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KEEP WATCH FOR THE COMING OF THE BRIDEGROOM

Matthew 25:1-25:13
Key Verse: 25:13

In chapter 24 Jesus told his disciples about the signs of the end of the age, his coming again on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory, and how his people should live in the Noah-like end days before he returns. In chapter 25 Jesus tells further about his coming again, as the bridegroom, as the master and as the King. In this way Jesus stresses that he will surely come. Today, we will think about his coming as the bridegroom. People are usually delighted in hearing of the bridegroom. What story is more joyful than one of a bridegroom and his virgin bride? But in today’s passage there are both foolish and wise virgins. Let’s think about how to prepare for the coming of the bridegroom.

First, Jesus, the bridegroom (1). Look at verse 1. “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” As we studied in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes every effort to describe the kingdom of heaven in many ways. The kingdom of heaven is the main teaching of the Bible. The kingdom of heaven is our ultimate destination in life. When Jesus comes again, the kingdom of heaven will be the reality before the human eyes. The Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will have been accomplished. When Jesus told his disciples about his coming again, the kingdom of heaven must have occupied his mind.

Look at verse 1 again. “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” The virgin going out to meet the bridegroom will be the happiest moment of her life. The kingdom of heaven is likened to the encounter of the bridegroom and his virgin brides. How beautiful and lovely the kingdom of heaven is! According to Jesus in the kingdom of heaven we will have the highest joy that comes from such a love relationship.

The Old Testament portrayed Yahweh (LORD) as the “husband” of his people Israel (Isa 54:4-6; 62:4-5; Hose 2:19). With this background Jesus is depicted as a bridegroom in the New Testament. Jesus said in Matthew 9:15, “…How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?…” Here Jesus compared his disciples to the guests of the bridegroom. Even the guests of the bridegroom are full of joy when they are with the bridegroom. Now when Jesus told his disciples at this time the story of the virgins going out to meet the bridegroom, it is likely that the disciples were promoted from the guests of the bridegroom to the virgin brides to the bridegroom himself. Indeed his people are his bride to him. Jesus is the gentlest bridegroom. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, 29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 was fulfilled, “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Mt 21:4,5). He is the merciful bridegroom. After healing a paralytic and called a tax-collector Matthew as his disciple, the Pharisees criticized him for associating with such people. Then he said, “Go and learn what it means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Mt 9:13). He is also the most truthful bridegroom. He healed a man with a shriveled hand, a seemingly useless person, risking his life. He did so not only because Jesus had mercy on him, but also because that was the truth, the right thing to do before God. God’s truth is saving life and leads justice to victory in a person’s life (Mt 12:20). He is the most loving bridegroom and his love is the example of all the husbands in the world. So Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” He is such a wonderful bridegroom, the best. He makes his bride holy, clean, blameless, radiant and truly beautiful in his sacrificial love. In Song of Songs, the beloved (likened to the bride) said, “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand…he is altogether lovely” (5:10, 16). The book of Hosea describes God’s faithful love for his people who turned to other gods. God let Hosea to marry an adulterous wife so that he might know God’s heart for his people who went far away from him. After bringing back his unfaithful wife paying the price, he told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you” (Hosea 3:3). But we are to live with the bridegroom, not just many days and many years, and forever. Last week there was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in Buckingham Palace. But we are to live with our incomparable bridegroom for ever and ever. Thank God for this immeasurable blessing for his people.

Second, foolish virgins and wise virgins (2-12). Look at verse 2. “Five of them were foolish and five were wise.” We feel sorry to hear this. Virgins are understood to be pure and faithful women. “But it says that there are foolish virgins as well as wise virgins. The contrasting words “foolish” and “wise” are often used in the bible. Proverbs 21:20 says, “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” Jesus once talked about foolish builders and wise builders. A foolish builder is the one who builds his house on sand; a wise builder on the rock. Those who hear Jesus’ words and do not put them into practice are like foolish builders of a house; those who hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice are wise builders. Who are foolish virgins and who are wise virgins? Look at verses 3 and 4. “The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.” The foolish ones did not prepare oil, but the wise ones prepared. Then what does preparing oil mean? Oil keeps the lamp burning. In the Old Testament priests were to keep the lamp burning before the LORD from evening till morning (Ex 27:21). In the Christian life, this could mean to always be awake in the Spirit. We can be alert and stay awake through faithful Bible study and prayer in the Holy Spirit. Particularly, when we think about the relationship between the bridegroom and his virgin brides, it could mean to keep the loving heart pure and alive. Love between the two should not grow cold and die down. Even in sleeping love should be there. Can you imagine the situation that a husband and a wife live together just physically and legally without love? How about a wife sleeping and snoring with no mindfulness of what time her husband was coming after hard day’s work? Unceasing love exist in the relationship between a bridegroom and his bride. The bridegroom, Jesus, is invisible. He is not present in the body. Because he is with us in the Spirit our love relationship with him is invisible and it is easy to ignore. We need to learn personally how to keep our lamp burning with oil always prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.

