Think it through ahead of time. The toll booth taught me to plan ahead. When I was in PA there were many bridges. And with the bridges came the toll booths. And one one of the interesting traits about toll booths is that they either let you go through if you have an EZ pass or you need to have coins. But, in our modern age it’s almost as if you never need coins for anything anymore. I certainly thought that was true—at least until I rented a car. I didn’t have my EZ pass. And I didn’t have any coins. So there I was at the toll booth with no way to pay. So I had to just break the law and drive through. Sometimes it pays to think it through ahead of time. It’s true in our every day life. But it’s also true in the context that Jesus is speaking about in God’s word this morning. In Matthew 25, we read: “1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; 4 but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5” (Matthew 25:1–4 CSB17)
In these words Jesus introduces us to ten virgins. And these ten women are waiting for the bridegroom to appear so they can go into the wedding banquet. Fiver were stupid.1 And five were thoughtful.2 And already in these words we see a huge hint as to how thoughtful they were. Each of the five thoughtful virgins brought extra oil. And in the words that follow we see them show their thoughtfulness: “5 When 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 the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’” (Matthew 25:5–9 CSB17)
The bridegroom delays in coming. This should not surprise us. Even today, one of the occasions which is most difficult to keep on time is the beginning of a wedding. The bridegroom delays in coming. And all of them become tired and fall asleep. And all of them then run out of oil in their lamps. The stupid women ask the thoughtful ones if they can share their extra oil. And here is where it gets interesting. The thoughtful women say, “no!” They say “no” because they are afraid that if they share with others they will not have enough fuel for themselves.3 This might sound somewhat strange and even rude to us. After all, we are taught to share and help those in need. But remember, these are the thoughtful women who say these words. They have thought it through ahead of time. The bridegroom could come at any time and they needed to be ready. How then do the words end? “10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and 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 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’ 13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:10–13 CSB17)
The story concludes. The stupid women go away and come back with their oil and lamps. But the door is shut. And the bridegroom says, “no.” This too seems harsh. But remember that we have far more access to light today than in those days. If you were going to be in the procession that ushers the bridegroom in, you needed to be there at the right place at the right time. You needed to be ready. The people who show up later, after the doors are shut, are the party crashers. And so Jesus concludes with these words: “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 CSB17)
So what’s the point of the parable? Is Jesus’ point that we should all go out and invest heavily in commodities—especially olive oil? No, he’s speaking about Judgment Day, isn’t he? Jesus is admonishing and encouraging us to be thoughtful because he could come at any time to judge the living and the dead. The problem though is that there are many temptations to not be thoughtful. There are many temptations to conclude that there are second chances when Judgment Day comes. Sadly, we find even Christian churches teaching this. Some teach that when you die, if you haven’t been good enough, you can get a second chance where your sins are slowly burned away over many years. Others believe that Jesus will not come openly and publicly, but instead, secretly. They say that he will secretly snatch his own and take them up to heaven. But the rest who are left behind will have a second chance to become Christians. The problem though is that passages like this and throughout the bible consistently say that there will be one Judgment Day. And they also say that we do not know when that day will be.
We probably know enough about the bible to steer clear of those misleading teachings. But sadly, we can end up in the same place just by living in the world we live in. You can live as if there are second chances by living for yourself in this world. What is it that brings you joy? Is it sitting down in front of the Vikings gave with that helmet with horns coming out of each side of it with a beer in one hand and a sandwich in another? Is it the perfect shot for the perfect deer on the perfect day? Is it in the summer time in the boat or on the beach? In each of these there is the temptation to forget and behave foolishly. For in each of these examples we can conclude that this is the good life here and have the worldly pleasures slowly drive out our spiritual pursuits. Time on the beach pushes out time in the bible. Time in the woods pushes out time in worship. We can say that we don’t believe in second chances after Judgment Day. But we can show sometimes in our actions that our words and actions aren’t lining up together.
And the same can be true when we live for others instead of living for ourselves. I’ve bumped into many parents over the years who wanted to spend quality time with their children. And so, for their children they sacrificed such mass amounts of time and money so that their child would be good at sports or music. And then, when Sundays came along, for years at a time, they were away from worship.
Now, here is usually where, when I’ve preached on these words in the past it is easy to fall into the ditch on either side of the road. One extreme is to find no pleasure in this life either for yourself or others. The other extreme is to only be absorbed in earthly pursuits, never looking to heaven and what is there. The thoughtful course is what we see here with the five thoughtful virgins. How many women fell asleep and even ran out of oil in their lamps? All of them did. There are going to be those times in our lives when our focus is on ourselves or on others. But then the focus has to keep coming back to this simple, thoughtful fact: We do not know the day or hour. The five virgins were thoughtful. And we know this because even though they fell asleep, they also thought ahead and brought oil with them.
So be thoughtful. Be thoughtful because you do not know the day or hour. And there are no second chances on Judgment Day. But also be thoughtful for another reason. The thoughtful life is the good life. There will be those times when you can enjoy a moment and say to yourself, “this is the good life”—and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when that’s the only thought. We bought our house a year ago. And it has this thing called a “gas fireplace.” Somewhere, somebody came up with the idea of having a fireplace that you don’t have to chop wood to make a fire. And I remember a year ago, about this time, firing up that Heat-n-glo staring at those flames in a comfy couch thinking, “this is the good life.” But my dear friends, whatever good times you have here should only be reminders of heaven to come. A warm fire place is a reminder of the place where there is no scorching sun by day nor cold by night. And if we settle on a fireplace in the winter instead of continually focusing on our life in heaven, it’s like sitting in the nose-bleeds when instead, you could be sitting on the grass on the fifty yard line. And only when we are able to appreciate this fact are we able to put our lives in this world in their proper place and perspective.
So be thoughtful. Live your life everyday knowing that at any time Jesus could come and judge the living and the dead. Be thoughtful because there are no second chances on Judgment Day. And be thoughtful because the thoughtful life is the good life. Amen.
1 “ⲙⲱⲣⲁⲓ” (Matthew 25:3 GNT-WAS)
2 “ⲫⲣⲟⲛⲓⲙⲟⲓ” (Matthew 25:2 GNT-WAS)
3 “ⲙⲏⲡⲟⲧⲉⲟⲩⲕⲁⲣⲕⲉⲥⲏⲏⲙⲉⲓⲛ” (Matthew 25:9 GNT-ALEX)