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“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
This parable from Jesus is terrifying. It’s like a nightmare. The one thing you’re looking forward to passes you by because you weren’t ready.
You know how this works, right? I was talking to a pastor friend of mine this week, and he said this parable reminded him of the time he took his daughter to a hockey game. My friend is a big hockey fan, and it was his daughter’s birthday, so he decided to take her to a nearby city to her first hockey game. He got seats down by the glass, and they were really excited about going. My friend had been to the stadium once before, and he had a general idea of how to get there. So he didn’t look up the directions, thinking he would remember how to get there when he saw it. Well, on the way down, there was an accident on the interstate that stopped traffic for nearly an hour. They were going to be late, and now it was also getting dark. As they were finally approaching the stadium, he suddenly realized that he couldn’t remember exactly which road to take. And the next thing he knew, they were on a road heading back out of town. He had no idea where he was, and had no idea how to get back. He said he was suddenly hit with this dreadful, sinking feeling. You idiot! Didn’t you want to go to the game? The one thing he was looking forward to passed him by because he wasn’t ready!
And that really does capture the sense you get from Jesus’ parable. Ten virgins, or bridesmaids, went to the wedding feast to greet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise, and when they took their lamps, they also took flasks of oil with them. It only makes sense, right? How many of you have been to a wedding that started exactly on time? There’s always some delay. So the wise virgins came ready. The other five…the other five were foolish. And when they took their lamps, they took no oil with them. And you have to wonder: what were they thinking!?
But it didn’t hit home for them until it was too late. The bridegroom was delayed, and everyone became drowsy and fell asleep. But suddenly, in the middle of the night, a cry went out, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” And the horrible reality of the situation started to set in. All the virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. But, no surprise to anyone but themselves, the foolish virgins had trouble getting their lamps lit. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Since there is not enough for us and for you, go to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And, no surprise to anyone but themselves, while they were going to get some oil, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.
It’s like a nightmare! The one thing they were looking forward to passes them right by because they weren’t ready. And it hits home in a cold, harsh way. The foolish virgins finally return from the dealers, and everyone is inside and the door is shut. And they say, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But he answers from the inside, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” I do not know you!
It’s terrifying. And what’s most terrifying is that the parable isn’t about missing a hockey game; it’s about missing Jesus and the resurrection. God sent Jesus to bring the goodness and mercy of God to earth, to set God’s creation right once and for all. And that’s what Jesus started to do by casting out demons and giving sight to the blind and healing the sick and raising the dead. Jesus brought the goodness and mercy of God like a bridegroom, who, out of love for his bride, wants to lavish her with every good thing. And when Jesus returns, he’s going to finish the work that he started; he’s going to raise the dead and make all things new. It will be the feast to end all feasts. As we heard from Isaiah a few weeks back. “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food…And he will swallow up on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
That day is coming. And we want to be ready for that day. Who wouldn’t? That’s why we make such a big deal about baptism. Baptism is the greatest thing that could ever happen to us because Jesus joins us to himself and promises that just as he was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised from the dead when he returns. Baptism gives us Jesus and the resurrection. And that gives us great hope. No matter what life throws our way, no matter what we have or don’t have, richer or poorer, sickness or health, when all is said and done, our bridegroom, Jesus, is coming, and he’s going to make good on the promise he made to us. Baptism is the greatest thing that could ever happen to us.
But we do something foolish with our baptisms. Sometimes we treat our baptisms like an excuse to forget about that day. We sometimes treat our baptisms like we’ve got all that God stuff covered—like we’ve got our golden ticket to heaven—so we can go on with the rest of our lives unconcerned about God. And rather than live in our baptisms—rather than live in and by the word and promises of Jesus—we use baptism as an excuse to effectively ignore Jesus and his word. After all, we’ve got our golden ticket.
We don’t go to Bible study or listen to devotions to learn the story behind our baptisms, so that we can take to heart the treasure we have. Or we don’t learn the catechism by heart (I’m not talking about the explanations, but just the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer alone). We don’t learn the catechism by heart so that as we travel life’s ups and downs we have God’s Word at hand to see us through. We don’t learn the psalms or pray them so that we can strengthen our hearts with God’s Word in difficult times and give thanks to God in prosperous times and fortify our souls in a tumultuous and uncertain world.
In fact, it’s easy to see Bible study and devotion, the catechism, psalms and prayer as a drag. You know, all that extra stuff you have to do that gets in the way of the rest of life.
And what happens is that rather than being strengthened and carried by our baptisms—by Jesus’ word and promises—we’re carried and swept away by the world. A trial comes, a difficulty that disrupts our lives and frustrates our expectations and desires. Maybe it’s an injury or an illness. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s financial struggles or a divorce. Maybe it’s a global pandemic. Whatever the case may be, this trial disrupts our lives and frustrates our expectations and desires, and we either despair, as if all is lost, as if God has forgotten us or abandoned us, or we get angry, gripe, and complain, as if there’s nothing good in the world, as if God doesn’t continually bless us with his goodness and promise to deliver us. Rather than being strengthened and carried by our baptisms, we’re carried and swept away by the world.
And we end up spending a whole life in self-pity, discontent, anger, and unfaith. And then it’s over! Our time suddenly comes to an end. Whether death comes and puts an end to it or whether Jesus returns first, our time suddenly comes to an end. And there we stand, having spent a whole life disregarding Jesus and his words—acting like he’s nothing. In that way, the bridegroom’s statement makes sense. “I do not know you.” I do not know you because you haven’t gotten to know me!
Jesus tells us this terrifying parable, so we’ll wake up and use our baptisms for all they’re worth. God has given us Jesus and the resurrection of the dead, not so that we could take our golden ticket, forget about him, and be swept away by the world. That’s not baptism. Baptism is no more the awarding of a golden ticket than a wedding is. The wedding vows, the wedding ring, that’s not the award of a golden ticket. It’s the beginning of something new—a new life, lived in and with each other. That’s what baptism is. Baptism joins us to the bridegroom Jesus Christ, and in that union, the two become one. Jesus takes everything that belongs to you—your sin and your death, and he gives you everything that is his—his righteousness, his resurrection, his life. Baptism is the beginning of a new life, lived in and with Jesus. That’s why God has given us Jesus and the resurrection of the dead… so that we can take our baptisms in hand every day and use them for all they’re worth—so that in sickness or in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, we can be held up, sustained, and carried by the words and promises of Jesus. God gave us our baptisms so that come hell or high water we can be ready when our bridegroom comes.
“Keep watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
[Jesus said to the disciples,] “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.”