There is a terror, an absolute terror that befalls us when we wonder if we will be found ready when our Lord returns.
The terror of this moment is laid out for us in a beautiful parable told by our Lord (Matt. 25:1-13), a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins who go out to meet the coming of the bridegroom. We are told that 5 of these maidens are wise and 5 are foolish. The difference between the foolish and the wise is that the foolish took no extra oil for their lamps. So here’s the setting; everyone is awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom, he is making his ceremonial arrival to the wedding feast where all the guest await him. These ten virgins are to meet him on the road and join him as he comes into the feast. They are in essence part of the wedding party escorting him on the final leg of his trek.
So what happens? Well the bridegroom is delayed, it grows late, far later than any of them had expected but still they wait. The later it gets the wearier they get and soon unable to keep their eyes open any longer they fall asleep. All of them, the wise and the foolish they doze off wondering if he will ever show. And then at midnight the cry goes up, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” And jumping to their feet the trim their lamps and prepare to meet him. But it is late and the lamps are going out. The wise though have extra oil, they are prepared, their lamps will remain lit but the foolish – why they are left in the dark. In fact they rush off to buy more at that late hour and they miss the arrival of the bridegroom.
When the foolish return they find the doors to the wedding feast shut and locked and they knock and plead for entrance saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” The answer is shocking and brutal, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” They had a chance and they missed their opportunity. Ready or not here I come and you were not ready!
Now of course this parable is about the return of our Lord, about his second coming and the close of this age. It is about the culmination of all our hopes and prayers. And when we here in the church think about the return of Christ when we think about the end times we tend to wonder if we will be found ready. Will we be counted amongst the wise or the foolish virgins, will we enter into that eternity with joy and thanksgiving or will we hear those awful words, “I do not know you”? And so we fill ourselves with techniques and habits that seek to make sure we are well prepared. Do we say our prayers at night and before every meal? Do we read our Bibles or at least the some sort of devotional? Do we volunteer our time and energy at the church and do good to others? Do we busy ourselves with these things so that we don’t run out of oil? For you see, our bridegroom is late, long overdue, and our eyes are growing weary.
The panic starts to set in as we know that he will come at any moment that the cry will go up and we want to be ready. What if we are caught sinning when he comes, what if we are doubting and forgetful of his mercies? What will happen to us then?
Throughout the pages of Holy Scripture we are reminded that wisdom is found in his Word alone, wisdom cannot be purchased by our deeds or earned in any way by our effort, true wisdom is not to be found in the hearts and actions of men. Rather we are made wise by a Word of God that declares you to be his own dear children, a Word that say you are forgiven and loved and never forsaken. And this is the very Word that has been spoken to you, a Word that has washed you and fed your and clothed you in the wedding garments ready for the arrival of the bridegroom. This Word then is the oil that fills your lamps.
Will you then be ready? Yes you will, but not because you worked harder than others or because you were wise according to worldly standards. You will be ready because the Word of God has taken root in you. You will be ready because the Spirit of God fills your hearts and minds with his love and forgiveness. You will be ready because you receive the gifts of the Almighty God, gifts that give everything necessary for eternal life.
As we await our Lord Jesus Christ we marvel at his undeterred grace. For not only has he removed from us the punishment and guilt of our sinfulness, not only has he claimed us as his own, but even as we await his coming he and he alone fills our lamps with oil. So it is with a newfound boldness, a boldness rooted and grounded in the promises of Christ himself that we continue to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus come!”