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“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish….” Matthew 25:1-3 Read v. 1-13

Are you ready for Jesus Christ to return on the last Day? Jesus told this parable to admonish us to be watchful and ready at all times for His return.

Jesus here compares the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins who “took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” The wise virgins took extra oil for their lamps so that they would be ready even if the “bridegroom tarried.” The foolish took only the oil in their lamps and did not consider the possibility that their lamps would go out before the bridegroom arrived.

As a result, these foolish virgins were not prepared and ready when the bridegroom came; and they did not enter with the bridegroom into the marriage feast.

With this parable, Jesus warns us against being foolishly unprepared for His return on the Last Day. It is foolish for us who believe in Christ today to fall asleep and not be watching for His return. It is foolish not to have our faith continually nourished and kept burning through the regular use of the Word of God and the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

If we do not make such provision by continually using of the Word of God in our homes and hearing the Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper in our church, we may find our lamps empty and gone out at Jesus’ coming. Our faith in Christ will have waned and died because we did not continue to hear the warnings of God’s Law or the comforts of the Gospel and we no longer placed our hope and confidence in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for our eternal salvation!

Those who have no living, saving faith in Jesus Christ when He returns in Judgment will be shut out of heaven, for it will be too late to repent and rekindle faith at that time! But those who have wisely provided oil for their lamps – those who continue to nourish their faith by remembering their Baptism, reading and hearing the Word of God, and receiving the body and blood of Christ given and shed for the remission of sins that the Holy Ghost may, through these means, keep their faith burning and assure them of forgiveness for all their sins and of life everlasting for Jesus’ sake – will enter into heaven with Jesus and enjoy its blessings forever (cf. Revelation 19:7-9; 21:24).

With my lamp well trimmed and burning, swift to hear and slow to roam, watching for Thy glad returning to restore me to my home. Come, my Savior, Come, my Savior, O my Savior, quickly come. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #606, Verse 4)

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead! We confess this in our creeds and we hear it in our Scripture readings. Jesus said, “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27; cf. Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s Gospel). We are to be ready by repenting of our sinful ways and looking in faith to Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross.

The believers in Thessalonica “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). They had come to believe the Gospel and to trust in Christ Jesus for their salvation, and they were awaiting His glorious return to take them to be with Him forever in heaven.

But what of those who have died in the faith before the coming of Christ Jesus? If a believer dies before the return of Jesus, have they lost out? St. Paul tells us the answer in chapter 4, beginning at v. 13.

We do not have to sorrow when a fellow believer falls asleep, or dies, trusting in the Lord Jesus. We do not need to sorrow as others do, who have no hope. Why? Consider the inspired words of Paul’s letter: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

This is no secret rapture or snatching away of believers as some suggest. The apostle says: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (cf. Matthew 24:29ff.; 25:31ff.; Revelation 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Matthew 13:47ff.).

Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3ff.), will bring with Him the souls of all the saints who have gone before us, the souls of all who have trusted in His name. This, of course, means that when believers die, their souls are taken to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven. Consider poor Lazarus, whose soul was carried by angels into the “bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:19ff.), or the thief on the cross whose soul was that day taken to paradise (Luke 23:43). Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21ff. He desired to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

When Jesus returns, all who have died in the faith will be raised up. It won’t matter whether the body is preserved through embalming, decayed to dust or turned to ashes, all the dead will rise and stand before the LORD God. The Bible says: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13).

How will we be judged? According to our works. The Bible says: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Matthew 25:31ff.). But our works do not measure up! According to God’s Word, we’ve all sinned and come short of what God requires of us to enter into His glory (cf. Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20).

So, how is it that we sinners can be acceptable and righteous in God’s eyes? We read on in the chapter (2 Corinthians 5:19-21): “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” It is through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus! It is by fleeing to the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus in our stead. It is by washing our robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1; cf. v. 34). Or, as Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

Believers who are living in this world when Jesus returns will not go before those who have died. The Word of God says: “that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.”

It is as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

And, “so shall we ever be with the Lord”! When Christ returns, the dead are raised up and we are changed, we will be forever with the Lord. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” ( John 14:2-3).

It is described this way in Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” It is then that we will serve our God “in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Second Article; cf. Third Article and Luke 1:75).

So, why do we have hope when a fellow believer dies? And, why can we face our own deaths in hope and confidence? It is because of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again! By His death He made full atonement for all our sins – indeed, for the sins of all (cf. 1 John 2:1-2) – and by His resurrection, we have the assurance that His sacrifice for sins was acceptable to God and that all who place their faith in Him are also justified and forgiven and acceptable to God (cf. Romans 4:23 – 5:2; Ephesians 1:6-7). And we have the assurance that, as Christ was raised from the dead on the third day, so we also will be raised from the dead to spend eternity with our God and Savior!

We have the confidence of Job, who confessed: “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27).

O gracious Savior, grant us faith in You and Your cross that we might have a certain hope of forgiveness, life and eternal salvation. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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Since we will gather for worship and to partake of Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the remission of our sins, it is indeed good and right that we examine ourselves in accord with 1 Corinthians 11:28-29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

We do so this week on the basis of Psalm 130, where we read: “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

And it is true: if the LORD God were to mark down our iniquities – all the ways and all the times in which we have transgressed His holy commandments – who could stand? The answer, of course, is not one of us. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are all guilty and deserving of His eternal wrath and punishment on account of our sins.

Though God’s law condemns us all to eternal torment on account of our sins, the psalmist writes: “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” Though we cannot be acceptable to God on the basis of His law on account of our sins and our sinful hearts, there is another way to be acceptable in His eyes – to have our sins forgiven and washed away and to be accounted righteous and holy in God’s eyes – and that is through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He fulfilled the righteous demands of the law in our stead, and He suffered our just punishment when He was crucified and died upon the cross. His resurrection on the third day is proof that God accepted His sacrifice as full payment for sin and that through faith in Him we are justified and counted righteous and holy in God’s judgment.

It is as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:20-26: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

Instead of trusting in our own sin-tainted righteousness which comes far, far short in every way, we place our confidence in the LORD. Our soul waits upon Him, because with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. In Jesus Christ, the LORD God has redeemed us from all our sins and offers and gives to us, through the preaching of the Gospel and through the right administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, His mercy and forgiveness, and life everlasting!

I ask you before God: Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner and have sinned in thought, word and deed? Do you confess and agree with God that you are guilty and deserving of his wrath and punishment? Do you trust that Christ Jesus has truly redeemed you from the curse of God’s law? Do you also believe that Jesus, in the Sacrament, gives you to partake of His body and blood which were given and shed that your sins might be forgiven you? As a fruit of your faith, do you truly desire and seek God’s help to amend your life and live it in accord with God’s Word?

If you are truly sorry for your sins and look to Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for pardon and forgiveness, I announce unto you the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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