The Last Sunday of the Church Year – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who has covered us with the robe of His righteousness and who rejoices over us as a bridegroom rejoicing over his bride (Isa. 61:10, 62:5), dear fellow redeemed:
If I were to open up a new water bottle and pour the water into a glass, we would all say that is pure water. As we looked at it, it would appear clean and ready to drink. But what if I took a container of poison, a liquid also clear in color? No matter how many drops of poison I added to the glass of water, the water would appear no different. It would look just as clean as it was at the beginning, but looks would be very deceiving.
Jesus’ parable for today teaches us that outward appearances do not always reflect what is inside. The ten virgins with their lamps all looked the same. They were all eager to go and meet the bridegroom. But we quickly learn that five of them were wise and five were foolish, five were truly prepared and five were not.
These virgins are a picture of believers. The lighted lamp carried by each virgin is the living faith that burns inside of us and produces good works. But just because a person once has faith does not mean he will always have faith. We see that over time, the faith of five of the virgins grew weaker and was going out. Why did this happen?
Jesus says that “the bridegroom was delayed.” This delay, this change in expectation, caused the virgins to become drowsy and sleep. That tells us that the Christian life is more of a marathon than a sprint. Jesus gives some insight into this with His parable about the sower and the seed. He says that many hear the Word and believe it—the seed takes root in their heart. But some fall away “in time of testing” like a plant withering on a rock (Luk. 8:13). Others are “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” like a plant among thorns, “and their fruit does not mature” (v. 14).
We know that faith can be lost, including our own faith. That is why we are here today. “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). We are here to listen carefully to the Word of God, so that our faith is exercised and strengthened. The Word is the way the oil for our lamps is replenished. It is the fuel source for our life of good works, and it is the means by which we are kept alert for our Savior’s return.
But many, including many Christians, think it is foolish to give so much time and attention to the Word. If they hear that you go to church every week, they might joke about what a bad person you must be if you need to go that often. Or they might tell you that they don’t need to hear the same thing week after week. They know what they believe, and they can think about God at home just as well as they can at church.
These comments show how weak their flame of faith is getting. They are thinking of God’s Word as common information and not as divine power. They are letting the temptations of the devil and the world lull them to sleep. And the same temptations are coming at us trying to do the same to us. Maybe we are strong right now, but there is a lot that could happen from now until we die or until Jesus returns. What might happen to our faith if we experienced great hardship, great pain, great loss? How strong would we be then?
All the virgins “became drowsy and slept.” None of them were as attentive—as focused and alert—as they should have been. This is true of all believers. None of us watches and prays like we ought to. But Jesus our Bridegroom is coming, and He is coming soon. How soon? Jesus tells us to expect His return at any time and says that no one knows the day or the hour except for God (Mat. 24:36). Today’s Epistle lesson says, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1Th. 5:2).
As much as we would like to know when the last day will be, we do not need to know. What we do need to know is what God has given us in His Word. We need to know why God sent His Son to earth in the flesh and what Jesus accomplished for us. God sent His Son to earth because the world was going to hell. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and the poison of their sin worked its way down through each generation all the way to us. Babies look pure, as pure as a human being can be, but they are sinners, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Every one of us is defiled by sin. We deserve eternal punishment for it. No matter how good we may look on the outside, no matter how holy we may appear to be, “we are by nature sinful and unclean” as we confess at the beginning of the service (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, p. 41). God’s Son took on our flesh, but He was not infected by our sin. He was perfect and pure, the only righteous person who had walked the earth since Adam and Eve before their fall.
And even though Jesus was tempted with every sort of temptation like we are, He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He perfectly obeyed the holy commands of our holy God. He did in the flesh what no other human could do, and He did it for the entire human race. Then He offered His perfect life as a sacrifice to the Father, so that the whole world’s sins would be atoned for by His precious blood.
His holy life and atoning death were applied to you at your Baptism. That’s what St. Paul wrote in his inspired letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He said that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
You were brought into this spotless, holy Church through the waters of Baptism. The baptismal font is where Jesus applied His cleansing blood to you (Act. 22:16), where He purified your conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:14), where He covered you in His own perfect life (Gal. 3:27). This is why Jesus refers to believers as “virgins.” They are the pure ones with no blemish on their reputation, because Jesus’ perfect life covers over theirs.
Being a believer in Jesus means that no wrong you have done, no failure of judgment, no sin you have committed sticks to you anymore. The devil does his utmost to get you to think otherwise, to make you think your sins are not forgiven or even that they are not forgivable. Jesus disagrees. He suffered and died for every single one of your sins, willingly and completely. And if they were put on Him and paid for by Him, then they are not on you anymore.
The apostle Paul wrote to another congregation, “I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2Co. 11:2). That is what you are by faith in Him. You are a member of the Church, His holy Bride. Jesus is your Bridegroom who cares for you and provides for all your needs in this life and who leads you on to the eternal wedding feast in His kingdom.
He promises that there will be an end to the troubles and death of this world. He will come on the last day to separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. He will bring the faithful into the blessedness of heaven and cast the wicked into the curses of hell. He tells us this, so we are not overwhelmed by the darkness or overcome by spiritual sleep. He tells us what is coming to keep us alert and prepared.
Like the foolish virgins, there are many who will be found unprepared when the Bridegroom comes. They took too much for granted. They got complacent about their faith. They gave into temptation and embraced sin. They neglected the means of grace. And the devil pounced when they were weak. Or maybe they did attend divine services, but they did not take the Word to heart. They were there to keep up appearances and nothing more. The flame of their faith diminished and then went out like a lamp running out of oil.
Jesus warns us about this, so that we are not foolish but wise. Being wise to God is foolishness to the world. Those who put their trust in Jesus must endure criticism and persecution in this world. It is not the easy path. But it is the only path that leads to salvation.
Jesus your Bridegroom meets you on this path. Though you cannot see Him now, He is present through His Word and Sacraments. He has the oil you need for your lamp. He keeps your faith going. He promises that the wait is worth it, that great blessings will be had by those who remain holy and pure by faith in Him.
In this faith, you will be ushered with perfect joy and delight through the doors of heaven where the marriage feast of the Lamb is prepared. There you will not remember the hardships. You will not remember the sorrows and pains. You will not remember how much you had to suffer in this evil world. You will join the great company of heaven, those who are saints, holy ones, pure virgins—all those who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from 11th century painting from the Rossano Gospel)