BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
FEBRUARY 14, 2016
1 “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 atmidnight 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.
— Matthew 25:1-13, ESV
It is amazing how many phrases from the Bible have worked their way into our common vocabulary. When we complain of "a drop in the bucket" (ref. Isaiah 40:15), "a fly in the ointment" (ref. Ecclesiastes 10:1), "a thorn in the flesh" (ref. 2 Corinthians 12:7), or being "at our wit's end" (ref. Psalm 107:27), we are quoting the Bible. When we say someone is "as old as Methuselah" (ref. Genesis 5:27) or if they've gone beyond that and "bitten the dust" (ref. Psalm 72:9) or "given up the ghost" (ref. John 19:30), we are quoting the Bible. When we call someone "the salt of the earth" (ref. Matthew 5:13), or "the apple of my eye" (ref. Psalm 17:8), or "a man after my own heart" (ref. 1 Samuel 13:14), again we quote Scripture. It seems as if "the handwriting is on the wall" (ref. Daniel 5:5) when it comes to seeing the Bible brought to bear on our every day lives.
Today I want to stress the importance of living out another common phrase that is written into our language. It is called "burning the midnight oil." This expression is gleaned from this parable, in which Jesus is talking about His second coming and the need to be prepared.
You’ve no doubt burned the midnight oil prior to a test at school, a paper at college, a presentation at work, even a sermon for church. Why? Because it is important to be prepared. Final exams, work deadlines, a time to appear before a class or a congregation — these are all judgment days, or at least days in which at least a part of your life will be judged. It is important to be prepared. But isn't there a greater day coming, a grand finale, a promised end to the world as we know it? Yes, and we even call it Judgment Day. Judgment Day is coming. This is a promise from God. I think it is important, even of the utmost importance, to be prepared. Let us let this parable show us how.
A wedding is a wonderful occasion which requires a great deal of preparation. Many months and much money is spent in preparation for that day to arrive. Then when it does, the ceremony seems to come and go in the blink of an eye. At least this is the way it is in our culture.
Weddings were widely different in Jesus’ day. They often took years to plan, as the parents of the respective bride and groom looked for and agreed upon just the right match. A dowery and future financial responsibility had to be negotiated and transferred from the bride’s family to the groom’s. When it came time for the ceremony, a half hour of vows and a couple of hours for a reception just wouldn’t do. Usually, two weeks or more were set aside for the wedding.
The first week’s festivities were held at the home or in the village of the bride. There had to be enough food and wine for all the guests, for to run out would be a great embarrassment (ref. John 2). After a few days of revelry, a chamber or tent was provided for the bride and groom to consummate their vows.
For the second phase of the wedding, the bride and groom were escorted by the bridesmaids from the home of the her family to the home of the groom. The celebration ensued for a few more days, then everyone went to their own home. Finally, the bride and groom enjoyed their new, permanent home together.
In our day and age, we could never pull this off. Our children would never let us arrange their marriages, a dowry negotiation would instigate a lawsuit, and none of us except the one-percenters could afford to pay for a reception that lasted for days instead of hours. But, in the days of the first advent of Christ, this was the way it was typically done, and the “ten virgins,” or bridesmaids, played an especially critical role. They had to burn themidnight oil.
When the bride and groom went into their bridal chamber at the home of the bride’s family, the bridesmaids went to the groom’s house. There they made preparations for the bride and groom to come to their new home. They waited there until the time was determined by the groom, a time unknown to the bridesmaids, for him to bring his bride home. The bridesmaids’ chief responsibility was to light the way. They were to carry oil to keep their lamps lit so that at a moment’s notice they could properly escort the bride to the groom’s permanent home. Failure to be prepared was more than a faux pas, it was considered to be an unpardonable sin.
As you can read in this parable, half of the bridesmaids were “wise” and prepared, half of them were “foolish” and unprepared. Only those who burned the midnight oil actually scored the bride into the permanent home of the groom.
Remember that the overriding context of this text is the second coming of Jesus Christ (ref. Matthew 24:3). Remember also that our immediate preceding text talked about the two types of servants, true and false, found in the present and visible kingdom of God, the church. So, this parable presses a point more precisely.
Every parable of Christ pictures the kingdom of God. It tells of who is in, who is out, how to get in, and why most are kept out. This story, a wedding parable, fills out the script completely.
The bridegroom is clearly the Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to us and meets us at our home, our hearts. He makes an everlasting covenant with His bride, which includes the promise that He will take her to His permanent home. The groom’s returning home with his bride is a clear and beautiful picture of the second coming of Christ.
The bride of Christ is the church. She enters into a covenant of grace by faith in the groom, in Christ, while on this earth. Then, at the appointed time known only by God, the bridegroom appears from his chamber, Christ splits the eastern sky, and takes His true bride home to be with Him in the new heavens and new earth forever.
Who, then, are the bridesmaids, and why is their chief responsibility to carry oil and light? The bridesmaids are part and parcel of the bride. They represent her on earth and they go with her to heaven; if, they are able to burn the midnight oil. “Oil” is a consistent symbol in Scripture of the Holy Spirit, and “lamps” or light is a constant symbol of the gospel and the word of God.
All of the bridesmaids, all of the church members, had light. But, for some it did not last. Only those with oil could keep the light burning and only they were able to go from earth to heaven with the groom. It seems it pays to burn the midnight oil, after all.
To be gathered with the church on the Lord’s Day is good preparation for Judgment Day. I truly believe that those who have no interest in meeting with God in a Sunday church service will not be prepared to meet Christ at His second coming. But being in a church building on Sunday does not necessarily make you a Christian, no more than sitting in a garage can make you a car or truck. It takes more, it takes light.
If light is the gospel and the word of God, then those who make a profession of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and pledge allegiance to the Bible are bridesmaids, members of the church. But in our day and age, most people who have professed faith and joined the church can no longer be found in the church. The light went out and it was discovered they had no oil.
You can borrow the light but you cannot take someone else’s oil. You can profess faith in Christ, because your grandparents or parents or friends did. You can join a church, because it seemed like a good and popular decision at the time. But if you are living off someone else’s light, your light will fade in time. And should the end come when your light it not shining, you cannot borrow or buy your way out of God’s final judgment.
For the true light of the gospel to shine and keep on shining, to be able to burn the midnightoil, the Holy Spirit has to regenerate your heart, giving you the deep and abiding gifts of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When God truly saves, you, He seals you with the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. You will go to heaven with the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, when He comes again.
Those who have not truly received the gospel will not enter in. Those who give lip service to the gospel but bear no fruit will not enter in. Only those who are born from above, only whose who profess and practice and persevere in the faith. Only those who burn themidnight oil will be able to see the permanent place God has prepared for all those who know and love Him.
When will this happen? “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org