10 May 2020
In Matthew 24, Jesus' teaching about tomorrow is to help us to live right today. Whilst many people idly speculate about the date of His future return, Jesus wants His people to focus on being prepared right now. The Parable of the 10 Virgins, like the other parables in Matthew 24-25, emphasise this readiness we must have. Last week, we see that readiness means beings faithful. This week, we see that one must have faith- true, saving faith. This is a matter of paramount importance. It is personal. It must be prepared. And it will result in something permanent. Come and discover how you can be truly prepared for Jesus' return in this sermon.
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Now, in a few months time, Winnie and I would be married for 20 years. It's crazy. It's amazing. I've known this wonderful lady for now 28 years. That's a long time. It's probably longer than how long you have lived on earth for some of you. But it's such a privilege to know her, to marry her and to have her as my wife. So on this soon to come 20th anniversary, I could still remember very clearly the wedding day some 20 years ago. I will remember that on that morning, I would go and fetch my bride.
I want to show you a picture. I was hoping for a more interesting picture but my wife bans me from showing any picture that has her on it, especially for our wedding. So this is the only picture I can find. That's myself some 20 years ago, I would be in excitement going to fetch my bride together with my groomsmen and she will be waiting at home of course with her family, and her sisters, her friends. They are her bridesmaids. And for all of you who are Singaporeans you know that this is a kind of a tradition, a kind of a custom where the groom and his groomsmen would have to do [chuang men].
[chuang men] means literally in Chinese to bash down or to bash through the door. Now you don't literally do that, of course, but you have to do some forfeit or tasks to show your sincerity with which you want to get your bride. So anyway, we did all that successfully. Thankfully, it was not too difficult at all; I managed to receive my bride and we went for a church wedding service. And then we had dinner - a wedding feast at night. And hey, that was it. That was our wedding ceremony. That was our wedding day.
Now, that's very typical here in Singapore. But that sequence of events is actually quite common in many cultures and throughout time. It certainly is very similar to the kinds of weddings that were conducted during the times of Jesus in Israel. Now, it may not be exactly the same, but it's similar in many ways. They have this additional step - they have this what we call engagement today. Now this is typical in those days, that sometimes their marriages are not determined by the man or the woman but determined by their parents. Now in China, we are familiar with this. We have this saying [Chinese expression]. What do you mean? It means, point to the tummy and determine the marriage.
So what happens in ancient China is that when two pregnant ladies meet together, they say, hey, it will be cool, isn't it that when our children are born and grown up, they will marry, so let's agree to a marriage. Now they determine the marriage before the children are born [Chinese expression]. Now in a similar sense, in Israel, the parents can decide on the future marriage for their children. So when they were young, or before they were born, the parents who are of compatible socioeconomic status would say, hey, let's make this deal. Let our children marry when they grow up. That's the engagement.
But there's a stage two. And stage two is when the children are grown up. And when they are grown up, they now can enter the process of betrothal. When they are of age, they may then confirm this agreement made by the parents. So this is a kind of agreement between the man and a woman. They are betrothed to each other. They are not yet officially married. But that's a very binding agreement.
Now you read about that, for example, in the Bible, between Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus. They have not lived together yet. They have not officially married yet, but they are betrothed to each other. Now, that's not quite the whole deal yet because the man would have to prepare for life together as a couple. So after they have betrothed, after they have kind of ratified that agreement, the man would have to go back home to prepare a place. So typically he will build an annex, an extension next to his father's house. He will have to prepare a plot of land for agriculture, for growth, for cultivation, so that they will have the means to sustain life as a family and all that building, all that preparation will take time. Typically it takes about a year.
So, after the betrothal, the man goes back home, prepares the place, prepares the ground, and about a year later he comes back to receive his bride because he's going to receive her and they will celebrate their wedding via a wedding feast. So, typically, the groom will come with his xiōngdì with his brothers, with his groomsmen. They will march through the town. They will parade, they will sing, they will proclaim the joyous news, that wedding, a marriage feast is going to take place. They will come typically in the evening, and the bride will be waiting together with her bridesmaid, and her bridesmaids would then be sent out to receive the groom.
So this is the familiar story to the Jews, to Israel. When they receive the groom, the groom comes to pick up the bride, and they will have a wonderful wedding feast. Now the wedding celebration in that culture is really extravagant. It's not just one feast, but it's really one long feast, feasting for up to seven days, a time of great joy, celebration and congratulations.
