Understanding Faith through True Relationship with God
In Matthew 25:1-13, we have the parable of the 10 virgins. It’s an interesting parable, sometimes hard to understand because of the context. Remember that Jesus gave this parable to people of that era, they had customs of that era.
The custom that Jesus is speaking about here is one that happened in Middle Eastern weddings, the Groom might be in one town and the Bride might be in another town. A great crowd of family and friends start in front of the house of the Groom for a banquet later. Eventually, the Groom and some close friends make their way to the Bride’s town. The Groom collects his Bride, and together with friends makes a disorganized and meandering parade back.
The happy group usually takes the longest route possible so people can cheer them as they pass. Banquets at night are not uncommon in the Middle East, especially because of the heat of the day. 10 unmarried bridesmaids are waiting to join party, which goes deep into the night. It’s very dangerous for a young woman to walk without a lamp in the middle of the night. The 10 young women are very judicious in behavior, all have lamps burning.
But there is a difference, 5 brought extra oil as precaution and 5 do not. Since the wedding procession is taking a long route, it takes longer than anticipated. The young woman become drowsy and fall asleep while waiting for the Groom’s party.
Finally, the parade comes by and someone shouts, “Behold the bridegroom, come out meet him!” Guests of the wedding come out and rush out to meet him to join the procession. The 10 young women realize their lamps are burning out and need more oil, more fuel. 5 of the woman are prepared with the oil flask that they had prepared. 5 of the woman, in their horror, realize they have no oil reserve to replenish the oil.
The 5 foolish ones go to the prepared ones and demand some of their oil. But the 5 prepared ones, “We only have enough for ourselves, go to the dealers and buy more!” No doubt irritated, the 5 unprepared ones stomp off and go beg, borrow, or buy more oil. In the meantime, the wedding procession gets to the wedding banquet, shuts the door. Everyone has friends in the village, so they are able to find some oil.
The final scene is that the 5 short-sighted unprepared bridesmaids get their lamps working. They go to the wedding banquet and knock/shout at the door “Sir/Lord, let us in!”. In the Middle East, guests are important, people won’t refuse a guest. But remember, this is a parable of Jesus, not a true story. Jesus says that the Groom’s reply is “I don’t know you”. In this parable, that is the last word and these 5 unprepared bridesmaids are refused.
So what does this parable mean? Why did Jesus give this parable in this way to his disciples? What kind of implication does it have for us? I think there are several lessons to take away.
First, let’s think about why Jesus chose 10 young women, could easily be about 10 young men. The reason is because Jesus always used the feminine in speaking about Church, the Bride of Christ. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the church is the Bride of Christ. In the parable, the focus of the bridesmaids is on the bridegroom. They are waiting for the bridegroom who is a long time in coming. Remember, the bridesmaids can only enter the wedding banquet together with Bridegroom.
What does that mean for us? Jesus should be the central focus of our lives, we should be waiting, anticipating meeting him. We should live out our lives faithful and longing for his arrival, Jesus is the focus of the church. Just like this wedding procession, we need Jesus to enter the wedding banquet of heaven.
What parable is doing is letting us know that there is a time of judgment, there is an end. Matthew 25:13 – Therefore, keep watch – we don’t know when we should meet bridegroom. On one hand, you can interpret this as when Jesus returns to this earth, we don’t know when that is. On the other hand, we don’t know the day or hour of the end of our lives either. We could live a very long life hopefully, or we may not have that much time left. Our end could come on any day, any hour, in the middle of the night.
Really, when you put things in the context of death, our time on earth, it puts everything into focus. I think one place when you can see a group of people very sincere, is at a funeral. When you go to a funeral, you think about the long life someone you knew lived and died. The profoundness of death is even to the point that if you hear about someone, even just an acquaintance of yours that passes, it makes you pause in your life and really think about them. Funerals, death really makes you think about ourselves and the lives that we are living.
Because frankly, after that short pause, we go on living our lives back in the world like before. It’s just like Jesus says in this parable, at one point all 10 were aware, waiting with lamps for groom. But because it took a long time, they didn’t know the day/hour, they fell asleep. It happens to us all, we think about our own mortality for a moment, become sincere. But then, after that moment, we fall asleep again back into this daily grind of this world. In that respect, we are all the same, all falling asleep like all these 10 women did.
Then what was the difference between 5 wise and 5 foolish? What was determining factor? All 10 of these looked like they were ready, they were dressed and all had lamps. All 10 of them seemed like they were ready for bridegroom appear, but what happened was that the bridegroom appeared in the middle of the night. The 5 wise ones had oil prepared for their lamps and 5 were not prepared with oil in their lamps.
