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The Oil, The Flame, The Vessel: Reflections on Matthew 25

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Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
 “At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’
“All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’
“But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked.  Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’
“But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’
“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.”-Matthew 25:1-13
A wedding was a great occasion in Jewish culture. The whole village would turn out to accompany the couple to their new home and they went by the longest possible road in order that they might receive the good wishes of as many as possible.  
There was a Jewish saying regarding this: “Everyone, from six to sixty will follow the marriage drum.”
The point of this parable lies in a Jewish custom, which is very different from anything we know. When a couple married, they did not go away for a honeymoon. They stayed at home for a week keeping open house. They were treated and even addressed as royalty. It was the greatest week in all their lives. The festivities would last all week and only their chosen friends were admitted. The celebration continued after the marriage ceremony. It was also that joyous week that the foolish virgins missed; because they were unprepared.
This story is true to life. You still see this in Palestine today.
Dr. J. Alexander Findlay wrote on his experience when he visited Palestine:
“When we were approaching the gates of a Galilean town, I caught sight of ten maidens gaily clad and playing some kind of musical instrument, as they danced along the road in front of our car; when I asked what they were doing, the taxi driver told me that they were going to keep the bride company till her bridegroom arrived. I asked him if there was any chance of seeing the wedding, but he shook his head, saying in effect: ‘It might be tonight, or tomorrow night, or in a fortnight’s time; nobody ever knows for certain.’ Then he went on to explain that one of the great things to do, if you could, at a middle-class wedding in Palestine was to catch the bridal party napping. So the bridegroom comes unexpectedly, and sometimes in the middle of the night; it is true that he is required by public opinion to send a man along the street to shout: ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming!’ but that may happen at any time; so the bridal party have to be ready to go out into the street at any time to meet him, whenever he chooses to come. … Other important points are that no one is allowed on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp, and also that, when the bridegroom has once arrived, and the door has been shut, late-comers to the ceremony are not admitted.” 
Spiritual significance
This parable, like all of the stories Jesus told, had a local context. The people would immediately understand this story in a practical sense. Most of them would also understand the story held a deep spiritual significance as well.
If Jesus is indeed speaking on spiritual truths and drawing His listeners in, where do we fit in?
On a quick read through this parable, it is easy to claim this is simply a story of salvation.  Here we have those who are ready to meet Jesus and those who are not. Here we have the foolish bridesmaids, representing those who are unsaved and not ready for Jesus to return, and we have the wise bridesmaids, representing those who are saved and are ready for Christ’s return. This is the most straightforward reading, and what of most of us have been taught.
However, what is the church called in Revelation? The Bride of Christ! The church, as in the global and historical group of believers, is the bride of Christ.

It is then not so simple to interpret Matthew 25 as a passage about believers and unbelievers. We see in this passage an important message for the church!
About the Church
This story begins with a picture of the church following and rejoicing in the celebration of the Bridegroom. The church is to be a people of worship! However, Jesus barely lets this sink in as He continues.
Verse 2-4: “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps,  but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. 
Right away we are presented with the problem: five were foolish and five were wise.
In celebration, as we meet and fellowship together, celebrating the risen Lord, as we function as the Church, we have people who are foolish, and we have people who are wise. 
This is not a surprise to anyone as we humans are marked with the problem of a sinful heritage. We have the potential to be both foolish and wise. 
God uses what seems to be foolishness to the world to express His true wisdom. 
1 Corinthians 1:18-21 says: 
The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”
 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.“
We should not be so prideful that we are afraid to look foolish for the Gospel. However, we should be determined to have only one sort of wisdom, and that is the wisdom of God.  
As the Apostle Paul so eloquently stated: I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
The Oil and the Flame
The distinction Jesus made between the two groups of bridesmaids went beyond simply calling one group foolish and one wise. He explained that one group brought extra oil for their lamps while the others didn’t bring enough. 
Then, what do the lamps and oil represent? We see in Scripture that oil represents anointing, as symbolized in Exodus 30, where Aaron and his sons were anointed by oil for service as priests. The audience that Jesus was speaking to would have immediately known that He was referring to anointing. 
Hebrews 1:9 refers to the oil of gladness in which Jesus was anointed, which reinforces oil representing anointing. 
From this oil comes a flame to bring light.

