Given for the Saints of Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 4/19/09.
"Again the Kingdom of the Heavens is like a jewel merchant who is in quest of choice pearls. He finds one most costly pearl; he goes away; and though it costs all he has, he buys it" (Matt. 13:45-46, Weymouth).
The Lord has such interesting ways to get my attention for what He wants me to write about. A friend e-mailed a question to several people earlier in the week: "Does anyone have a study on the Ten Virgins of Matthew Chapter 25?" I was really, really busy and had no time to answer him then, but the parable of the Ten Virgins was like a grain of sand rubbing inside an oyster shell. It wouldn't go away. Perhaps the Lord will create a "pearl" out of it.
As all my readers know, a parable is not a literal story, but rather a symbolic way to make a point. For the sake of this writing, please assume that the bridegroom is NOT Christ. The man in Christ's parable turned the foolish virgins away. Christ, on the other hand, said "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw ALL men unto me" (John 12:32). (Obviously, this would include wise, foolish, virgins, and non virgins). Quite a difference exists between the two. So, let's drill down to the real meaning of the story for us today.
The NIV and the KJV use the word "virgins" for the women in this parable. However, the RSV renders it as "maidens," and Phillips, and Weymouth translate the word as "bridesmaids." No matter what term is used, the story is simple, and I hasten to add, has nothing to do with sexual purity. Ten virgins, bridesmaids, or maidens were awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom with their lamps or torches. We are not told why he delayed his coming; perhaps he couldn't get an occupancy permit for the house he had prepared for the bride, or maybe his wedding garments didn't fit him or the food and wine were not up to his standards. Whatever it was, he was very late in coming and all the women fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a loud cry, 'Wake up, here comes the bridegroom! Out you go to meet him!' (Matt. 25:6, Phil.). By that time, half the women had used up all the oil in their lamps. (The study note speculates that the lamps were probably oil soaked rags which required oil be added about every 15 minutes to keep them burning). The wise virgins had taken extra oil in jars, but the foolish virgins did not, so they asked the other five if they could borrow some of their oil.
Had the "wise virgins" been the least bit codependent, the story would have had a different ending, "'But perhaps,' replied the wise, 'there will not be enough for all of us. Go to the shops rather, and buy some for yourselves'" (Matt. 25:9). Most Christians would judge them as selfish. Where would one go at midnight to buy oil since Quick Stop marts and 7-11s were not invented then?
The end of the story has been the topic of many sermons admonishing the flock to be prepared for Christ's return: "But while they had gone off to buy the oil the bridegroom arrived, and those bridesmaids who were ready went in with him for the festivities and the door was shut behind them. Later on the rest of the bridesmaids came and said, 'Oh, please, sir, open the door for us!' But he replied, 'I tell you I don't know you!'" (Matt. 25:10-12). In this story, the foolish virgins, the ones who didn't bring extra oil to sustain their lamps while they waited for the bridegroom, were penalized by being denied entrance to the wedding feast. The bridegroom didn't know them. Maybe it was too dark to see their faces? Perhaps he was offended because they weren't there when he arrived?
There seems no valid reason to exclude them from the festivities because these unfortunate women are not described as morally wicked, sinful, or in anyway lacking except in organizational skills. If that will keep people out of heaven (which some preachers still insist this story is about), then a whole lot of people haven't a chance on earth of making it. Putting it another way, if stupidity and lack of planning were a crime, there wouldn't be enough jails in the world to hold the vast hoards who would be found guilty as charged.
Nevertheless, some insist this parable is a plan to avoid end time disaster, a mandate to be prepared or miss heaven. This interpretation, made by the Fundamentalist denomination I grew up in, is somewhat plausible because "bridegroom" is a metaphor for Christ, and the "bride" is symbolic of the church. Many of us have been terrified that we would not be found ready when Christ returns for His church and therefore, will not be able to participate in the wedding feast of the Lamb. We were admonished to read the Bible, pray, go to church, give of our means, witness, help the poor and needy, visit the sick, and whatever else our elders deemed necessary to attain eternal salvation. There's nothing wrong with any of those good works in and of themselves, but there's a deeper meaning to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, one that has more to do with how we live our lives now, than whether we go to heaven later.
