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The Parable of the Ten Maidens

Parable of the Ten Maidens

Today is the second Sunday of Lent. Our second look this season at some of what happened the final week of Jesus’ life and ministry before His crucifixion.

Our first look last week centered on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday. Remember the highlights of that day? 

People lined the route Jesus took down the Mount of Olives, into and through a narrow valley, then back up to one of the gates of Jerusalem.

Most of the people laid down articles of clothing and/or palm branches. Most of the people shouted prayers and praises to Jesus.

However, a few, who were Jewish religious leaders, were unhappy with praises being given to Jesus and the level of noise produced. They demanded Jesus silence the crowd, which He refused to do.

Right before He entered Jerusalem, Jesus wept, expressing sorrow that people He had come to save had not and would not, at least in the short term, accept the peace He had come to offer.

Right after He entered Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple, where He very violently cleansed it from those who mistreated people. Those who interfered with the purpose of the Temple, which was to be a house of prayer.

That further angered the religious leaders, but then, in a return to peaceful love, Jesus healed blind and lame people and He accepted the praises of children.

Beginning the day after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, He continued to do what He had done before, which is teach. It is one of those teachings we will consider for most of today’s message. It is the teaching known as the Parable of the Ten Maidens in Matthew 25:1-13.

First the parable, with a few comments sprinkled in.

“The kingdom of Heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet a bridegroom.” 

That relates to two traditions at the time of Jesus.

One was the tradition for the groom and his attendants to go to the house of his bride and her attendants the evening before the wedding. The groom would get his bride and accompany her back to his house in preparation of the wedding feast.

The other was that when the groom approached his house, his way was lit with lamps, usually held by maidens. Their reward was being invited to take part in the upcoming festivities.

“Five of the ten maidens were foolish and five were wise.”

What made the foolish ones foolish was they took with them no extra lamp oil. What made the wise ones wise was they had flasks of oil with them.

In actuality, all ten maidens would have been fine had the groom arrived at a decent hour. However, he was, for whatever reason or for no reason at all, “delayed.” In fact, he was so late in coming that all the maidens “slumbered and slept.”

However, “at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom? Come out to meet him.’”

Immediately, all the maidens “rose and trimmed their lamps.” The lamps had been kept burning, but they had grown dim. The wicks needed to be trimmed. It was then they all realized the oil in the lamps had been almost depleted. The lamps needed more oil.

Remember the foolish had brought no extra oil. Seeing their need, “the foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’”

The wise replied, “Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you. Instead, go to the dealers of the village and buy oil for yourselves.”

That was the only alternative, but it was not a good one because it was midnight, which means all the shops were closed.

It seems the five foolish maidens were able to wake up a shop keeper or two and get some oil. Unfortunately, that took a lot of time. Before they could return, the bridegroom arrived. “Those who were ready went in” with the groom. They went in “to the marriage feast.” Then “the door was shut.” It was shut when the other maidens returned.

Those other maidens knocked on the door. They cried out, “Lord, lord, open to us.” What a sad sound that was, especially when the groom answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

*       *       *       *       *

For some, what is taught in the parable as something that would one day happen is good news. For others it is tragic news. What determines the difference is what is done between now and when the groom comes. Spiritually, between now and when Jesus returns.

In the parable, the groom represents Jesus, who was and is in love with His bride, which is the church. The maidens are those who profess religion. Members of the church.

Do we sense how excited the maidens were when they first arrived to wait for the groom? I picture them happy, joyous, light-hearted, bubbly. That is how we are to be awaiting the coming of Jesus. That is what we are to be like as we prepare to light His way in our world.

However, there was a difference between the two types of maidens. There is a difference between two types of those waiting for Jesus to come.

One type is ready to keep the excitement alive. That is done by doing what needs to be done to stay excited. I am thinking of things like reading the Bible and praying and enjoying fellowship and worship. As Jesus worded it, adding treasures in Heaven.

The other type does nothing to keep their enthusiasm going, which includes not reading the Bible and not praying and not fellowshiping and not worshiping.

As the parable teaches, Jesus continues to delay His return.

Interestingly, even the disciples expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes. That did not happen.

Throughout history people have expected the return of Jesus in their lifetimes. Some have gone so far as to predict specific days, sometimes specific moments, when He would return. It still has not happened.

Why Jesus continues to delay, I do not know, though I suspect it might have something to do with giving people more and more opportunities to accept Him.

However, the danger in the delay is what happened with the maidens. They all slumbered and slept. They got tired of waiting and let down their guard.

I find it interesting that all ten maidens did not stay awake. I think there is significance between slumbering, which seems to indicate a light dozing, and sleeping, which is heavier sleep, but still, it seems there is a warning in this part of the parable. The warning that we all might struggle in our waiting for the Lord’s return. Those who slumber should not be excessive in criticizing those who sleep. This part of the parable suggests none of us is perfect.

But one day - midnight in the parable and for us a time none of us knows as Jesus Himself said the time of His return would not and will not be known - there will be a cry, “Behold, the bridegroom! Behold, Jesus! Come out to meet Him!”

That is when all will wake up. that is when even those have been His followers will make a very quick assessment.

Some will discover they are not prepared. Though they will realize they should have been prepared, they will not be. 

