Five Wise Bridesmaids

English service - March 17, 2024

Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison

Matthew 25:1-13

Five Wise Bridesmaids


         Hello again, everyone taking part in today’s worship time online or in person. It’s good to be with you again, especially after being gone for two or three weeks on a work trip to the U.S. I’m grateful to Pastor Sasaki and everyone who covered for me while I was gone.


         Today we’re continuing the message series “People Jesus Praised.” The men and women we have looked at so far have been those Jesus actually met and honored for various reasons. But there are three more I’d like to explore with you. They all are in a set of three parables Jesus tells in Matthew 25. They are types of people more than any individuals Christ knew personally.


         The first kind is those who are like the five wise bridesmaids. To see what they have to teach us that can guide and enrich our lives today, it’s helpful to see the context of the story. All throughout Matthew 24, Jesus has been telling His disciples what to expect in connection with the end of the world. It is only a short time before He dies on the cross, returns to life, then goes back to heaven. So He is preparing His followers to go through life without Him physically there with them.


          Like all people, they need to know where they are going in the big picture of life and how to be ready for the trials as well as the joys that will come. Like Jesus’ disciples in the Bible, we too need to be ready, whether it is for the end of the world, own physical deaths that will eventually come, or the more day-to-day challenges like getting an education, building healthy friendships, saving for retirement, or other things that can help us prepare for our best life. So this story is not only about eternity but the here and now, as well.


