...You Might be a Foolish Virgin
In the early 90s Comedian Jeff Foxworthy was famous for "you might be a redneck" jokes. If while mowing your lawn you find 3 junk cars in your yard, you might be a redneck. If your grandmother can spit chewing tobacco farther than you.If your belt buckle is bigger than your dinner plate, you might be a redneck. Well friends, if you see yourself in this parable of Jesus, you might be a foolish virgin.
If judging by outward appearances you decide there is no reason to prepare for the Lord's coming, you might be a foolish virgin. Outwardly there is no difference between foolish and wise. They all had lamps; they all went out to meet the bridegroom; they all waited through his delay. Dropping the figure, we would say all were baptized, all were confirmed, all went out in Advent to wait for the Lord. So judging by outward appearances we're pretty secure, aren't we? What additional preparation do we need? How can we prepare anymore than we already have? If Christ hadn't told us that 5 of them were prepared and 5 were unprepared we wouldn't know. This is especially true when we consider the fact that all 10 waiting virgins fell asleep when the bridegroom delayed his return. All of them appeared unprepared then.
You know plenty of Christians who aren't concerned with the return of Christ. You know plenty of Christians who are focused on the things of this life. You know plenty of Christians who spend Advent celebrating the Christmas season rather than preparing for Christ's return. Outwardly it seems none of your fellow virgins are anymore awake than you are to meet the Lord. And if you judge by these outward appearances, you might be a foolish virgin, and you're certainly in for a rude awakening. When the Bridegroom arrives, the difference between the wise and the foolish comes to light. Then we see that although they all looked the same, 5 were foolish and 5 were wise. They all went to church; they all participated in Advent; they all waited for Him dutifully. But foolishly some didn't really prepare for Him.
There's only one way to be prepared for Christ's return: repentance and faith. If you think otherwise, you might be a foolish virgin. All the prophets preached this; John the Baptist preached this; this is what Jesus preached and sent His apostles into the world to preach. And you might be a foolish virgin, if you think you can borrow repentance and faith from others. That's what the 5 foolish virgins thought. When the Bridegroom arrived, they expected the wise to give them some of their oil. How foolish! But people do this all the time. They think they can be saved based on the repentant faith of someone else. They think that on the Last Day they'll get into heaven's wedding banquet by saying, "Well my mother believed. My sister went to church. My grandmother always read her Bible."
Likewise, if you think you can prepare yourself at the last moment, you might be a foolish virgin. The foolish virgins waited till the Bridegroom arrived to deal with the fact that they hadn't prepared. Knowing that lamps without oil go out, they still didn't bring any oil. When they found they couldn't borrow any, they foolishly thought they had time to run and get some even though the Bridegroom was already there. This is you if you think that at the last moment you will repent and believe. You're not alone. Millions who've been raised in Christian homes, who've grown up going to church, who've known that the only way to be prepared to meet Jesus is by repenting and believing, foolishly think that when they see Jesus, then they'll repent and believe. They have it all planned out. They'll say, "I'm sorry for this sin that I have been living in; I believe you died on the cross and so have freed me from being a slave to it." "I'm sorry that I have turned my nose up at Your Word and Sacraments; I now believe that I need these to live."
Our parable clearly teaches such will never happen. If you wait till the end to prepare, it'll be too late. You won't become repenting and believing when the Last Trumpet sounds; you'll be peeing your pants and knocking your knees. Other Scriptures tell us what unrepentant, unbelieving, unprepared people do in the end: They run; they beg the mountains to fall on them in an attempt to hide from the Lord's wrath. They don't run out and try to get repentance and faith; only a fool would believe that was possible.
Five of the virgins in this parable were foolish. They believed they could borrow preparation, get prepared at the last minute, and that once the Bridegroom shut the door, they could still be let in to the wedding banquet. "Lord, Lord you must open the door to us!" The Gospels several times describe this scene. When Jesus returns, people shut out of the kingdom for their lack of repentance and faith will cry, "Lord don't you remember us? We did miracles in Your name and You taught in our streets! We ate and drank with you" (Mt. 7:22; Lk. 13:26)! But from behind the shut, bolted door Jesus says to them, "I never knew you. Just because you call Me Lord, Lord doesn't mean I'll save you (Mt. 7:21). Go into the unquenchable fire where you belong." Foolish virgins think they're going to be given another chance to repent and believe other than now. They think, "Tomorrow I'll cast off this sin of mine. Tomorrow I'll start trusting in Jesus. Tomorrow I'll prepare." You know what the Lord says to such thinking? "You fool this very night your soul is required of you (Lk. 12:20); there is no tomorrow for you!"
