Episode: First Things First
I’ve often heard it said that life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We only get one chance at this life here on this earth.
We are born. We grow up. Well, at some point, maybe, you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior. Maybe you have the gift of eternal life. That’s fantastic!
But what do we do with that?
Let me take you just a minute to the end of your life here on this earth and ask you right now, “On your death bed, what do you wish that you’d done with that?”
As you look at all the faces of the people around you, the faces that you could love, the faces that you could share the grace of God with, as you look at those faces and then sit on your deathbed and think, What are the things of value and significance that I wish that I had done in the lives of those people.
How easy is it just to let life pass us by—to let it drift by day after day, week after week without a purpose.
You know, with all the lifestyle programs on television these days, instead of gardening what a lot of people do is watch TV shows about gardening. Instead of going on holidays, people watch T.V. shows about holidays. Instead of cooking really nice meals on the weekend, we watch TV shows about cooking really nice meals.
Instead of having a life, we can end up watching TV shows about having a life.
Day after day, month after month, the years just slip by. And we look back, we look back as we get older on what? On lost opportunities? If only, I’d done this. I wish I’d done that. If only.
And if we are living our lives like that, if that’s going to be the end result of a life led watching T.V. and just going to work and doing things, ultimately, without significance, then right now, someone who believes in Jesus Christ, who has accepted Jesus as their Savior, instead of living a life of calm delight, of deep joy, of enthusiasm because they have a hope and a future … life can be dry, life can be as though something is missing.
Wouldn’t it be terrible to look back on a wasted life? How terrible, how awful, how utterly awful would that be. To be on a deathbed and look back at our one chance at life on this earth and know in our heart of hearts that we wasted it. That we had squandered that one opportunity that God has given us.
Over the next few weeks on Christianity Works, we are going to be walking our way through what Jesus had to say on the subject of not wasting our lives.
If you have a Bible, grab it. We are going to Matthew’s gospel, the very first book in the New Testament, chapter 25.
It doesn’t matter where we are in the year, you know. At the beginning of the year, I think, Wow, it’s a new year. And all of a sudden, I turn around; and it’s March, April, May. And then I’m in the middle of the year; I think, Boy the year is slipping by. You get to September, October and you think, My goodness, it’s almost finished. Then Christmas comes and the new year comes and we start it all again.
I remember listening to my dad when he was about the age that I am now saying, “Well, son, the years are just slipping by so quickly.”
Well, now that I’m the same age, the years are just slipping by so quickly. It seems faster and faster every year.
In the middle of life slipping away like that—quickly, year after year, Jesus breaks in. In this part of Matthews gospel, He breaks in and He says, “Don’t waste your life.”
Let’s pick it up at the beginning of the 25 chapter of Matthew’s gospel, He says,
“At this time the kingdom of heaven will be like this…well, hang on, at what time? Where is exactly is Jesus?
Well, we have to go back a chapter or two. If we flip back just one page to the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we see that he’s spends a whole bunch of time tearing into the religious leaders of the day, not because they were religious leaders but because they were being hypocritical.
He was calling them blind guides and vipers and fools and hypocrites—it was pretty strong stuff. Jesus wasn’t mincing His words when He was talking to these religious leaders about being focused on religion focused on God’s goodness and God’s love and God’s grace.
And the disciples knew that, well, these religious leaders were not happy with Jesus. There were already rumors around that they were plotting to kill Jesus.
Imagine how the disciples felt after they saw Jesus tear into them. They must have thought, Well, this is probably the last nail in Jesus’ coffin. And they were probably right.
And just after that, Jesus in chapter 24 of Matthew’s gospel is talking about the destruction of the Temple.
Now, you have to understand that the Temple took decades to build. It was right at the center of the Jewish faith. It was the place where God dwelt spiritually.
The notion of the Temple being knocked over would be a little bit like saying, four or five years ago, “Well, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York are going to be knocked over” or the Sydney Opera House is going to be knocked over or the Louvre in Paris is going to be knocked over. It’s inconceivable, isn’t it? But as we know, after September 11, the Twin Towers were knocked over.
And seventy years after Jesus was talking about the Temple being destroyed, we know that the Temple actually was destroyed. And it never was rebuilt.
So, Jesus is starting to talk about the end of an age, the end of an era, the end of time. And right through the 24th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, He’s talking about end times– when the persecutions will come, when all of these horrible things will happen.
And when He will come back.
