The Last Sunday of the Church Year: The True Way to Stay Safe

Lessons: Isaiah 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11, Matthew 25:1-13
Hymns: 514, 516, 673, 508, 672, 515

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The last Sundays of the Church Year focus on our Lord’s return on the Last Day. Concerning Judgment Day, Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). I’m sure many have asked the same question, especially those saints who have witnessed their communities fall away from the faith. Imagine living under the Communist regime in which the government is going through great lengths to get people to renounce the faith. Imagine everyone you know rejecting the faith, or at least being unwilling to publicly speak of it. Imagine thinking that no one else in hundreds of miles still hold to the faith. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Or consider what it is like in many places in Europe. Christianity is not forbidden, but in many places few even bother to attend church. You may find yourself rather alone and wonder, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Or even consider our own land. It is unlikely that even 10% of Lexington’s residents are in church on this day—the Lord’s Day. Even fewer will seek out a Thanksgiving service to return thanks to God for His many blessings.

Satan—that master of lies—is tirelessly working to pull people away from the Word. By doing so, faith dries up. Satan’s work is evident. Look at the immorality—the people living together without God’s blessing of marriage, the high divorce rate, the acceptance of same-sex relationships, the substance abuse, the coveting, the gossiping, the stealing, the hurting of reputations. There’s no end to the list of sinful activity that is happening all around us. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Then consider what is happening within churches. Christians often request that their pastors refrain from teaching certain Biblical doctrines. Most Christian churches no longer desire to engage in church discipline because they’re afraid they’ll lose members. Christian churches all around have become uninterested in preserving pure doctrine. Truth is replaced with lies. Many falsely believe that faith is their work, that Baptism is their commitment to Christ, that the Lord’s Supper is only a symbol of the Body and the Blood of Christ.

Look at those who confirmed their faith in this congregation, boldly professing that they will suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it, but have now left the church altogether. Look at how many have tasted and seen that the Lord is good by receiving Christ’s forgiveness through Holy Communion and now stay home even on Christmas and Easter, having no desire to raise their children in the Christian faith. Look at how many once received the blessings of God but now make every excuse to avoid them.

Many are like the five virgins in today’s parable who were unprepared, lacking the oil needed for their lamps. The oil is faith which is sustained by Christ’s Word and Sacraments. Without this faith worked by the God the Holy Spirit, they were not ready for our Lord’s return. They were not found to have faith when the Lord returns. They figured they were ready, for they knew He would come and had anticipated it. But as they waited, thinking Jesus would return at a time convenient for them, the oil of their lamps ran dry.

Consider now, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, about your own lives. Is there oil in your lamps? That is, do you have the faith required to receive eternal life? And will your faith be sustained by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and Sacraments until that time Jesus returns or when you breathe your last and rest from your labors?

When we think about our lives, we are tempted to say that we are very far from achieving eternal life. In a sense, this is true. If we measure ourselves up to the perfect Law of God, we fall very short. For we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. St. Paul himself recognized his own inability to keep the Law when he wrote, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-19).

So if Paul finds himself doing the evil that he hates and even describes himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), how can one be counted righteous? How can how be saved? How can one be numbered among those wise virgins who have oil—that is, they have faith in the unexpected time when the Bridegroom returns?

What, in fact, distinguishes the wise from the foolish? Was it really their works and behavior? In the parable, they all fall asleep, so the distinction is not their sleepiness—their inability to perform their best. Instead, what separated the wise from the foolish was what they concerned themselves with. The foolish virgins banked on the bridegroom’s arrival to be an optimal time; they figured they were fine and safe; they did not concern themselves with having oil for their lamps; they wanted to join the wedding feast and wanted a good time, but they did not want what was needed to get there.

The wise, however, knew they were not fine nor safe, and so they brought oil along for their lamps. They wanted to join the wedding feast and wanted a good time, and so they brought with them the oil needed for their lamps. They kept watch, as our Lord teaches.

What prepares you for an eternity with God is not your good works (which your neighbor needs, but does not save you). What truly prepares you is the Holy Spirit who works faith in you through the Word and Sacraments. Yes, our outward actions are certainly far from the perfect standards God sets forth. But God saves us not by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ, for He alone died on the cross to save us.

As Christians, we are always concerned about making God’s Word and Sacraments a priority in our lives. We long to be in God’s House and receive His gifts. For through this, we know that God is working in us the faith in Christ that saves us from eternal death.

The five wise virgins bothered to bring oil for their lamps. When you are concerned about sustaining your faith, know that you, too, have the oil of faith. Remember, being concerned about matters of faith separates the wise from the foolish. So as you live your lives, troubled by your weak faith, failing to do the good God demands, enduring temptation, and remorsefully acknowledging how poor your prayer life may be, know that at least you have the oil of faith. If you did not have this faith, you would not be concerned about it.

So, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Absolutely! Faith is found here, among you, dear Christians. Faith is found among those who gather in God’s House, believe God’s Word of promise, believe Jesus truly offers His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, and believe their names are written in the Book of Life. Our lives are not perfect. We still sin even while God declares us saints by His grace through faith.

For the oil of faith shows a mysterious participation with Christ. By faith, Christ joins Himself to you, rescues you, and saves you. He brings you into His fold and ultimately works to bring you to be with Himself in Heaven. God is faithful and He will do it. After all, Jesus bore your sins in His Body and He made the sacrificial payment to take your sin away and declare you righteous.

Yet we must not let His abundant promises turn our lives into indulgent slothfulness. We cannot take His blessings for granted. Today’s parable teaches Jesus will return when some who had anticipated His return were not ready. They were banking on better times. During trying times, do not become as the foolish. During the pandemic, do not let your faith slip away from you. Everyone out there is saying, “Be safe.” That is, be safe from the virus. It is fine advice.

But I warn you “Be safe.” That is, be safe from Satan’s assaults which are always trying to rob you from your eternal inheritance. Know that Satan wants you to withdraw from God’s house while trying to “be safe.” Know that people are falling away from the faith as they now neglect the Word and the Sacraments, trying to keep themselves alive. Know that Satan has targeted them, and he is targeting you. In gaining this life, the Devil wants you to lose eternal life. I would rather die from the pandemic while feasting on the Word of God, than die spiritually from a drought of God’s Word.

So be safe. Be safe in the Word. Keep the oil of your lamps full as you hear God’s Word, study it, meditate upon it, pray, and receive Holy Communion frequently. Cling firmly to Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith. Listen to Him, for He alone will truly keep you safe through the ark of His Church.

You are His. He added you to His family in Holy Baptism. He redeemed you through His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection from the grave. You are precious to Him.

What a joy it will be when Jesus returns to usher you into His eternal kingdom. As joyful as it is to watch a couple join as one in holy matrimony, so it will be even more joyful when our Bridegroom returns—when Jesus returns for His bride, the Church. For when Jesus returns for His bride, He will “sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26-27). This, my friends, belongs to you and to all who abide in Him. Joyfully keep watch. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen