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“Making the Cut in the Oil Crisis”

Nov.6, 2011 Mt.25:1-13


[video intro: Heroes Remember - “The Liberation of the Netherlands” http://youtu.be/PzeuixDhsAw]
Such a powerful video! A poignant reminder of the conditions some people had to endure in World War II - and the relief that came when they were rescued at last.
    Three things stand out for me as I watch that clip...How DESPERATE were the conditions suffered by the Dutch people during their occupation. It mentioned the children having little to eat – one girl chewing on a bare brussels sprouts stalk! The soldiers moved to give up their breakfast to the starving kids; the swelling of hunger-induced edema in their little bodies. As the beginning words of the video state, these people were ‘in bondage’ for five years.
    There’s also the DIFFICULTY of the deliverance – the dangers the soldiers encountered, such as 88-mm guns with deadly power and accuracy concealed as a haystack; carefully designed ‘killing fields’ like crossfire lengthwise along a canal; or the awfulness of a women’s water brigade being mown down by a machine-gunner. You could tell by the expression of the soldier who witnessed the tragedy that it was just one of those things that should NOT have happened!
    But also there was the DELIGHT of the victory – flowers and handshakes for the liberating Canadian troops, people singing their national anthem, even bringing invalids confined to bed out into the streets to watch and cheer the convoys as they rolled past.
    It was a great liberation following extended bondage. In a way, that corresponds to what Jesus was trying to describe in Matthew 24:30f at the end of time: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” A great liberation at last by the heavenly forces of God’s people from the hands of an oppressive enemy. But a question arises – where does this prophecy by the Lord Jesus put us now? (A) In the difficult time before the actual deliverance – OR (B) at the occasion of the final victory? Clearly it’s got to be (A), the time BEFORE the heavenly liberation shock troops provide rescue. So, what’s that imply for our attitude and outlook at this point?


In this section pointing toward the end-time, Jesus leaves us some parables to chew on and guide our thinking. At the beginning of chapter 25 we find the parable of the wise and foolish maidens. Some background would be helpful to understand the normal customs around the marriage ceremony at the time.
    Marriages were a much more prolonged matter than they are now. There were 3 stages - betrothal, engagement, and finally the marriage itself. John MacArthur explains: “The wedding would begin at the bride’s house when the bridegroom arrived to observe the wedding ritual.then a procession would follow as the bridegroom takes the bride to his house for the completion of festivities.For a night wedding, ‘lamps,’ which were actually torches, lighted the procession.” The torch could be a long stick with rope or cloth soaked in oil atop it; this had to be replenished with oil from time to time or it would burn dry. As for the festivities – in some cases they could go on for a whole week! These people knew how to really PAR-TEE!
    Of course, the bride had her cluster of close friends, her bridesmaids, who were almost as excited about the event as the bride herself. After all, this was a highly moral culture in which sex was saved for marriage, so the bride’s best friends would be very excited for her sake and not want to miss a moment.
    Jesus begins his analogy by telling about 2 groups of bridesmaids - the FOOLISH (Gk, moros - as in our ‘moron’!) and the WISE (the Gk term means intelligent, prudent, from a root relating to our faculty of perceiving and judging, mindful). Vv2-3, “Five of them were foolish and five were wise.The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.”
    Here’s a modern parallel. Suppose you’re driving in your car and see the gas is getting low. We know it’s a good idea to refill when the tank gets down to 1/4 full or earlier both so (a) you don’t run out of gas, and (b) you don’t wind up with a lot of water vapour condensing into your fuel. We know that...but it’s not always CONVENIENT to fill up at that point. So, I’ve had a few embarrassing and tense moments, say on a Sunday or civic holiday, when I’ve let the gas get low, we’re out travelling to visit family, and suddenly I’m desperate to find a gas station before the car runs out altogether and we’re stuck helpless at the side of the road. (CAN ANYBODY RELATE TO THIS? HAVE YOU BEEN THERE?) But, life is busy - we have places to go and people to see - so we don’t always quite get around to filling up just when we should. But if we end up stranded, that leaves us feeling very foolish.
    Let’s suppose our first five maidens are PARTY-ers: they’re the kind of people who go flat-out, live for the moment, they’re so focused on getting all they can out of the ‘now’ that they sometimes forget to look ahead.
    Then there are the other 5 maidens, the wise ones – v4, “The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.” NLT, they “were wise enough to take along extra oil.” These gals live circumspectly, thoughtfully, PREPAREDly: they made sure they kept some RESERVE. Which group would you rather find yourself with in the middle of a cold dark night?
    Just as an aside, pause a moment here and ponder how this might apply to generations and people groups. We’re coming to the end of the World War II generation, the “GI Generation”, the “Builders” as they’re sometimes called. These children of the Great Depression tended to be SAVERS, they learned from experience to put something aside, keep something in store. Some analysts refer to them as the ‘greatest’ generation. They made sure they were PREPARED for a rainy day.
    On their heels, along come the Boomers: this generation tends to take on a lot of household debt, more than is really healthy economically. We buy the big house before we can truly afford it; we take a cruise vacation like the Joneses whether we actually have the money or not – “isn’t that what plastic’s for?” We’re more like the PARTY-ers, living in the moment, the ‘now’ without too much aforethought about how we’re going to pay the bills at the end of the month – at which time we stare glumly at our credit card statement and ask ourselves, “How could I have been so FOOLISH?!”
    The Eurozone crisis tempts one to conjecture the same way about nations. Greece is facing financial turmoil because for too long they’ve allowed their debt to mount up. It seems many there would rather party than pay their taxes. Faced with austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund, and devaluation of their currency (a 50% ‘haircut’ on bonds), there have been riots in the streets. As a nation they haven’t been as wise or prudent as other countries who are now called upon to help bail them out.