So, Jesus is talking about the end of time. And we see at the beginning of chapter 24, that actually, after having this big blow up with the religious leaders, Jesus is taking His disciples away and sitting down with them quietly. When He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples said to Him, privately, “Tell us when all of this will happen. Tell us when the Temple will destroyed. How will we know that this age will come to an end?
So, here in his bit of teaching when we go to chapter 25, Jesus is talking about the coming of the end of the world. It’s a quiet talk. It’s a private talk. He’s in the Garden amongst olive trees with His closest disciples. And He is talking about the end of time.
That’s what He means when He begins the 25th chapter saying, “At this time”; He means “At the end,” right at the end when I come back.
Let’s have a read of the little parable, of the story that He talks about.
“Right then,” He said, “the kingdom of heaven will be like this:Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the Bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five of them were wise. 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, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look, here is the Bridegroom. Come out to meet Him.’
“Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No, no, there will not be enough for you and for us. You’d better go to the dealers and buy some of your own oil.”
“And while they went to buy it, the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with Him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”
“Later, the other bridesmaids also came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door to us.’
“But He replied, ‘Truly, I tell you, I don’t know you.’ “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
There is one thing for certain: Your life and my life here on this earth will end one day. And it’s going to happen one of two ways either through our physical death or because Jesus comes back, Jesus returns at the end of the age. Those are the only two ways our lives are going to end on this earth.
And at the end, will we be ready? Will we be ready when the end comes because we never know when the end is going to come? That’s the whole point of this story. These bridesmaids were expecting the Bridegroom to come, but He was delayed.
In the first century the Church was expecting Jesus to come back like next Thursday or next week or next year. And it’s been 2,000 years. Jesus was saying, “I don’t know exactly when I am coming back. No one knows the hour or the day, not the angels in heaven, not even Me, but only the Father,” is what Jesus said.
And here we are sitting 2,000 years on. What’s Jesus trying to say to you and me, here and now?
It’s like He’s painting a picture, a picture of these bridesmaids waiting with their lamps and the Bridegroom…and as we stand and stare at this picture, what does He mean for us to take in? What does He mean for us to see as we look at this picture, the story that He told in the context of the end of the age, in the context of when it’s all over on this earth for you and me?
Well, this whole tradition of the Bridegroom and the banquet and the bridesmaids with the lamps, we actually, historically, don’t know an awful lot about the tradition. But it seems clear that what happened in these wedding ceremonies is that the Bridegroom went out to go and get the bride. And the bride had these bridesmaids. And clearly here in the story, the Bridegroom for some reason was delayed.
Just as people have been predicting that Jesus would come back next week or the week after, they have been predicting that for years and actually He hasn’t come back yet. When He does, we’ll know. But it seems for some inexplicable reason that He is being delayed. How often do we feel as though somehow God has been delayed?
And so we see these ten bridesmaids. I thought it really interesting that out of the ten
Jesus said five of them were foolish, and five of them were wise.I mean, they all went to sleep, the story said, they all went to sleep because the bridegroom was running late, so they all went to sleep.In other words, we all have our weaknesses.And Jesus doesn’t condemn them for going to sleep, it’s a fact we do get tired.We do sleep.The thing that distinguishes between the five foolish ones and the five wise ones is that the wise ones brought enough oil with them just in case the bridegroom was delayed.The foolish ones just brought the oil in their lamps.
Oil was a precious commodity in the first century.It was used for cooking, and fuel, and light, and healing and anointing.It was a traded commodity.It often had added fragrance. It was something that symbolized soothing, and joy, and goodness.Today women rub cream into their faces and hand cream into their hands and that really brings refreshment and softness.
That’s the idea of oil.And throughout the scriptures, the Old Testament and the New Testament, oil is a symbol of the presence of God.When David was anointed as king—that means when God selected him and appointed him—the prophet Samuel poured oil over his head.
The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 61 and verse 3 talks about the “oil of joy”, or the “oil of gladness.”Right through scriptures the oil is about the presence of God, it’s a symbol.And the foolish ran out of the oil.In other words, the foolish, somehow, ran out of the presence of God. And they went off to find the oil somewhere, to go out and buy it, and while they were gone, the bridegroom came. And because of that, they missed out, they were locked out.
Have you ever been waiting for someone, and they delayed?And then you move for a split second, and they come back?The barber I go to is an elderly guy called John–a really old, traditional barbershop.And I like to go to get my haircut first thing on Saturday morning, I don’t like to set in queues and waste my weekend. So, I know that he opens at nine o’clock. And so I’m there always at ten to nine or five to nine so that I can be the first in the queue and have my haircut and I’m away. The rest of the day is mine.
