Sunday, December 7, 2014

Preparation And Ten [Sleepy] Virgins

Have you read Matthew 25 lately? Jesus is marching on toward the cross. Things are ratcheting up a bit. The parables get more intense. Some are downright disturbing. There is a heightened distinction being made between those who believe and those who do not believe. Between those who are ready and those who are unprepared. Between those who are dutiful and those who are lazy. Between those who are generous and those who are stingy.

We read these words over and over again; The kingdom of heaven is like. What do they mean? What is all this talk about the kingdom of heaven?

The expression Kingdom of Heaven occurs 32 times in the gospel of Matthew and in no other place in the New Testament. The first time the expression occurs is in Matthew 3:2. (Neverthirsty.org)




What does God say about his kingdom? Jesus tells us something about it in Matthew 25;

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

We read this parable and shudder at the thought of not being prepared when Christ returns. Our anxiousness over our lack of preparedness takes over and fear sets in. We begin to look around nervously and we tirelessly fret over things we've left undone. We ask ourselves, "Did I remember to get oil? Did I get enough oil? Did I get the right kind of oil? Will I be able to stay awake? What happens if I doze off when He comes back? Should I even sleep at all?!?"

About this passage, one person wrote;

"My heart quickens when I read that; tears fill my eyes. Will I be ready? Am I ready now? What have I done, and what am I doing now...? I do not want to be like the 5 foolish virgins in Matthew 25 who didn't plan ahead."

They, along with so many of us, forget who God is and what the message of the Bible is. We take this parable (and others) out of context and focus on what we should be doing for God instead of what God has already done for us.

You see, rather than the Bible being an instruction book for how we serve God, it is actually a love letter telling us how God serves us.

The Bible is The Love Story to end all love stories and retells in a thousand different ways the story of how King God so loved the world that he sent is one and only son, Prince Jesus, to rescue his beloved bride and make her a new creation, thereby accomplishing the perfect plan of redemption for the entire human race set forth from the beginning of time. 

Unlike many love stories, this one has a happy ending, whereby all things will be made new and every tear will be wiped away. I think this story is closer to what the kingdom of heaven is like. It's a place where we find our home. Live in it. Walk around in it. Rest in it. Take comfort and refuge in it. It will be the cleft of the rock for you when other stories invade your heart and mind. When fear grips you and anxiousness sets in. When you forget your beloved loves you and you worry you're not doing enough for him.

Remember, he has done everything for you, and it was enough.

The story of the virgins trip us up because we forget The Story. We think it's about what they did or did not do. But God said in the very beginning, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins...five of them were foolish ("For my people are foolish; they know me not" Jer 4:22"), and five were wise ("It is God only who makes men to know this kind of wisdom in the hidden part - Gill on Proverbs 24:7"). He declared their position before they did anything. He declared that it was wisdom and foolishness that drove their actions, not their innate organizational abilities that enabled them to plan properly.

Their position not their preparation allowed the five virgins to enter the marriage feast.

Before any preparations were made, God declared their position - some were wise and some were foolish.

Wikipedia

The truth is all the virgins grew weary in the waiting. They all fell asleep. That's us. We all fall asleep - foolish or wise. It is not our ability to stay awake that prepares us. It is our position in Christ. 

He has declared us worthy to enter the marriage feast. 

He is our bridegroom who comes to get us to carry us in. Oil, no oil, sleepy or wide awake - he gets us in. It is up to him, not us. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like; a rescue for sinners and a place of eternal love for an undeserving people.

Think about it. Regardless of how prepared you think you are, you will always be asking these haunting questions:

Am I prepared enough? How ready is ready enough? What if I'm mostly ready?

Here is the glorious good news.

God readied you when he bloodied his son. 

On his account you are prepared. By his death you enter what God hath prepared.

By his blood you can rest knowing that your efforts to ready yourself will never prepare you enough, but Christ and his efforts for you declare you are already ready.

You are in. There is not one more thing you need to do. God came down. God showed up. It was He who came to that inn over 2000 years ago. It was God who descended into the womb of Mary. It was God who burst forth as a baby and it was God who loved humanity to the point of his death. Can you do that? Can you prepare yourself for what's ahead by doing the things he did? Of course not, but that's not the point. Love is the point. And, not our love for him, but his great love for you that declares, I have prepared you. I saved you. I raised you. You are prepared.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you’ (John 14:27-28).