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“Be On The Alert”

Matthew 25:1-13

[Mt 25:1] “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. [2] “Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. [3] “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, [4] but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. [5] “Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. [6] “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ [7] “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [8] “The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ [9] “But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ [10] “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. [11] “Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ [12] “But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ [13] “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-6

[Mt 25:1] “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. [2] “Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. [3] “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, [4] but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. [5] “Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. [6] “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”

The Wedding Custom

This reading describes customs that were not just in existence during Christ’s time but they are still an active part of Middle Eastern traditions today. The wedding party would take the longest route through the village to finally arrive at their home. The more houses they visited, the more well-wishes (and gifts) they received. You didn’t want to leave one home out because no one wanted ill feelings on a wedding day. That could bring bad fortune. This day was an opportunity to reach out to break down some old barriers and to be generous to the poor or forgotten. Along the way there would be much jovial visiting and exuberant hospitality.

As a result no one ever knew when the wedding party would show up at their home (where the final festivities occurred). However, you could bet that the couple would make the most of this day staying out until the last possible moment. It would be well after dark before the wedding party returned—every possible invitation would have been extended to even the remotest household.

No street lamps

One thing we need to remember about Christ’s era was that there were no street lamps. Therefore, the role of the bridesmaids was more than a cultural display of symbolism. Their lamps lit the path home for the wedding party and all the attendees. It is also important to revisit that God chose to have his Son to be born in an occupied country. The law of that time allowed no one to be on the street after dark without a lamp. To find yourself in that situation was to risk arrest—particularly for these residents of an occupied territory. The great sadness is that it is still that way in many parts of Palestine. The Bridesmaids would literally provide legitimacy to the homecoming party so they would be safefrom the occupying government. Without their lights, the party would look like an insurrection or a mob disguised in wedding attire. Certain religious zealots would have undoubtedly thought of using just such a ploy to attack the Romans.

Having your lamps ready would provide for both the safety and direction of the wedding party. To be ill prepared for the arrival of the wedding party wasn’t just a social faux pas, it meant exposing the entire wedding party to Roman attack.

Whoever is late is locked out

Because of the political climate and the dangers of the time, once the Host’s gates were shut that is how they would remain. Even today anyone in Palestine or for that matter, anyone in an occupied country or crime-ridden neighborhood, would understand that this was not being cruel; it was a necessity. Furthermore, if you truly cared about a family you would not expose them to the risk of a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Think of the holocaust and its impact on families like that of little Anne Frank. A friend would pass by their door rather than draw the occupier’s attention to it and possibly initiate an raid by the Gestapo.

In addition, the host—for the sake of those within—simply would not answer a knock on the door at night. It could be nothing but trouble and would quite possibly expose all the family and guests to certain danger. Once you were locked out, you were out to stay.

The party you wouldn’t want to miss

Missing a wedding party would be a great loss. There was not a whole lot to celebrate for the masses of impoverished workers in Christ’s day. So a wedding was a grandiose affair generally lasting from the close of one Sabbath to the beginning of the next. Even the Pharisees said it was all right to put your studies aside to join a wedding party.

During that week all stops were pulled out and for one short week of their life the bride and groom were called prince & princess. In a life of oppressive drudgery and servitude this was their moment in the sun and everyone shared in their joy.

God comes unawares—but we know he is coming

Like the wedding party, Christ and his bride (the church) are supposed to be going to every house to make sure no one is left uninvited.

Matthew 10:6-10

6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 “Heal {the} sick, raise {the} dead, cleanse {the} lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give. 9 “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, 10 or a bag for {your} journey, or even two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.

Matthew 19:21

21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go {and} sell your possessions and give to {the} poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Matthew 22:9

9 “Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find {there,} invite to the wedding feast.”