What immediately comes to mind when we see this imagery of the flames of the lamp, are the tongues of fire which rested upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. 

The oil then represents anointing and the flame represents the power of the Holy Spirit. The lamp is the vessel in which these two are held, thus representing the believer.
We are the vessels! We have the anointing of God on our lives and the power of the Holy Spirit flows through us.
Those in the body of Christ have been anointed for service. When we receive Christ we are given a purpose in His Kingdom and in His Church. We can choose to cultivate this anointing or we can choose to misuse it. We can choose to give it to God for His service or choose to ignore His call.
Look at parable of the three servants further down in Matthew 25. They were all given their talent, the first two chose to use they’re anointing wisely and invest it in the kingdom of God, reaping a spiritual harvest, the third chose to use human wisdom and rely on his own understanding and was left with nothing. 
Verses 24- 28 read: Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
I have seen men who were powerful preachers and evangelists, anointed by God to preach, who squandered their giftings. They were prideful of their gifts, thinking it was out of their own merits that they could do such great things for the Lord, refusing to truly acknowledge or give praise to Christ. They did not cultivate their relationship with Christ, or care to work on their character. Eventually, their human strength gave out and they turned to worldly desires.

You see, we cannot rely on our anointing, but rather must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives our lights will go dim!

Verse 6-8 say: “At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’
“All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’”
Christ will call at unexpected hour. Can we rely on our own wisdom and experience when we are called to action?

No, we will find that our lights have gone dim and we cannot rouse the Spirit that we never knew!

This shows a picture of a people who don’t even understand where they have gone wrong. They truly are foolish! Their lights are dim and they ask their fellow believers to light their fire instead of going to God.

 Verse 9 -“But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’
We cannot rely on someone else’s anointing to fill our tanks. We have personally been given the Holy Spirit. He does not rest upon a “special” individual in order to be equally distributed.

He is given by the Father and is a result of relationship. We need to go to the source! 

Have you ever seen people in the church do this? They jump from leader to leader, church to church, trying to piggyback off what the Holy Spirit is doing there.

You can’t get a good drink standing under someone who is gulping from a canteen.You need to take the canteen in your hands and place the bottle to your lips and drink deeply.  You can’t get a tan by standing beside a tanning bed. You must get in and let the glow touch your skin. 

