We are continuing today with our sermon series “How Long is the Wait.” When Jesus was leaving his disciples before he ascended into heaven he told them in Acts 1 “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised…in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” They didn’t have to wait long, just 10 days or so and the Holy Spirit came. But when we read further down in the chapter, after Jesus was taken up, the disciples just stood there looking intently into the sky. Two angels had to come and say to them, “Why are ya’ll standing around looking into the sky? This same Jesus who went up is going to come back.” In other words, you need to get busy doing what he told you to do. Don’t let him come back and catch you standing around not doing what he told you to do. And what he had told them to do for the immediate future was to wait.
But waiting is hard. I’ve been waiting since Jan. 5th to see my Baby Girl again. She’s been in Central America on her cross-cultural semester. She got engaged and I’ve been waiting since Feb. 21st to see that engagement ring on her finger. Because they couldn’t possibly take a picture of it and text it to me anytime during the last 2 months. No they are making me wait. Pastor Leonard referred in his sermon last week to me waiting on the wi fi here to work but I’m not the only one who has problems waiting for that! I think that’s why he asked me to speak on Waiting with Wisdom. He’s trying to equip me. Believers have been waiting 2000 years for the promise of these 2 angels to be fulfilled and for Jesus to come back. For 2000 years Christians have died waiting for the promise of the resurrection to be fulfilled. Many of us are waiting for God to answer our prayers. Last week many of you wrote down what you are waiting for and posted those on the prayer wall. So we all are familiar with waiting. But the question we are looking at today is how do we wait?
In Acts 1:6 the disciples asked Jesus the question “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They knew Jesus was the Messiah and the Messiah was the one who would rule forever on David’s throne. The prophet Daniel had spoken of the son of man who came with the clouds of heaven and approached the Ancient of Days and was given authority, glory and sovereign power. In Daniel 7:14 he writes, “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” The expectation of the disciples was that this everlasting kingdom, with Israel as its location, would be fully inaugurated by Jesus in their lifetime.
But in Matthew 25 Jesus tells 3 parables explaining that, at the time before his final return, the kingdom of heaven will be like people waiting. The 10 virgins were waiting for the bridegroom to come. In the parable of the talents a little further on in the chapter, the servants were waiting on their master to return. And in the parable of the sheep and the goats, when Jesus does return, there is a separating out of those who were waiting and ready for his return and those who were not ready for his return. At this time, in this time in which we are living, the Kingdom of Heaven involves waiting. It’s normal for us as believers to be waiting. But it is important how we wait.
In the parable of the 10 virgins, we see that there is a difference in how these girls waited. They all were anticipating going into the wedding feast. They went to the house of the groom and were all waiting for him to return with his bride. The custom for a marriage in Jesus’ day was that the groom would go to the house of the bride with some of his relatives to claim her as his wife, and then take her back to his house for a feast. All her relatives would process back to the groom’s house with her. Along the way, they would stop at friends and relatives houses to receive congratulations and for more people to join the procession. You never knew how long it would take to get back to the groom’s house where there were more friends and relatives gathered to celebrate. The feast wouldn’t start until the bride and groom arrived. If the bride lived in another village and they planned to make several stops along the way, it could be the middle of the night before they arrived at the groom’s house. Then everyone would go inside the house, or into the compound if the house had a yard that was walled in, and the doors would be shut and the party would begin.
These 10 young women were waiting at the groom’s house and they all had taken lamps because they anticipated him arriving after dark. 5 of them were prepared for the wait. They took extra oil so their lamps could burn all night long if necessary. 5 of them were not prepared for the wait. They took the lamps but no extra oil. When their lamps burned low, they had nothing to replenish them with. And while they were out looking for more oil, the bride and groom arrived and went into the feast and the doors were shut. When the 5 foolish girls returned, they couldn’t get into the party. This sounds harsh and it’s meant to. How could they let 5 young teenage girls wander the streets in the middle of the night? Wouldn’t they have asked the partygoers if anyone knows them and then let them in? Jesus means it to sound harsh because he’s making a point. In the kingdom, we must be properly prepared for our wait. There are serious consequences to us not being properly prepared for our wait. He says in verse 13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” meaning the time of his return. In all 3 of the parables in Matthew 25, there are serious consequences for the foolishness of those who do not wait with proper preparations.
