Sermon: Where’s the Bridegroom? (Matthew 25)
Order of Service: Divine Service 2
Location: Lutheran Church of the Triune God, Brooklyn Center, MN
For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. (Matthew 25:3-4)
In Jewish culture, the wedding feast is the greatest celebration next to the great liturgical feasts of the year. The feast would last for a week at either the groom’s home or his parents’ home. The feast would start by the groom and his friends processing through town to get his wife from her parents’ home and officially bring her into his home. All the bride’s friends would then be picked up as the procession went from the bride’s parents’ home to the groom’s home. That’s what Jesus is setting up in this parable. The time of the betrothal is over. The bridegroom is coming to take his bride to himself, as it has been from the beginning: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”1Genesis 2:24 The word spreads through town. The bridegroom is coming! So these ten virgins gather together so that they can join the procession. And they wait. And they wait. And they wait. They start to ask each other, “Where’s the bridegroom?” That question still rings true today.
One of the ways to interpret a parable is to see the allegory behind the different components involved. It doesn’t always work. In these parables in Matthew 25, we see that the allegory is the point. So let’s look at these component parts.
We start with the ten virgins. They represent Christians of all times and places. The Church militant on earth. “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.”2Matthew 25:2 What made them either foolish or wise? “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took oil with their lamps.”3Matthew 25:3-4
The lamps represent the initial gift of faith given to Christians at Baptism to prepare them for the Last Day. The oil represents the continued gift of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. Oil doesn’t give light without a lamp. A lamp doesn’t give light without oil.
Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.”4Matthew 5:16 The wise continue to make use of the means of grace, while the foolish think they have enough. In either of these states, every Christian awaits the arrival of the rest of the wedding party.
Of course, the bridegroom is Jesus. The bride is His Church. The shutting of the door is the final judgment, from which there is no second chance.
There is the parable broken down for us. But what does it mean for us?
Where’s the bridegroom? First, He’s preparing the feast. While Christians are gathering and waiting, Jesus is making sure all things are ready. He tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am going.”5John 14:1-3
The beginning of that preparation is the gift of the lamps to His people. The lamp given to you in Baptism is the first step in the preparation of your room in Heaven and your invitation to the wedding feast. He gives it to you with the promise that He is coming back for you. All you have to do is watch and wait.
But what happens when the watching and waiting become long? When the bridegroom’s procession seems to be delayed? The wise bring extra oil. They keep their oil next to them so their lamp keeps burning brightly. They stay in God’s Word. Both in worship and in private devotions. They make themselves available to receive the groom’s body and blood in His holy Supper. Through these means, they are rewarded with a never-ending supply of oil, like the widow of Zarephath.61 Kings 17:8-16 God renews their faith every morning by His mercy.7Lamentations 3:22-23 Even when troubles and tribulations and temptations come, their flame never sputters. Their oil continues to enlighten their soul with the Gospel.8SC II III
As the sky darkens around us, we wait for Jesus. Many, if not all of us, will fall asleep before He returns. We read this parable on the heels of All Saints’ Day to give us comfort in the face of this knowledge.
Throughout the last couple of days before His death, Jesus continually urged and commanded His followers to watch for His return. They were to watch for His return from the dead, but they were also told to watch for His return from Heaven. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me.”9John 14:3 We have that great promise. Even when we succumb to the sleep of death. Even then, Jesus is still preparing the feast to welcome His bride into His heavenly home.
One day, He will come to gather His Bride. The voice of the archangel will cry out, “Here is the Bridegroom!”10Matthew 25:6 As St. Paul puts it in our Epistle reading this morning, “The Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”111 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Jesus will come back in His glory and majesty to bring His Church to Himself. Everything will be prepared for the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. He will take those who are ready.
When He comes and has gathered His Bride and her friends, the wise virgins. What happens to those who are not ready? Like the foolish virgins, they’ll be outside saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” And He will say, “I do not know you.”12Matthew 25:11-12 What horrible words to hear! The door is shut and there is no one who may open it.13Revelation 3:7
Once the Bridegroom has taken His bride home, there is no second procession through town. Those who are not with Him will be left outside in the dark. Weeping and gnashing their teeth, as found in other parables.14Matthew 22:13 They will beg to be let in, but their pleas will fall on deaf ears.
They will understand Amos’ words: “Why would you have the day of YHWH? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house … and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of YHWH darkness and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”15Amos 5:18-20 The door will be closed. No recounts possible. No last-minute appeals. You will either be inside or outside.
The wise virgins will feast with the Bridegroom. They will enjoy the great blessings God has given them because they had been anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit in their Baptism. They remained steadfast in their faith through the continual use of God’s means of grace. They will see the fulfillment. They will see the eternal side of life. They will see and live in that place that we can only imagine while we watch and wait. No pain. No sorrow. No mourning. No tears of any kind.16Revelation 7:15-17; 21:3-4 The place of everlasting comfort.
Jesus ends the parable with the command, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”17Matthew 25:13 It’s a command of comfort. He gives it to us so that we will stand firm in the faith through His means of grace. That we will be counted among the wise virgins. That we will, as the children’s song tells us, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine … Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.” Amen.