Those foolish ones will go to those who are prepared and beg to get what the wise ones have. But listen. The wise ones will be unable to help the foolish ones.

Why? Because the grace anyone has is sufficient for that person alone, meaning no one can rely on someone else’s faith. Each person must himself or herself make the decision to have faith and be prepared for a good relationship with the Lord. A person having family and friends who believe in Jesus is wonderful, but their faith will not rub off on that person.

That is what the foolish maidens discovered. For them, it was too late. On the day of Jesus’ return, it will be too late to then get ready for Him. 

How foolish to wait until the groom comes. The danger - the reality for those who are spiritually foolish - is missing out on the joy of Heaven.

And yes, Heaven is a joyous place. We know that because what is referred to in the parable is a marriage “feast.” Not a snack. Not a fast food meal. A feast.

As in the parable the wise maidens told the foolish ones what to do to get oil, the only thing those who are ready to meet Jesus when He comes - the only thing they can do for those who are not ready to meet Him - is to tell them what to do to be ready. But yes, it will be too late.

How sad that will be. A sadness that made me shudder as I worked on this message. Those who missed the door being open pounded on the door and begged to be let in. Can we imagine the horror of that? The horror of people who should be prepared to be with Jesus not being prepared and having to beg to get into Heaven. Them hearing Jesus say, “I do not know you.”

What a horror that will be, them not missing an earthly feast, but missing Heaven. A horror because there is only one alternative to Heaven, which is Hell. A place of darkness. A place of suffering. A place without the love of God, but with the hate of Satan.

Verse 13. “Watch therefore.” Stay awake. Stay alert spiritually. Continue to be prepared for the Lord’s coming by making sure you know Him as the Savior, and then by reading and praying and fellowshiping and worshiping. Keep doing all that, “for we do not know either the day or the hour the groom will appear.”

*       *       *       *       *

Be found to be wise. That is one of the teachings of Jesus given during the last week before His crucifixion.

But listen. Even if you are not at this moment spiritually wise, there is still hope. That brings us to something Jesus said as He was being crucified.

Last week we considered the first thing Jesus said on the cross. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What a display of love from Jesus as He prayed for those who had directed the events leading up to His crucifixion and for those who were observing His suffering, so many of them mocking Him with a kind of gruesome joy.

Forgive them, Jesus prayed. How amazing that despite the humiliation, the pain, and the fact that out of anyone and everyone who has ever lived, He alone was perfect and yet was dying a most horrible death, Jesus still had so much love that He asked God to forgive the very ones who had turned against Him and the ones who were mistreating Him.

Another thing Jesus said on the cross also had to do with forgiveness. It is recorded in Luke 23, beginning with verse 32.

When Jesus was crucified, two others were with Him, also being killed. One was on Jesus’ right, the other on His left.

As people were mocking Jesus - I imagine the other two were also ridiculed, but most of the abuse was directed to Jesus, abuse making light of His claim of being God’s chosen one, making light of His claim of being the Savior, the question asked that if He was the Savior, why was He not saving Himself, and questioning the love of God for Jesus.

As all the mocking was going on - how disturbing it was and how loud it became as He continued to suffer - as all that was going on, even from one of the criminals beside Him, the other one acknowledged the innocence and purity of Jesus. He then made a request “Jesus, remember me when…” What a crucial word. Not if, but when. That man knew who Jesus was. “Jesus, remember me when You enter Your kingdom.”

How interesting Jesus was able to hear those words. How interesting because of the suffering being experienced by Jesus and because of the noise from all the mockers surrounding Him. But Jesus did hear the man’s request.

And Jesus answered the request. He said, “Truly, I say to You, today You will be with Me in Paradise.”

The man who asked for Jesus’ forgiveness was granted it. So yes, until the point of death, there still is time to get prepared for Jesus. 

But since we do not know when He will return, at which time it will be too late, do not wait until you are ready to breathe your last breath. Be like the five wise maidens. Let’s all be like them. Even though it might be difficult to keep up with it, let’s have enough oil - spiritual oil like reading and praying and fellowshiping and worshiping - to be ready whenever He returns. That needs to be added to the main thing necessary to be ready, which is to accept Jesus as Savior. What joy it will be to see the door to Heaven open, letting us in to an eternal feast with our Lord.

The closing song for today is the hymn Only Trust Him. We will sing verses 1 and 3.

Come, every soul by sin oppressed,

There’s mercy with the Lord;

And He will surely give you rest

By trusting in His word.

Only trust Him, only trust Him,

Only trust Him now;

He will save you, He will save you,

He will save You now.

Yes, Jesus is the Truth, the Way,

That leads you into rest:

Believe in Him without delay,

And you are fully blest. 

Only trust Him, only trust Him,

Only trust Him now;

He ill save you, He will save you,

He will save You now.

The middle verse of the hymn is the basis of today’s benediction.

Jesus, You shed Your precious blood so we could and can have Your rich blessings. You offered Your blood so we can be as spiritually white as snow.

Help us to trust You. Help us to trust You. Help us to trust only You, even now, while it is time to stay ready for Your return, whenever that happens. Help us to trust You, knowing You save all who do trust. Amen.

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