You might be a foolish virgin - if you judge by outward appearances, if you think there is another way to prepare other than by repenting and believing now. But you are a foolish virgin if you believe it's too late for you. It's not too late no matter how foolish, how unrepentant, how unbelieving you've been. I know it's not too late because you're still alive. God is still gracious to you because He has given you more time to repent and believe. The Bridegroom has not come for you yet because He wanted you to hear this sermon warning you that today's the day to prepare.
But where can I get the repentance and faith necessary to meet Him? Can I make myself feel bad for my sins? If a child makes himself feel bad for his sins, parents call that hypocrisy. Can I make myself believe in Jesus for salvation? If a child makes himself believe something, parents call that silly. Making ourselves repent and believe doesn't prepare us to meet God. It makes us silly hypocrites. Only God can prepare us to meet God, and He does so by His Law and Gospel.
By means of the preaching of the law, God makes us repentant. Paul said, "I wouldn't have known what sin is unless God's law had shown me." We wouldn't know the sin of being unprepared unless the law had shown us the foolishness of the virgins. We would've judged by appearances and thought that since we look prepared we are. By the law, God shows us that clinging to pet sins and excusing our sinfulness, means we're unprepared to face our Judge. The law makes us feel the weight of our sins and takes away our excuses for them and any hope of making up for them. Being crushed by the law is part of the preparation. Believing the Gospel is the other, and we can't do this part either. The Lord gives us faith by coming to us as we stand condemned before the Judge for our sins. He takes us in His arms and promises that for Jesus' sake He has put away our sins and opened heaven's gates to us. Though we look no different than the foolish virgins going to hell, we're going to heaven. Though our sins have stained our virgin robes; though our lamps are tarnished by wicked, lustful, unbelieving thoughts; though we fall asleep just liked the foolish ones, still the Lord says, "Welcome to My wedding banquet."
Be careful here. Be sure you see what determines if you get into the wedding banquet. Ultimately it's not how well you prepare; it's whether or not you are known by the Bridegroom. The only reason the foolish virgins are given for the door not being open to them is that the Bridegroom doesn't know them. Can you see this freeing, reassuring, comforting Gospel point? My certainty of salvation isn't in me knowing Jesus so well that I keep every jot and tittle of the Law to be prepared enough to get into heaven. My certainty of salvation is in Jesus knowing me!
Does the Bridegroom know you? Didn't He say to you in Baptism, "I have called you by name. You are Mine"? And didn't He tell you just this morning after hearing you confess your sins that He forgives you personally for them? Didn't you hear Him say: "I forgive you" as if there was no one else in the church but you? And after Communion could it be possible for you to have any doubts that your Lord knows you? Won't He tell you once more, "This is My Body and Blood given and shed for you?" And won't He tell you He gives you these to strengthen and preserve you in the true faith that you are known by Him?
No one is saved based on how well they've prepared. Then why tell us this parable about preparation? Because the Lord knows how wrapped up in the day to day world we become so He, says, "Today is the day to be prepared for the Last Day." He tells you, "Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." The virgins in the parable knew the day; they just didn't know the hour. Well, we don't even know the day let alone the hour. That's why the Lord told this parable to sound the warning, "The Bridegroom's here!" The Greek says the cry has happened and it's still happening. We should hear this cry echoing in our ears not as threat but as a promise. The Bridegroom is really that close. Don't let His long delay make you think He's far away. You're not a fool for preparing for His appearance at any minute, since He's always arriving.
Of course, to the world those who prepare look like fools. We are targets for the scoffers who say, "Where is this Jesus you prepare to meet every Advent?" And they scoff all the more when we point to Water, Words, Bread and Wine, "Here He is." So we do look foolish repenting before and believing in a Jesus we can't see, but we won't be fooled. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20201122); Matthew 25: 1-13