          We could say that Christ is providing His followers with a worldview that will serve them well in making sense of all that happens around them. In a Christian view of history, a key part of a worldview, one way to say it is that there are four key themes: creation, fall, restoration, and redemption. Jesus has already taught His people that they are made and loved by God. They understand that sin has broken the relationships with God and people, the very thing for which people were created. But through the cross and resurrection, He will soon make a way for human beings to come back into a right relationship with our Heavenly Father and with other people. That covers creation, fall, and redemption. But there is the final step of restoration. God is in the process of restoring things to the peaceful, natural, beautiful way they were before sin entered the world. He is making all things new. From the time we meet Him and are saved, we are part of that process. But it goes on for some time. We see the struggle between good and evil continuing daily, but at some point, God will bring it to a conclusion. Christ will come again, judge the world’s people, and take to heaven with Him those He claims as His own. That is His promise. If we accept it, our lives are not random, ultimately meaningless events. They have meaning and purpose. We have a destination toward 2 which we are moving day to day. That is a part of the gospel of Christ, though it often is forgotten or misunderstood, even by Christians. Another word to help us get the big picture before we go into the story itself. Jesus begins (v. 1) with, “Here is what the kingdom of heaven will be like. . . .” There it is again: the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, the central theme of all Christ’s teaching. The overarching purpose of today’s story is to help His followers become people who are ready—ready to live through eternity in a world of peace and goodness with God as our king. That starts here and now in this world as we learn to become people fit for the kingdom of God and help bring it into our lost and dying world. To give this message, Jesus uses the image of a wedding ceremony and party. In those days in Israel, the man to be married would come along with his friends to the house of the bride. The time he would arrive would not be set. He would arrive when he arrived. She would be waiting for him along with her friends, the bridesmaids, who would go out with lamps, or torches, in their hands to light the way. (The word used here, lampas, could mean either one.) The groom and the groomsmen would reach her house, then parade with the bride and bridesmaids to the wedding ceremony and celebration. The groom, or bridegroom, in the story (v. 1) is a symbol for Jesus. This is a word picture of Christ used in various places in the Bible. He contrasts two types of people. First, the “foolish” bridesmaids (v. 2). The text says these five are “morai,” the word from which we get the word moron. Nobody wants to be called a moron, right? But it doesn’t necessarily mean that these people’s brains had slow processing speeds or something like that. Another way this word is often translated is to describe someone who is immoral, or godless. Living by faith in God is not only a good thing—it also is a wise thing. It makes good sense. That’s one of the teachings of the all-knowing God of the Bible. When we choose to live by it, we save ourselves a lot of needless suffering and trouble. Second are the “wise” bridesmaids (vv. 2,4,8, from the word phronimos). Jesus has already given us some idea of what He means when He calls someone “wise.” In Matthew 24:45-46, He has just used the same word in His example of a servant whom his master gives the job of managing food service so that all the servants will get their meals in an orderly way. In Matthew 24:45-46, He’s said: Suppose a master puts one of his servants in charge of the other servants in his house. The servant's job is to give them their food at the right time. The master wants a faithful and wise servant for this. It will be good for the servant if the master finds him doing his job when the master returns. Here being wise is not just thought-processing intelligence but something linked with being faithful. This gives us some hints about what Jesus means when He tells us to be ready. Being awake, on the lookout, prepared, wise means to be doing the things God has given you to do, especially helping the people around you. That means being the person the Lord teaches you to be, continuing to grow into a 3 person who could enjoy being in the presence of God forever in the kingdom of heaven. As the next section of Matthew 24 shows (vv. 48-51), not being ready means living selfishly and shortsightedly, maybe enjoying the moment but not paying attention to the needs of people around you, working to meet them, and treating people with respect. Jesus puts it like this: But if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And in the stories that just follow the one of the 10 bridesmaids, we get more hints of what being wise, or ready, etc. means. In the story of people given various numbers of talents (25:14-30), being ready means having used your gifts actively and productively. There is active waiting involved with this, preparing the very best you can for what will come in the future. Being wise means being ready to enjoy life unreservedly and ready to lead, or rule (vv. 21, 23). Then in the story after that, of God the Shepherd separating people into the sheep and the goats (25:31-46), becoming ready means attending to the needs of the people around you (the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, people who need clothes, people in prison). In the story of the five wise bridesmaids, the key point about them is that they have prepared “oil” (vv. 3,4ff), and the others haven’t. Well, what does “oil” stand for? Reading and listening to different Bible teachers and preachers, you can find them describe this in a huge variety of ways. They are all over the map. Some call it the Holy Spirit, others faith, still others sound knowledge, a saving relationship with God, grace, or something else. Jesus does not explain exactly what He has in mind, but my understanding is that all of these have some Bible-based truth in them. I could not call any of them complete mistakes. To me, probably a saving relationship with God says it well. So that is what we need to make sure above all that we have. But the story tells us a curious thing about even people who are wise. Just like the others, they “fell asleep” (v. 5). The word for this in the original can mean to physically sleep as we usually do each night to rest up. Or it can mean to be lazy or indifferent. But it can also mean to die (a euphemism in this case). For example, it may be like the way it is used in I Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV). “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” Many people in the early Christian church understood this part of the story of the bridesmaids to be talking about physically dying. I’m not so sure about the timing—whether the people meet Christ, the Bridegroom, before or after they have physically died. But whether the world ends before we die or after, we all will die, so we need to be ready. The good news of this story is that there is a way, and our God has made it knowable to us. Anyone who will accept this truth can be saved. 