Back to our Lord’s parable; our ten gals had arrived at the bride’s home. The Party-ers MIGHT have gotten away with their lack of preparedness – but here life throws them a curve ball: v5, “the bridegroom was a long time in coming;” NLT, he was delayed. We’re not told why, just one of those things, those unplanned contingencies: maybe the caterer for the banquet at the groom’s place had realized they were double-booked, and he had to find alternate arrangements at the last minute. Maybe he ran into bandits on the way and had to pull out some Chuck Norris tricks. Maybe the best man forgot the wedding ring and they had to go back for it. Maybe his mule got a charlie-horse – who knows? It mustn’t matter for the story, because we’re not told; main thing is, he was LATE.
    So the waiting bridesmaids nodded off; their eyelids drooped and torches smouldered. Suddenly they were jarred awake by an alert, vv6-7: “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.” This normally entailed cutting off the charred portion so the wick would burn brighter, and re-soaking the material in olive oil. But there was just one problem: 5 of the gals had not brought extra oil along with them.
    V8, “The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’” Just stop and think about that: such NERVE! Nary even a ‘please’ or ‘may I’? Perhaps their ‘party mentality’ bred a certain pleasure-seeking selfishness, a me-focussedness that was quick to grab whatever’s going without too much thought about who would pay. The 5 foolish ones demonstrate an irresponsible attitude, putting pressure on others to cover one’s shortfall.
    How do the ‘wise’ respond? V9, “No...there may not be enough for both us and you.Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” They concluded if they gave in, both groups would soon be in the dark: there just simply wasn’t enough to share. They recognized their limits, and they declined to become enablers of another’s unhealthy dependency. Apparently some shops were still open, and the 5 dim-wicks were not without monetary resources; “Go to the shops and buy your own.” (Which is exactly what the wise ones had had to do earlier while the foolish were out pursuing other goals.)
    And, as it happened, v10: “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.” (Sound effects called for here - a resounding “clunk”!) NLT “the door was locked.” There’s a real finality here, a point is reached from which one cannot go back.
    Yet, you guessed it – who are these dots appearing on the horizon and running breathlessly up the road to the groom’s house where the major party is already getting underway? V11, “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said.‘Open the door for us!’” We get a sense it’s such a secure door, likely a solid door, he can’t see them and is none to keen to risk unlocking it in case they’re thieves (or Wedding Crashers). He simply hollers back, “I tell you the truth [as if to underline his next words], I don’t know you.” He recognizes no relationship with them, no association; those who were closest to the bride would have been at her side and formed part of the procession with him.
    By the way, the words translated “Sir! Sir!” in the Greek can just as easily be rendered “Lord! Lord!” That then would parallel another of Jesus’ teachings earlier in Matthew 7(21-23), “"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.Away from me, you evildoers!’”
    In both instances, the conclusion is the same: “I don’t know you / I never knew you.” Because there is no relationship, there is no entry. Shamefully, embarrassingly, the 5 foolish maidens find themselves shut out, excluded by their very own foolishness, lack of preparedness and forethought, their neglect to store up a reserve.
    In the video, we were told some short-sighted Dutch maidens that for 6 years “got in bed with” the enemy at VE Day instead found themselves mocked and shamed; their hair shorn, they were rejected as outcasts.
    Contrast the wise young women: they were prepared, because they prioritized, because they prized different things than the party-ers. It has to do with what they considered of value, of worth-ship. Sometime earlier, they must have said ‘no’ to doing the ‘fun’ thing in order to go buy extra oil from the shops ahead of time. That sacrifice or self-control earlier, while the others were out partying, allowed them the opportunity to spend time with the bridegroom en route, to get to know him (whilst the foolish were off for their last-minute oil run).
    Worship influences our choices, how we spend our time and resources, and with whom. The wise maidens decided that being ready for the bridegroom was better than whatever options the foolish gals were giving their time and attention to earlier on. The wise maidens ‘drew the line’, so that when the bridegroom later ‘drew the line’ (by shutting and barring the door) they were included with him. Jesus urged in Luke 13(24f), “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’”
    Plummer comments on v9, “the foolish virgins could not have the consequences of their folly averted at the last moment.” So Jesus here is counselling us to think ahead, to consider carefully the consequences of our choices if we would truly know Him.


