When I was in college in Mandalay, I gathered with a group of friends for tea and breakfast every Saturday morning. One of them had a motorcycle, and one day, he was hit by a car when riding his bike.
However, he still showed up on the following Saturday for breakfast with bandages around his head and arms. He said, “When I was hit, I thought I would die. My motorcycle was completely crushed under the car.” He described the accident vividly to us.
Then he said, “I wish I died because I have been a good boy all these days. If I died in that accident, I know I would go straight to heaven. That was the perfect moment. But now I have to continue to be good. I don’t know when I might stumble. It’s not easy to be good all the time. You know!”
Of course, he was half joking, but it gave us some food for thought. Do we really go to heaven if we die when we are being good? Can we really maintain our goodness all the time in order to go to heaven? Is it possible at all since humans are sinners?
As Christians, we know we are saved by grace, not by work. However, repeatedly in the Bible, we read Jesus said he expects to see our good work when he returns. Jesus died for us on the cross to redeem us from our sins. If we have to depend on our own goodness to be saved, then why would Jesus need to die for us?
Believers have been debating on this subject for two thousand years. Some early Christians thought they could go wild and live promiscuously since Jesus had already paid for the price of their sins. Peter, Paul, and other disciples had to write letters to those Christians to watch their behavior. For example, Paul said,
“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Ro 6:15).
Under the law, we pay the price for our sins. Paul was not talking about the civil law but the law of God, such as the Ten Commandments. However, because of what Jesus has done for us, we no longer live under the law but under God’s grace. That doesn’t mean we are freed to live a sinful life, assuming we are forgiven by grace.
Paul said that to sin is to be a slave to sin. Now, since we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to God, we should behave like God, living in righteousness. Paul said,
“But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” (Ro 6:22).
Sanctification, in a nutshell, means becoming a saint. It’s a process of becoming righteous and holy. It doesn’t mean every Christian can become purely righteous and holy, but being in the process itself is a sign that you are heading to eternal life. How do you know you are in the process of sanctification? You would feel repulsive at sin, to start with. Paul then said,
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro 6:23).
Notice it says “free gift.” If it is a free gift, why must we work for it? Every promise of God comes with a premise. To live wisely, we must understand both the promises and premises.
Today, we will gain this wisdom through Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.
One of the most important questions in life is, “If I died today, would I go to heaven?” If you can answer “Yes!” confidently, you have a joyful life. Great sages say, “You are not ready to live until you are ready to die.” If you want happiness, you must first solve the death problem and make sure you have a free ticket to eternal life. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 25:1-13. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 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, all of them became drowsy and slept.
6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’
10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt 25:1–13).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
Let’s first look at the context. Jesus told this parable on one of the last days before his crucifixion. He was preaching, teaching, and debating with the religious leaders at the temple in Jerusalem. They gave up debating with him because they lost every debate, and they went to plot to kill him. We covered these events in my previous messages.
Now, knowing he was about to be killed, he began to give his disciples his last words. He said he would die, go to heaven, and return, teaching them how to wait for his return, using four parables.
The Parable of the Lamps is the second of the four. It tells us how to wait for his second coming. His coming will be like the beginning of a wedding party, meaning the kingdom of God is like a glamorous wedding party full of joy, celebration, and dancing. It’s eternal happiness. He says,
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” (Mt 25:1-2).
The Greek word for “bridesmaids” is “virgins.” That’s why some versions of the Bible use “virgins.” They were usually young teenagers, and most teenage girls dream of being bridesmaids because they could enjoy the most beautiful dresses and makeup.
I remember when my daughter, Cassy, was young, she wanted to be the flower girl at the wedding. Even though I’ve officiated many weddings, every family had their own flower girls, so Cassy didn’t have the chance. Unfortunately, none of my relatives got married during those years, so she didn’t have the opportunity to be the flower girl.
