Sermon by Tony Hobbs – 11th March 2018
LADIES’ DAY 2018
(WITH SOME REFERENCE TO DEALING WITH CHANGE)
Jesus the Teacher
In one sense, Jesus’ teaching is often infuriating! Many times He refuses to give simple answers to questions, and instead of issuing clear-cut instructions, He says things that force people to think.
This should not surprise us! Any good teacher – and we must assume that Jesus is the best of all – knows that the best form of teaching is to encourage and empower people to think for themselves.
The Scribes and Pharisees told people exactly what to think and what to do. Jesus’ teaching isn’t like that.
The parables of Jesus
Parables appear easy at first sight.
Parables deceptively difficult to understand.
Arguably they are the most difficult type of Scripture to understand.
If we’re confident that we understand a parable, this may well be an indicator that we don’t!
Parables have been understood in a variety of ways over the centuries.
You may have long-known one particular way of understanding a parable, and assumed this was the only way. It isn’t.
And beware of study Bible notes, which usually give only one option.
But there is reassuring news as well! The basic points of application are almost always clear enough. It is the details that generate so much debate, as is the reason why Jesus tells a particular parable.
With our example this morning, the points of application are clear enough, and we’ll focus on those.
Simple, but never simplistic
We see in the parables an example of a principle that runs throughout the NT:
That while the core message of Christianity – which is about entering into personal relationship with God – is amazingly simple and easy to understand…
… but living out that relationship, growing in our relationship with the Lord, make huge demands on us: our behaviour and our minds.
The NT writers are critical of those Christians who want only the simplistic.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The topic of the Kingdom of Heaven (Kingdom of God) is one where we’d love to have clearer explanations from Jesus!
When teaching about the Kingdom, Jesus frequently used parables, starting with the formula: The Kingdom of Heaven is like…
It is not always easy to tell what aspect of the Kingdom Jesus means, or whether it’s more than one aspect: His coming to earth from Heaven; His activity; the birthpangs of the church; Heaven above (ie what we usually mean by Heaven); Jesus’ second coming.
This parable He introduces with a slightly different formula: The Kingdom of Heaven WILL be like… So it looks like Jesus is talking about a future event (probably His second coming) but we can also see some principles that apply to our everyday lives.
Some key points in the parable
Weddings in NT times not like weddings in modern Western culture. Ran over several days. No real timetable. Whole village involved.
‘Virgins’ (or ‘maidens’). Not about their sexual status but about age and role.
Not clear where they are waiting, but bride’s father’s house most likely.
Lamps here more what we would call torches.
All have enough oil for the anticipated time of arrival.
They are not condemned for resting and sleeping.
5 are foolish because they haven’t planned contingency measures. Things don’t always go according to plan!
5 are wise because they have planned for things not going as anticipated.
The wise are not being selfish in not sharing, but practical. If they share, they may well not be enough oil for any lamps.
Homeowners and their servants would be extremely reluctant to re-open a door at night after it has been formally closed.
The word ‘Lord’ doesn’t automatically refer to God. It’s the common word for anyone in authority. Here could easily be understood as ‘Master.’
Emphasis on attitude more than effort
The point here is not that Christians should plan for every possible contingency. That is perhaps more an indication of anxiety disorder than spirituality!
Rather, a recognition that God doesn’t always work in ways that we anticipate, and often (frequently?) not to our anticipated timescale.
We need to have an attitude that can quickly adapt, and to have the resources – perhaps more emotional than practical – to respond to the change. This is an aspect of spiritual maturity.
This applies not just to church life but to our wider lives – not least family life.
It’s important that we don’t berate God for not acting in the way we want, and to be alert when we discern His involvement in the situation.
Probably the main thrust of the parable is to be alert for Jesus’ return.
But it has everyday implications as well:
There are situations where we are waiting for God to intervene; where we’re praying for Him to intervene. In our church life, in our family life, in our individual life.
He doesn’t necessarily do it in ways we would like or to our desired timescale. We should continue to trust Him.
To remain alert. To be prepared with the physical, emotional and spiritual resources so that when we do see Him intervening, we are immediately ready to respond.
It’s a tragedy if we’re so intent on telling God what to do, and when, that we miss His arrival
Not just Jesus’ second coming – as important as that is – but into situations in our life when He doesn’t intervene as we would like.