In Oct 1998, I was 23 going on 24 and single. I was making decent money at a startup in downtown San Francisco, plenty for a single guy back then. I was ministering to UC Berkeley students where I went to school. I had some great friends from college who stuck around after graduation that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. I was very active at church. Whenever I wasn’t working or ministering or hanging out with friends or serving at church, I enjoyed reading my Bible and praying at places like the Berkeley Marina. Things were going well. Good job. A church where I could serve. Plenty of ministry opportunities. Great friends. Bible. Beautiful scenery to inspire me to pray.
I was just missing one thing. As I mentioned–I was 23 and single. I had guy friends, but I was lonely. I’m not ashamed to admit it. God did not call me to be single. I wanted to get married. Somehow, I managed to trick Jackie to go on a date with me soon after she came back from a six month mission in Central Asia. I pretended to be super spiritual and she fell for my act. Oct 5, 1998, we went on our first date. I needed to make a good first impression to keep up my image. So for our first date, do you think we went to Denny’s? Actually, we did, but that was stop #2. Long story, but no, Denny’s was not our first destination. If I wasn’t really interested in Jackie, then maybe Denny’s would have been fine. It’s cheap, you can get free refills and you can stay as long as you want.
With Jackie, I’m one grade ahead so we had known each other for 5 years by then. We hadn’t really talked with each other during those 5 years, but we were part of the same church for quite a while and you can get a good feel for what a person is like from a distance. So although it was our first date and our first real conversation, I had a pretty good hunch that it would work out because I knew she loved God and she loved people. Is there anything else that matters? It didn’t hurt that she was beautiful. I’m earning some major brownie points.
So I held nothing back for our first date. I got the flowers. I made reservations at a famous seafood restaurant in Sausalito overlooking the bay. Why am I going into so much detail? No, I am not trying to give dating advice. We can do that at another time in private. The point being–for our first date, I didn’t just wing it. I put in time to research good, romantic places. I didn’t just roll out of bed. I took a shower. I combed. Brushed my teeth. Even flossed and used mouthwash. I was prepared. I was ready. Because I was eager to meet Jackie and get to know her.
Matthew 24 and 25 talks about the importance of our preparation to meet, not the love of your life, but to meet the lover of your soul, Jesus, whose love continues forever. The Bible is a love letter. God the Father loves you as a parent loves his child. No matter what you do, no matter what crime you commit, if your son or daughter knocks on your door, as a parent, you will let him or her into your home. Because your love accepts them for who they are. Even an earthly father or mother would do this for their children. But divine love doesn’t end with fatherly or motherly love.
The love of Jesus is filled with the passionate, jealous emotion of a lover. And the closest thing we have on earth to point to Jesus’ love for his church is marriage. Think of life here on earth as preparation for a cosmic wedding banquet between you and the Lamb of God. Jesus is your bridegroom and he is preparing a place for you. He’s been preparing a room with your name on it for the past 2,000 years. We got to get ourselves ready to meet him.
Remember, Chapters 24 and 25 are parts of a single sermon. It was preached on the Mount of Olives and therefore it is known as the Olivet Discourse. The main theme is preparation. 5 parables are about our readiness to meet Christ at his second coming.
In Matt 24:42-44, there is a short parable of the homeowner and a thief. If you knew a thief was going to come to your house tonight, you’d call the cops, you’d have security cameras in position, you’d have a baseball bat by your bed. Same thing in Matt 24:45-51 – it’s a parable of two slaves. One slave is faithful and sensible. He is faithfully serving in anticipation of the Master’s return. The other slave sees that the Master is delayed in returning so he gets drunk and he mistreats the other slaves. The master calls this slave – wicked.
Chapter 25 has 3 parables about preparing ourselves to meet the coming Christ. First, the parable of the ten virgins. Second, the parable of the talents. Third, the parable of the sheep and the goats.