Now it is in this context of the wedding feast that we are particularly interested in. Why? Because Jesus Himself is going to say that His return and our response to Him is like that story of a wedding feast. So Jesus is going to liken Himself to be the bridegroom. He's coming for His bride. And the bride sends out her bridesmaids who are supposed to be waiting and ready for the bridegroom to receive Him. And Jesus is saying, I'm like the bridegroom, and those who wait for me will be like these bridesmaids.
So let's look today at the story. It's called the parable, the story of the 10 virgins or the 10 bridesmaids. It's a very simple story. So follow me. Verse one, then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 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. But at midnight there was a cry - here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. I can imagine, this is like the time of woah shock. This is where they get “chik chok lok kio”, they all get into a kind of fluster? Oh the bridegroom is here so they rush to meet him. So 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.
Now this is a kind of panic. Have you driven a car where your fuel gauge is near the end? That's very unnerving. And I think that's what they are feeling. They know that their lamp will not go on much longer because they have no oil. 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. And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who are ready went in with him to the marriage feast, 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. Watch therefore, for you know, neither the day nor the hour. So this is the story of the 10 bridesmaids or the 10 virgins.
You say, what do you learn? What is the point of this? Some of you might have noticed that all 10 were sleepy, you might have noticed that it might seem that the wise virgins are selfish, and you may make a point out of that, but really I want to suggest to you, those are just details that do not really matter that much. Because the main point of this parable or this story is the same point that Jesus has been making in the other parables. He's saying, He's asking this question, in the light of My return, are you ready?
So this is a story that should cause us to think, am I ready for the return of the Lord? What do you mean? Are you ready from this parable? Well, the question is, do you have oil? So this week, we are asking this question, are you ready in that you have oil? Now that's weird, you say. What does it mean for me to have oil? Now, commentators would remark that this oil represents the Holy Spirit. Because oftentimes in the Bible, oil is a symbol, is an emblem of the Holy Spirit. So they say that to be ready for Jesus' return means we must have the Holy Spirit.
Now there are others who swing to the other extreme. They say no, the oil here does not need to refer to the Holy Spirit. That's being too specific, it's too narrow. But actually the oil here represents nothing at all. It just means this parable is just communicating the need for you to be prepared. Whether it's oil or something else, the idea is to be prepared. So you have one who says, oil represents the Holy Spirit, very narrow, very specific. And there is another group who believes that oil here refers to nothing. It just conveys the message of being ready. Now, it's very hard to say who is right, who is wrong. After all, Jesus, if you notice in this parable, parables never sought to clarify exactly what that oil represents.
Well, I for example, would agree that both views could be correct. But there is also a possibility that this oil simply means you are prepared with what is absolutely essential. And I think when I read the Bible, I think whilst the Holy Spirit is who we need in our lives. It is also true that the oil could be something more general representing a true saving faith.
When Jesus comes, you must have oil. There must be a real inward reality you must really have true saving faith. You see, on the surface, all 10 virgins are very, very similar. All 10 virgins, the wise group and the foolish group, all 10 of them have been invited to the party. All 10 of them have been waiting for the bridegroom. All 10 of them had lamps. All 10 of them trimmed their lamps. All 10 of them fell asleep. They look very similar. The only difference is that one group has oil and the other doesn't.
And that reminds me that people who are associated with Christ, people who are associated with the church, people who attend services, we all look quite similar. We might use Christian language, we might use the words of grace and thank God and hallelujah. We might all have a habit of praying before our meals. We may have a habit of reading the Bible, we may have a habit of coming for church services. We might look very similar on the outside, but the real difference is, is there oil in your life?
Is there true saving faith in your life? Because not everyone, as we often labor here, according to the teachings of the Bible, not everyone who is associated with church, who is invited to the party, not everyone who carries a lamp is ready to meet with the Lord. I mean, that's the reality, isn't it? When Jesus spoke about Matthew 7, He said - not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, and on that day, many will say to me, Lord, Lord, and He would say, I never knew you.