4 It has been about 2,000 years since Jesus told this story, and the world hasn’t ended yet, has it. As Matthew tells it, Jesus seems to be preparing His followers for the possibility that He will not return soon. But eventually He will appear. We are not told what year, month, or day Christ will come to this world again. From time to time someone will claim to have special knowledge of that. We should reject such messages, based on the authority of God’s word in v. 13. “You do not know the day or the hour that the groom will come.” But He at last comes—at “midnight” (v. 6). That word might be better translated “the middle of the night.” It does not have the meaning of precisely 12:00 AM, and no one then was wearing a watch to check the exact time anyway, right? The bridesmaids who aren’t ready are in big trouble. They say to the others (v. 8), “Give us some of your oil.” But there’s no way that is going to work. The point seems to be that each of us needs to have our own personal relationship with God. When the end of this life comes and we face eternity, that will matter more than anything. It actually does now, too, but we will face that reality in a whole new way when Christ returns or we die. As you have heard me say before, God has no grandchildren. He only has children. Just being in a Christian family or having a lot of Christian friends is not enough. Doing many noble works of charity is not enough. Being active in church life and giving a lot of money to the church are not enough. God wants not just actions or your stuff—he wants you. Nothing can replace that personal relationship of love and trust with Him, made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection. When the wise bridesmaids get the request to sell some of their oil to the others, they give a puzzling response (v. 9b). “. . . Go to those who sell oil. Buy some for yourselves.” That doesn’t sound so wise, to me. Does it to you? After all, it’s “midnight” according to v. 9. It clearly is way past the time a store would normally be open. If they try that, probably the next morning will be the earliest they can get back with the oil—not even close to on time. If they go to the home of someone who sells oil, they may possibly be able to wake that person up and buy oil and come back. But that sounds highly unlikely to really work out, doesn’t it. Well, this seems to raise the question of what it means to be wise in the first place, doesn’t it. Jesus says that five of the young ladies were wise, but even they can’t find a way to solve the other five’s problem of not having oil. They aren’t wise because they know everything. Even wise people have a great many things they don’t understand, in fact. So they don’t have any reason to go around with their noses in the air. It seems that the key point of being a wise person is knowing Christ and, through Him, the God of all wisdom. If we do, we know by far the most important thing. If we don’t, no matter how much other knowledge we have, it’s not enough to lead us to life. (Now there’s a viewpoint on learning and education that many students never hear in school.) Next, the story takes a disturbing turn. It says (v. 10b), “Then the door was shut.” It’s a scary thought to imagine being one of the bridesmaids who didn’t prepare, isn’t it. 5 Imagining that brings back a memory for me. Long ago, when my older brother got married, our family was set to meet at his church to take pictures, then go to the wedding ceremony. I was working at a hospital then as a chaplain and studying in a pastoral training program. I had just completed a night shift of work and went home about 8:00 AM to get a few hours of sleep before going to the wedding. Maybe you can guess what happened. I overslept! I recall a tiny sound of a ringing phone that seemed far in the distance. But it continued and continued. At last I woke up and answered it. “What happened to you? We’ve been trying to contact you, but we couldn’t! We had to take the pictures without you! Hurry and come to the wedding. Maybe you can make it on time.” And in the end, that’s what I did. A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to meet my brother and his wife. They reminded me again of that story, laughing, and I felt embarrassed once again. I guess it’s one of those stories that I’ll always have to live with. But for the five foolish bridesmaids, it’s far worse. They call to the groom (v. 11) “Sir! Sir! Open the door for us!” Then they receive the awful reply, “I don't know you” (v. 12). Hearing this part of the story, Jesus’ disciples probably remember something He has taught them earlier. We read it in Matthew, in 7:20-23. You can tell each tree by its fruit. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do what my Father in heaven wants will enter. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord! Lord! Didn't we prophesy in your name? Didn't we drive out demons in your name? Didn't we do many miracles in your name?” Then I will tell them clearly, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who do evil!” At Open Door Chapel, we celebrate the good news that God offers His saving love to all people equally. That is true now. But that won’t always be the case. At some point that only God can decide, the open door will be closed and the opportunity ended. God will not send anyone to hell, but we can send ourselves to hell if we don’t accept the gift of salvation that He has provided for us. My solemn prayer for all those here today, each one connected with us, and all people is that we will all receive the gift of salvation by faith and none of us will have to hear the words of Christ, “I don't know you” (v. 12). Christ’s story can be an encouraging, hope-giving one or a very disturbing one. Knowing the groom well enough to be invited to the wedding and celebration as a bridesmaid is not enough. The whole purpose of being there is to honor the groom and bride. If you don’t do that, the whole occasion loses its meaning. As we have already seen, you can be very close to God and completely familiar with Christian culture but never have entered a personal relationship with Him through faith in His Son Jesus. I remember hearing a student say that she was the 6 organist for her church for a pretty long time before she ever met Christ personally and began walking with Him in faith. Those of us who are brought up in Christian families may have spent countless hours in church buildings, but still not come to God in faith and begun a saving relationship with Him. For those of us in that situation, just as for everyone else, the message is there: “Be ready!” Then Jesus concludes His story (v. 13) with a repeat of this warning: “. . . Keep watch.” Before beginning today’s story (in Matthew 24:42), Jesus has told His people, “So keep watch. You do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Now He comes full circle and gives almost exactly the same words. The wise teacher gives us the message once again so that we will keep it in our minds and understand its importance. There is a story about a meeting between Satan and the other devils. One said, “Satan, how can we get the most people possible to go to hell? Should we tell them that there is no God?” Satan said, “No. They can look at nature itself and tell that it was designed by someone greater than a human. They’ll figure out that there’s a God unless they’re really determined not to.” Another devil said, “Well, maybe we should tell them there is no hell.” “No, that won’t work very well, either,” Satan answered. When someone does something bad to humans, they know deep in their souls that there has to be punishment for evil. They want justice, and many of them will believe that evil will be punished someday, somehow. That’s what hell is all about.” Then he continued, “I’ve got a better idea. Don’t tell them there’s no God or no hell. Tell them there’s no hurry.” That seems to be the message that the five foolish bridesmaids received. Let’s ask God to help us see and take the next steps that we need to take in order to be wise, to be ready to face all that our future holds. God of grace and God of righteous judgment, thank you for your kindness toward us in inviting us to share with you the kind of close fellowship and joy that people have at a wedding celebration. But help us not to mistake your kindness for weakness or your gentleness for a lack of will to punish what is evil. Help us to actively receive your invitation to live in your forgiving, saving love. Through that strong bond with you, make us ready to face the future, in this world and the next, with a solid, unshakable hope. This is the prayer of our hearts. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Reference Henry, M. (1706). Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). complete/matthew/25.html