I love the Christmas season. I love the music. I love the lights. I love the climax of college football. And I especially love presents (both giving and receiving).
And while I know that Christmas has its share of legitimate, substantive challenges for people, one of the hard parts for me is waiting for Christmas Day. It was true for me as a child, and it’s true for me even now. I’m on my 39th Christmas, and I’d say the odds are 3-to-1 that everyone I’ve given gifts to opens them early because I pester them about it.
I don’t feel the same about Groundhog’s Day. I have to look on my calendar every year to figure out when Groundhog’s Day will be. I don’t eagerly anticipate its arrival by playing season-related music for 30 days—I have to be reminded that Groundhog Day exists, and that reminder usually takes place that very day if not a few days after.
Christmas? I wait with eager expectation.
Groundhog Day? I barely even know it exists.
The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 is a lesson on waiting well. The application of the parable is simply this: do we look to Jesus’ second coming the way one might look forward to Christmas, or do we look to it in the way we might Groundhog’s Day?
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 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.’ 10 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. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The rather frightening irony of this parable is that the ten virgins are virtually the same.
- All had been invited to the banquet, which is to say, all had heard the gospel.
- All were excited about the wedding banquet, which is to say, they viewed Jesus’ second coming positively.
- All confessed Jesus as Lord.
- All fell asleep in the delay of Jesus’ return, not unlike Jesus’ disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.
These similarities are unsettling because if I described to you a person who had heard the gospel, responded positively to the gospel, looked forward to Jesus’ return, but didn’t obey Jesus perfectly, you’d say that person was a Christian.
But you could very well be wrong.
There’s a crucial difference between half of these virgins and the other half: PREPARATION.
Which raises a very important question: How can we know that we are prepared before it’s too late?
I think the answer in part is how we respond to crises, as Jesus’ second and final return will indeed be a crises.
William Taylor agrees.
Nothing will more correctly reveal what is in a man than the coming upon him of some crushing and unlooked-for crisis. Let it be temporal ruin by the failure of his calculations or the disappointment of all his hopes; let it be the entrance of the death-angel into his home and the removal from it of his nearest and dearest earthly friend; let it be his own prostration by some serious illness which puts him face to face with his dissolution, and forthwith the extent of his resources is unfolded, and it is at once discovered both by others and by himself whether he is animated by unfailing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, or whether he has been deceiving himself, all the while relying on some other support. A man has only as much religion as he can command in trial.
Let us therefore look back upon the past and analyze our experiences at such testing times as those to which I have referred. We have all had them. We have all heard already, in some form or other, this midnight cry, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh”; for in every such surprise as those which I have described, Jesus was coming to us. How did we meet him then? Did our lamps go out? Or were we able to trim them and keep them burning brightly all through? Oh, if by any such event we discovered our utter resourcelessness, let us betake ourselves now to Christ that he may thoroughly renew us by his Holy Spirit and so prepare us for that last and solemnest crisis when over the graves of the slumbering dead the archangel shall cry out, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh,” and all shall arise to stand before his great white throne.
May God lead you and I to view Jesus’ coming like we do Christmas. May we prepare and enjoy the wait until that day comes.
Otherwise, we may not really be looking forward to it at all.
There will never be enough money for the school your child attends.
There will never be enough quality healthcare for all Americans.
There will never be enough resources to help the poor.
There will never be enough presents under the tree to satisfy every member of your family at Christmas.
There will never be enough time to handle everything you are responsible for.
There will never be a person in your life who doesn’t disappoint you.
There will never be a clean enough house to satisfy you.
There will never be enough sex to give you all the pleasure you desire.
There will never be enough hugs and kisses from your children to warm your heart fully.
There will never be enough exercise programs and diets to give you the body you think you need to have.
There will never be enough converts as a result of your ministry.
There will never be enough time alone with God to make you feel like you’re truly spiritual.
There will never be enough of anything until the One who is more than enough returns.
And when that happens, you will either have more than enough, or nothing at all.
- Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:13
- For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Matthew 25:29
- Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:5-6
- Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. Revelation 22:12
Roughly a year into my marriage, my wife and I decided the Lord was leading us to move from Dallas, TX to sunny south Florida. Our belongings were relatively meager, as was our income, but the church we were headed to serve in generously provided enough money for us to move without any significant personal expense.
With their gift, we packed all of our belongings ourselves, but hired three men at an hourly rate to pack a Penske truck I rented. Once they packed up the truck, I hitched up my car to the back of the truck, and began a 2-day journey all alone. My wife stayed behind a few days with her dad to close up the house and do all the other little things you have to do when moving.
The Penske truck was nice. Brand new, actually. Comfortable. Pretty quiet. But new and nice does not always guarantee a smooth trip. In the middle of Nowhere, South Georgia, I instantly lost the ability to steer the truck while driving 65 miles an hour. The heat also went out. Fortunately, I really was in the middle of nowhere, and no one was around when I rather wildly stopped the truck on the site of the rural highway.
I was also fortunate to have a mobile phone. This was 2001. Mobile phones were not common yet, and I had no business having one when you considered my finances, but I had one nonetheless, and was able to call Penske and get a service technician out to take a look at the van.
The problem was simple: the one belt … which he called a “serpentine” belt … that ran virtually every system in the truck had broken. And because the truck was new, no one had any replacement belts. To make matters worse, belts from older trucks would not work, even if he attempted to bypass non-essential systems, like the heater or air conditioner.
So, I hopped in to the cab of the tow truck while he loaded it (and my car attached to it), and we headed to a small town whose name I cannot remember. Once we arrived around dinner time, the nice guy at the service place informed me he had already ordered the belt and it would arrive in two days.