But unfortunately, John being an older chap has decided that he doesn’t have to be on time. And I remember one Saturday morning standing there, five past nine, ten past nine, quarter past nine, twenty past nine, twenty-two minutes past nine… At that point I said, “Right, I have had enough. I am leaving.” So I turned around and I headed down the street. And I wasn’t more than a hundred meters down the street and I turned around and John the barber had arrived. So of course I raced back.
It can be so frustrating. But what if our whole life ended up like that? What if we missed the whole point of life by being like one of the foolish bridesmaids? Think about them. They got dressed up, they got ready for the wedding. They put their makeup on, they got their lamp, they filled it with oil. They went to the brides house, they waited all night. They did all of the right things. But still they wasted their times.
That’s what Jesus was saying. They missed the point, they wasted their time. This is really scary. And the reason it’s scary is that I believe that it’s possible for someone to believe in Jesus, to say “I’m a Christian” and do all of the right things, but still miss out on the wedding banquet.
I think that’s what Jesus is saying here. This is a stern warning. At the end this is how it’s going to be. There are going to be some people who think that they did all of the right things—they went through the right rituals and all that stuff—they went to church, they were sitting in pews, they were doing the right thing and going through the motions, and Jesus said, “Some of them are going to be locked out.”
Now I think if he’d have said there were ten bridesmaids and one of them was foolish and nine of them were wise that would be scary enough. He’d be saying “one in ten.” But he’s actually saying, five of them were foolish, and five of them were wise.
That’s kind of a fifty-fifty split—that is a big number that he is talking about. This is not a small marginal problem that some people have. Jesus is saying “look, don’t go through the motions and then expect at the end of it to have a relationship with me.” If oil is a symbol of the presence of God, the point of the story here, that Jesus is telling us, is that we need to be ready by having a day-after-day-after-day relationship with God.
Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7 verse 21 He said, “Not everybody who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Why is it? Why were some of them locked out, as it were? Because they should have been full of the spirit of God. Their lamp should have been full. But in fact they hadn’t prepared.
Instead of being filled with oil—instead of being filled with Holy Spirit, having a relationship that’s real and vital everyday, a relationship that causes God’s light to shine out of us just as light would shine out of a lamp if it was filled with oil—instead of having that—a vital, dynamic, beautiful, intimate relationship with Jesus, they were off somewhere else, trying to buy their oil from someone else.
How often do we fall into that trap? If only I could have this new dress. Or, if only I could find a husband or wife. Or, if only I had a new car, then I’d be happy. If only I could have a promotion or career. If only I can get rid of these people who annoy me, then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll be able to shine the light. If only…
So we go off chasing for that satisfaction, for that deep something. All together somewhere else. And meanwhile Jesus is over here doing something, loving someone that we hate into the kingdom of God. And we miss out on that day after day, month after month, we miss the point because the point is being ready, filled with oil, shining light.
Here’s the good news. Nothing else other than an intimate relationship with Jesus will ever satisfy your need. Ever. Full stop. End of story.
Let’s just flick over for a minute—just keep your finger in part where Matthew 25 is—and flick over to Acts chapter 17, verse 26.Why did God create us? Well, here we are told. Verse 26.
“From one ancestor He made all nations to inhabit the whole earth. And He allotted the times of their existence the boundaries and places where they should live so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for Him and find Him. Though indeed, He isn’t far from any of us. For in Him we live and we move, and we have our being.”
Why did God create the countries and the nations and the earth and the times and the boundaries and the people? So that we would seek after Him. Literally what Luke rights there is that we would “crave” after Him. Feel out, grope for Him, look for Him in order to find Him.
That theme of looking for God, of chasing after God, of trying to find Him to fill our deepest need runs right through the Bible.
In Jeremiah 29:12 He writes, “Then when you call upon Me and come and pray to Me, I would hear you. When you search for Me, you will find Me if you seek Me with all your heart.
In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Ask and you’ll receive. Seek and you’ll find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Not once, but daily, day after day after day, God means for us—for you and for me–to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him.
Now, any relationship takes time, any relationship takes discipline and any relationship takes perseverance. But God wants us to be filled with something—He wants us to be filled with His presence, day after day after day.
Go to Ephesians 5 quickly. Ephesians 5:18, it says, “Don’t get drunk with wine because that’s debauchery. But be filled with the Spirit.” “Be filled,” literally, “go on being filled with the Spirit.”