Matthew 28:19-20

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We know that Jesus is doing his part but are we doing ours? Are we part of a fellowship focused on seeking out the darkest alleyways and inviting those normally forgotten to the banquet of God’s abundance? This is one of the two primary reasons for the very existence of the Church:

  • To worship God
  • To “go and make disciples of all the nations”

In other words, if that is not what my church or fellowship is focused on doing then why do we call ourselves “Christ Ones?” Furthermore, if I am not involved in both worshipping God and serving his people, then what makes me any different than the Pharisees in the previous study of Matthew 23:1-14? They were proud of their ritualism but condemned for their lack of responsiveness to the children of God.

It requires a huge team effort to be “church” and it exemplifies our dual roles as members of Christ’s body. Either we are:

  • In the darkness searching for the lost
  • Sending out rope and holding up a lantern so that those in the dark can find their way home

We are either deep in the cave listening for the cries of the lost or we are in the supply line offering support to those out front. As long as there are lost, the church must be seeking.

The questions I need to constantly ask of myself and my fellowship are;

  • “Who has not heard God’s whisper of love today?”
  • “Where do I (we) need to go to bring God’s hope to the most despairing?”
  • “Is my lamp ready—do the lost or returning know the comfort of my support?”

Hastening Christ’s Arrival

Is your church passionately hungry for Christ’s return? There is nothing that this world holds for me that won’t be abundantly multiplied at his wedding feast. Imagine the imprisoned and oppressed set free. No more disease, homelessness, hunger or deception. Only joy and that joy made available for all of God’s people!

Isaiah 58:6-12

6 “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? 7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom {will become} like midday. 11 “And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 “And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

Yet, like you, I don’t want to see a soul left out and I know that this is what the groom (Jesus, our Christ) wants us to be doing. He has passed the responsibility for extending his invitation on to the church! He wants us knocking on every door. He wants us checking every lock to see if anyone was missed.

2 Peter 3:9

9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

The moment that it was revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah was the very moment that the New Testament Church really began. At that moment, Jesus’ earthly mission ended. Realizing the timing, our Lord immediately turned towards Jerusalem in order to complete the sacrifice and allow for the time of the Holy Spirit. At that moment Jesus turned the church over to us! We have now become the hands and feet of the Gospel!

Is it possible that the arrival of the Kingdom of compassion and judgment is delayed by our dallying? The harvest is ripe, the Master is calling us to the field, but we’re sitting in empty grain elevators wondering when the next shipment will arrive.

We need to get off our duffs and shout; “Lord, I want to do my part too. I want everyone to be there! So, where should I go today? Who has not heard their name whispered by the lips of the Beholder? Who does not know that they are carved in the palms of your hands? Who has not heard that you have already paid for our sins and broke our chains of bondage?”
“I ain’t much, Lord. But, I am willing. Send me!”

“Be ready; be very, very ready…”

There is a very personal responsibility for each of the Bridesmaids (that’s us) in this story of the Kingdom. We are promised the Bridegroom’s arrival but we cannot know when he will arrive. Literally, Jesus says that we should not ask when—we shouldn’t be wasting our time trying to figure out that question [v 13]. He will come when he is ready and Peter explains that Christ will be ready when the invitation has been extended to everyone. He doesn’t delay; he stays out until the last minute urgently seeking the lost. Let’s quit watching our watches, let’s quit marking the time, we need to be bringing guests to the party.

When he does arrive it will be at the very last possible moment. Everything will seem absolutely dark except for the tiny flame he has given us to bear. Will he find us ready? We are not to be concerned over the brightness of our flame. Our one concern must be, “Is my candle lit?” Is my candle lit and held up for all to see? A small candle is incredibly bright when the surrounding world is completely dark.

What is the light that we must bear to the world?

Matthew 5:16

16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Philippians 2:15-18

15 that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 And you too, {I urge you,} rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

Our light is our selfless work in the midst of a selfish generation. Our light is our dedication to the word and the abundant joy (and reckless love) that we have to share.

Within this study, we have learned that this light burns for two reasons:

  1. To give light (praise and legitimacy) to the bridegroom
  2. To give direction to those coming to the feast

What are we waiting for??? Let’s start burning!

