On Tuesday, Jesus has an encounter with a group of Pharisees and teachers of the law, men who will be the final opposition force to Jesus as the Christ. He begins to teach about the Kingdom of God with parables.
In Matthew 21, we read, "45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet."
At one point in his discourse, Jesus holds nothing back but makes his point plain and clear, "“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you." He would go on to call them "whitewashed tombs."
By chapter 26, the Jewish leaders had heard enough, gathering in the palace of the high priest, they "plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him."
One of the parables Jesus told on Tuesday was in private to his disciples, who had retired to the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem. It is Kingdom parable about what was to come. The beloved was going away. But he would return.
What was the betrothed beloved to do in the midst of the separation?
25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Without taking time to untangle all of the possible avenues of discussion, it is easy enough to grasp the primary application of the parable, which is for the bride to be ready for the appearing of the bridegroom.
Scripture uses the imagery of the Church as the bride of Christ, with Jesus as the Bridegroom.
In the parable, the virgins, as disciples of Jesus, would be longing for the day of anticipated union with the beloved. Affection consummated and joy fulfilled.
It is this kind of joyful anticipation for which the church should be known. Longing for his appearance. Desiring for his return. Anticipating consummation.
But the bridegroom has been delayed as it were, and the bride has grown drowsy, seduced by the temptations of the world’s pleasures, which array themselves with the empty promise of fulfilled joy.
In an oft-quoted statement by C.S. Lewis in his famous essay, The Weight of Glory, he writes about this deceptive lull into the sleep of worldly satisfaction, saying, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Rather than keep our hearts tuned to living in vital faith union with the Risen Christ, we sleep and dream, with dreams of comfort, control, ease, riches, authority, recognition, and praise.
It may be that the most pervasive religion in the west is Christian atheism. We profess to believe in a crucified Savior and risen Lord, but live as if this world is devoid of the divine. Words like fate, chance, and luck unveil what we really believe at a functional level.
My worry gives me away. My lack of generosity shows my hand. My desire to avoid hardship like I control the air conditioner reveals that my eyes are firmly fixed on the here and now; not the infinite joy of the Bridegroom's return.
In Colossians 3:1-2, Paul says, “1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Peter joins the chorus, exclaiming in 1 Peter 1:3-4, “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
This is not to say that things of this world are not important. They are just not ultimate.
Our hope for infinite joy is not here.
For those in Christ, our best life is yet to come. Always.
No matter how bad it gets, the cross tells us that it could have been worse. No matter how good things become, the gospel promises that they will get better.
Waking Up to Infinite Joy
So, how can our souls be aroused and hearts awakened to the infinite joy that awaits the bride of Jesus?
I can think of two ways.
- Supernatural awareness. Only God can give us this kind of taste for a greater glory than what we are able to experience in this life. But when we taste “heaven’s joys,” nothing else will satisfy the soul. Only the person and presence of Jesus.
- Practical anticipation. Being ready takes intentionality. Anyone can fall asleep. But staying awake takes focus. Refusing to let the mud pies of our slums be our greatest joy requires keeping an eye on the metaphorical holiday at the sea.
After all, what did Jesus say to the believing thief on the cross? “Today, you will be with me in... paradise.”
Paradise! Really? But I’m a criminal with nothing to show for my life except a mound of shame and guilt.
Yes, but that’s why I am here next to you. The righteous for the unrighteous. Nailed. Groaning in agony. Feeling the weight of the law’s wrath pressing, suffocating my body and soul unto death.
But this suffering was born not of guilt or duty or obligation. It was the compelling love of Jesus for the Father and for his bride. As the author of Hebrews says, “It was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross.”
It was joy that drove the Bridegroom, who loved his bride with such passion that he would die a thousand deaths to be with her forever.
But it only took one.
It is this Jesus, the Bridegroom, for whom we await with the readiness of “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
May it be today!