Now to give us an idea of what he means by being properly prepared, we need to remind ourselves of the Passover story. The teachings and events in Matthew 24, 25 and 26 take place in the week before Passover, after Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. So this is taking place in the days just before his crucifixion, when Jesus, his disciples, and all the Jews were preparing for the Passover celebration. We read about the original Passover in Exodus 12. In this chapter God gives Moses and Aaron the instructions for how the Jews are to celebrate the first Passover and for how they are to observe this celebration every year from here on out. He tells them that each household is to select a lamb or 2, enough to feed their household, and they are to care for it for 4 days and then slaughter it. Then they are to put the blood of the lamb on the sides and top of their doorframes to mark their houses. They are to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread. In Exodus 12:11 God says “This is how you are to eat it; with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.” They were to eat the Passover meal dressed and ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice. They had to be properly prepared for their journey. The Passover was the last meal they would eat as slaves. In the middle of the night, after God had passed through Egypt and destroyed the firstborn of the Egyptians, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and told them to take the Israelites and get out of Egypt. Their waiting was over.
When Jesus talks about the bridegroom arriving in the middle of the night, the master returning home in the middle of the night, he’s reminding the people of the first Passover, when God delivered them in the middle of the night and the order came to leave Egypt immediately. Deliverance arrived suddenly in the middle of the night and they had to be packed and ready to go. This is waiting with wisdom, waiting prepared for what we are anticipating to finally arrive.
The Israelites waited over 400 years to be delivered from Egypt. We’ve been waiting 2000 years for Jesus to come back. Many of us are waiting for answers to prayers, for loved ones to come to faith in Christ, for financial needs to be met, for relationships to be healed, for sickness or diseases to be healed, for peace to come between nations, for light to shine on those who are steeped in the darkness of prejudice of one type or another. How do we wait with wisdom, being prepared for the answer?
Waiting with wisdom means waiting in spite of the circumstances. The Israelites had been waiting a long time for a deliverer to come. When Moses finally came and God called him to deliver the Israelites, he went to Pharaoh to demand their release, as God told him to do, and Pharaoh responded by increasing the workload of the Israelites. Things got worse for them. Moses and Pharaoh kept going back and forth, with God sending plagues and Pharaoh telling them to leave but then changing his mind and making them stay. Over and over the people’s hopes were dashed as Pharaoh held on. But when they were told to eat the Passover dressed and ready to go, they did it. In spite of all that had gone before, in spite of all the times they thought they were free and then weren’t, in spite of 400 years of waiting, they were prepared when deliverance arrived. They waited in spite of the circumstances.
The disciples waited after the crucifixion. They had no expectation of the resurrection in spite of the fact that Jesus had told them he would come back for them. Fortunately Jesus didn’t stay in the grave that long because, I think once the shock of the crucifixion wore off, they would have been tempted to scatter. But for those 3 days between the crucifixion and the resurrection, they held together and waited in spite of the circumstances.
Waiting with wisdom means waiting with hope. In looking at our parable of the 10 virgins, 5 of them anticipated needing oil. The other 5 didn’t. They didn’t expect to need to use their lamps very long. In a sense they didn’t have hope that the party would last all night and they would need to replenish their oil. When we don’t expect something, when we don’t hope for something, we don’t plan for it. We’re not going to expend our resources on something we don’t expect to happen. But when we have hope that something is going to happen, then we prepare. Are we preparing for the answer to those things we posted on the prayer wall last week? Are we preparing for the answer to our prayers to arrive? What do we need to be doing to prepare to receive God’s answer? How much oil do we need? When we can answer this question, then we are waiting with wisdom and with hope.
