By John Miltenberger
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. 4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’ 10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 “Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us! ‘ 12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you! ‘ 13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour. [Matthew 25:1-13; HCSB]
Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 has always fascinated me, and underneath my fascination is always a thin shroud of fear. I don’t mean the spirit of fear that Christians are not supposed to have; I mean a fear of the Lord which we are supposed to have. I see in His parable two groups, and a very clear warning for all of us, and Jesus never warns frivolously.
This parable came to mind the other night while I was praying, and I saw something in it I’ve never seen before. In verses 1-4 we have the background facts given that for the Lord, two different groups were clearly delineated. The folks in the groups did not see the difference. I’m sure that as far as the two groups were concerned, no difference was discernable to either…until verse 6!
Both groups had lamps and both groups had oil, and both groups slept as the Bridegroom was delayed. Outwardly there was no visible difference in either group, but when the call came in verse 6, the difference was immediately evident, and it became critical. I can just imagine the panic that set in with the five foolish virgins, who realized with a shock they did not have enough oil. But this shock was nothing compared to what must have struck them in verse 11!
And so, here is why I always feel a cringe in my spirit when I read this parable….apparently, long before the announcement of the Bridegroom’s arrival, all of the members in both groups made a critical decision to obtain, or not obtain, enough oil. Worse, at the time of their decisions there was no urgency to them, and apparently no reason for any of them to think such a simple decision would ever be so critical. We can perhaps even speculate that the ones who obtained extra oil may have been ridiculed at the time, as being “over reactive” by those who as yet, saw no need. As never before, I believe this is where our current church generations are positioned at this time.
I see the same pattern in the true account of Noah and the great flood. How his neighbors must have had decades of mirth at Noah’s expense! Sadly, I just know Noah saw his vindication as he must have heard these same neighbors banging and pounding for mercy on the outside of his sealed boat, as the waters outside rose. For such a preacher of righteousness as Noah, I doubt he was overjoyed, and possible greatly relieved when the noises slowly faded away into the noise of the rushing waters. My point is this: those neighbors had a window of about one hundred years to make the choice of a lifetime, but they saw no urgency in all that time, until their time for choices was gone forever. And isn’t that indeed where all of us find ourselves with God?
It is of course, more complex than one simple choice, because Matthew 25 describes ten people who “believed”, only for five, their mental ascents, which all ten had made, apparently had not moved to their hearts to be translated into lifestyles of faith, and it cost them all they had. We can say this because only by faith would the wise five people have made the choice to obtain the extra oil at a time when there seemed to be no immediate need for it. Isn’t it possible that within our congregations today, we see both groups attending side by side, unbeknownst to each other?
I am concerned because I know my own propensity to make bad or wrong choices. Just as damning is my propensity to put off making right choices, especially when I see no immediate need to do so.
With all this in mind, I suppose my best advice to myself and anyone else, would be to not only commit our lives entirely to Christ right now, today, but to continue to push into Him for more of His presence, even if He seems delayed in His coming.
Two things we know for sure: He is coming, and we don’t know when – just like the ones in Matthew 25.
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