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Matthew 25:1-30

Waiting, Watching & Working

Sermon Notes + Quotes

Well, good morning Village Chapel, grace and peace to you. We do study through books of the Bible. If you’d like a paper copy, just lift up your hand. We have some folks who’d love to pass one out to you. I think we have a few over there. So glad you’re here. What a delight it is that we get to open up God’s word together and learn from our Lord Jesus. Also, glad to welcome all those who are worshiping with us online. I’m glad you’re going to be opening up God’s word to us as well.

So last week my wife and I hosted our niece and nephew, 6 and 10 years old, at our home for 24 hours and we had a blast. It was a blast. We watched some movies, we played some Mario Cart of which Emily Bailey, my wife, or she’s having her birthday today, she won almost all those matches. We ate ice cream together. We enjoyed the beauty of the Cheekwood Gardens. It was a treat for Emily and me.

But that weekend with those kids highlighted afresh for me at least the reality that we all perceive time differently. Parents, can I get an amen? Every age, every stage of life, even circumstances shape how we interpret the movement of time. Time of course is a constant, but our perception of time can vary. A watched pot, what? Never boils. For example, my niece and nephew woke up at 3:45 AM on Saturday morning, completely refreshed and ready to go for the day because we had told them the night before all the things we had planned for that day ahead. We were going to eat waffles, we were going to play Mario Cart, watch some movies together and they thought that time was so slow and they wanted to speed things along. 3:45 AM. And of course everyone is familiar with the ancient question that we’ve been wrestling with since time immemorial. Are we there yet? Philosophers and children alike have been asking that question.

The discipline of waiting is perhaps one of the God’s primary means of grace in the life of a believer. How we steward that waiting I think reveals much about the disposition of our heart, the condition of our heart. Now, I do invite you to open up your Bible if you would to Matthew 25. Last week as we studied Matthew 24, we began our study of what is traditionally called the Olivet Discourse. Jesus teaching on the Mount of Olives, one of the five major teaching blocks of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. And if you recall last week, Matthew 24, as Jesus in the disciples were leaving the temple to go to the Mount of Olives, as they were leaving the temple, the disciples were enamored with all the trappings of the city, the buildings of grand Jerusalem and Jesus lifts their eyes beyond earthly cities into a Kingdom that has no end. And the disciples naturally ask, essentially, “Are we there yet? When is your Kingdom coming? Jesus answers, “No one knows except the Father, but he is coming that last day will come at an hour you don’t expect. Therefore be ready. Stay watchful. Stay alert disciples.”  Stay watchful TVC… Nashville, Tennessee.

He is coming. And for all those who have turned to Jesus, this should fill us again and again and again with hope and joy and we just sang of his coming just a minute ago. Every time we gather together and remind one another as we sing these songs, as we read these creedal statements that remind us of our coming King, it should fill us up again with hope and joy. And I hope it does that for you this morning. As Pastor Jim so helpfully walked us through last week, of course, there are many views of the precise sequence of events that lead up to those last days, but there are a few basic things that we know with some certainty from the text. Jesus will return unexpectedly (v 42, 44).  We read that Matthew 24, Jesus will return personally (v 30-31). In fact, in 1 Thessalonians the apostle Paul says, “The Lord himself will come down from Heaven.” And can’t we wait for that day? He will come visibly; Matthew 24:27, Jesus says, “Like lightning that you can see from the east and from the west.” And Revelation says that every eye will see him and he’ll come gloriously (v 30), and his power and his glory.

So as we listen to the words of Jesus today as he continues this teaching in our study of Matthew 25, I pray all of us would lean in, ask the Spirit to open our ears, open our hearts, and may the Holy Spirit this morning set us ablaze as we hear from our Lord about what faithfulness looks like in the Kingdom now and that is coming later. Kevin DeYoung said this so well

“We don’t get to pick the age we live in and we don’t get to choose all the struggles we will face. Faithfulness is ours to choose.” That’s true. “But the shape of that faithfulness is God’s to determine.”  

–Kevin DeYoung

 a good word for us today.

So open up Matthew 25 and now let me pray for us and then we’ll get going. So glad we’re here together to open up His Word. Let me pray:

Lord, we have Your Word open before us today. And since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from you, make us hunger for this Heavenly food and nourish us today in the ways of eternal life. Holy Spirit, I pray you would fall upon us and that you would open our ears and open our hearts. Open our eyes that we might see the wonders of Your Word for our good and for your glory. In Jesus’ name we all said amen.”