Matthew 25:7-13

[7] “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [8] “The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ [9] “But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ [10] “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. [11] “Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ [12] “But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ [13] “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

The Wise and the Impudent

Jesus divides the bridesmaids into two interesting groups. There are the wise [phronimos], a word that implies a thoughtful character. The word implies someone who is given to cautious planning and thinking ahead. Then, there are the foolish [moros], a word which more closely resembles impudence. The impudent would be someone who chooses to act inconsiderately—even putting others at risk by their behavior. In fact, this word might be used for someone who is criminally negligent. It is an apathetic person who—despite knowing better—chooses to act irresponsibly. These five bridesmaids knew better but acted in such a manner as to put the entire wedding party at risk.

They further revealed their impudence by asking others to cover their recklessness and give them some of their oil. This would have created the possibility of no one having enough oil when the light was truly needed. They would have placed the whole wedding party at risk to cover their own faults. Then, these bridesmaids increased their transgression as they return in the middle of the night and pound on the wedding couple’s door. As we have indicated, this would be bad enough in any neighborhood but drawing attention to this house in the middle of the night in an occupied country was an unthinkable act of irresponsibility.

This is a story about deceitful and unrepentant hearts. These are people who are unconcerned about the weight that their sins would bring upon others. They just want to cover their own tracks. These folks are literally trying to pull others into their sin of negligence.

Sorrowfully this could represent any one of us. We sin in kind whenever we seek to drag others into our own pity parties. When we choose self-righteousness over repentance, pride over humility or self over service. It can be as simple as justifying my own sin by gossiping about someone else or as complicated as selling out my own family for a last snort of cocaine. As Nathan said to David, “That man is you!” It is me whenever I do not stop the cycle of sin in my life and community by being “alert and on the watch.”

To understand these words wise and impudent better, it might help us to examine other scriptural uses of these words:

  • The wise man builds his house (his life) upon the foundation—the word of God—not upon the sands of men’s opinions.

Matthew 7:24

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.”

  • Jesus uses the word for wise when he differentiates between the person who hears but doesn’t act on the Lord’s words. The fool (impudent), on the other hand, is the one who hears the word but does not act on it.

Matthew 13:19

19 “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil {one} comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.”
In the Hebrew mind, understanding is application. The fool does not seek the application (understanding) of God’s word. Jesus tells us that they might read it but to understand means to apply it to our lives.

  • The man who was given the garment of Christ but did not wear it at the wedding feast was a fool. He was struck “moronically dumb [moros]” when questioned by the King.

Matthew 22:12

12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And he was speechless.
Worrying more about man’s opinions than God’s call. Hearing God’s word, but not doing it. Choosing my pride over the robe of God’s invitation; those are the sins of the impudent and the damnation of the fool.

What is the oil of the lamp?

What is the oil that these bridesmaids treasured so highly? What is the oil that can fill the lamp and make it burn so bright in the darkest night?

The oil that lights the flame is the Holy Spirit. The bible richly illustrates the blessing of living by the power of the Holy Spirit. Tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit helps us live in the realm of life that God intended. No more bound by the “sarx”—the carnal flesh. We are freed to exist in a new power that is far beyond the limitations of the body.

Let me just quote five verses from Psalms and Isaiah that reveal to us the richness of God’s Spirit available to us immediately. Studying the verses related to the blessings of the Spirit would be a multi-volume book by itself! So let us just pray through a few together:

Psalm 51:10-12

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 104:29

29 You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust. 30 You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground. 31 Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works.

Psalm 143:7

7 Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails; Do not hide Your face from me, or I will become like those who go down to the pit. 8 Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul. 9 Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies; I take refuge in You. 10 Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

Isaiah 57:15

15 For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 61:1-2

1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; 2 To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn.

God wants to overwhelm us with love! He wants to wash in upon our lives not like a squirt gun in a child’s hands but a water cannon feeding from Niagara Falls. He wants our joy complete and intense when his party arrives to swoop us up into the celebration. Yet, being ready is our responsibility not his. Nor can anyone else be ready for us!
Don’t wait. Be on the alert.

