Sunday, November 12, 2017

Just Enough Religion

Today we focus on Matthew 25:1-13:
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.6“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’7“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’9“ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’10“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.11“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’12“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’13“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Here Jesus is giving us some final instructions and does so with 3 illustrations. Matthew 25 is the last chapter of the gospel before we go into the crucifixion and resurrection stories. So we are dealing with the final points of Jesus' teaching ministry. The 3 points are the stories of the 10 virgins, the talents and the sheep and the goats. All stories about people who seem to be on the road to heaven yet some of them make it and some of them do not. Do Jesus is giving us warning. Don't do these things. You might not receive the salvation you are expecting. 

The story of the 10 virgins is quite simple. The foolish virgins have just enough oil to get them to the wedding banquet. The wise virgins have extra oil. They are virgins so they are not big sinners. They are waiting for the bridegroom so they are not without faith. Yet some of the virgins have just as much oil as they have figured out they need. The trouble is they miscalculate and end up missing out. It seems unfair.

You hear that a lot. People think they are doing OK with respect to religion and expect God will not condemn them to hell. After all they are descent people and they have not completely ignored religion. God is merciful. There is nothing to worry about. Jesus is suggesting there is something to worry about. The road is going to be longer and harder than you expect. If you think you will be OK you should think again. 

In fact, Jesus goes one step further. He suggests in verse 12 that these 5 foolish virgins don't know God at all. How can that be? It is not like they brought no oil at all. The trouble is they asked how little they could do and still be saved. How could they avoid hell and still live fairly normal lives. That is the wrong question. That is the question we ask when we don't really know God. When we know God we ask how much can we do. We ask if there is anyway I could show more love for God or help my neighbour more. That is a question that will totally transform your life if we ask it and really mean it. Yet it is what we ask when we encounter God. 

So in some ways the lack of extra oil is about faith expressing itself in works. Not expressing itself in doing some works but really expressing itself by dominating the life of the believer. It is precisely the kind of religion our culture refuses to accept. You can be Christian but don't be a fanatic. Spend you Sunday mornings any way you want but don't let it transform the way you look at the world. Accept what we accept. Be politically correct. Colour within the lines.

Personally we think that way as well. We want to be Christian but we don't want it to interfere to much with our fun. Do enough to get saved but you real source of joy is the things of the world. We get caught in that kind of thinking all the time. We don't really believe that. That is not our creed. Yet our hearts go there again and again. In some ways it is the root of all sin. 

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