Last week I borrowed the term “essential oils” and used it to introduce a brief look at one of Jesus’ parables found in Matthew 25:1-13. The story involves ten bridesmaids and centered on the failure of half of them to be adequately equipped. The “foolish five” had gone in search of more oil and were absent when the bridegroom arrived. That caused them to be excluded from the wedding and shut out of the subsequent celebration.
The previous post highlighted the fact that an unavoidable face-to-face meeting with the Lord awaits each of us at some point in the future and that advance preparation is “essential.” When that moment arrives, there will be no opportunity for installing a retroactive belief system. Anything less than vigilance and readiness in the face of an event with such profound implications would be, to use Jesus’ own descriptive term, “foolish.”
Other Lessons Emerge ~
The importance of advance preparation is clear in the parable, but additional lessons cry out for attention as well, and we would be remiss to leave it without acknowledging at least one of them. So, I’d like to continue our consideration of this simple story by picturing a closed box that is securely locked. Though you’ve never really examined its contents, you had been told that what it held inside would provide protection and enduring security in the event you were faced with some incalculable loss. You’re confident that the precious contents of that box could be counted on to ensure future security and happiness.
Now, picture yourself going to the box at a time when you desperately need to produce whatever treasure you expect to find inside. Imagine your heart pounding with adrenaline as you turn the key in the lock and begin to open the lid. How does it feel in your imaginary scene when you raise the lid and discover the box is totally empty?
Over the years, many of us have experienced the devastating discovery of unexpected emptiness in our lives or observed it in others. In some cases, a bank account may have been cleaned out or an insurance policy didn’t cover all that we thought it did. Purported “healing agents” sometimes prove to be nothing more than an impotent placebo. Unexpected emptiness can be shocking, but for the bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable, and for many others, the consequences turned out to be devastating, irreversible, and worst of all, eternal.
The “foolish five” didn’t realize until it was too late that earlier assumptions about their readiness were as empty as their lamps. The untenable predicament that they had put themselves in became tragically real when they were awakened at midnight with an excited cry:
“Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” Matthew 25:6-8 (NKJV)
It’s the Light, Not the Lamp ~
The inability of the “foolish five” to produce light had nothing to do with their intellect, their appearance, their individual backgrounds, their personal skills and abilities, or the quality of their lamps. Defective lamps weren’t the problem. Their lamps may well have been crafted by the best lamp makers, and in pristine working condition, but the finest lamp in the land is pragmatically worthless if it’s empty. At the critical moment when their light was called for, the foolish bridesmaids got a tragic reminder that the real source of light is the oil, not the lamp in which it is housed.
To fast forward to our own day, it doesn’t take a lot of research to discover that multitudes of us tend to ignore the details of our insurance policies until we’re hit with some kind of loss. We immediately become very concerned about the limits of our medical insurance when we get a challenging diagnosis from our doctor. We might ignore the current condition of our financial investments until we’re confronted with potentially devastating economic downturn. Then we want to know exactly what we have and how to access it.
Advance Preparation is Vital ~
If our tendency is not to assess the status of our physical and financial “lamps” ahead of time, it seems that we’re even less prone to do it when it comes to spiritual issues. Like the bridesmaids in Jesus’ story, human nature is simply to assume that whatever we have will be enough. That leaves many trusting that they can get by on the basis of their church membership, or the fact that they were baptized, or confirmed, or that they “took communion” regularly, or because they held some official church office. There was one source for the light that the foolish bridesmaids’ lamps were designed to produce and they didn’t have it. There is one access to God. There is one means of having our sins forgiven. There is one open door to heaven, and it isn’t church membership, baptism, or the performance of some ritual.
Our sin is what separates us from God. His acceptance, then, demands that something be done to remove our sins–every one of them — and keeping commandments, ordinances, and participating in rituals can never do that. Just as empty lamps couldn’t help the bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable, the structure of Judaism, or in our case, things like church membership, baptism, or other ecclesiastical rituals, without the vicarious sacrifice of a perfect Savior are impotent and empty.
Only One Source of Light ~
Superficial religious structures and contrivances might make impressive looking “lamps,” but an empty lamp is impotent against the darkness that surrounds it. Jesus made it abundantly clear that personal faith in Him, which accomplishes a new “birth” in those who believe, is the only way to have our sins forgiven and guaranteed acceptance by God.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6 (NKJV)
When one of those “midnight cries” come to us like it did to the bridesmaids in Jesus’ story, it won’t matter how fancy our lamp looks on the outside. Jesus wants every one of us to accompany Him to an endless celebration when He comes for us, but advance preparation is “essential.” So now seems a good time to ask . . . What’s in your lamp?
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “There is one access to God. There is one means of having our sins forgiven. There is one open door to heaven, and it isn’t church membership, baptism, or the performance of some ritual. @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Our sin is what separates us from God. His acceptance, then, demands that something be done to remove our sins — every one of them — and keeping commandments, ordinances, and participating in rituals can never do that.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Superficial religious structures and contrivances might make impressive looking “lamps,” but an empty lamp is impotent against the darkness that surrounds it.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “When one of those ‘midnight cries’ come to us like it did to the bridesmaids in Jesus’ story, it won’t matter how fancy our lamp looks on the outside.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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