Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wake Up! Matthew 25:1-13 NKJV

The following sermon was delivered at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City on November 9, 2008. It deals with the "end of the age" and the Second Coming of Christ. It is my hope that it addresses some of the uses and abuses of these themes in our pop religious culture. I invite your thoughts.
Grace and Peace, Tom

Wake Up!

I. A Look At the Second Coming
This morning I carry us into a scriptural conversation that is honestly a little uncomfortable for me. The problem is not what the Bible has to say to us, but how what the Bible says has been twisted and turned to shape the theology and worldview of the many. From almost the moment Christ ascended into heaven people have been wondering when He was coming back, when is the end, and when is the beginning of the Kingdom of God? The questions are sincere and legitimate, but my concern is that as people have claimed the heart of these questions as tools of spiritual misinformation and manipulation. Throughout history we have heard voice of concern, but in the last 100 years these voices have moved from the edges of orthodoxy into the core of American religious culture.

· About the time this sanctuary was dedicated The Scofield Reference Bible was release, the cross referenced verses and an amazing calendar show his perception of the seven epochs of history that end with the return of Jesus. The publication of this study Bible set off a firestorm of sermons and pamphlets on pre-millennialism and the second coming. Sermons on hell fire and future damnation rang out across the land.

. Many hear remember The Late, Great Planet Earth, the title of a best-selling 1970 book co-authored by
Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carlson

· In the 80’s we heard 88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988 by Edgar C
Whisenant

· In more recent days we have all heard about
Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series.

· Even now Amazon.com offers a series of books asking the question, “Are we in the End times?”

How do we deal with the sincere questions without being pulled into confusion of pop religious culture? My best answer is to allow Jesus and the witness of the New Testament to speak to us without the cultural clutter. In Matthew 24 we hear Jesus speaking clearly to the signs of End of the Age. He paints a vivid picture of a time of confusion, conflict, and chaos. But salted throughout his description he pronounces, 36 “No one knows about that day or hour,” and 42 “keep watch, because you do not know what day your Lord will come,” and “so you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect him.” You can almost feel the stares of those gathered around Jesus. Then, as he so often did, he tells a parable from every day life to help them understand.

II. A Parable of Preparedness vs. 1-12
A few moments ago we listened as LaJuanda Speegle read the parable of the 10 bridesmaids to us. In the telling of the parable Jesus lifts a common scene from Jewish life at the time. A wedding was a two stage affair. The first stage was the betrothal. It was much more than our modern version of engagement; it could only be broken by divorce. Our parable emerges from the second stage, the marriage itself.
[1] The wedding ceremony was preceded by a grand procession where the bridegroom gathered the wedding party. The journey from house to house could run late, late into the night. The wedding party waited with anticipation. You had to be a part of the procession to be a true part of the wedding party. In our parable we find that five of the 10 were prepared and had all the supplies they needed to fulfill their part of the commitment to be included. We soon discover that the other five were not prepared. That evening the procession was late and the ten fell asleep. When the cry echoed out that the bridegroom was approaching they all awoke, the first five brighten their lamps and stood ready to join the grand procession. The other five discovered the oil in their lamps were out. They asked the first five to borrow some of theirs, only to be turned away. They scampered to the oil merchants to buy more, and by the time they returned they had missed the parade. They ran to the site of the house for the wedding only to discover that it was already closed. The begged to get in, but it was too late.

When you first look at the parable I find there are a couple of interpretative temptations. The first is to get mad at the first five for not sharing their oil. Weren’t these other five their friends – maybe even their relatives? Why would they be so selfish and not share? You need to understand that there is no excuse for running out of oil. The maidens would have anticipated that the bridegroom would be delayed. It was a normal part of the process. You also need to know that the oil in the lamps only lasted about 15 minutes. You would have to bring oil to replenish your lamp. There is no way it they would last long enough for you to be ready.
[2] The reality for the five wise women was that if they had shared their oil and the bridegroom was further delayed and their lamps ran out, they too would have been excluded from the wedding party.
The second temptation is to get mad at the man at the door. Surely not having enough oil was a forgivable act. Surely he could make a cultural exception for them and let them in. No! If the five had so little regard for this grand event that they did not prepare themselves to be a part, then they should not – could not – come in. Since they missed the bridal procession, they truly are not members of the bridal party and so are unrecognized by the hosts.
[3] There was no place for them in the wedding party. With the parable hanging in the air Jesus delivers the punch line.

