Jesus' Return 06.01.19 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Jesus' Return


Jesus’ Return - The Ten Virgins

Reading: Mt.25:1-13

The Christian faith is rooted in history. Christianity exists because certain extraordinary events took place in space-time history. These events had a profound effect in their day and they continue to influence our lives and the world in which we live today.

The type of events I’m thinking of would include the following:

  • The incarnation of Jesus Christ born of a virgin mother

  • The miracles Jesus performed which demonstrated his power over nature, sickness and the spiritual forces of evil

  • The death and subsequent resurrection of the Saviour

If these events never actually took place then the Christianity that we know would be a sham, being based upon a rotten foundation of lies and deception. If these events had never occurred all we would be left with would, at best, be nothing more than a few religious ideas drawn from some memorable and heart-warming stories but it wouldn’t matter very much whether we drew any inspiration from them or not. If all we had were a few religious sentiments we would be in a pitiable condition for we would still be left in our sins under the just condemnation of a Holy God.

But these events, and more, did take place! They are well documented and thoroughly reasonable. You do not have to abandon your reason in order to become a Christian far from it – it is the most reasonable thing you’ll ever do!

Millions down through the centuries have put their faith in Jesus and they have found that he more than passes muster. Jesus has not only accurately diagnosed the human condition of alienation from God he has provided a unique solution for it by his sacrificial death. Having dealt with our alienation from God, Jesus offers us new life by means of his resurrection and a new lifestyle to adopt as we allow him to direct us by his teaching.

Jesus’ teaching involved explanations of what he had come to do in saving us from our sins but it also contains instructions concerning how we are to live in the here and now of everyday life. His teaching went even further to tell us of certain crucial events that are yet to come about. One of his major concerns in telling us about the future is that we might allow that information to motivate us to order our lives appropriately.

This morning we are going to spend our time thinking about some of what Jesus taught concerning the future. In particular we are going to think about what Jesus said about his own future and how that affects us.

Jesus taught he would return
Jesus often spoke about his return and to his disciples after him this was an important and very encouraging aspect of his teaching:

Jn.14:3 "I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

Some have tried to interpret Jesus’ words in a non-personal manner. They have suggested that Jesus meant nothing more than a return of a "Jesus spirit" as men and women progressively accepted his teaching and tried to apply it to their lives. But the language he employed speaks of a sudden, personal, visible and bodily return. The final article of our church’s Declaration of Faith deals with the future and summarizes what we believe about it:

The Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory. He will raise the dead and judge the world in righteousness. The wicked will be sent to eternal punishment and the righteous will be welcomed into a life of eternal joy in fellowship with God. God will make all things new and will be glorified forever.  

While Jesus spoke clearly about his return he also made it clear that the exact timing of that return was not going to be revealed:

Mt.24:44 "the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Mt.25:13 "you know neither the day nor the hour."

The fact that the exact timing of his return was to remain unknown to his followers did not stop them earnestly longing for it to happen:

1Cor.16:22 "Our Lord, come!"

Rev.22:20 " Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"

The degree to which we actually long for the return of our Lord may well be a measure of the spiritual condition of our own lives!

True Christianity not only believes in the return of Jesus Christ it prepares us for it. The grace of God

Tit.2:12-13 "us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ"

How important it is for us to be properly prepared for his coming! Jesus was concerned that his followers appreciate this and to that end told them the Parable of the 10 Virgins which we are now going to consider.

The Parable
There are some things we make plans for and there are some things for which we don’t. We make plans for things that we think are likely to happen or that we perhaps want to happen whereas if we don’t think an event very likely we won’t bother to prepare ourselves for that eventuality. If we don’t want something to happen we may well try not to think about it and of course if we do that we certainly won’t take any steps to be ready.

We’ve heard this last week of some companies in Britain stockpiling resources so that if Bexit goes badly they’ll have what they need to keep going. Now whether you think that is a good or a bad idea it is at least a reasonable thing to do; it is the result of careful thinking.

Jesus’ parable about the 10 Virgins commends just such careful reasonable thinking when it comes to thinking about his return.

Jesus’ story is really an extended illustration drawing upon his hearers’ own experience of life. They knew about weddings and so he drew upon that knowledge to help them think seriously about something infinitely bigger and more important – the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus used his story to teach spiritual realities and that is clear from the very way in which he began it:

Mt.25:1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like..."

Immediately Jesus continued to speak about a wedding that was about to take place and the fact that he only tells us about some of the people involved makes it clear that he is more interested in making some points than he is in simply telling a story – after all the bride at this wedding doesn’t even get a mention! The focus is upon the bridegroom and how people prepare for his arrival on the scene.

Now in the OT God was at times portrayed as the husband of his people and sometimes he was compared to a bridegroom. Earlier in this gospel Jesus alluded to himself as the bridegroom. (This is another example of how Jesus so readily uses God language to refer to himself.) Some of John the Baptist’s followers wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast as good religious folk did. Jesus replied like this:

Mt.9:15 "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

In our parable the focus is upon a bridegroom who is about to come. We are to understand that Jesus has himself in mind – he is the bridegroom who is most certainly coming but whose coming is delayed. (This interpretation is confirmed when we notice that at the end of ch.24 Jesus had also spoken of the coming of the Son of Man which was his favourite title for himself.)

But how do the virgins fit in to the picture? To answer that we need to know how Jewish weddings took place in Jesus’ day they were quite different to what we’re more used to. But one common factor is the need for preparations to be made and this is really the point of Jesus’ story.