What does the oil represent? The Oil represents the Holy Spirit. In the OT, the oil was used for anointing of the priests. In the NT, believers are all anointed with the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Grace, Truth, and Love.
Here the thing about today’s passage, about all of us gathering in Church, and Christians today. We go to church, we profess that we are Christians, that we believe in Jesus. We look just like other Christians, we may even have good actions and do good things. But a person who goes to church, professes that they believe in Jesus, says they are Christians, does good actions and looks like a Christian, may not actually be Christian, a saved Christian.
Who can judge this? Can I as a pastor judge this? If you brought a person up to me who goes to church, says they believe in Jesus, say they are a Christian and who does good actions, I still couldn’t tell you for sure – interesting right?
When were these 5 foolish bridesmaids exposed? It was at some unknown day, unknown hour, in middle of night, when the bridegroom came. When can I know who is Christian? I think perhaps, I may only know when I’m at the wedding banquet, in heaven and look around.
The difference between them is who is prepared with the oil and who is not. The five virgins who have the extra oil represents those who are truly born again and looking with eagerness towards the coming of Christ. They are in it for the long haul, determined whatever the circumstance, be it time or adversity. They are preparing for Jesus’ return and looking with eagerness.
The five virgins without oil are false believers who enjoy the benefit of Christian community without the true faith, love, and grace of Christ in their lives. They more concerned about the party, dressing up for the party, rather than waiting for bridegroom. Their hope is that because they are associated, friends with the other 5 virgins, then perhaps that will bring them to the Kingdom in the end. They even ask the 5 others if they can borrow some of their oil.
Here is the thing, you can’t borrow this, one’s faith cannot save another person. If you look at Matthew 7:21-23, it talks about it here. And I’m talking about true saving faith, not just faith we profess with our lips. Just because we say we believe on the outside, do we really believe?
There an interesting verse in the Bible about this – Romans 10:9. So some people interpret this like you have to confess with your mouth to be saved. But then the questions comes – what about a mute person, can they not be saved? What people forget to read, is Paul explanation in the next verse – Romans 10:10.
Faith is with the heart first, those who can confess it, will say it with their mouth. It doesn’t go the other way around, say it with your mouth and then it goes to your heart. Someone asked, can a mute person be saved then? A mute person believes in Jesus with their heart, may not come out orally so that everyone can hear it, but certainly is confessing in their own way with their mouth.
So faith is not some sort of grand action and grand proclamation you make in this world. Faith is not really something definitive to explain definitely with words. Then you might ask, how do we “know” if we are we true Christians with true saving faith?
Today, this is what I want to say, a relationship with God through Jesus is there for all of us to accept. Faith is accepting this relationship with God through Jesus. So when you ask, how do you “know” we are true Christians, I ask you, how do you “know” you have a relationship with someone? Here’s the thing, accepting a relationship with someone is something very mysterious indeed.
Anyone that has been in a college dormitory knows there is always a lot of relationship drama. One person likes another person and wants a relationship with them. That other person might find that other person annoying and doesn’t want anything to do with them. Or maybe the other person also has been liking that person for a long time too. Or maybe even still, the other person kind of likes the other person, heart opens slowly.
And even if you declare you have a “relationship”, it’s not always as it seems. There are people who are have girlfriends/boyfriends just to show others. There are people who have relationships because it makes them feel better about themselves. There are people who marry one another just for money or lust.
A true relationship with someone is more than something you just force it to be true. Just because the relationship looks good or you decided with power of your mind to be one.
Here the thing about our relationship with God – it’s that our relationship is mysterious. In Ephesians 5:32 – Paul speaks about Church/Christ, Husband/Wives. It’s more than something you can just decide just by saying it. It’s more than something you can decide just because it makes you feel better. It’s more than something you can force to be true with the power of your mind.
The mystery of our loving relationship with God is just that it’s there. God loves us and we either truly, with our hearts love Him or don’t really have a relationship with him. The sincerity of this will come out at the time of judgment.
That is why I want to ask ourselves, do we live with that kind of sincerity in our lives? Do we live with the sincerity of the end? Because the end will come, it will come an unknown day or hour in the middle of the night.
At that moment, we will meet God and we will want to enter the heavenly banquet. We can only enter that banquet with the bridegroom Jesus. Are we prepared with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, with Grace, Truth, and Love in our lives? Have we lived sincerely with a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ? I pray that this is a true relationship that we have that we can take to heaven.