In Matthew 25, Jesus had some critical points he wanted to make before he ended his earthly ministry. He wanted take his disciples down the corridor of the future to help them understand a phenomenon that his people would face prior to his return. It is a story we love to share and dissect; the story of the ten virgins. The crucial element of this story develops early in the narrative. Let’s take a look:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept (Matthew 25:1 – 25:5 KJV)
Note that neither the wisdom of the wise nor the foolishness of the foolish affected whether the virgins slept. They all zonked out! We’re asleep. (Not bad: writing in my sleep!) We feel very much awake but when it comes to the deep implications of the eternal, we are knocked out with our eyes open. Jesus makes it clear: just before his return his people will be unconscious of the things we lose consciousness of when we sleep: time, location and danger.
Though the ten realized the coming of the bridegroom was imminent and a major event which involved them in a significant and personal way, they each held varying ideas about how soon imminent was and what could be and needed to be done while they waited. In this sense they were unconscious of the reality of the promise. They acted on the apparent urgency of the moment not the sureness of the word. But here’s where the split happens. Five of the virgins decided to believe the sureness of the word and prepare. The other five got ready for what they felt was a reasonable wait based on their best time estimate for the arrival of the bridegroom and traveling with him to his place where they would no longer need their lamps. Looking at verse 5 we see that the bridegroom tarried. This is a critical point. Several of Jesus’ parables deal with delay. Have you noticed that? Usually in those stories the people waiting develop attitude issues related to the delay. They stop preparing for the return of the key figure in the story and start living as though the promised return was a fable or lie. According to these stories, the most serious manifestation of their unbelief is their unloving treatment of their fellow men. As a matter of fact, they preface their attitude shift with the words “Our Lord delayeth his coming!” Many of us today have a faulty understanding of the timing of Jesus return. Like the five foolish, we see ourselves having passed the reasonable wait time for a second coming. Many today are waiting for a second coming with no preparation for a life with Jesus. Their faith was built on the idea of a powerful cosmic event whose nearness was clearly outlined in charts and prophetic timelines. Time has become a form of anesthesia because we have been lulled to sleep while looking at our watches.
It’s a sad thing to know where you are going but not know where you are. Back in March of 1971 astronauts Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell were on the moon hiking to the rim of Cone Crater. These highly trained astronauts made some disturbing discoveries on their trek. First, they learned that distance is difficult to gauge on the moon. On earth, atmospheric haze helps us determine relative distances. Things far away look bluer and mistier than things nearby. Whoever wrote America the Beautiful was looking at those craggy brown mountains from a distance that made them look purple and majestic. On the moon there is no haze so it is hard to tell how far something is from you. Plus, you can’t tell how far something is from the horizon. Second, the lighting on the moon makes understanding the terrain tough. So as the astronauts ascended the side of Cone Crater, the rolling terrain made it difficult to tell where they were relative to the top. After hours of traveling on foot, they had to head back to the Lunar Module. Later when scientists studied the data and looked at satellite photos showing their tracks, it was discovered that they were only 30 meters or 98 feet from the rim. Shepard and Mitchell knew where they were going; they were dedicated to their mission but they could not tell where they were and with 100 feet to go they turned back. How many of us today are turning back on our spiritual trek, not because we don’t know where we are going or because we have no sense of mission but because we can’t tell where we are anymore. The world has changed and the church has changed and the rolling terrain of the religious universe has us wondering if the foundations of our faith are still relevant.
When you are in deep sleep you are oblivious to what’s happening around you. During the REM stage of the sleep cycle, for a certain time the motor functions are inhibited and we are paralyzed. The interesting thing about REM or rapid eye movement sleep is that this is when we have those dreams that are so real. Sleep researchers report that the eye movement appears to be tracking the action and drama of the scenes in our dreams. So though we are unconscious of the happenings of the real world, we are deeply involved in the dream world. Someone could have a loaded gun at your head, but you would be showing fear of the mad pit-bull in your dream. Like the ten virgins, we are asleep but few would know it. We function in day-to-day activity but we don’t hear the danger alarms sounding from God’s word. Like sleepwalkers we walk about, send email, deal on Facebook and Twitter, go to work and church and look quite alert but we keep drifting closer and closer to the spiritual cliff with no sense of the dangers before us. Ungodly music, hurtful foods, pornography, profanity, alcohol, and questionable movies erode our spiritual alertness but we see no dangers. Satan’s gun is pressed against your temple but you are more afraid of Bible doctrine than the bullet.
Asleep: that’s where we are. Though we have trouble discerning the nearness of Christ’s return and though we find it difficult to tell where we are on the journey, and though we fail to see the dangers as we careen toward the spiritual cliff, the good news is we will wake up soon. The hope is, that though we are all asleep, we are preparing to live with Jesus and not just waiting for his return.