III. Ready and Waiting vs. 13/Revelation 3:3
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." Or as it is reported in the interpretative translation The Message, "So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive. Older translations would cry “wake up, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” The first generation of believers lived in hope that Jesus would return in their lifetime. They waited in eager expectation. This parable was one of the tools the early proclaimers used to let the people know to hang on, to be prepared, to live lives of expectation. John offered the persecuted church words from Jesus in Revelation that echoed this same theme. In Revelation 3:3 John reports, Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. The call is not to live lives of fear, hunkering down and trying to survive until Jesus comes home like we witnessed in Montana in the early 90’s. It is to live our lives in a way where we are prepared.

It seems that each generation has claimed both the fear and the hope of the second coming. Generation after generation has groaned that it can not get morally worse than it is. And then that generation passes and another takes its place. Generation after generation has longed for the Kingdom of God and yearned to see the clouds break and Jesus break again into our world. And then that generation passes and another takes its place. Generation after generation listens to voices proclaiming “the end is near”. And then that voice and that generation passes and another takes its place. When is the end of time? When is Jesus coming back? How long must we wait. The testimony of scripture is that regardless of what the religious pop culture may proclaim, we will not know the day nor the hour, which it will come like a thief in the night. Our call is not to know when but to live our lives in a way where we are prepared; lives of faithfulness, lives of spiritual vitality.

This is the heart of what Jesus was saying. It is easy to get caught in the trap of the overuse of allegory with this parable and try to assign each character and each image a meaning beyond the bounds of the parable. If you did, you would be in good historical company. But in this moment, I want us to claim just the picture of the oil and hear that no one can “loan” us their spiritual journey or resources- now one can “loan” us the power or the depths of their relationship with God. We worship and study with others, but we remain individually accountable for our own spiritual vitality. Our place in the parable is the waiting members of the wedding party….ready and waiting. Not running ahead or being captured by the speculation of others, but listening instead for the authentic voice to beckons us to join the grand procession.

IV. Back to the Fields
One of my favorite moments with the disciples occurs just after Jesus had given them the Great Commission and ascended into heaven, and they stand their heaven gazing. Acts 1:9-11 tell us; 9After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." The Ogburn translation would say, “Boys, why are you standing here? I think he gave you something to do!” I have been asked by those who have a passion about the end of time if I am a pre-millennialist or an amillennialist trying to find an easy theological peg to place me on. After my childhood journey with those who used and abused the theology of the end of time and the second coming looking for a quick and easy emotional religious response – I have decided that I am a pan-millennialist – that it will all pan out in the end. I believe that our call is to come down from the mountain top with the disciples and go to work – to be like the wise maidens and be prepared. Rather than to found on a mountain top waiting on Jesus, I want to be found in the field, at the task I have been given, and have to be summoned away.

I bring you good news. The second coming of Jesus is assured. We need not worry about the day nor the hour, but it the promise is secure.
I bring you good news. The end of the story is written. All who claim Christ as Lord will spend eternity in the loving embrace of God.
I bring you good news. You are invited to wake up and live full and vibrant lives of faith that prepare you for your place in the grand procession.
I bring you good news. The fields are white for harvest. Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send more workers into the harvest field – and then go and join them.


[1] Homiletics commentary on the passage dated 11/6/2005.
[2] Witherington, Ben, III, Matthew, Smyth and Hewys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys, 2006, p.460.
[3] Homiletics commentary on passage dated 11/10/1996.

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