We know nothing about the foolish women other than because they didn't take extra oil, they ran out before the bridegroom came. Oil in scripture is symbolic of the Spirit of God. To me, the foolish ones are symbolic of many "pew sitters" today. They received enough light to bring them to Christ, but due to inadequate teaching from leaders who were more interested in power and control than in the proper feeding of the flock, the person's limited supply of oil (Spirit) was quickly used up, leaving them sitting ducks for disappointment, depression, and drop out. They were trying to get what they needed from men, rather than being taught to go to the limitless source, who is Christ Himself!
The value of our works always depends upon their source. Do they come from the Spirit of God or from our own sense of right and wrong? Do we listen to men, or to the Spirit of the Lord? If anything depends upon our works, such as keeping an adequate supply of oil (spirit) stored up, we'll never get into the wedding feast, because keeping us supplied with oil is a "God job" from start to finish. The old Dears at Medicalodge love it when I get to preaching about the futility of self effort type works because they can no longer do any. I asked them recently if they knew the Bible was not printed in quantity until the 1500s (1455), and it's doubtful many people could read, even if they had a Bible. Were those unfortunates "beyond the pale," forever doomed to stand outside the wedding feast unable to go in and fellowship with the bridegroom? If the letter of the law is what we go by, then the answer is "Yes," but if the Spirit is the one who guides us, then they who lived before Bibles were plentiful could have been as well nourished as we who have many Bibles available.
When I married Lenny, he had numerous Bibles and one huge one which had 26 translations in it, quite a marvel to me; he also had Strong's Bible Concordance, another marvel. He read the Bible often, but now that his macular degeneration is so bad, he cannot see to read anything, no matter how large the print. Does that mean he is starving spiritually? Not at all. He blesses me daily with his insights into God's heart, all of which he gets from the Spirit, not from the book. As I hasten to tell the old Dears, I value the Bible. It is a priceless resource for me. I especially love the Bible Software that enables me to easily and quickly look up verses, check different translations of the same verse, and enjoy the benefit from Strong's Concordance and other Bible References.
I grew up believing that the Bible has the path to heaven written in it. Only by the Spirit's leading is that true, "for the written code inflicts death, but the Spirit gives Life" (II Cor. 3:6, Wey.).
In asking the wise virgins to share their oil, the foolish virgins are like so many Christians, looking to man (or woman) as their resource for oil (Spirit), rather than going to THE source who is Christ. If you have a problem, if you have a need, take it to the Lord; if you have a complaint, explain it to the Lord; if you need to whine because life is not going the way you think it should, whine to the Lord; if you have feelings buried deep for there was no one with skin on to share with, confess them to the Lord! Only He can give you what your spirit yearns for, what your heart really desires, and what your body needs all the time. Friends mean well, as do relatives, but they just are not equipped to fill the hole in our souls, nor to heal our problems. When we look to them to do that for us, we are ALWAYS disappointed. Here's the only answer which works, found in Paul's theology: "Don't worry over anything whatever; whenever you pray tell God every detail of your needs in thankful prayer...My God will supply all that you need from his glorious resources in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6, 19).
Christ Himself is the pearl of great price, the oil who fuels our light. His life was poured out freely for us on the cross. His death opened the gates of Life for us. When He rose from the dead, we did as well! "I have come that they may have Life, and may have it in abundance" (John 10:10, Wey.). The oil of the Spirit is a perfect metaphor for the indwelling Christ, for He gifts us with Life, Light and fellowship with our Father, who invites us to the wedding feast of the Lamb, which never ends.
Father, thank You for the wisdom of Your plan to multiply Christ's life through Your Spirit in Your children. We treasure You, Father, and surrender all we are and have to obtain the Pearl of Great Price and the Oil of Gladness for ourselves that we may share Him with others who are hungry to know You, in the pews and out of the pews. In Christ, we ask it, Amen. Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Surrendering to God is harder than giving a cat a pill
Working for Jesus? Surrendering to God, II
Fighting the Good Fight? Surrendering to God, III
A Covenant With Death? Surrendering to God, IV
The Family Fix, Surrendering to God, V
Your Mortal Body, Surrendering to God, VI
Echoes From Sodom, Surrendering to God, VII
Judgment: His or Ours? Surrendering to God, VIII
Why did Christ have to die? Surrendering to God, IX
Tested by Fiery Trials, Surrendering to God, XI
Sibling Rivalry, Surrendering to God, XII
When Parents and Churches Fail, Surrendering to God, XIII
The Blessed Hope of His Appearing, Surrendering to God, XIV
Does God Need Us? Surrendering to God, XV
Does God Need Our Faith? Surrendering to God, XVI
The Glory Road
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This site was created on 04/07/09
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last updated on 07/29/09.