No one can be ready for you

There are clear warnings in this story that cannot be overlooked. The primary messages can be divided into two parts:

  • Sometimes we need to be gathering the guests and sometimes we need to be receiving them as they are brought in with others. Either way we need to be involved and alert.
  • No one can be involved for us. Faith boils down to two critical relationships which Christ named for us in our studies of Matthew 23. We need to succumb to God’s love and abandon ourselves to service. We can’t rely on a substitute or proxy to do this work for us. Here is a list of what we cannot borrow as we prepare for the bridal party:
  • You cannot borrow faith. You must have a personal relationship with God—no one can have it for you.
  • You must personally be involved in caring for the least of these. Jesus turns away those who call him, “Lord,” yet do not love the poor.
  • Faith cannot be inherited—that is a significant part of this story. You can be a bridesmaid (a key player in the bridal party) and still not get in to the wedding if you are not personally prepared. In other words, God doesn’t care about heredity or position. He is solely concerned with passionate relationship. Am I in love with God? Does my heart still break for the least likely to be loved? Am I running out with the news of the wedding feast? Do I find your knuckles raw from pounding on the doors that everyone else has walked by? Do I knock anyway, when others say; “Don’t knock on his door, he’s been in jail.” “Don’t knock on her door, she’s divorced and has unruly kids.” “Don’t knock on his door; he’s just a crotchety old man.”

Do you take the chance and knock anyway? Jesus would have us try every door.

The non-professional religion

There is a final issue that particularly affects our culture of “programmatic busy-ness.” The concept that we are too busy to carry out our faith or that we can turn it over to a middleman to practice it for us. No misconception could be more harmful to our salvation!

That is what the Good Samaritan story reveals. The Pharisee doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. The Sadducee has important work and can’t stop for the dirty figure beaten on the road side—and they were both professionals. They could rationalize their nonplus attitudes by stating they were on their way to ritual or that it was getting close to Sabbath. “The man’s probably dead or going to die anyway,” they thought.

The story of the Good Samaritan reveals that there is nothing more important than minding the needs of the man who is broken on the side of the road; neither ritual nor worship. Ritual cleanliness or punctual worship was a distant second compared to binding the wounds of the forgotten immigrant who was left on the roadside to die.

Truthfully, the wounded and the alienated are God’s call to us. At other times in these studies, I have called them today’s prophets. They make us uncomfortable with our distance from God and from each other. They show exactly how unprepared we are for God’s wedding banquet. No one can love the wounded for us. No one can go to God for us—we cannot “outsource” our faith!

In the end, it is our lamp that must be lit. Our flame that must light the way for the travelers coming home. Our knuckles that must be raw with the invitation of Jesus.

“Come, Holy Spirit. Fill our lives with the oil that will keep us burning in the darkest night.”

About the Author

Jerry Goebel is a community organizer who started ONEFamily Outreach in response to gang violence and youth alienation in a rural community in Southeastern Washington. Since that time, Jerry has worked with communities around the globe to break the systemic hold of poverty by enhancing the strengths of the poor.

A primary philosophy of ONEFamily Outreach is to teach; “poverty is a lack of healthy relationships.” And, a primary focus of ONEFamily Outreach has been to break down the barriers of poverty through creating “cultures of intentional courtesy.”

As well as having developed ongoing mentoring outreaches in his own community, Jerry travels extensively to work with church leaders, community governments, and educators.

Jerry has received five popular music awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a Best Educational Video Award from the National Catholic Education Association, and a lifetime achievement award from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry for living Gospel Values.

To contact or book Jerry for a presentation in your area write or call:

Jerry Goebel
ONEFamily Outreach
(509) 525-0709

Copyright Notice

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved.  This study may be freely distributed, as long as it bears the following attribution: Source: Jerry Goebel: 2007 ©

Scripture Quotations noted from NASB are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION of the bible. Copyright © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. (

The New Testament Greek Lexicon based on Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel and the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.” These files are public domain.

The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon is Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon; this is keyed to the “Theological Word Book of the Old Testament.” These files are considered public domain.

NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries. Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved. (

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