When we were still located in the little white building across the street, we began to envision what the kingdom of God could look like in this neighborhood. I remember probably 12 or so years ago, we had an adult Sunday school class where we did some visioning. We talked about being in a bigger space where we could offer programming for children, where we could have health and wellness programs for the neighborhood, where we could maybe have a thrift store, where we could have more space for worship so more people could be welcomed into our fellowship. And for years we prayed and visioned and researched and planned. Out of those dreams was birthed Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association and all the programming this organization does to benefit this neighborhood. Out of those dreams was birthed the ability to move into this space, to increase our capacity for worship and Christian Education. For years we waited while this building sat on the market unsold until the owners were ready to hear our vision and we were ready with concrete plans to put our vision into action. We waited and in our waiting we prepared. This is waiting with wisdom.
Waiting with wisdom means we are careful who we listen to. The 5 wise young women didn’t listen to the 5 foolish ones. One translation I read called them dim witted. They didn’t have good sense. They didn’t take extra oil. We don’t need to listen to those who aren’t prepared themselves. We need to listen to those who are waiting prepared for what is to come. Who do you know who is prepared for the return of Jesus, who is waiting with hope and anticipation that He will come, and that He will make good on all His promises? When you find that person of hope, listen to them. Learn from them. Do what they do. Don’t listen to people who have no hope. They can’t help you.
Waiting with wisdom means we follow the instructions we were given. The disciples were told to go to Jerusalem and wait, not stand there and sky gaze. The Israelites were told to wear their traveling clothes while they ate the Passover. We’ve been given instructions in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us. Are we following those instructions? Are we growing as disciples ourselves and are we making disciples? If we are like the 5 foolish girls, we won’t believe Jesus is coming back anytime soon and we won’t be growing in discipleship ourselves or seeking to make disciples of others. When you see someone growing in their knowledge and understanding of Jesus and putting that knowledge into action in their own lives then you have found someone who is waiting with wisdom. This doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect or that we have to know everything there is to know about Jesus and the Bible. But it means that we put into practice what knowledge we have and we keep trying to learn more.
Waiting with wisdom means that we don’t try to borrow someone else’s resources. The 5 dimwitted girls tried to borrow oil from the 5 who were prepared but that doesn’t work. The 5 wise girls told them “we can’t give our oil to you or we won’t have enough for ourselves.” We can’t have someone else do our kingdom preparation work for us. I had a great aunt and uncle who were both overweight. This aunt was a real character. They would come to my grandparents’ house for dinner and my aunt would say to my uncle “you don’t need that piece of chicken. It’s not good for you. I’ll eat it for you.” You can’t have someone else eat your chicken for you and you can’t have someone else do your kingdom preparation work. We all have to make our own preparations for Jesus’ return. We all have to do our own work of growing as his disciples. No one else can get you ready for Jesus’ return and you can’t do the work for anyone else either. As much as we love other people and want them to know and love Jesus, and be a part of the kingdom, we cannot make them be disciples. We can support, encourage and pray for one another, but each one of us has to make the decision every day, on our own, to live as a disciple of Jesus. We have to do our own work in the kingdom. We have to put our own traveling clothes on and wait for our deliverance.
Are we waiting with wisdom? Are we really expecting the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven? Are we praying in expectation, making preparations for the answer to come? Are we waiting in hope, in spite of the circumstances around us? As the worship team comes up and we transition into a time of prayer, I want to encourage us to think about how we are waiting. Are we waiting in hope or are we really not expecting any change? Are we anticipating Jesus to do something in our lives or are we really just content to let things stay the way they are? Do we have a sense of excitement that Jesus could break into our world today, or are we apathetic, lulled into complacency because we’ve been waiting so long? Have we given up hope that our prayers will be answered because we see no change in circumstances, or do we still have our traveling clothes on, prepared for our deliverance to come at a moment’s notice? Jesus said in Matthew 24:42-44 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
As the worship team leads in a song, if you would like prayer I’ll invite you to come up and members of the prayer team can join me. We’ll be happy to pray for you. If you’ve been apathetic, not really believing that Jesus is coming back or that He wants to break into your life, or that He’s really going to answer your prayer, then please come and let us pray with you that your hope will be renewed and you can wait in readiness for what God wants to do in your life.