took the convenience for granted without considering what it takes to maintain that convenience. And now they are in a crisis.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 - "For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, ‘All is well; everything is peaceful and secure,’ then disaster will fall upon them as suddenly as a woman’s birth pains begin when her child is about to be born. And there will be no escape. But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief."
II. Because There Are Some Things You Can’t Borrow
A. Faith - a relationship with God through Christ
B. Character produced by the Holy Spirit - a product of your relationship with Jesus and time.
- In high school, I used to watch MASH in bed on a little black and white tv before I went to sleep. I remember one episode where Hawkeye is called out to the front lines due to a shortage of doctors there. When he arrives, there are bombs and bullets flying all around. He suddenly realizes that his own life is in great danger. So in the few spare mements he has there, he takes time to write out his last will and testament. Eventually, another doctor arrives at the front and Hawkeye is able to return to the 4077 MASH. He arrives late in the evening, enters the office, sits down at the desk and works on the conclusion of his will. Klinger comes in and sees him and asks what he’s doing. Hawkeye tells him and Klinger responds by saying "No paper work is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow." Hawkeye looks at him thoughtfully and says, "I used to think that way too, but not anymore." It was not until Hawkeye had experienced his close encounter with death on the front lines that he had come to realize the great importance of being prepared for death and living each day to the fullest.
- Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23, "Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to Me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the kingdom of heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey My Father in heaven. On judgement day many will tell Me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away.’" Is there evidence of relationship, real relationship in your life with Jesus?
- recent commercial for Ameritrade - advertising the ease and speed with which you can establish an online investment account. Lazy husband on Saturday told by wife to do just one thing. Last second . . . he does it and acts indignant - "Yeah." We can’t do it that way with God. That’s the point of this parable. Last second preparation isn’t effective.
III. Because Your Current Choices Reflect Your Present Faith And Character - the now is all that matters now.
- We have no guarantee of tomorrow. All we have for sure is today, this moment.
- Hebrews 3:7,8,15 - "the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today you must listen to His voice. Don’t harden your hearts against Him as Israel did when they rebelled’ . . . But never forget the warning: ‘Today you must listen to His voice. Don’t harden your hearts against Him’ . . ."
- Years ago, when 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force, one applicant replied: "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a saleman if you will stop in to see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair. And I will have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective emplyer." From among more than 1500 applicants, this guy got the job.
- I have to admit I don’t like this parable . . . I like most of the stories Jesus told. Most of the ones He told emphasized gracious invitations, offers of mercy, and that’s the way this story starts, but then there are those words - "and the door was shut." That’s so final. This story seems so contrary to the image Jesus has drawn of God - forgiving, endlessly forgiving. But Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like this story too. I like the parables that emphasize grace - come anytime - God will take you just as you are. But there is an end to the window of opportunity, and it comes at death or the second coming, whichever comes first for you. There are no second chances then.
Heb. 9:27 says, "And just as it is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgement."
This story is not somehow a contradiciton to grace. This story does not teach that you are saved by good works - as if that were the oil in the lamps. But if you receive the grace of God by faith, you will be changed, transformed, continually, over time. That’s what happens when you receive Christ by faith. The Holy Spirit does a number on you . . . unless you resist, unless you didn’t really have faith to begin with. So are you prepared?
So how do I keep plenty of oil in my lamp?
1. If you have never placed your faith in Jesus, that’s where you have to start. When you become a Christian, you receive the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives you a new nature. You begin to draw from that never-ending well to change your life from the inside out.
2. If you have already placed your faith in Jesus as Savior and Boss, then you daily seek to freshen and deepen that relationship through prayer, study of God’s Word, fellowship with other Christians and by cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He guides you.
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, how would you live it differently? Would you confess hidden sins that you thought you could get away with or that you thought you would deal with some day later? Would you decide to follow through in accepting God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus? Would you be baptized into Christ? Would you heal a relationship with someone you are angry with or someone you hurt? Would you talk to God more in prayer? Would you finally get around to sharing your faith with that person you have been thinking about for so long? If so, then what Jesus is saying is "do that today, right now, because today may be your last day."
3. Eagerly await His return. Remember the deeper problem?
- Titus 2:11-13 - "For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to al people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, will be revealed."
- Hebrews 9:28 - "He will bring salvation to all those who are eagerly waiting for Him."
1 Cor. 1:7 - ". . . as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ."
- Revelation 16:15 - "Take note: I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for Me, who keep their robes ready so they will not need to walk naked and ashamed."
Do you anticipate His return or are you distracted by other things here?
- country song - "Prop me up beside the jukebox when I die. Lord, I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to go tonight. Fill my boots up with sand. Put a stiff drink in my hand, and prop me up beside the jukebox when I die."
If we were really looking forward to heaven . . . if we really trusted Jesus to prepare a place for us that beats anything here on earth, we would live prepared for His return.