Anything that’s important to you, you’d be ready for. You’d prepare. If academics is important to you and you have a qualifying exam as a PhD student coming up, then you’d study. You’d get yourself ready. Because those things are important to you. If working at Google has been your dream job since you did your first internet search as a kid and you had an interview early tomorrow morning with Larry Page or Eric Schmidt of Google, you wouldn’t party the night before and stumble out of bed and arrive late to the interview. You’d research the company history. You’d see what cool projects Google is working on. You’d sleep early. You’d arrive well before the start of the interview. And you certainly wouldn’t pull out your iphone during the interview and conduct a search using yahoo. You get ready, you prepare for things that are important to you.
How are you preparing to meet Christ? This is the main point of Matthew 24 and 25. Every secondary point from each of the 3 parables in this chapter relates back to this main, overarching theme.
Let’s look at the first parable, the parable of the ten virgins, which are found in v1-13. This parable is pretty straightforward. Back then, the family of the bridegroom would pay a dowry to the family of the bride. Then, there is a betrothal period when the guy and girl are engaged. During the betrothal or engagement period, the bridegroom would prepare a place for the bride. For the bride, it’s a waiting game because she has no idea when the bridegroom would return for her. And so, she, along with her bridesmaids, would be ready with their lamps.
On that fateful day, as was customary in their day, the bridegroom would come with an entourage of family members and friends who were there to celebrate their union. They’d arrive at the doorstep of the bride and surprise the bride with a shout, often times at night. And of course, the bride would be ready because she’s been waiting her whole life for her wedding day. Back then, they had no halogens lamps. These lamps were probably more like torches with rags at the top and you would need to keep dousing the rags with oil to keep them burning.
The bride-to-be would hear the shout and she’d open the door with her lamp shining and she’d go with the bridegroom to the place that he had prepared for her. They’d consummate the marriage and then go immediately to their honeymoon. The honeymoon lasted for 7 days. And while they were on their honeymoon, all their family members and friends would be gathered and they’d have a week long celebration. And after 7 days, the married couple would return and the festivities would end with a final marriage supper.
Do you see the parallels between marriage and our relationship with Christ? The Bible begins with a marriage, Adam and Eve. And the entire history of the world will end with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where the church or the bride will marry and be joined together to our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
Paul puts it like this in Ephesians 5–
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.
King Jesus came into the world to take a wife. And he is at work right now by his Spirit and by his word purifying and beautifying us, the bride, for himself and for our joy.
This is why Paul saw his ministry as a kind of go-between for Jesus Christ and the church. Paul said to the Christians in Corinth in 2 Cor 11:2–
2 Cor 11
2 For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!
One way to describe Christian ministry is to say that ministers are the best men, the groomsmen, of God. We are introducing sinners to Jesus Christ. And our ministry is one of betrothing the church to Christ. It is through repentance and faith that the bride is created. It is through love for Christ that the bride is purified. This church, Hill Community, doesn’t belong to me or to the staff. This church is not ours. You belong to Jesus.
John the Baptist saw this and dared not lay any claim to the ministry because he knew the people who were following him were Jesus’ bride. Someone asked him how he felt about the fact that his ministry was in decline. John’s disciples were leaving him and following Jesus. He answered in John 3:28–
28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
We are friends of the groom. Our mission is to match make, to introduce people and say, here’s Jesus. Here’s the bridegroom. At a wedding, the bridesmaids and the groomsmen are so happy because their best friends are getting married. And when we as ministers of the gospel witness sinners coming to faith in Christ and being saved, we get a backstage view into the heavenly celebration and we are overcome with joy because we got a chance to participate.
Revelation 19 describes that event like this–
6 Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying: Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign! 7 Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself. 8 She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints. 9 Then he said to me, “Write: Those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb are fortunate!”
Jesus came the first time 2000 years ago to pay the dowry. How much did it cost Jesus to purchase us as His bride? It cost him everything. He paid with his life. He died on a cross because he loves you and me. He is crazy about you and me. He can’t stop thinking about us. He wants us to be his eternal bride. Then, he left. Why did he leave? He left to prepare a place for you and me. This means, while he is gone, we are betrothed for marriage. We are engaged. And so we wait with eager anticipation for His return as a bride-to-be waits and longs for her wedding day.