We often think that being ready for Jesus is a distinction between those in the church and those outside the church. Can I clarify? This is inside the visible church, the outward gathering, and those who are outside of this outward gathering. But in these stories that Jesus gives in Matthew 24, and Matthew 25, the emphasis is not a distinction between those who come for church services and those who don't. The emphasis is really about those who call Jesus Master. Those who are awaiting Jesus' return. In other words, those who, in an intellectual sense, at least know Jesus. So it's really about people inside this visible gathering, inside this visible church. But Jesus is saying that within this group of people who are associated with Me, who know about Me, who hear about Me, who call Me Master. There are actually two groups of people. There is a group who is ready. And there is a group who is not ready. You say, what's the difference? Because there is a group within the visible church who really have true saving faith. And there's another group who does not have saving faith.
The question is, you might come to church, you might say your prayers. You may read your Bible. You may have grown up in a Christian home. But my question is, do you really have saving faith? Do you really believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you have oil in your life?
The ministry of Gospel Light aims not just for increased attendance. We rejoice more people come but we also are deeply aware, just because more people come does not mean we are achieving and arriving at what God wants us to do. The mission statement of our church is to be leading generations into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ is only possible if one has oil, if one has true saving faith.
In other words, as a church, we are not interested in outward culturalization of people. We don't just want to modify people's language. We don't just want to modify people's dressing. We don't just want to modify people's behavior. Because what we want is to have oil inside people's lives. To have oil inside people's lives, to have real saving faith. And when one has real saving faith, he will live that out from the inside out.
In other words, our goal is not just to change your outward appearance, but we labor in such a way that you will really know and believe in Jesus Christ in your heart. And that's why we believe it is absolutely necessary that as a church, we give a good and clear and full Gospel. We don't want to deceive people in saying, oh, come to Jesus, He gives you health and wealth.
No, we want to tell people that believing in Jesus Christ means you know that you are a sinner, a helpless, hopeless sinner, heading for God's judgment because He is holy. And that you can never ever save yourself. But that Jesus, God’s Son, is that promised Savior, who came some 2000 years ago to die and pay for your sins. And not only did Jesus die, He rose again the third day, proving so clearly that he's defeated sin and death and hell and that He's the only way, the only truth, the only life.
We want to tell people that this same Jesus will return one day to judge the world in sin and to receive people, His people who have real oil to Himself. And we want to say to one and all, today, the call of the Gospel, the call of the message of the Bible is that you will repent of your sin and believe in Jesus Christ alone to be saved.
We want to preach a full Gospel. We want to pray for people, because we acknowledge salvation is of God. I can’t change you on the inside, I can modify your behavior on the outside, maybe, but to have real oil, that's the work of God. But that's what this church believes in. We want to not just change people on the outside, we want to have people receive that oil into their life. That's why we teach. That's why we pray. And that's why we ask that God’s Spirit, would give birth, gives real new birth to all who tuned in, who are in our ministry, and I hope that's the same for you, as parents.
I hope parents, this is your goal. To get oil inside the lives of your children, don't just change them on the outside. Don't just culturalize them. Don't just modify their behavior. Don't just modify their language, but preach the Gospel to them. Pray for them, model the life of the Gospel in front of them. And we say, let’s gospelised our children. So that one day, perhaps by the grace of God, by sovereign work, He pours that oil into your children's life.
That's the philosophy of our children ministry. I'm so thankful for our children ministry. We are not here to teach children just moral behavior or moral values. They are good and right in its proper place. But if they do not have oil in their life, if they do not have the Gospel in their lives, all that will be in vain.
So the question is, are you ready for Jesus? Do you have oil in your life? It is of paramount importance. Nothing else matters, folks. Nothing else matters when you stand before God on that final day. He is not gonna ask you - did you speak Christian language? Were you praying before your meals? The question will be, do you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior? And this is something really personal. Someone else can't believe Jesus for you. I mean, your parents cannot believe in Jesus for you. Your children cannot believe in Jesus for you. It's like eating. I can send you food. I can pass you the dishes. But if you don't eat it, someone else can't eat it for you. Today I may preach to you the Gospel I may tell you about Jesus and His love. But if you will not believe, if you will not personally receive this message. No one can pass the oil to you. You need to be prepared personally.
It was David Platt who said on that final day, it won't matter what home you are in, whom you're married to, or what your parents believed, your life will stand alone. So don't say to yourself, I was born in a Christian home. Don't say to yourself, I used to come to church. Your life will stand alone. And the question is, do you believe in Jesus? Has your life reflected the life of faith? Real faith in Jesus is not dead. It is living.
Faith will manifest itself with works. Faith will result in life change, not external culturalization but an inward to outward working out of faith. You will love God, you will love His Word. You will love His church, His people, and you live this life of obedience, your life will stand alone. Do you believe in Jesus today? And my friends, I want to say to you - this believing in Jesus is not something you can do or something you think you can do when Jesus returns. It will be too late.