There is no secondhand Holy Spirit! There is only true relationship with Christ; there is only the power of the Holy Spirit working through the true believer. 
Ephesians 4:4-6 says:
“For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.
When the wise bridesmaids said We don’t have enough for all of us, go to the shop and buy some for yourselves”  What they were really saying was: “Why are you asking me for something I cannot give? The Spirit is within me, but I cannot give it to you. Go to the Source, go to God!”
We must not be foolish. We must go to the Source for our strength and power, we must cultivate the Spirit in our lives.
Equal Chances
These parables tell an internal story, On the surface the bridesmaids looked the same. They all held lamps, they all followed the same path. They even rested at the same time. You could not tell the difference between them. To the outside world they were all equal. There was no way to tell the difference between the wise and foolish.  
It is the same in the Church. We do not know what is in each other’s hearts. We all appear to be following Jesus together. We are all servants equal before our King. We are not to pass final judgement on who is a true servant of God, and who is not. That’s up to God in the end!
This story also tells us we all have equal opportunity!  Just like the bridesmaids and servants had equal opportunities and were all given the same chance to follow and obey. God’s grace is upon us our entire lives, before salvation and after. We choose to follow God. We choose to obey or turn away.  We choose to use what we are given or squander it. We choose to go to Him to be fulfilled or go to the world. No matter what our choices, God knows the entire time where we are at.
He knows the giftings and anointings He has bestowed upon us. He knows if we are allowing His Spirit’s power to manifest itself in our lives. And, as in these parables, our lives will end and everything will come to light.
So this message is for today:
Verse 29 – “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”
This message is for the future:
 Verses 31-33 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.”
This is the urgency expressed in these stories. There is a time when it is too late. We must get to know God right now, we must drink deeply of the Spirit right now. We don’t know how long we have on this earth and we definitely don’t know when Christ will return. 
The need to Serve
This may appear like a scare tactic, a “who is in and who is out” scenario, but this is not the main point of this passage.
Verses 34-40 say:
 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
If our hearts are full of the Spirit, we will naturally want to serve in this life, we will naturally want to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. However, we need to take our desire to serve and actually serve. 
This has become true in my life. It is easy to make excuses as the third servant did. He made all the excuses he could think of before his master. They did not stand, they did not “hold water.” Neither will ours. It is easy to make them. I have made them for years.  “I am too busy to help right now.” “Maybe next month when things settle down I will volunteer.” “If my job didn’t take so much out of me…” None of these excuses are valid. They will not stand before God!
Look at the scripture. We are to serve the hungry, naked, sick, lonely people who need caring for. These people are all around us in our daily lives. We don’t necessarily need to volunteer, or take that much time out of our busy schedules in order to care for these people. We can and should help when the Spirit directs, but this passage implies a moving and working Gospel. We can respond in the thick of things, meeting needs, bringing God’s Kingdom as the opportunities present ithemselves. 
Can we not stop and pray for a sick or lame person? That’s what Jesus did, and people were healed! Can we not stop and talk to a lonely person on the street? I believe we can do better in these areas. I know I want to, I know I can and I will. 
When I was growing up, the church emphasized that in our culture the primary way to bring people to Christ was through relational evangelism. The building of an ongoing relationship with a person is a great way to present the Gospel, but it is not the only way. I have seen this model presented for years and I am sure it has a lot of merit and was partly a response to a time when people would preach on the street but ignore their neighbour. But to say this is the primary way to bring people to Christ is a lie that is damaging the church. From what I have seen, many Christians today will begin relationships superficially, not being outspoken or forward with the Gospel. They then look for the right moment to share Jesus. The right moment was when they first met! We then see Christian women and men being led into a sinful lifestyle rather then leading others to Jesus. They never find the right moment to share the gospel with their unsaved friends and as the relationship progresses it becomes more and more awkward to mention their faith, as it was never mentioned in the first place. They are afraid to offend and lose a friendship and so the believer is influenced by the non-believer instead of the reverse. This is what the Bible calls “Friendship with the world” (James 4:4). It is not evangelism and surely not biblical. 
If we look in the Bible, the Gospel is presented throughout every relationship: big or small, ongoing relationship or one time encounters.
As Jesus walked through His days, He taught, healed and presented the Good News to everyone He met, The apostles followed His example and we are to do the same.
Christianity is an “on the move” faith. We are to look for every opportunity to present the Gospel. We are to ask the Holy Spirit to broaden our views, our influences and take us out of our comfort zone. 
