Watch for the Bridegroom. Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2015.
Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 25:1-13
November 22, 2015
“Watch for the Bridegroom”
The point of the Gospel reading for the last Sunday of the Church year is not a mystery. Our Lord Himself explains it. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). We don’t know the day or the hour of the return of Christ. So we can’t take a vacation from being Christians and put off repentance until our deathbed. We don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return. We must always be ready and watching for Him.
But what does it mean to watch for Jesus? How do we do it? After all, the Lord expects us to work and take care of our families, and those responsibilities take up nearly all our energy. Are we supposed to abandon those responsibilities and spend all our time gazing into the heavens, or gazing into our own souls, making sure that we are watching and in a fit spiritual condition when Jesus returns?
The parable of the ten virgins illustrates what Jesus means when He says “Watch.” He gives an example of what watching for Him looks like in the five wise virgins, and a counterexample of what it means to not watch in the five foolish virgins.
In the days when Jesus told this parable weddings were conducted differently than they are now. The bridegroom would come from another town to the house of his bride where they would have a wedding celebration that lasted several days. The bridesmaids, instead of standing in a line at the altar of the church, would go out into the street to greet the bridegroom and welcome him into the house of his bride. Because the bridegroom was coming from a distance it was impossible to know exactly when he would be coming. So they had to watch for him with lamps burning to guide him to the house of the bride.
Jesus is the bridegroom. When the Church watches for Him, she isn’t waiting for her disciplinarian, judge, or executioner. The Church watches for her beloved Savior, the One who loved [her] and gave Himself for [her.] (Galatians 2:20) We wait for the one who loved us and gave Himself up for us and who Paul says is the model for husbands in loving their own wives: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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 (Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus is the bridegroom who loves His Church. He has such passion for her that He died for her and cleansed all her sins with His blood. He hung on the cross in shame, bearing our sins, so that He might rejoice with us forever at the heavenly wedding.
So to watch for Jesus is not to sit up keeping watch for an angry master who is waiting to find fault with you when he comes home. It is to watch for our bridegroom who comes to take us as His bride. It is to believe the good news that He has redeemed us from our sins with His blood and that He is coming to take us out of this valley of sorrows into everlasting blessedness with Him.
This is what the Church is doing on earth. Yes, we are praying for the world and making disciples of all nations. We are here to serve our neighbors and to carry out what God has called us to do in our callings as father, mother, husband, wife, preacher, hearer of the word, worker, citizen, and so on. But those are temporary occupations. We do them, but all the while we are watching. We are not watching for the day when our efforts change this world into a paradise and bring about the victory of our Lord’s kingdom on earth. We are watching for Jesus to return and take us to Himself, which will be paradise.
But in the visible Church of Christ there are not only those who believe in Christ and are waiting for Him; there are also those gathered with them who appear to be waiting for Christ but in actuality are totally unprepared for Him. They have lamps, but they don’t have any oil with which to light them. They lack the Holy Spirit who gives saving faith in Jesus, even though they associate with believers and even participate in the means of grace by which the Holy Spirit and faith are given. These are the foolish virgins.
There are many people in the visible fellowship of the Church who are hypocrites. By this I don’t mean that they sin or are weak in faith. I mean that they pretend or claim to be believers in Jesus but they are not. They may know about Him and outwardly appear to do the things that believers do, such as listen to the Word, receive the Sacrament, and live a moral life on the outside. But they do not believe in Jesus as their heavenly bridegroom. They don’t trust in the fact that He received all our sin and gave us all His righteousness. Perhaps they live in unrepentant, secret sin that they have no intention of giving up. Perhaps they trust that they are really decent people who go to church at least sometimes and that the Lord will accept this as righteousness. Or perhaps they just don’t think about Christ returning to judge the living and the dead at all.
So what happens? In Jesus’ parable, the Bridegroom is delayed, and all the virgins fall asleep. Even the wise virgins fall asleep. Christians are not saved because of their faithfulness in watching for Jesus to return. Even believers in Christ lose their patience. We become negligent in prayer. Our eager desire for Christ to return grows cold as the world grows darker and He seems so long delayed.
But when the cry comes at midnight, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” the wise virgins have oil for their lamps. They have the Holy Spirit. They have faith in Jesus, the Bridegroom. They believe that He gave Himself up for them in His Passion and has made them spotless and holy. They are ready to meet the Bridegroom when He arrives.
But when that day comes, and Jesus returns, the hypocrites will suddenly realize that they have been fools and are in no way prepared to meet Jesus. Then they will be desperate to find oil for their lamps—to find the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus—but it will be too late. The faith that other people in the Church have will not be able to save you. You must be able to say for yourself “The blood of Jesus cleanses me from all my sin.” But the day when Jesus returns will be too late to acquire that faith. Jesus says to the foolish virgins when they knock on the door saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us”: “I do not know you.” On the last day there will be many who have heard Christ’s word and been among Christians who will want to be included in the wedding feast, but because they did not repent and believe the Gospel when it was preached to them in this life, they will be excluded.
This is what Jesus taught earlier in the Gospel of Matthew: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Elsewhere Jesus says, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
“Watch, therefore” means: be found in true faith in Christ. He is the bridegroom who has paid with His blood for you to stand before Him faultless on the last day. Listen diligently to His Word where He proclaims this to you; receive His body and blood, be absolved of your sins. There He gives you the Holy Spirit, the oil for your lamp. Believe what He proclaims to you in these gifts, and watch for the joyful day of your bridegroom.
Soli Deo Gloria