Monday, April 21, 2008
This year I have been reading Matthew in my daily devotions. For January I read chapters 1-7, February found me in chapters 8-14, March was camped in chapters 15-21, and in April I've been working through the final 7 chapters. Today I was particularly interested in the parable of the 10 virgins.
I remember, as a young girl (around 9 or 10), the older girls of our church (15-17 year olds) presenting a drama that was basically an enactment of this parable. It gripped me deeply, as I felt the plight of the foolish virgins in their despair of finding the door locked, and the bridegroom saying, "I do not know you." These words echo Matthew's earlier recount of another of Christ's lessons in Matthew 7:22-23: On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
In meditating on Matthew 25:1-13, several analogies needed clarification in my mind, as I was trying to understand this parable.
1. Who are the virgins?
2. What are the lamps?
3. What is the oil?
4. What is meant by "became drowsy and slept"? (My first thought: this represents our daily lives on earth, as we are waiting for the bridegroom, Christ's, return.)
In addition to learning what Christ was pointing to with these word pictures of lamps, oil, etc., the admonishment to "watch" is clear at the end of the parable. So I am also seeking to clarify what that exactly entails and requires on my behalf, since it seems to be the point of Christ's story.
As I studied, I came to think that the virgins are people, with the foolish being the unregenerate and the wise being the children of God. In checking out such thoughts I looked into various commentaries and was reminded to note the context of chapters 23 and 24, where Christ is clearly admonishing the scribes/ pharisees and outwardly religious. This adds the dimension of these virgins being people who are preparing themselves for the bridegroom - professing Christians... and this dimension begins to point to what Jesus is meaning by the word, "Watch".
Initially, I thought the lamps which the bridesmaids carried represent our souls. I'm not entirely sure, since Wesley's commentary suggested "faith" as the lamp,... with the oil representing faith that is working by love. In my spirit, this was not what I understand the text to be saying... that we need to "watch" by 'working out our salvation with fear and trembling,' or by keeping ourselves in the faith. I believe the Father does this by the power of the Spirit (John 17:11, Gal.3:3) . I saw the oil to be the gospel, or "saving grace" as MacArthur described, in his sermon. This clarified the "trimming of their lamps" as the preparing virgins examining themselves and preparing to meet God.
At this point of the parable, there is a clear separation between those that are found ready and those that are wont of oil. Why couldn't the virgins share their oil, I kept wondering. If it's the gospel, surely they could share? This question clarified for me that indeed, the oil is saving grace - which cannot be given from one person to another, but must be received individually from God Himself through faith in Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
However, the alarming part of this story is that there will be a day when the door will be closed and it will be too late to have a lamp lit for the bridegroom. This clarifies Jesus' words to "watch" all the more. Dear fellow pilgims of this world, please let us each examine ourselves to see that we are in the faith. These words should be especially serious to all of us who proclaim to be Christians. We must make sure that our lamps are lit with God's grace, and not that we THINK we are part of the many who will be saved (Matt.20:28) and yet are part of the many mentioned in Matt.7:21-23.
Please join me today, and take a moment to look at the fruit of our lives. Let's examine ourselves, while we have today, so that we too will be ready for our bridegroom with our robes of righteousness in place and holding the oil of saving grace in preparation.