In those days the bridegroom would arrive with his friends at the bride's home to lead her back to his home where the wedding feast would take place. Now whether these virgins were some kind of bridesmaid or whether they were servants in the bridegroom's home, or whether they were simply friends and neighbours is unimportant. What matters is their role: they were to escort the bridegroom in a torch-lit procession as he brought his new bride back home.

The exact time however when the bridegroom would arrive was never precisely known – much as the precise time a bride arrives for her wedding today is unsure. The virgins just had to make sure that they were ready when he did arrive!

Now in his story Jesus tells us that the virgins were made up two different kinds of people – they were all waiting for the same bridegroom, they were all charged with the same task of lighting the bridegroom on his way, and they were all expecting to share in the same wedding feast. Outwardly they really were very much alike. And yet there was a major difference: 5 were wise and 5 were foolish.

The Bible frequently contrasts the wise with the foolish for they are opposites. We read, for example,

Prov.15:20 "A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother."

What is being highlighted for us is not how clever one person is when compared to another but how reasonable their actual behaviour is. The wise person is sensible and prudent – actions are thought through and make sense. The foolish person on the other hand is someone who acts in an unreasonable manner – the facts of the situation are not properly weighed and valued leading to a poor choice of action being adopted. The fool in the Bible is not someone with limited intelligence but someone who is morally corrupt:

Ps.14:1 "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God.""

We will see how this worked out in Jesus’ story and we will need to ask ourselves whether the way in which we are leading our lives would cause Jesus to classify us with the wise or the foolish!

Outwardly as I’ve already mentioned the two groups were very similar. They were in the same place, waiting for the same event, hoping to enjoy the same meal. And more than that, they both grew weary and they both fell asleep. And yet how different they were and how different their respective outcomes!

The main task that the virgins had to perform was to escort the bridegroom in a lamp-lit procession when he finally did arrive. In order to do so they needed to have their lamps with them and ready for service. The torches they would have used would probably have been made of oily rags that would burn for perhaps only 15 minutes or so before needing more oil. So a good supply of oil would need to have been laid in. This provision needed to be secured beforehand – they simply couldn’t afford to leave things to the last moment. But only five of these virgins had thought about this. The other five has not taken the steps necessary to ensure that they would be able to do what was required of them.

At last voices are heard. The bridegroom has arrived. And the virgins get their lamps to go out to meet him. And it only now seems to dawn upon the foolish ones that they have failed to get the oil they need. As we read the parable we might be tempted to imagine that the wise virgins are somewhat unkind and selfish in their response to the request of their foolish companions. But this would be the wrong way of understanding this parable. No, the way in which the wise responded is meant to highlight for us is the fact that no-one can rely upon another person's preparation!

The parable tells us that the need is urgent and that we need to prepare now – it will be too late to prepare then! And we are each responsible for making sure that we are prepared!

And that lesson is so important for us too as we await the Lord’s return and the coming day of judgment. Far too many folk today put off thinking seriously about religious matters until later. Instead of thinking carefully, weighing everything up and taking a rational decision people prefer to delay, to prevaricate – and the road to hell is littered with good intentions! Refusing to prepare when one can may well precede an inability to do so later.

Most folk want to go to heaven even going so far as to imagine that somehow God owes it to them – but do they do anything about it? Many fondly dream that some connection, however tenuous, with someone who does believe will see them through. But we must each be prepared ourselves, individually. We won’t feast at the wedding banquet of the Lamb just because we’re British we must have a personal relationship with him now.

The warnings of this parable are particularly appropriate for those inside the professing church as well. We must not assume that our future is unconditionally assured! All 10 virgins expected that they would be granted access to the wedding supper and there was very little apparent difference between the wise and the foolish – both were waiting, both were dozing, both were sleeping - but the wise were ready the foolish were not!

The foolish tried to turn up later only to find that they had come too late. The door was closed against them and when they cried out to be let in they heard terrible words that I hope none of us gathered here this morning will ever hear. This is what the foolish virgins heard the Lord say to them:

"I never knew you."

In the OT the LORD God is said "to know" his chosen people. It is language that speaks of intimate personal relationship and in the NT the same language is used to describe the saving relationship that a believer has with God through Jesus Christ. Listen to how Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia describing and contrasting their unconverted days with their life as true believers:

Gal.4:8-9 "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now ... you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,"

Writing to Timothy put it like this:

2Tim.2:19 "The Lord knows those who are his,"

Does the Lord know you in this way?

Do you wish to be ready for the Lord's return? Then you must make your peace with him through repenting of your sin and putting your trust in Jesus? Everything starts here for you.
When he comes he expects to find his own actively carrying out the responsibilities that he has given them. There is to be no hiding behind a mere profession – the only reliable evidence of a genuine conversion is to be found in a changed life. There is indeed danger in carelessly trusting to a trite cliché such as "once saved always saved". The once saved person will and must bring forth appropriate responses and be characterised by active service.

Peter had this in mind when he wrote:

2Pet.1:10 "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall."

Are you a believing Christian? A thankful Christian? A worshipping Christian? An obedient Christian? Are you a praying Christian? A witnessing Christian? Let me put it another way: if you were arrested on the charge of being a Christian is there any evidence that would convince a jury?

Jesus is coming and one day, we don’t know when, he will arrive. And he it is who tells us to be alert, to be watchful. He has does all that is necessary for you to be admitted to his feast but are you taking it seriously. Now is the day of salvation. Tomorrow will be too late for tomorrow never comes!

Come, Lord Jesus! And may we all be ready!


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