This story suggests there are two kinds of people, the ‘party-ers’ and the ‘prepared’; when Jesus returns, it’s not for the party-ers – those who are sidetracked by other pursuits.
    We have a great penchant or inclination to be consumers, to cater to our own creature-comforts. ‘Twas ever thus; in Mt 24(37ff) Jesus predicted that at His return it would just like in the days of Noah, “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Earlier in the chapter, He predicted that many would “turn away from the faith...Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold...” The wise maidens prepared, because they prioritized, because they prized: they ascribed worth to what was important in the bridegroom’s eyes. What do we prize? To what do we give our time, our money? Is our love for the Lord growing cold?
    Paul reminds the church in Romans 12(9,11), “Love must be sincere...Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.” What deliberate steps have you taken this week to fuel your fervour spiritually? (E.g.by what you choose to read and watch) Do you really want to ‘make the cut’ when that door slams forever shut?
    Partying maidens go ‘flat out’, they live for the moment, whereas the wise keep a reserve, they have margins in their life, they spend their time and money differently. It may sound strange because we’re not currently in a war situation like the people in the Netherlands were, but John Piper advocates that Christians maintain what he calls a ‘wartime mentality’ for the sake of the Kingdom – sort of like restricting yourself as if you had limited rations during WWII...
“In a wartime lifestyle you always ask yourself, How can my life count to advance the cause of Christ? And if it means buying a computer to keep in touch with your missionaries through email, then you're going to invest several thousand dollars into a computer and software. That's a wartime lifestyle. But you might not eat out as often, or you might buy a used car so that you can buy that computer. That's what I mean by wartime lifestyle. The alternative is to just go with the flow. Everybody gets his toys: bigger house and car, more clothing, more fine food, etc., without even thinking about how the war effort is advancing.
“Personally[Piper notes], I must battle everyday against drifting. It isn't about making choices so much. The battle is primarily against becoming comfortable with things that aren't essential to the war effort. So you have to check yourself. Sit down with your wife and ask, How are we doing with our spending? How are we doing with the use of our discretionary money for leisure?, etc.”
    The foolish maidens justed ‘drifted’ with the flow; but the wise maidens planned ahead, they were prepared and had a reserve of oil for the bridegroom’s coming. May the Holy Spirit guide us in being ready to accompany the Lord Jesus at his return – and demonstrate holy self-control to do the Father’s will in the meantime! Let’s pray.