Matthew 25:1, “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like 10 virgins or bridesmaids who took their lamps,” or some of your translations will say torches, “who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish. Five were wise.” Foolishness and wisdom are often contrasted throughout the entire Bible. We see that in the Proverbs. Proverbs 1 says that the foolish despise wisdom. And wisdom here is not just simply, we say this often, it’s not just data storage; it’s not just knowledge archive and retrieval. Wisdom is the application of knowledge through the eyes of faith. And here Jesus, as he’s teaching this parable here, he’s separating these 10 bridegrooms into those who are foolish, who despise wisdom, and those who are wise, who are leaning in with faith. “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.”  Now, I don’t think Jesus is condemning them for this drowsiness, this sleepiness, they’re human.

I think again, as it’s coming on the heels of Matthew 24, Jesus is reiterating time and again, we do not know the day or the hour. The bridegroom appears to be delayed in this story and so they sleep, they’re tired. It’s Jesus reiterating, we do not know when the Lord will return. But verse six, “But at midnight there was a cry. Here is the bridegroom. Come out to meet him. Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil for our lamps are going out.’ 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.'”

There’s something very practical here. The wise bridesmaids, they aren’t being stingy with their oil. All 10 of them have a job. They have a responsibility to light the way of this wedding custom, this wedding processional. And they know that if they give their oil to the foolish, there won’t be enough oil to go around to give glory to what’s going on in this wedding feast. And so they say go buy from the dealers and at that time the custom would have been, there have been plenty of dealers selling oil for this exact purpose. Verse 10, “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast;” those are the wise, “and the door was shut. Afterward, the other virgins came also saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.'” Now Jesus summarizes this parable here, his central point, “Watch therefore stay alert; be watchful over your own soul for you no neither the day nor the hour.”

Back in Matthew 7, Jesus said something similar. He was describing if you remember trees and you could identify good trees by the good fruit that they produce. And he says at the end of that teaching, “There will be many who say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And they’ll say, ‘We cast out demons in your name. We did mighty works in your name.’ But there will be those who say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who on the outside appear to be faithful who never were to begin with.” It’s a sobering account.

As a master teacher, Jesus employs the use of parables in this block of teaching. Parables are stories that illuminate and they illustrate how we are to live in light of his return on that last day. In all the parables we’ll be studying in this section there’s three total; we’re going to do two today. All of these parables have been likened to search lights that are all focused on one central theme: The Lord is coming. And as we await that great day, our call is to remain ever watchful and pursue faithfulness. The Lord is coming.

Parables give us windows into the Kingdom of Jesus and reveal to those who have ears what Kingdom living can and should look like for those who’ve placed their faith and trust in Christ different than the literary genre of myth or fable, parables of Jesus generally use real world common elements. You remember wheat and the tares, good soil, rocky soil wise and the foolish today.

Parables help us in many ways. Here are three of them. Parables require reflection, meaning they should cause us to pause and think about what Jesus is saying. Often they’re simple, not simplistic, but often simple, but very profound. Parables reveal truth to those who have ears to hear and conceal to those who don’t. And whenever Jesus says, for those who have ears to hear, it’s not simply a surface level hearing that he’s talking about. This is a deeper kind of hearing. It’s a deep penetration into our hearts and understanding that bears itself out in a response of faith and obedience. Parables also require a response. Do you see yourself as wise or foolish? This is an invitation to walk in His ways.

So with that in mind, here’s what a parable is, this kind of parable, what’s it talking about? Well, a wedding celebration that we witnessed here can seem kind of foreign to us, but we’re all of course aware of wedding customs in general. Engagement and betrothal was a significant event in first century Jewish life. The period of betrothal could last several months much like it does today. A little bit more significant back then. If you were simply engaged or betrothed, if one of them passed away, you’d be a widow or a widower. So in that space of a few months up to a year of betrothal, now we get to the wedding feast, the wedding celebration, which can take up to a week. This is a significant event.

And so all of this betrothal period is leading up to this moment that we are waiting for this marriage feast and party. And to mark the beginning of this wedding feast, the bridegroom, I love this, ceremoniously, walks from his home to the bride’s home and they negotiate the bridal dowry and then he takes his bride, and he walks back to his home to establish this new family. And that’s what we’re seeing described here. The original hearers would’ve understood this story very well.

But on that evening journey from his home to hers and back to him, an entourage follows along including eligible young women who we might call bridesmaids, likely chosen by the bride. And their responsibility was to light the way for this entourage and to bring attention, to bring glory if you will, to the wedding celebration that was taking place.

