READ: Matthew 24-25
BACKGROUND: This is a fairly somber and sobering – if not scary – passage of Scripture. These chapters contain the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus. He is talking about the end of all things – the destruction of the world as we know it and the final judgment that is coming for all mankind. And the theme that is overwhelmingly clear is this: it is coming and everyone must be prepared. There are bound to be questions about what exactly Jesus means by some of the things he says, and it could take pages and pages to answer all of them in the “Background By Verse” section. So, I’ve included some small notes on some of the verses, but I really encourage you to post questions so that we can interact on anything I didn’t fully cover. 🙂
2 – The destruction of the Temple was unthinkable to the Jewish people. It was world-renowned for it’s beauty and it stood as the symbol for their entire religion. Jesus spent his life pointing them to something greater – himself – and was talking about himself (the foundation for the Jewish religion) when he said this.
9 – Sometimes we like to ignore this verse or not take it seriously. We want to be liked. And we compromise our faith to be liked. But Jesus says that we’ll be hated because of him. The message of the cross – “Hey, you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness you can’t earn” is offensive to people. No way around it.
15 – The “abomination that causes desolation” is a phrase from the book of Daniel about the destruction of the Temple and the tribulation to be endured at the end of the world.
29 – From Isaiah 13:10 & 34:4
25:1 – Virgins or Bridesmaids – It was the custom for the bridesmaids to go out to meet the groom and escort him back to the wedding.
29 – A gut-check verse. What are you doing with the gifts & abilities God has given you?
36 – God cares about the poor and the needy in our world, and he cares about how we treat them!
THINK: Regrets. Do you have them? I do. I have a whole heaping list of them. Among them: I regret riding a wheelchair down a hill in Eldora, IA and shattering an inch out of the middle of my collarbone, getting multiple speeding tickets and even more parking tickets over the last decade, elbowing a kid in elementary school who got out in 4-square and said “Nobody gonna touch me!”…then punched me in the mouth when I did, every time I’ve gone camping…ever, jumping off the roof when the Cubs lost the NLCS in 2003 and pinching a nerve in my elbow, and the list goes on. And when I read a passage like this one – about the absolute importance and urgency of living for God and using all of my gifts and abilities to make a difference for his kingdom because the world is coming to an end and everyone is going to be judged – my list of regrets grows even longer and deeper. Because I haven’t always done that…or even come close.
Like it or not, our lives matter for eternity. Our choices and our actions count for something bigger than the moment we’re living in. That’s what Jesus is driving at when he tells the story about the 10 bridesmaids who go out to meet the groom. He says 5 of them bring oil and 5 of them are foolish. They bring their torches but they don’t bring any oil to light them with. And honestly, that’s a pretty ridiculous thing to do, because they KNOW that they need oil for their torches. They KNOW it. And they KNOW that the groom IS coming. It’s not like they just get sent out to the wilderness to see if maybe a guy shows up eventually. Not at all. They go to a specific place with the specific purpose of meeting the groom and escorting him back to the banquet. For Christians, we know that Jesus is coming back. We know what it takes to follow him, to obey, we KNOW it…it is not for a lack of knowledge that we fall short.
And then the groom is getting near, the cry goes out that he’s approaching and it’s time for them to go out and meet him. So they all trim their lamps so that they look ready to light – they all have the outward appearance that they should, but 5 have nothing inside…nothing to actually give light…they have no oil. And they beg the others and say, “please, let us borrow some of your oil so that we can light our lamps.” And the 5 with the oil, say “No. We might not have enough for us and you. Go buy some if you need it.” And this part seems really weird, right? What is Jesus saying, here, that we should be selfish? Not sharing seems really counter-intuitive to a lot of what Jesus taught. In the context of this story what Jesus is saying is that sharing is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot borrow someone else’s faith. You cannot borrow someone else’s obedience, someone else’s life of faith. What the 5 virgins with oil mean is this: We can’t live a life of faith for you and for us. We can’t have a personal, meaningful relationship with God for both you and us. We can’t. Each person has to have their own relationship with God. It’s not enough that your parents know God and follow after him. It’s enough that your friends know God and follow after him. It’s not enough that you go to church and your pastors know God and follow after him. You have to know him. You have to follow him. You have to have that personal relationship. You. Not me or your grandma or your mom or your dad. You.
And the 5 foolish bridesmaids, upon realizing that the groom is coming, trim up their lamps quick and try to get things in order, but there’s no fire there. There is no oil on the inside. And as they run to buy oil, he comes. And they miss him. And the groom goes to the banquet with the others. And then, finally, the 5 bridesmaids buy some oil, and they light their torches, and they hurry to the party, and they knock on the door and plead to be let in and hear the words, “I don’t know you” in response. In this parable the banquet represents Heaven. It represents eternity with God. “I don’t know you” is a terrifying phrase in that context. Terrifying. You had the form, you looked good on the outside, you were a pretty “good” person, you went to church, but all you had was an empty lamp. I don’t know you.
Imagine the regret of that moment. Put yourself in the shoes of those bridesmaids. Imagine how you’d be kicking yourself for not bringing oil, you knew better. Imagine how you’d be kicking yourself for not really following God – not really letting Jesus be a priority in your life but neglecting him, neglecting faith, putting it on the backburner. Imagine the regret. I think one of the most interesting things about this passage is the fact that the 5 bridesmaids who didn’t bring oil aren’t called evil or wicked or sinful…they’re just called foolish. So often in my life, in my walk with God, I’m not really bad or evil and I’m not really intentionally doing wicked things or major sins. But I am just coasting. Just drifting through life, wasting away the precious little time that I have. How many of you are in that same boat? We’ve all been there. It is so easy to get distracted. It is so easy to just drift. And when we just drift, when we waste our lives away on the unimportant we’re left with regrets.
PRAY: Spend some time confessing to God all the ways in which you haven’t lived for him, you haven’t used your time and your talents for his Kingdom, you’ve been a lamp without any oil. If you’re willing – but only if you’re really willing – commit your life to him. Ask him to help you live a life of significance without the regret that comes from drifting away from him and wasting your life away on things that don’t matter.