Trinity 27 (2013)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
November 24, 2013
Central Passage
Matthew 25:1-13

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Many people want to know what the oil is in the parable of the Ten Virgins. Is it faith? Is it good works? Is it the Holy Spirit? And if it’s one or the other of these things, how can we know we have the oil and so be counted among the wise virgins? Well, the truth is, the oil is all these things. For all these things consist of the life of the virgin bride of Christ. The oil is the Holy Spirit; it is faith; and it is good works. And the wick is soaked in these things and lit so that all may see where the virgin bride of Christ waits for Him. They are lit so that He, too, may see from afar where His Bride waits that He may come to her and take her to where He is.

The oil is the Holy Spirit. We are the jars of clay filled with the Holy Spirit who quickens us and gives us the eternal life of Christ. It is as the Scriptures say, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” (Ps. 133:1-2) This precious, unifying oil is the Holy Spirit by which we are made children of God and joined to Christ, sharing His Spirit and so sharing His inheritance.

The oil is the faith. For the Holy Spirit works faith in those that hear the good news that for their sakes Christ suffered and was crucified, that for their sakes He was buried and rose again from the dead; that by His sacrifice and resurrection we have peace with God and called His friends. This faith clings to the salvation wrought by the body and blood of Christ on the cross and knows no other way of salvation by that which is given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.

The oil is also good works. For it is written that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). It is also written that no one can love God unless he also love his neighbor (1 John 4:20). So too it is written that, “[The Lord] will render to a man according to his works.” (Ps. 62) But lest you think that’s only Old Testament thunder, St. Paul teaches it to the church in Rome when he warns them that “[God] will render to each one according to his works.” (Ro. 2:6) But should you need more proof that good works are a part of the Christian life, our Lord Jesus Himself says that, “The Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matt. 16:27)

So, yes, the oil is good works. But it is also the Holy Spirit and the faith that saves. For if one is missing, then all are missing for no one believes but that the Holy Spirit creates faith, and no one is saved unless they call upon the Lord, which is faith, and faith without works is dead.

But let’s be honest. The Holy Spirit bit and the faith bit we can buy pretty easily. But this works bit works us into a bit a frenzy. It’s unsettling. It’s unsettling because we know that we are not saved by our good works – they don’t work salvation for us – but in our heart of hearts, and sometimes on our sleeves, we really love our good works. We polish them and put them out there for others to see. We boast in our good works, the chief of which is usually our feigned humility talking about how we don’t deserve this or that, and that we’re just doing what we’re supposed to do. Liars. We love our good works and we rejoice not in repentance and faith but when others notice what we’ve done. We’re so bold in our love of our good works that we use them as bargaining chips with God. We remind Him what we’ve done so that He might overlook other things – less holy things – we’ve done. What is that except boasting in our works? And there’re a whole slew of would-be Christians that walk around saying of God and salvation that they just try to live their best and do what’s right and that God will thereby grant them admission to heaven. That’s a theology of good works if there ever was one. And middle class America is full of it. It’s amazing that so many people want to go to heaven but so few visit this heaven on earth where the promises of the Man of Heaven are given freely. Everyone wants to earn their way into God’s good graces; mostly because we like to force others to earn our good graces. We’re pretty stingy with our good graces.

But that’s the old Adam. The old Adam will always trust in his works. He will always deride grace by the blood of Jesus and look for salvation in what he has done and in how good he has been. That’s why the old Adam needs to be drowned and die. And out of that watery grave the new man is raised with Christ. This new man does the works of Christ as He Himself says that you will be doing the works of God. The new man does pit faith against works, but knows that his salvation is won by the obedience of Christ – that’s faith – and therefore he loves his neighbor and seeks to live at peace with and do good to all – that’s good works. One comes first, to be sure, but it never comes alone.

So the Christian life is one of the Holy Spirit, faith, and works born of faith. That’s the oil in the lamp. The wick is saturated with this oil so that the flame burns brightly so that the world sees the city of God set on the hill, and Christ sees where His bride is that He might go to her and take her into His wedding feast.

So what of the Ten Virgins? The five foolish and the five wise? The wise wait for the Bridegroom, their lamps burning brightly. They rejoice at His coming. They have eyes for Him only; their eyes are toward the Lord. They are more concerned with His arrival, trumpeted by the call of the watchmen who are the apostles and prophets and the pulpits of the Church, than they are with how much oil they have. For they know that it is enough. Their Lord and Master, their King and Bridegroom will not leave them without means. He has supplied the oil and it is enough. So joyfully they wait. Joyfully they fall asleep. Joyfully they arise and awake and watch. Joyfully the expect the coming of the Bridegroom who comes to call His bride home.

And the fools? They too have oil. They didn’t say to the wise, “Give us some oil because we don’t have any.” They said, “Our lamps are going out.” They have oil. They just don’t think it’s enough. They’re not waiting for the Bridegroom, they’re worried about their oil. Their eyes are not on the coming of the Lord, but their eyes dart to and fro looking for more oil. They are not concerned with the one thing needful, which is Christ, but they are worried about a great many things. They do not rejoice at His coming, but worry that when He comes He will find them lacking oil with no flame atop their lamps.

So they ask the wise for some of their oil. But the wise know that they cannot give what is not theirs to give; they cannot give the oil to anyone, but each is given according to the will of God. So they tell the fools what the fools want to hear: that they can get more. It’s just like a fool no to pay attention to what the wise are doing. The wise are waiting with their oil. The fools are not waiting, but fretting. They will be the goats that will ask when they didn’t do these good things. They will wonder at it because they are consumed with doing enough, believing enough, participating enough. They are consumed with worry that what the Lord gives isn’t enough.

But it is enough. Your oil, dear virgin is enough. It is given by the Lord so that He might call you His bride. It is enough. You needn’t add to it or take away from it, for you will find that you have plenty. Rest secure in the promise of your Bridegroom that He Himself has prepared His Bride; that He has given His oil and His wine and set His table and prepares a place for you. He is coming to receive you into His eternal dwellings. The Bridegroom comes. Rejoice!

+ in Nomine Iesu +