At one point, I thought Sophie and I should have another wedding ceremony—for a renewal of our marriage vows—and fulfill our little girl’s dream to be the flower girl. It didn’t materialize because many things kept us busy those days. Time flies! I didn’t know that children don’t stop growing.
In this parable, Jesus is the bridegroom, and the church members are the bridesmaids. Just imagine the Christian life as the life of the bridesmaids—the most beautiful, exciting, and joyful moment in life.
The sad part of this parable is that five of the bridesmaids were foolish, and the others were wise. He says,
“When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” (Mt 25:3-4).
In those days, wedding parties took place at night because people worked during the day, and the evening was best for more guests to attend. The bridesmaids held their light to usher the groom to come home to start the party.
The darkness represents our world, and the lamps represent your light, as Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” What is your light? Your light is your fruit of the Spirit. You bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The wise girls took flasks of oil with their lamps. It means they took their job seriously. They were determined to usher the groom in. They prepared for the worst. So, the foolish and the wise differ in the way they treat their opportunity seriously.
“As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.” (Mt 25:5).
The parable did tell why the groom was delayed. According to tradition, the groom goes to the bride’s home to negotiate the dowery with his future in-laws. But it doesn’t matter why, but the point is Christ’s coming is delayed. Two thousand years later, he has not yet returned.
Based on what Jesus said previously, we are not supposed to wonder why he was delayed or when he would be coming. Our job is to be prepared for him to come at any time. All we must remember is that the wedding party will take place sooner or later. The kingdom will surely come.
Both the wise and the foolish bridesmaids fell asleep. Life happens. Falling asleep doesn’t mean their lights went off. It just describes how long the groom was delayed. But, the wise were fully prepared for the worst.
“But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.’ 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ (Mt 25:7-9).
The wise girls didn’t share their oil not because they didn’t want to but because they didn’t have enough to share. If they shared, all of them would be locked out. Again, they were determined to join the party. Even though eternal life is a free gift for us, we must want it enough to have it.
10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’” (Mt 25:10–12).
The hardest part of this story is when the groom says, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” You might wonder how an omniscient God didn’t know these people. These girls are usually selected from the community, and they call him “Lord, Lord.” Why would he say, “I don’t know you.”
On other occasions, Jesus said that on his second coming, he would say to some people, “I don’t know you.” For example, in Matthew 7, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Mt 7:21).
That means these girls didn’t do God’s will. God’s will, in short, is for us to bear the fruit of the Spirit. You might ask, these poor girls always had their lights on. It was just the last moment that their light went off. It sounds unfair. We don’t have the authority to judge what’s fair or not. We must try to understand what Jesus means. Jesus explains it in the last parable, but for now, let’s dig deep into this parable to understand it fully.
None of us want to be at the gate of heaven and hear God say to us, “I don’t know you.” It would be heartbreaking words to hear. Then how can we make sure God knows us? Paul said,
“Anyone who loves God is known by him.” (1 Co 8:3).
This verse explains why Jesus said that he didn’t know them. These bridesmaids didn’t love him. It was evident by the way they prepared. The foolish ones prepared halfheartedly, but the wise ones prepared wholeheartedly. As Jesus taught at the temple,
“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.” (Mt 22:37–38).
This verse shows we must love God with all our being, not just casually. Like the wise girls, we must be determined to join the party with the Lord. We will get all the oil we need to burn through the night until sunrise. Jesus said,
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ (Mt 7:22–23).
These people perform miracles in Jesus’ name. Who would doubt that they belonged to God? But Jesus said that he never knew them and even called them evildoers. It means your amazing power doesn’t matter, just as Paul said,
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Co 13:1–3).
This passage reveals you can perform miracles without love. It doesn’t say your work doesn’t matter, but your work without love doesn’t matter.
In conclusion, your ticket to heaven is love—not casual love, but wholehearted love. The kind of love that will make you determined to claim the gift of eternal life—the eternal party of the Prince of Peace.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.