The Rev. Paul J Cain
Five Were Wise
Last Sunday in the Church Year, 20 November 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
For an Elder to Read
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
“You know neither the day nor the hour.” In these words our Lord Jesus tells us the easiest way to identify a false teacher. He or she will pick a day and time for the end of the world. When you hear of such a thing, run away as fast as you can and never go back. That is what the wise ones do. In Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus is answering a two-part question asked by His disciples: When will the Temple in Jerusalem be destroyed and “what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)
The first question was answered in 70 A.D. The second is answered by “You know neither the day nor the hour.” Therefore, we should be prepared for His coming and the end at any time. That is the message taught in Jesus’ parable at the beginning of Matthew 25:
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Who is the Bridegroom? Jesus, of course. As in the beginning, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23). The Bridegroom, on the Last Day, will celebrate with His Bride, the Church, the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church. Back on All Saint’s Sunday, we heard how the Saints of God are called Blessed in the Beatitude beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This parable reminds us of one we heard in early October about the wedding feast and wedding garments.
In the ancient world, it was common to have a few people leave the wedding hall and go outside to wait for the bridegroom to come. That sets our scene. And what should happen when he comes? Would these greeters stay outside? No. That would be silly. Those who celebrate the marriage feast with bride and groom would obviously go inside once the bridegroom arrives. They know him and he knows them. And they celebrate together.
Jesus speaks of ten virgins. This speaks of the purity of Christians who wait for Jesus’ Second Coming. Ten is a number of completeness in Scripture. And God hadn’t invented flashlights yet. No Coleman lanterns, either. Metal or pottery lamps with a wick similar in principle to kerosene lamps were filled with olive oil. That’s what we usually mean when the word “lamp” is used. But small clay lamps were usually used only indoors. Outdoors, long poles were wrapped with oil-soaked rags. More oil needed to be poured on every fifteen minutes. That was work! It took a lot of attention to detail.
There were ten virgins keeping the lamps lit. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. And five were wise. They planned ahead. This wasn’t their first wedding. They had plenty of oil—even after they had fallen asleep on duty. Five were foolish. The Bridegroom had been spotted in the distance and they had to go to the store for more oil. They were not recognized as true wedding guests and were locked outside. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Jesus is very clear in verse 13. We know He is the Bridegroom and that the wise virgins were Christians ready and waiting with trimmed torches on the Last Day. We know we shouldn’t be like the foolish five. But what is the oil?
There have been many ideas over 2000 years. Some, like St. Augustine, had three different ideas all by himself. In our Lutheran Confessions, two brief quotes lead me to believe that faith is the oil in the lamps of the five who were wise.
St. Hilary is quoted in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. In response to the question of why the five wise didn’t share their oil he says, “In other words, no one can be aided by the works and merits of another, because it is necessary for everyone to buy oil for his own lamp” (Concordia, 206).
The Formula of Concord shares Luther’s definition of faith from his commentary on Romans: “Faith, however, is a divine work in us that changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. 11 It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.
Luther continues, “12 Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all creatures. And this is the work that the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire [LW 35:370–71]” (Concordia, 548).
Because of faith, Luther said, “a person is ready” like the wise five. Faith is God’s gift to you in Christ Jesus. God gives you His Holy Spirit when you are baptized, when you hear His Word. He gives you the oil in your lamps and torches so that you are ready on the Last Day, even if you fall asleep in death before He comes again. That is why we rejoice in this parable.
We rejoice in the midst of colder weather with travel and outdoor work made more perilous, continuing financial uncertainty, speculation about the next presidential appointments, pressure at work, stress at school, maybe even tension at home. We mourn for lost dreams or for those who have died in Christ. We live in the valley of the shadow and dread phone calls with bad news. In the midst of all of the trouble in the whole world, Christ stands with you. He has comfort for you. He has given you Christian family here at Immanuel to be with you and support you. He gives you His gifts.
The Divine Service is where we usually go to find God’s gifts for us. Pastor is there in special times of need. In between Sundays, we prioritize individual and family devotions throughout the week, work diligently at our vocations for our families and the Lord, and then are joyfully gathered by Him around the gifts of Word and Sacrament. We rejoice at every Baptism and remember that we have been baptized. We celebrate each confirmation of Holy Baptism, when a person confesses the faith for himself or herself. The Holy Spirit gives individuals faith where and when He wills, working with God’s own Word. We taste and see that the Lord is good at His table spread for us, a foretaste of the heavenly wedding feast to come. Here we find Jesus our Bridegroom. He sustained the five who were wise. And He strengthens and preserves you also. Blessed are you. Wise men once sought the One who was born King of the Jews. Wise men and women today still seek Him. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.