Jesus has been telling us that His return is sure, but His return is also shrouded in secrecy and His return is coming suddenly, like the days of Noah. That flood would sweep everyone away. I think at that last moment, many must be saying, Noah, Noah, open the door, I want to get in but you know what, it is too late.
My friends, that believing in Jesus is not something I think you should do. When you see Jesus returns, it will be too late. It's something you need to do today. Remember, you are ready for tomorrow by believing in Jesus today, right here, right now. John Broadus, he says, the only way to be ready when Jesus comes, is to be ready always beginning today.
What is wisdom? Wisdom is to live like the wise virgins in this story. They knew that the bridegroom is coming, and they got ready today with that flask of oil. You know what's folly? Folly is to know that a bridegroom is coming, but you don't prepare the flask of oil. Real wisdom is knowing that Jesus is coming. And today I believe in Jesus Christ, I cry out to Jesus, I cry out to God - Lord, give me this saving faith. Save me from my sin. Folly is the opposite.
The foolish person is not someone who does not know Jesus is coming. He knows but he's foolish in that even though he knows Jesus is coming to judge the world and to reward those who believe, he will not get ready today.
My friends, don't be like that. Don't be foolish. Go get some oil, right here, right now. How can I get that oil? Well, the Bible says, for everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. How simple is that?
The Gospel is so beautiful. And yet it is a message that is so simple, that if you will call on the Name of the Lord, this refers to Jesus. He is God. He is the one whom God has sent into this world to die for your sins. He's the One who rose again from the dead. He's the only One, the only Lamb that can take away the sin of the world. Call on Him and the Bible says you will be saved. Don't wait till it's too late. Do it today.
Don't say to yourself, my father is a Christian. My mom is a Christian. I've been reading my Bible. I have been coming to church. Don't let these things distract you. The question I want you to do or to face today is strip yourself of all those things and ask yourself, do I really believe in Jesus? Has my life demonstrated real faith? Do I really love Him? Do I really obey His Word? Do I really have oil?
And I say all that not to shake the assurance of those who believe in Jesus. I believe, if you are really someone who believes in Jesus, as you examine your life, you will be even more assured, you will be more encouraged because you see the marks of grace in your life, the love for God, the obedience to His Word, the love for brethren, you will see that in your life.
But if you today face this question and you say, no, I don't have anything. Then I hope that while these words may be piercing and difficult, I want to assure you, I say this in love. I wish, I'm praying that you will not just be associated with church, you will not just be someone inside church, but you will be the one who is ready when Jesus comes. So repent and believe in Jesus today. Why? Because this is not just a matter of paramount importance. This is not something that is personal, and something that needs to be prepared. This is something that can be permanent. And that said in verse 10, and the door was shut and it will not be opened anymore to the foolish virgins when the feast is taking place. It will be too late.
About a year ago, to be exact, it's February 2019. I was invited to preach at Perimeter Church at Atlanta, Georgia. It's a long way off, 20 over hours of flight. But Perimeter has been a wonderful blessing to me and to our church. They have so graciously helped us start, I think, a very, very vital ministry in Gospel Light. Something that you may not know of as yet, but I trust in time to come, it will transform the fabric of this church. They have helped us in life on life missional discipleship. So I feel eternally indebted and grateful to them. And so when they sent an invitation to preach in their church services, one particular weekend, I said yes, I will go.
So it was supposed to be a very short trip because of family and ministry. I wouldn't want to spend too much time there. I would preach on their Saturday evening service and their Sunday morning services. So I plan to leave on Friday night, arrive on Saturday, touchdown and preach immediately that evening. And then I would leave the first thing on Monday morning. So it's a compact trip. There is no buffer, no spare time as it were.
So on Friday night, that night, when I was about to go fly off, I went with my family. My family saw me off there. And I went to the check in counter and she processed my documents. Then she looked at me and said, Sir, Mr. Lim, do you have your ESTA? I said, what? What ESTA? No, no, do you mean visa? No. ESTA I said, what's that? Well, it's a document that you need to get to the United States. I say, no one told me about it, I don't have it. Is it really necessary? Yes, it is. If you do not have your ESTA, I can’t let you in on the flight.