Here’s a picture of an oil lamp and it could have been a torch like some of your translations say, but likely an oil lamp. This is an example of a first century oil lamp. You can even buy them now in Jerusalem. You can buy first century oil lamps. It’s kind of flat there on the bottom. You pour the oil of course in that center section and there’s a wick and you’d cut that wick when you’re ready to light the lamp. Five of them took this duty seriously, five of them did not. Did you notice that, except for the lack of preparation, all 10 were essentially described in the same way? They were all included in the wedding party as bridesmaids perhaps selected by the bride. They all brought their lamps, they all went and waited for the groom. They all got drowsy and slept at his delay but, when the bridegroom arrives in the parable, that’s the separation.

Jesus divides these 10 into two groups. Those who were prepared and those who weren’t, those who were on the outside had all the forms of faithful wedding attendants and appearances can be deceiving, even to ourselves. They showed up. They had lamps, they had the props. But at the moment of the bridegroom’s arrival, their hearts were revealed. When the bridesmaids were waiting for the bridegroom, they all got drowsy and slept, right? But I love Scottish pastor Eric Alexander; he puts it this way. “Five of them slept the sleep of genuine contentment. They were ready. Five of them slept the sleep of misplaced confidence.”  Confidence perhaps in the trappings of their role in this wedding entourage, simply being invited, confident confident perhaps that they would have plenty of time to prepare later. Confident perhaps that they’d be able to borrow from another’s preparation, a trivialization of the wedding and this celebration or put another way, a trivialization of Christ and His Kingdom. What could be seen on the outside made the foolish appear similar. To the wise, the sudden coming of the bridegroom revealed the true condition of their hearts, a commitment, a wholeheartedness, or a faith that was never there to begin with.

If we’re to take the words of Jesus seriously, and we do hear at TVC, perhaps one of the most sobering texts in the New Testament is in verse 10, at the end of verse 10. I invite you to set your eyes there at the end of verse 10, “…and the door was shut,” but with equal weight, we must remember the words that proceeded, “… and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast…” There will come a day when the Lord will come decisively to judge the earth, but that day is not yet. Can I get an amen?

And this morning there is fresh mercy and grace available to all who recognize their need and bow before Jesus as King, there is an individual application of faith for each person in focus here. Friends, we’re not a part of the Kingdom By our association with the church, by our family’s religious heritage or by the forms of religious practice. We are only saved when each turns to Christ in repentance and faith, having recognized our need, my need, for a savior and the Lord is there to welcome us into his Kingdom. We can be the ones who are with the bridegroom at the party.

Dane Ortlund said this:

“The real scandal of the universe is not that there is a hell deserved by all, but that there is a Heaven offered to all.”

–Dane Ortlund

The call of this parable, don’t mishear it, is not for us to try to open the door to the party yourself or to have the right key to enter the door. Self -salvation is not in mind here. This is a call to be with the bridegroom, to be with him and he has made a way for you to be a part of that wedding feast. And for me as well. And hear from Jesus is the grace of both a solemn warning and that can be a grace by the way and the grace of an invitation. Would you come join the bridegroom?

Let’s keep reading if you would with me at verse 14 “For it,” meaning the Kingdom of Heaven, “will be like a man going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” And you might underline that, this is his property that he’s giving to his servants to steward. It’s always his property. It is throughout the entire parable. So we have to keep that in mind. Verse 15, “To one, he gave five talents to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.” So there’s an assessment here on the master’s part of some competence, but we have to understand what a talent is and we don’t actually know with specificity. We do know that it’s a weight, it’s not a currency of money, it’s a weight of measurement, likely of heavy metals. And so we don’t know, some people suppose it could be 20 years of a salary, one talent. What we do know is that this is a lot; this is a lot of resource that he’s entrusting to these servants, including the one who just has the one talent if it’s worth up to 20 years salary. He’s entrusting each one of these with what they can handle. He’s asking them to steward, well.

Then he went away. Verse 16, “He who had received the five talents went at once,” and I love that I circled that in my Bible, “He went at once and traded with them and he made five talents more.” Verse 17. “So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.” So the same percentage of increase different amounts but same percentage of increase verse 18, “But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.  Now after a long time,”

again, Jesus is emphasizing by way of this parable, we don’t know the hour that the Lord will return. We don’t know the hour that the master will return. “So after a long time, the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them and he who had received the five talents came forward bringing five talents, more saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents. Here I have made five talents more.’ And his master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Can you think of any sweeter words to hear on that last day?