When we start looking around and tying all of these things together with the parable of the ten bridesmaids, we can see that Jesus is making a point here. “Be filled”—make sure your lamp is full.
If you come to Me every day and spend time with Me and invest in that relationship, you’ll always be filled because I’ll be there and you’ll be filled to overflowing with My presence.
“I don’t have time. You know, I work hard and I eat and I sleep and I watch some television and, you know, I’m really busy. And we go out and we do shopping and we come watch a movie and…”
Jesus said, “Come on, if you are going to live life, live it with the end in mind.” And the end is that day when we stop breathing on this earth, when our hearts stop beating or, if God decides, that Jesus returns before we die.
And if we say, “I don’t have time; I’m too busy,” well, maybe, we look a little bit more like those five foolish bridesmaids than the five wise ones.
They are all there; they all got dressed up. They all believed the bridegroom was coming. But five of them, fully half of them, ran out of oil. They ran out of puff. They ran out of steam. And, as a result, they missed out.
There is something in this world that says, “Well, you know, I’m a pretty good person and yeah, I kind of believe in Jesus and yeah, I’ll be ready and yeah, if there is a heaven, I’ll make it in.”
That’s not what Jesus is talking about here. This is a stern, stern, realistic warning. If we want to have an eternal life, that eternal life, that relationship with God, that dynamic, vital thing, that richness happens now.
That’s why, Jesus, when He rose and He ascended into heaven, sent His Holy Spirit to live in each person who confesses to faith in Jesus.
But just as a couple can be married and not really have a marriage relationship, so you and I can believe in God and not really have a relationship with Jesus.
John wrote in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life and not perish.”
You think, Well, I believe in Jesus. Let’s examine that a bit closer. Literally, He says, “Whoever believes into Jesus, that’s what the Greek word means that John wrote—“Whoever believes into Jesus.”
It’s like you can look at a chair from a distance and say, “Well, I believe that chair can hold me if I sit in it”; but we never sit in it or looking at a plane from a distance and saying, “I believe that plane could carry me safely from A to B,” but never getting into the plane.
Having eternal life comes from placing our trust into Jesus from having a relationship with Him, from taking that step of faith—moving from in our head knowing that Jesus is God’s Son, from that sort of intellectual understanding to going right into a relationship and saying, “I trust Him with my life. I’m going to listen to Him. I’m going to live my life according to what He says.”
And when we think, Oh, I’m too busy or it’s too hard or…when we think that, you know what we need to say to our flesh when it whines like that?
“Give me a break! My life is not my own. I am bought with a price. And that price was the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. And I will not waste my life. My desire is to make knowing and enjoying God the passionate pursuit of my life, the number one thing that drives my life.”
Well, have about it? Are we going to live a wishy-washy life that doesn’t really reflect or shine out a relationship with Jesus? Come on.
Jesus is calling us to something here through this story because without that joy, without that relationship, the light won’t shine. Without the oil, the lamp won’t shine in the darkness.
The foolish ones—50 percent—missed out on the banquet. Why? Because they ran out of oil and their lights stopped shining.
Can I ask you a question? Does your light still shine? I mean is it bright enough for the lost to find? In this cold, dark, hurting world, do people look at you and say, “Man, I want what he has or I want what she has?”
When you run into hurt and broken people, does the oil of the Spirit pour out through you and ease their pain? Does the light shine through you and warm their hearts?
Or are we too busy being offended by their ways and trying to avoid them?
Does your light still shine? Is it bright enough for the lost to find?
I can’t answer that for you but my hunch is that the Holy Spirit is touching a few people right now and talking to you through this parable.
It’s so easy to get caught up in things. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in doing ministry and to get excited about what God is doing and to forget to have a relationship with Jesus and forget every day to spend time with Him and let Him fill me with the oil of gladness, let Him fill me with the presence of God.
If that’s the case, then know this: This is not a message of condemnation. It’s a warning. It’s not meant to pull us down. It’s meant to pull us up.
And I believe that through this God has an invitation to a wedding banquet, the banquet at the end–but first to a fantastic life today.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at what it means for our light to shine through the parable of talents, living life to the full, the rest of the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
Here’s the Good News: There is a banquet at the end.
But there’s stuff happening along the way, the most exciting, vital, rich stuff happening along the way when we take the time and the effort to be filled with the presence of the living God, the Holy Spirit.
And just like any other relationship that comes from spending time with each other, having fun with each other, listening to each other, it’s an exciting message–it’s a good news message.