Is the Wedding Feast Worth the Wait?
The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who loves His bride the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25), so that He might be united with her for eternity, dear fellow redeemed:
You have made your way to the banquet hall where the wedding reception will be. But the doors have not opened yet. This means you and a few hundred other people must wait in narrow hallways until the wedding party arrives. The first twenty minutes are not so bad as you catch up with friends and family. But as more time passes, the situation worsens. The hallway is getting warm. The kids are whining. People start to look out the windows in the vain hope that by watching, they might make the wedding party arrive faster.
More time passes. Not a few of the guests wonder out loud just how many stops the “party bus” is making. The mother of the bride tries to keep a smile on her face, but her patience is wearing thin. The kids are running around now and screaming. All you can think of are all the restaurants you passed on the way to the reception, restaurants where you could already be eating. How long have you been waiting? When will the wedding party get there? Why can’t they just open these doors!?!
No matter how wonderful the wedding feast may be, it is hard to wait. Waiting gives extra time for doubt: Will they ever get here? Will the feast be worth my time? Is there someplace better I could be? These are some of the same questions that come to mind during our time of waiting in this life: Will Jesus ever come? Will heaven be worth the suffering we endure now? Would I be happier if I lived for here instead of for there?
Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven addresses these doubts and concerns. He describes ten virgins, the attendants of the bride. They would meet the bridegroom and then all would go in for the wedding celebration. But “the bridegroom was delayed” for reasons that are not given. Five of the virgins had come prepared for this scenario; they brought extra oil along for their lamps. But the other five did not. They were not ready when the cry sounded, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”
In this parable, the Bridegroom for whom all are waiting is Jesus, and the Bride with her virgin attendants is the Christian Church. The way the members of the Church are promised to the Bridegroom and claimed by Him is through Holy Baptism. Ephesians 5 says that Christ has “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” (vv. 26-27). But Baptism alone does not ensure that a person will be prepared to meet the Savior on the last day. Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16)—not just Baptism, but Baptism along with faith in the Lord’s promises.
The five virgins whose lamps were going out are those Christians who were brought to faith by the Holy Spirit through the Word. But they failed to continue to feed the flame of faith. They did not make regular use of God’s Word and Sacraments, or if they did, they did not partake of these things with believing hearts. They may have gone through the motions of Christian faith and practice, but it was empty. They did not from the heart confess their sins and from the heart believe that those sins are forgiven through the blood of Jesus.
When the time of the Bridegroom’s arrival came, they could not rely on the faith of others. Their frantic, “What should we do now?!” when their lamps were burning out, showed that the faith they once had, had run dry. Instead of eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Bridegroom, now His coming frightened them. Their focus had been on other things. They had not made the Bridegroom’s arrival their priority.
The five wise virgins, on the other hand, had properly prepared for the Bridegroom. They had brought an extra supply of oil for their lamps in the event that the Bridegroom was delayed. They were ready for His coming and went to meet Him without fear. What a joy it was to see Him after the long wait!
Now if the Bridegroom’s arrival were today, in which group would you be found? Do you look forward to Jesus’ visible return in glory, or is your focus more on this world, on carrying out your plans and pursuing your dreams? Or are you worried how Jesus will judge you when He comes? You remember your many sins, some of them so shameful that they weigh on you long after you did them. You wonder if your repentance has been heartfelt enough and your faith pure enough.
It is worth noting that both the wise and the foolish virgins “became drowsy and slept.” Even the ones who were ready for the Bridegroom’s arrival were weak. They were not perfectly alert. So it is with all believers. We are all weak. We have all failed in one way or another. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Our readiness for Jesus’ return is not about how well we have lived or what kinds of sins we have avoided. Our readiness depends on our recognition of our many sins and our trust in the perfect life of Jesus and His atoning death for our sins.
To think that we have committed a sin that is too great to be forgiven, is to imagine a very small God and a small sacrifice on Calvary. But Jesus died for all sins, none excepted. That means He shed His blood for you, to blot out your sins. By faith in Him, you are holy and pure in His sight—a wise virgin with the flame of faith brightly burning.
But you are still on the outside looking in. The doors of heaven have been opened to you by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but you cannot see the glories yet that He promises you. Is the Wedding Feast Worth the Wait? Is the pain of an earthly life under the cross a fair exchange for the joys of heaven? Will you regret living a life fenced in by God’s law, a life of discipline, a life of devotion to the Triune God?
According to Jesus’ parable, when the Bridegroom arrives those who have been shut out from the wedding celebration are not indifferent about it. They desperately want to enter the marriage hall; they want to get into heaven. But they will hear the Bridegroom declare, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” What frightening words those are! Unbelievers will be forsaken by their Savior on the last day. On that day, they will fully realize the error of their ways. But by then it will be too late.
Jesus says that any who think they can attend the eternal wedding feast without wearing Jesus’ righteousness will be bound “hand and foot and cast… into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 22:13). This is how hell is described: “outer darkness… weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And there will be no relief, no end to the suffering.
In heaven, on the other hand, there will be no end to the joy. The Bible offers only glimpses of heaven because our sinful minds cannot comprehend the glories there. They are too far above us, too wonderful. The apostle Paul talks about being “caught up into paradise,” and how “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2Co. 12:3,4). He wrote in another place, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1Co. 13:12).
The apostle John also received a vision of heaven in “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). He said he saw “a door standing open in heaven,” and a voice invited him to come and look. Then John describes what he saw. He saw One sitting on a throne, who had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, which are reddish gems. Around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal” (4:1-6).
As we are in our sinful flesh, this would be a frightening sight to behold, but it will not be when our lowly bodies are transformed to be like our Lord’s glorious body at His return (Phi. 3:20-21). On that day, we will see Him as He is (1Jn. 3:2), and we will go to dwell with Him in the unending light of His glorious presence.
But how long will we have to wait for these joys? If a wedding party did not show up at the reception for two hours or three or more, many of their guests would grow tired of waiting and leave. Jesus urges us to wait patiently for His return, no matter how long it seems to take. He assures us that the wedding feast will be worth it. He, our Bridegroom, will come again to meet His holy bride. On that day, we will be roused from our sleep, and with the light of faith, we will look upon the bright countenance of our Savior.
Then we will process with Him into heaven dressed in the beautiful robes of His righteousness (Rev. 7:13-17, 21:2-4). And all the saints will proclaim the words prophesied by Isaiah, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isa. 25:9). And then the celebration will begin.
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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(11th century painting from the Rossano Gospel)