“You have been faithful over a little. I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Verse 22. “And he also who had the two talents came forward saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents. Here I have made two talents more. His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'” And I think joy has two applications here. Enter into the delight that the master himself has because of how these servants have steward his resources. I think there’s that joy, the joy of the master, but also the joy of the servants themselves to see the delight of their master. When’s the last time we’ve gone to work trying to delight the master, the Lord?

“He also,” verse 24, “Who had received the one talent came forward saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. So I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I have not sewn and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers. And at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.'”

And here’s actually Eugene Peterson, his paraphrase. I love how he puts it. This is the master talking. “If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done was have invested the sum with the bankers.” Less than the least is what this servant did. “So take the talent from him,” verse 28, “And give it to him who has the 10 talents. For to everyone who has more be given and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away and cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, into that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”  the opposite of joy – separation from the master, separation from the wedding feast.

A lot to take from this wicked servant, some interpretations over history have been that he had envy. Why didn’t he get two or five? Envy is an interesting and very insidious vice, sin. Love at some level, I am sorrowful when my brother is sad or my sister is sad, I’m full of joy when my brother or sister is full of joy. Envy’s the opposite. When my brother or sister is sorrowful, I’m happy about it. My brother or sister is sorrowful or is whatever the other one is. It’s insidious. It inverts the way human relationships should be. We don’t know the exact motivation, but I love Gavin Ortlund, he says it this way:

“The composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein once asked which musical instrument is most difficult to play. And he reputedly answered, ‘Second fiddle.’ I can get plenty of first violinists. But to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm, that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony. How powerfully insightful for life.”

–Gavin Ortlund, Humility

So the first parable in this teaching block from Jesus gives us a sober warning to examine ourselves, the parable of the bridesmaids to remain watchful as we wait. In Jesus, the master teacher follows up with that, the parable of the talents or the parable of the three servants, which describes for us what we are to be doing as we are watching and waiting. He has something for us to do. Wherever he might have you planted, my friends, notice the master commends the first to not primarily because of the profit that they return, but because of the faithfulness that they displayed. I think that’s an important point here. He rewarded them for how they stewarded. They took the resources of the master, the resources of the Kingdom and they set out at once, I love that the first guy, at once to see those Kingdom resources grow and increase. And what was the result? Joy.

The Christian faith is a faith that works. It works in our households, in our neighborhoods, in our places of employment or retirement, wherever the Lord might have you today. Our work does not merit us access into the Kingdom. Our work in the Kingdom is a fruit of saving faith. Turn with me in your Bibles if you would just to, if you have the pew Bible or the paper Bible, just turn over to  Ephesians 2 for a second. The apostle Paul helps us here by shedding some light on this tension between faith and fruit.

I’ll start with verse 8, chapter 2:8 of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

Christian faith is a faith that works. There should be no lazy Christians. The servant failed by apparently giving his time and attention, his effort, his work towards things other than the treasure that had been given to him to steward and grow. The wicked servant claimed that the master was a hard or you could translate that a harsh man. But did you notice the other two never said anything like that? The wicked servant did not know the master. He did not take seriously the responsibility given to him. What are the things that I, that you give primary time and attention to in our own life? What do I take seriously with the resources, the influence, the gifts that I have been given to steward? Good questions to ask.

And I think to answer that question we should ask another one. “Does the way I order my life provide evidence that what is most important to me is delighting in and bringing glory to Christ?”

There’s a sharp edge to the teaching of Jesus here this morning. Do I even give thought to delighting the Lord with the stewardship of my life? And I’m not talking about whether this means you need to sell everything and pursue missions across the globe, although that could be good and true, and we give thanks to those who do that kind of extraordinary work. But let’s start here: the ordinary, daily, faithful living, wherever the Lord has planted you, seeking to delight the returning master as we do our taxes with integrity, care for our aging parents, work to stop gossip in its track. love our children well, to share the treasure of the gospel with our neighbor and the list could go on. Does the way I order my life provide evidence that what is most important to me is delighting in and bringing glory to Christ? Rico Tice said it this way:

“Failure is being successful at the things that don’t matter.”

–Rico Tice, Faithful Leaders

 Let’s lean into the teaching of Jesus here and be those who are on the last day, hear those sweet and kind words of Jesus, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.” May it be so among us here at The Village Chapel.