Then what happened to those who prepared the oil and to those who did not? Look at verse 5. “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” It was the Jewish custom that the bridegroom and his friends were to come to the house of the bride for the celebration at night. Because of poor transportation the bridegroom’s coming was often late. So while waiting, the bride could become drowsy and fall asleep due to physical exertion, which is understandable. Then what happened next? In verse 6, “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’” The long-awaited time had finally come. At the news of the coming of the bridegroom all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. But at this point something unanticipated occurred. Look at verse 8. “The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’” What a frightening moment to the foolish virgins! Their lamps were going out and they didn’t prepare extra oil. So they asked their fellow virgins to give them some of their extra oil. How did they respond? “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” The foolish ones may have thought, “Why did they not share the oil? Wouldn’t it be nice?” But the wise ones’ reply implies that oil is not something to be shared. One’s faith in Jesus and love for him is personal and cannot be distributed to others.

The foolish virgins became desperate and went out to buy the oil. Then what took place? Look at verse 10. “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.” How on earth could such a thing happen? The ready virgins went in and the door was shut. Later the others also came, “Sir!” they said, “Open the door for us!” They could not believe their eyes. So they pleaded, “Open the door for us”, knocking and pounding the door. Then finally a voice said: “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” What shocking words! Upon hearing them, the virgins’ hearts must have sunk. “I don’t know you” meant that they did not know Jesus personally. Things turned out this way not because they did not prepare accidentally or unfortunately the door was shut to them mistakenly, but because they did not know him personally. They did not have a personal faith in Jesus. They did not have a love relationship with Jesus. What matters in the end is whether we know him personally. At usual times there seems to be no difference between foolish virgins and wise virgins. But there will be a time when their foolishness and wisdom will be exposed.

Third, therefore, keep watch (13). Look at verse 13. “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Jesus concluded the story with these words, “Keep watch.” How can we keep watch? What does Jesus expect from his people? We must keep watch to see whether our love relationship with Jesus is true, being kept pure and alive. In any love relationship, purity and faithfulness, that is an undivided heart, is most important. We must keep watch for this. Many things in life can make our hearts impure and unfaithful and divided. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Can you imagine a beautiful woman giving her heart to any man, without guarding it? Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” Especially we should guard our loving hearts for Jesus. We can do so by keeping our eyes and thoughts on Jesus (Heb 12:2; 3:1). There can be things that steal our hearts for Jesus or break the love relationship. We must watch out for them. In Song of Songs there is a beautiful love relationship between the lover (likened to bridegroom) and the beloved. The lover says in 2:15, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Foxes are secret love-destroyers.

We must remember how our bridegroom Jesus loved us and how he poured out his grace upon us. Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” The grace of Jesus grew evermore in Paul’s life and so did his love for Jesus (Phil 2:17). When the time for Jesus to be crucified was approaching, a woman came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume and she poured out the perfume on Jesus’ head (Mt 26:7). People around her criticized her thinking that was a sheer waste. But Jesus was very encouraged by what she did and said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” In truth what she did was her act of love to Jesus because of his grace that came into her life. Our bridegroom values our love relationship and considers it most precious.

As we know, the gospel story of Jesus ends with Jesus’ words to Simon Peter, “Do you truly love me more than these?...Feed my lamb, take care of my sheep…Feed my sheep.” Jesus wants us to love him purely and wholly and express our love for him by feeding his sheep.

We thank God for our wonderful bridegroom Jesus. He is coming. May we prepare for his coming like the wise virgins who prepared oil and kept watch. May we keep our love relationship with him pure and alive, and feed God’s flock of sheep out of love for him.

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