Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant (November 19, 2017)

MATTHEW 25:1-13

KEEP ON KEEPING WATCH,
FOR THE SAVIOR IS COMING!

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord Jesus has given a command to his Church to preach the Gospel to all creation because the Lord does not want people to perish in their sins.  Rather, he wants all to repent, believe the good news, and be saved.  The parable today, however, is not a warning to the lost.  It is a warning for the Church. 
     The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1)  Since the bridal attendants are virgins, they are pure.  They have all the appearance of being godly people who will receive a place at the wedding feast.  Unfortunately, not all who appear godly will be saved.  Five of the virgins were foolish.  They were invited to the wedding banquet.  They knew that the bridegroom was coming.  With so much planning and so much anticipation, being unprepared was inexcusable.  Wedding feasts back in Jesus' day could last up to a week.  During that week, the bride would wait at her home.  The groom would come to get her, and they would make a procession back to the house of the groom where all the guests would feast and rejoice.  For whatever reason, the bridegroom was delayed.  He came at an inconvenient hour.  So when the cry went out that the bridegroom was coming, all the virgins awoke to tend to their lamps.  Only then did the five foolish virgins realize that they were not prepared.  Only when it was too late did it matter to them.
     This parable is a warning to the Church.  It concludes with Jesus' admonition: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)  More literally, Jesus' command is to keep on keeping watch.  Jesus was speaking to believers.  We know that Jesus is going to return for judgment and to gather his redeemed for the wedding feast of heaven.  We confess regularly that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Therefore, for God's people to be caught unprepared is inexcusable.  Jesus warns us so that we do not find ourselves unprepared on that day.  Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.
     The five foolish virgins had forewarning.  They knew the bridegroom was coming.  But when he came, they did not have oil for their lamps to join in the procession.  So 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 will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ (Matthew 25:8-9)  The point is not that the wise were unwilling to share.  The point is that we are all responsible for ourselves.  I cannot believe for you, and you cannot believe for me.  Our love for our children will not save them.  God alone supplies this salvation and the faith to receive it.  So, even though the five virgins had all the appearance of purity when the groom came, they were not prepared.  This is the way it will be for many who call themselves Christians.  There are many who are baptized and confirmed and morally decent who will find to their horror that they are not going to enter the wedding feast of the Lamb.
     It is not that people go off and turn to a life of crime.  Nor do they suddenly get some spiritual amnesia and forget everything about Jesus.  If they were on Jeopardy, they could still ace the Bible category.  Rather, they just stopped going to church, hearing the word of the Lord, confessing their sins, and receiving the Lord's Supper.  They became lazy or distracted or wanted to be amused by other things.  Sundays become a day for family time, sports, sleeping in, brunch, and so on.  These are not wicked things.  We don't call people to repent for sleep, eating, sports, or family time.  And do you know what such people discover?  That their lives don't really change that much.  They are not struck down by lightning.  They don't lose their jobs.  Their friends still like them and support them.  Their marriages do not automatically collapse.  So, they deduce that life without Jesus and his word is no worse than life with it.  In fact, some will argue that life without Jesus is better because they can devote the extra time, money, and energy to make themselves comfortable in this world.  Like the five foolish virgins, many will only consider the word of the Lord important once they are shut out of the kingdom.  Beware; this warning is for the Church so that we will not perish.
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  Now, if Jesus is your Savior, that means he saves you from something.  And he does.  The five wise virgins did not do a very good job keeping watch either.  They grew tired, lazy, and weak.  They, too, fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom.  Still, when the bridegroom comes, they do not panic.  They trim their lamps so that they can welcome him with joy.
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  You know what it is to grow tired and lazy while waiting for Jesus.  We daily battle temptations and sins, and it gets wearisome.  Our sinful weakness gets the better of us and we return to sins of habit.  We are also encouraged to be lazy in our watchfulness when we see many people who, while still calling themselves Christians, have no real use for the Lord, his word, and his Church.  And they do not seem to suffer for it at all.
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  Your Savior has come for you to deliver you from the sins which would condemn you.  He took on himself all of our guilt and submitted himself to all of God's wrath.  If all God's wrath has been poured upon Jesus, there is nothing left for you but blessing and mercy.  That blessing is not given to you just because you think thoughts about Jesus.  God's blessing, mercy, and salvation are to be proclaimed.  And that is why we gather here.  By the proclamation of the word, Jesus saves you.  He reveals and bestows forgiveness through the word which is proclaimed.  He attaches his word to baptism, to holy communion, and to absolution.  By these, he bestows salvation and blessing upon sinners.  This is the reason we gather for chruch each week—to receive God's blessings.  Here, we find comfort and peace as we await Christ's return.  This is how we keep on keeping watch. 
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  He who suffered and died to save you from sin and guilt and from any condemnation is risen.  Jesus conquered death to save you from the grave.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, death must answer to him.  Because you are Christ's, you participate in Jesus' victory.  On the Last Day when Jesus returns, the grave will have to give you back and you will live.  Jesus is your Savior from death and the grave. 
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  After his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.  And if he has gone to prepare a place for you, he will come back to take you to be with him where he is.  Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  He saves you not only from guilt and shame in this world, he also saves you from the world itself.  When the Groom comes for his Church, Jesus will deliver you out of a world of sorrow, pain, heartache, frustation, and wickedness.  Jesus will set you forever free from all of the griefs you have come to know in this world.  He will bring you to a place in heaven which will be peaceful, perfect, and permanent.  This is the wedding feast of the Lamb in which there will be great joy, great feasting, great company, and endless peace.  Jesus paid a great price to secure his Church for this, and he desires that you remain wise for salvation so that you will be with him forever.  So keep on keeping watch.  Your Savior is coming.  And he comes to bring you everlasting salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.