Now I began to panic a little. I say, no, no, no, I really need to get to the United States. I have committed myself to preach in their service. I can't imagine if I'm not there so is there anything I can do to get an ESTA? She says, Well, you can try applying for it now. So I whipped up my laptop, I got to the site, I began to get to the ESTA website. First time I'm seeing it in my whole life. Alright, I went to the ESTA website. I fill in my details. It's a long form, you know, United States a lot of things to ask. And as I was typing, I was praying under my breath. I'm praying, Lord, please, it's my mistake. I didn't check it out. But please, let me get to the United States. Let me get on this flight. I finally clicked on the enter button, submitted it and this is the document that I received right after submission.
We can take a look at this. What ESTA stands for, how this is for US Customs and Border Protection. And there's this statement there with authorization pending as the header. But when I saw this, my heart sank. I mean I was like devastated. I was like saying, this is terrible. Why? Because I saw a particular number. And the number is right here. 72 hours. The authorization pending may take 72 hours. I thought to myself, I don't have 72 hours. I don't even have 72 minutes. I need to get on this flight. I was thinking to myself, is there any way I can drive to US? Is there any way I can swim to US? I say no. Can I even get an alternative flight? No, I can't. I've planned my trip so tight that I would arrive in the afternoon and preach in the evening. There is no time. And I tell you, your pastor here was so stressed. I felt that my life was shortened by a few years there and then. I mean, I can't do anything else. I do not know who to call. I just prayed. I got my family, we prayed. And for the first time in my life, I felt so miserable, anxious and shut out. I can't get on the flight anymore. I wish this would never happen to you.
And I wish certainly it will never happen to you when Jesus comes. My friends, there'll be two groups of people from amongst you. I believe I'm talking to the exact group Jesus is addressing this message to. People who know about His return. And you know what, the sad tragedy is that there might be two groups of people, right in our midst.
A group who is wise, who sees the reality of who Jesus is, what He has done on the cross and His certain return and therefore are prepared in that they have repented of their sins, and they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They are the wise ones.
And tragically, there's another group who will say, I know who Jesus is. I know He went to the cross. I know He's coming back but I want to wait. I don't want to believe yet. And when Jesus really comes tomorrow, you will be totally shut out and never able to enter in.
To those who are wise. I want to encourage you with the vision of the marriage feast, the wedding feast, what a day it will be. Maybe life is tough here. Relationships are difficult in this circuit breaker. Ministry is tiring and you may be feeling a whole burden on your shoulders. But I want to tell you, it will all culminate one day in a joyous celebration, where we will be with our Savior, with our Lord entering into everlasting bliss. And that door will be shut. We will be forever with Him, never to be lost. And I hope that, that joy and that hope will fuel you to godly living today.
And to all friends who may not know Jesus as yet, don't just satisfy yourself with church attendance, and reading the Bible and doing all those external things only but ask God today for a real saving dose of faith in your life. Ask God today, cry out to Him for mercy that oil may be poured out into your life. His Spirit may work deeply in your heart that you may really believe in repentant belief. May you be gloriously saved. Don't presume, but be prepared. Let's bow for a word of prayer.
I want to thank you for listening in so intently. But it's one thing to hear a message and another to respond toward it. I pray today that if you do not know Jesus and you know it, please be prepared today. Come to God, right here, right now - cry out to Him for mercy. Cry out to Him, that He may show you your sin and your desperation. Cry out to Him and ask Him to show you the beauty and the worth of Jesus Christ. Cry out to Him to save you from your sins. Ask God today to pour oil into the flask of your life, would you? And I want to pray for you, that on that day Jesus comes, you will be one of those who are ready to enter the marriage feast of the Lamb.
To all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that in our homes, and in our ministry, we will be crystal clear that we are not here to change outward behavior or to effect external reform. We must labor in the Gospel. We must teach the Gospel faithfully. And we must pray for people faithfully. Let us humble ourselves before the Almighty God and ask Him today to effect a life changing work through His Spirit in the multitudes around us. And I pray today we all will faithfully serve Him. Because one day, He's coming back for us, and we will enter into the everlasting joy of God.
Father, thank You today for Your Word. I pray that You'll bless the understanding of Your Word to all our hearts, so that by the power of Your Holy Spirit, we may live out these truths and bring You glory. Would You save souls? Would you encourage the church to step up in service towards one and all? And may You help us to be ready for Your return? Thank You. We pray all this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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Email [email protected] to serve or to report transcription errors.
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