November 19, 2017
The Wisdom of the Saints
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (NIV1984)
Dear fellow saints of God,
I need you to do something for me. Actually, I need you to do two things for me— as in answer two questions. First, who is the most intelligent person you know? If I were to answer that question I would have to highlight two names. Generally speaking, the most intelligent person I know is a man by the name of Jon. Jon is a member of Mensa. Over the course of the years I visited with him, Jon asked me questions the likes of which no one has ever asked me before! It was always a pleasure visiting with Jon! But when it comes to the area of machines— especially old cars— the most intelligent person I know is a man by the name of Jerry. Jerry is a “MacGyver-type” genius when it comes to designing and building just about anything mechanical. Jerry has probably forgotten more about old cars than most people ever knew! He is like an encyclopedia when it comes to things such as specifications and available options on most old cars.
Now, here is your second question: who is the wisest person you know? If you were making a big decision in your life— such as buying a new house or changing jobs— who would you turn to for advice? The wisest person I know is my father-in-law. While Grandpa would be the first person to admit that academics were not his strong suit I have learned from personal experience that when I follow Grandpa’s advice things almost always turn out well. When I don’t follow his advice I have almost always regretted it.
The point that I am trying to make here is that “intelligence” and “wisdom” are not automatically synonymous terms. Someone can have an extremely high I.Q. and be sorely lacking in “wisdom.” I know people like that as well! If I were given the choice, however, either I could have intelligence or I could have wisdom, I would pick “wisdom” over “intelligence” any day of the week.
Our sermon text for today focuses our attention on wisdom— true wisdom. Since we are studying this text on the Sunday that is designated as “Saints Triumphant Sunday” I would like us to look at this portion of Scripture from the perspective of: The Wisdom of the Saints.
Our text for today is a parable— an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Now the earthly story behind this parable was far more familiar to the people of Jesus’ day and age than it is for us. In our time and in our culture a wedding is a one day event. The wedding service usually takes place in the afternoon, the wedding reception follows shortly thereafter and then that’s it. In Jesus’ day weddings were much more of an ongoing event.
Weddings in Jesus’ day often involved the entire community. There was no precise day when the wedding was to take place. There was no specific starting time that was announced weeks in advance. No “Save the Date” cards were sent in the mail weeks or months in advance. The groom, his family and his attendants would joyfully make their way to the place where the ceremony was to be held, which was often the home of the bride’s parents. Sometime after the wedding everyone would join in a procession, usually to the groom’s house, where they would feast for days! These processions often took place at night with torches and lamps thereby making for a spectacular display. The guests needed to be ready to join the procession at any hour, even in the middle of the night, should the groom decide to magnify the surprise by coming in the wee hours, moving through the darkened streets, gathering the wedding guests along the way. Since the celebration could erupt at any time, the guests had to be fully prepared at all times. If the guests were not ready when the groom arrived, they lost out on enjoying the wedding feast. That’s the earthly story behind this parable.
The heavenly meaning that Jesus wants us to take home with us today is not really all that complicated. In fact, the Lord Himself tells us the main point of this parable in the closing verse of our text. He says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Jesus is the Bridegroom in this parable. We, the visible Christian church, are the virgins who are waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive so that the wedding feast can begin. We, however, do not know precisely when the Bridegroom will arrive, do we. The key issue then is this: Will you be prepared to meet the Bridegroom no matter whether He is still “a long time in coming” or whether He arrives suddenly? To put it another way, are you numbered among the “wise” virgins here in our text, or, are you more like the “foolish” virgins here in our text? If Jesus were to return suddenly— as in today— would you be prepared to “trim your lamp,” greet the Bridegroom and join Him for the “wedding banquet”? Or, if the Bridegroom were to return suddenly— as in today— would you find that your “lamp is going out,” that you would need to go out searching for more oil, and ultimately find yourself locked out of the wedding feast with the Bridegroom saying to you, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you”?
Down through the ages people have wondered what exactly is it that makes the “wise” virgins “wise” and what exactly is it that makes the “foolish” virgins “foolish.” I point to the verses three and four of our text as the answer, “The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.” What does the extra “oil” represent? Does it represent the Holy Spirit? Does it represent an enduring faith— a faith that is able to carry us through even the darkest and most difficult days of life? Does it represent a life filled with the fruits of faith? Is it all of the above? I think it is all of the above— the Holy Spirit plus an enduring faith plus a life of good works, works that are good in His eyes. (Pointing to the cross)
By the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit we have been given the gift of saving faith in our hearts. Most of us became “saints” in the eyes of the God of heaven at the time of our Christian baptism. At one time or another many of us stood before the altar of the Living God and promised to remain faithful to Him and to His Word “even unto death.” What this means, my friends, is that purely by the grace and power of God you and I are “wise”! What this means is that purely by the grace and power of God you and I have been given the gift of wisdom— true wisdom! By the grace of God we agree with Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, when he writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). By the power of the Holy Spirit we understand exactly why the apostle Paul equates the preaching of “Christ crucified” (Pointing to the cross) with “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).
When I look out over our congregation I am not concerned about how “intelligent” you are. What I am concerned about is whether you are not only continuing in the wisdom God has granted to you, but also whether you are growing in the wisdom God has granted to you! Do you make sure that you have that extra jar of oil with you every single day so that no matter when your Bridegroom arrives you will always be prepared to join Him in His heavenly wedding feast? To put it another way, are you striving with God’s help to keep the “lamp” of your faith burning brightly through regular study of His holy Word and regular reception of His holy Supper? Or, is the “lamp” of your faith in danger of going out? We need to remember, my friends, that being prepared to meet the Bridegroom is a very personal individual matter. Just as the “foolish” virgins here in our text were told that they could not have some of the extra oil the “wise” virgins had brought with them, so also if I as an individual neglect my faith to the point where the “flame goes out” I will be the one who bears the consequences of that neglect.
Perhaps this would be a good time for us to remember the encouragement that Paul gave to his friend Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:14-15). The wisdom of the saints, the extra jar of oil, the ability to be prepared to meet the Bridegroom no matter how long we need to wait— all of this is given to us freely right here in God’s holy Word and in God’s holy Sacrament.
Before I close, my friends, there is one more point I need to make sure we all understand. Look at verse ten of our text, “The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.” There are many things for which you and I strive to be ready for in our lives. We strive to be ready for school. We strive to be ready for work. We strive to be ready for retirement. But the one thing that needs to supercede them all is to be ready for the wedding banquet that Jesus is preparing for us in heaven. We might very well be unprepared for many things that we encounter in this world, but we do not want to be unprepared for the world to come. We might even fail when it comes to situations that we encounter here in time. But when it comes to our eternity, when it comes to being ready for the celebration of our lives— as in our eternal lives— we need to adopt the motto: Failure is NOT an option! The glory and the perfection, the bounty and the blessing of the wedding banquet of our God— that is where we need to keep our focus!
Intelligence or wisdom? Which would you prefer? Intelligence certainly does have its value. If you want to be a member of Mensa or if you want to be able carry on a conversation with just about anyone about just about anything, it helps to be intelligent! Wisdom, however, true wisdom, brings to us advantages that nothing else can possibly give to us. Therefore, my prayer this morning, my friends, is that no matter how intelligent you may be you will always treasure the precious gift of wisdom which the good Lord Himself has given to you— the wisdom of the saints.
To God be the glory!