At the end of Jesus’ ministry, His parables turn dark. His death is approaching and there is a clear division between those who are disciples and those who are not, between those who are wise and those who are not, between those who are plotting His death and those who are not. Whereas earlier parables have proclaimed the gracious favor of God, these parables proclaim God’s judgment. They are the last effort of Jesus to call people to repentance and to prepare them for the coming of God’s Kingdom.
In the parable of the bridesmaids, the central function of the parable is that disciples be prepared for Christ’s return. As Jesus says, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13). Jesus speaks these words to His disciples, encouraging them to be prepared, to await His second coming.
As a preacher, the challenge with this parable is how to encourage God’s people to wait for Christ with joy, rather than with fear.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to fear in the parable. The bridegroom comes unexpectedly, after all the bridesmaids have fallen asleep. The foolish ones find themselves without oil. They find their fellow bridesmaids will not share. They also find that even buying oil from the dealer is not sufficient. When they come to the door, they say, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But the bridegroom says, “I do not know you” (25:12). Such a stark elimination from the Kingdom is terrifying.
If the sermon becomes preoccupied with the foolish bridesmaids, God’s people are left to fearfully wonder whether or not they have enough oil.
Instead of looking at the bridesmaids, however, the preacher can help God’s people look at the bridegroom. Seeing the Bridegroom, we long for Him and, by grace, He prepares us for His coming.
One way to call attention to the parable’s bridegroom is to contrast how Matthew opens and closes his gospel with visions of Jesus. At the beginning and at the end of Matthew’s gospel, we have a call for people to prepare to meet Jesus. But if you look at these two sections, you will see a great contrast between the figures of Jesus we prepare to meet.
Seeing the Bridegroom, we long for Him and, by grace, He prepares us for His coming.
At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptizer is in the wilderness preparing people for Jesus. Consider how John depicts Jesus. This Jesus comes with an axe in His hand. He will take trees that are not bearing good fruit, cut them down, and throw them into the fire (3:10). This Jesus comes with a winnowing fork in His hand. He will clear the threshing floor, gather the wheat into the barn, and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (3:12).
The Jesus which John foresees is a frightening figure. He is a figure of wrath, cutting down trees and burning chaff. John confronts his people with the frightening judgment of God in Jesus.
However, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus does something different. Like John, Jesus prepares people for His coming, but He uses a different image. Jesus does not depict Himself carrying an axe. He is not cutting down trees or carrying a winnowing fork. He is not burning chaff with unquenchable fire.
Instead, Jesus portrays Himself as a bridegroom. He is coming with unquenchable love. The Bridegroom has been delayed, but He has not forgotten His bride. The Bridegroom has been slow in coming, but His love has not declined. The Bridegroom has a steadfast love, and He will come with joy to gather His people into an eternal celebration in His Kingdom.
Hearing the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, we might be tempted to figure out which bridesmaid we are. To do that, we look at our jars of oil. Do we have enough? Have we done enough, loved enough, cared enough, been faithful enough? The more we focus on our oil, the less certain we are that the oil is sufficient and the more we fear we are a foolish bridesmaid.
Instead, Jesus turns our attention to Himself. Rather than ask what bridesmaid we are, Jesus invites us to see what a bridegroom He is. He is the Bridegroom whose love will never grow weary, whose promise will always hold true. He loves us and is coming to meet us. The more we look at the Bridegroom, the more God assures us that His love is eternal and something to build our lives on.
In the days to come, the disciples will discover the sufficiency of Jesus’ love. Jesus is about to be betrayed by religious leaders and abandoned by His disciples. He is about to suffer crucifixion. He will bear upon His body divine punishment for all sin, for all time. Yet, rising from the dead, He will reveal the power of God’s love. God’s love endures. His grace is eternal. And Jesus will return to welcome you into His Kingdom which has no end.
As the days turn dark and as discipleship makes you feel weary, lift your eyes to see Jesus. Jesus loves you with a steadfast love. He has grace sufficient for the day. His love will triumph. Meditating on the love of Jesus, you maintain a relationship with Him and He promises to return and gather you to Himself, welcoming you into His Kingdom that has no end.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 25:1-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 25:1-13.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast-Prof. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 25:1-13.