This last year I have been seeking the Lord on what He would have for me in ministry.  He has asked me to step out. As I felt the pull of His Spirit, I have prayed for more discernment and for an open heart to His Spirit’s leading. The result is, I cannot go to the mall without being given a word about someone. I can barely leave my house without being led to speak to people about Jesus or pray for someone’s healing. This has been difficult as it’s outside my comfort zone. I often make excuses not to speak to others or pray for healing.  
Since I have begun praying this prayer, the Lord has brought many in my path. The first time I was filling up at a gas station and five feet from me, there was a lame beggar. People would walk by and give him money. I felt the call to pray for his healing, but I made excuses: that I needed to move my car so others in line could fill up, that I would move my car and park it and then go speak to him. When there was no parking spot, I just went home. I phoned my pastor that night and he encouraged me that at least I am open to the Holy Spirit’s voice and if I am open He will bring more opportunity. I prayed, “Lord give me more chances. I wish to be obedient.” God is full of grace. Since then the opportunities have become more frequent and I have heard His voice louder, always when I am out by myself, never with my family as they would provide another excuse not to step out. I have now begun to speak the name of Jesus to this hurting world. When I do get a chance to pray for people, I believe the Lord uses these times to build His kingdom. 
God Knows Us
The fantastic thing about Matthew 25 is that it shows us how much God really knows us. This passage is not to scare us.Yes it’s a warning, and it’s to bring conviction. It reassures us that God knows us, inside and out. He knows us better then we know ourselves. 
Jesus wants us to take a long look at ourselves. Are we living up to who God made us to be? Are we squandering His anointing? Are we living by His Spirit’s guidance? Are we being obedient? Are we serving Him, by simply meeting the needs of those around us?
The things which Jesus picks out–giving a hungry man a meal, or a thirsty man a drink, welcoming a stranger, cheering the sick, visiting the prisoner–are things which anyone can do. It is not a question of giving away thousands of dollars, or of writing our names in the annals of history. It is a case of giving simple help to the people we meet every day.  Jesus knows that we can all do these things, He believes in us!
Verse 34 says: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”
The Kingdom of God was prepared for you and me. God meant for us to inherit it!
Ephesians 1:4,5 says: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”
Even before He made the world, He knew us! He loved us, He chose us!
Before HE MADE THE WORLD! We were predestined to know Christ!  He chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. This is radical. This means that God saw you; He saw you before a single organism was created. Before He took hydrogen and oxygen to make water, before all creation. He knew you would be here and you were loved, valued and were important to Him.
Does this not give us confidence? It’s not God who doesn’t believe in us. It’s we who do not believe in ourselves!
It gave Him GREAT PLEASURE! He loves to see us succeed, He yearns for us to live up to who He made us to be. He is full of Grace! Let us not waste our lives making excuses. Let us not take advantage of His grace. For that is the warning of this passage: Don’t let what you can do today be left for tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come!
People are dying! This world slips more into darkness every day. Do we not care? Do we not feel this urgency? I know you care in your hearts and in your heads. But the world would have us wait, make excuses and turn us into goats! We need to put care into action. Because love is proven true with action.
We cannot wait! We need to get this gospel message out! We need to pray for the sick, we need to care for the down trodden, broken and depressed. We need to get out of our bubbles and open our eyes and hearts to what the Spirit is saying to us. 
1 Cor 1:8-9 says: He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.  God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
He will give you to strength to live this out. He will help you live with integrity and love. He
 will enable you to see your selves for who your really are, sons and daughters of the King. Then you will be able to accomplish this great task set before you.

God is with us! And He has invited us to partner with Him! Lets us heed the call!

There were five wise bridesmaids who followed in the celebration of the Bridegroom. They were prepared. They knew who they were in Christ. They were anointed for service and filled with the Spirit. They were ready for what was ahead of them.
Let us be a prepared Church, going to the Father for our identity, walking out in our anointing and fully functioning in the Spirit’s power!
Let us use what was given to us for the Kingdom of God, not laying dormant, not hiding our purpose, but rather, partnering with Christ, to reap a harvest for His Kingdom.
Let us serve those around us, not helping in order to get praise or adoration, out of disguised selfishness, but rather serving because we cannot stop ourselves because the Spirit compels us, and because we cannot bear to see one person lost in darkness.
So then we can look forward to the coming day:
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
Let us be His Sheep!

(note* This was originally a sermon presented at Living Springs Church in Calgary AB, Canada summer 2015)
Byron Frank holds a Bachelor Of Biblical Studies: Evangelism Concentration. He is writer, poet, evangelist and public speaker. For questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements please email him at dead2myself@gmail.com

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