So, for two days I hung out at a Motel 6 eating my meals at the Wendy’s across the street and watching television.
I’ve never been so grateful for a serpentine engine belt in all my life.
Just as the engine of that truck had many parts, so a church has people with many gifts. Together, the proper function of those gifts leads to the proper function of the church.
But also like that truck engine, the gifts of the people in the church are completely dependent upon one thing … one Person, really … in order for their gifts to function properly; namely, the Holy Spirit.
As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
Everything good and right that happens in the church … that gives the church the power and ability to do what it does … happens because of the Holy Spirit.
Not the pastor or staff.
Not the biggest financial contributor.
Not money, power. or position.
Every church is completely dependent upon the Holy Spirit.
What is your church depending on?
Think of a county fair crowded with carnival rides and slideshows, children clutching allowance money, farm animals on exhibit and horse races, men and women from every station of life. The place is charged with life, human and animal, good and bad, greedy and generous, indolent and determined.
Similarly, nothing in our Bibles is one-dimensional, systematized, or theologized. Everything in the text is intimately and organically linked to lived reality. We can no more diagram and chart the Bible into neatly labeled subjects or developments than we can the constantly changing and growing county fair.
Like the county fair, the Bible can only be entered.
Adapted from Eugene Peterson’s “Eat This Book,” p. 65.
Soon after the birth of our second child, my wife and I began looking for a new home. Which was funny, because only two years earlier we bought a basically new home.
The irony continued in that the next “new home” we bought was at least 30 years old and needed tens of thousands of dollars of work.
Other than that, it was perfect.
We hired contractors to put in new floors and a fresh coat of paint, but many small jobs fell to me. So on many Friday and Saturday mornings, I took my two year-old son to the local big box hardware store to pick up some supplies needed for various projects. Amazingly, we nearly always detoured through Krispy Kreme to grab coffee and a donut.
Or was it 6 donuts?
That’s the problem with donuts: they are sweet to the taste, but they sour the stomach.
They usually taste amazing going down, but the body has a terrible time dealing with them.
it’s because of that and similar experiences that I initially had a difficult time understanding this passage from Revelation 10.
8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.
Was John saying that the Word of God was … well … like a donut?
Was he saying that God’s Word wasn’t good for us but that it tasted like it should be?
No, and Eugene Peterson explains.
For most of us, our first experience with the Bible is sweet; we find ourselves in this book, and that is so wonderful. We acquire a taste for the promises and blessings of God, we learn to appreciate the sound counsel and direction for our lives, we memorize a few psalms that we can recite in dark and lonely times and find comfort. There is so much here to delight us.
But sooner or later we find that not everything is to our liking in this book. It starts out sweet to our taste; and then we find that it doesn’t sit well with us at all; it becomes bitter in our stomachs. Finding ourselves in this book is most pleasant, flattering even; and then we find that the book is not written to flatter us, but to involve us in a reality, God’s reality, that doesn’t cater to our fantasies of ourselves.
There are hard things in this book, hard things to hear, hard things to obey. There are words in this book that are difficult to digest.
John got a severe case of indigestion.
Have you ever read the Bible and initially thought it “sweet” but later found it disagreeable with your “constitution”? If not, and you continue to read it, then you will. You WILL have those moments where the Bible confounds you, confuses you and seemingly speaks against everything you thought to be true about God. You’ll try your level-best to make what you read fit into your preconceived notions about God, and you’ll even find others who agree with you, but that won’t make your tummy feel any better.
That’s because there are times when the Bible is sweet to the taste, but sour to the stomach.
It seems like every day I’ve visited a news website over the last week or so, I’ve seen a headline warning about the violence that will certainly follow the decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. Certain, that is, if the jury chooses not to indict the officer. Here are the headlines I’ve seen today.
- FBI: FERGUSON DECISION ‘WILL LIKELY’ LEAD TO VIOLENCE…
- STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED…
- University issues students tips on demonstrating…
- ‘If You Do Not Have A Gun, Get One Soon’…
I don’t pretend to know the slightest thing about this case, nor do I pretend to know what it means to experience injustice (minor or major) because of my ethnicity. But the principles at work in this potential scenario of violence transcend race.
Violence does not have to follow a grand jury’s decision to not indict the officer.
The community of Ferguson can choose to believe that the gospel instead.
And if they do, they won’t seek justice in an unjust manner, thus showing their hearts to be equally corrupt.
Let’s assume for a moment that the officer is guilty of a crime, yet is not indicted (which is the expectation of some who are ready to violently protest such a decision). Biblically speaking, in what sense is violence justified? Where did Jesus cry out for revenge and retaliation? Where did Jesus advocate for looting and theft as the proper response to injustice? When did Paul retaliate against the Jewish leaders for the many unjust beatings he received while preaching the gospel?
By seeking justice in an unjust manner, we show ourselves to be equally unjust. If we respond to hate with hate, we are no better those who hated first.
I hope that the people of Ferguson will not turn into the very people they protest.
Seek justice lawfully.
But please, do not seek justice in an unjust manner.
Believe the gospel instead.
Bonhoeffer was right, and he experienced a grave in justice.
“Jesus will not accept the common distinction between righteous indignation and unjustifiable anger. The disciple must be entirely innocent of anger, because anger is an offence against both God and his neighbour.”
“Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in light of what they suffer.”
Jesus was right, and He experienced the worst injustice.
21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. Matthew 5:21-22, NLT.
Ferguson, you can choose to believe the gospel, and I pray that you will.