We have so much to learn from these parables. Let’s start with some of the basics though. The parable of the 10 bridesmaids, they offer a couple of different contrasts, the wise and the foolish, the ready and the unprepared. The parable of the 10 servants or the 3 servants, rather, the faithful set aside, the wicked, the good contrasted with the slothful. Genuine faith, and it can be as small as a mustard seed, Jesus said, we’re not talking about the measure of our faith, but genuine faith will show itself in fruit and in faithfulness. And this is not the same as perfection. This is a heart-disposition, a life aimed toward our King and His Kingdom.

The judgements given in these parables aren’t primarily about our performance, but about the presence of genuine faith. The servants were not commended for their profits, but for their faithfulness. The original audience, if you remember from last week for this teaching, was the disciples. This was not primarily aimed at unbelievers or pagans, although there is much to be learned here by all. All my friends are foolish and wicked, but for the grace of Christ. I am a part of the foolish and wicked except for His grace. Let’s get that clear in our hearts and minds.

Our assurance of salvation, the way that I know that I’m in the Kingdom is first to look towards the finished work of Christ on the cross. That’s the first place I look, but woven throughout the scriptures in the New Testament, of course, in these parables we see that genuine faith visibly shows fruit of real faith. If you don’t see fruit in your life, if you don’t see hunger for the things of God, this parable should be like smelling salts, waking you up, an invitation to all who would come to him in repentance and faith.

We were designed then Tim Keller says:

“Not just for belief in God in some general way for a vague kind of inspiration or spirituality. We were made to center our lives upon him to make the purpose and passion of our lives, knowing, serving, delighting, and resembling him.”

–Tim Keller, The Reason for God

There are some perhaps who are studying this with us, maybe you’re online, who might be taking stock of your life and your heart has been quickened because you aren’t seeing – you haven’t seen growth in your life. Preparedness for the coming of the Lord is not something you’ve even considered perhaps a misplaced confidence in the default religion of your family or maybe your misplaced confidence in your nibbling or sampling of spiritualties. Jesus offers fresh grace for you this morning, for me this morning. It is a warning, yes, that there will be a final day. The bridegroom will come when we least expect, the master will come when we least expect, but that day is not yet. Because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, which we just sung about, because he actually rose from the tomb, He has accomplished for us what we could never have done on our own.

I am foolish. I am the wicked one, except for the mercy of Christ. Thanks be to God for his grace. And because of the mercy of Christ, a heart that was once cold and indifferent and apathetic towards the things of God has come alive by the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit who applies that faith. And I think that’s part of what we’re witnessing right now with our brothers and sisters up in Kentucky. Listen, we should be praying fervently here for revival and it may look different, but revival is at root, the work of God for renewal of his people towards greater faithfulness.

We should be praying for revival in this city, in this church, and my heart. We want more greater faithfulness and devotion to Christ and his Kingdom. For those who are followers of our Lord Jesus, this parable should not bring shame, a proper warning yes, but not shame. It should give us pause to examine and pray afresh for a move of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds towards the things of God. There is no reason, and I hope you hear this, there is no reason for anyone in this room to leave here today wondering if the door is going to be shut on you in the last day. Neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, things present nor things to come, can separate us from the love of God in Christ. And the invitation is to be with the bridegroom, my friends. There will be a day when the door is shut, that’s true. Jesus has clearly told us that, but it’s not today. And the Lord in his mercy has done everything necessary to make a way for us to enter into that wedding feast, and here’s the invitation, “Come.”

Bryan Chapell said this:

Grace becomes not only the means by which God once justified us,” amen, hallelujah, “It’s also the means by which we are continually encouraged and enabled to serve him with undiminished delight.” 

–Bryan Chapell, Holiness by Grace

Are we there yet? The question I asked at the beginning can actually be a good diagnostic question to help us, to wake us up to the reality 2that he is coming. No, we are not there yet. But let us wait with expectancy. Let’s remain watchful and let’s get busy doing the work of Christ and His Kingdom. We are saved by grace and we remain faithful by his grace. No, we’re not there yet, but he will come. Hallelujah.

Let’s pray:

Holy Spirit, we do pray for your enabling grace to make us wise to salvation. Keep us from ever trifling with something so important. Open our eyes that we might see the wonders of the risen Christ. Assure us of your love for us. Open our ears that we might hear your word and walk in greater faithfulness. And we do pray for genuine revival in hearts, families, institutions where we have grown cold or indifferent to our Savior and our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for a renewed hunger for the things of God. Thank you Lord for the grace that you’ve extended for the invitation you’ve given, in Jesus’ name we all say, amen.”

(Edited for reading)

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