Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom
Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom

What Is Your Story?

Karen VanTil Gushta

Recently I attended a luncheon sponsored by a number of local churches as part of an outreach to the business community. The speaker began by recounting how he had played a practical joke on his friend who was staying at an exclusive Asian hotel known for its tight security. His friend had instructed him to stop at the entrance and call him on the house phone so the doorman would allow him to enter. Instead, posing as a guest who had just returned from a brisk walk, he greeted the doorman, who allowed him to enter the hotel. Then he walked briskly past the front desk, greeting everyone with “I’ve just had a fine walk,” and strode confidently to the elevator, took it to the concierge floor, found a seat, opened a copy of the local paper, and ordered tea. His ruse would have eventually come to an unfortunate end, except that his friend was a registered guest and could vouch for him.  

The speaker used this story to illustrate the point of his presentation. But, I thought, “That’ll preach!” This story could easily be used to introduce the Gospel. How many people today go through the motions but are really religious “imposters”?  Without Jesus as their Friend, they will eventually be found out.

Jesus used common illustrations and stories that spoke to the people of his day. People today are no different, and often a story or illustration can capture a person’s attention so that we can share the Good News about Jesus with them.

We often lump Jesus’ stories and illustrations into the single category of “parables.” But Herman H. Horne, who wrote Jesus the Master Teacher (now still available as Teaching Techniques of Jesus: How Jesus Taught ) divides Jesus’ parables into three categories: 1) short comparisons like “Physician, heal thyself,” (Luke 4:23); 2) stories that suggest a comparison between familiar facts and spiritual truths like the story of the tares in the wheat, and 3) illustrative stories that carry a truth within them, such as the story of the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple or the story of the Good Samaritan. Horne points out that Jesus used parables in a “mixed company of enemies and friends, of persons typified by each of the four kinds of soil.” We can find these same types of individuals in our daily interactions at work or social occasions.

One of Jesus’ stories that recently captured my attention is His parable of the Ten Virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13. To understand it we need to understand the ancient Middle Eastern wedding ceremony, which is much different than our weddings today. The wedding ceremony took place in the bridegroom’s home and it would last over a period of several days. But first the bride had to wait in anticipation for the groom to come to her home for the first part of the ceremony; then he would take her back to his home for the concluding ceremony and celebration. But the bride never knew when the groom would appear. So, she and her bridesmaids had to watch and be ready for the groom to arrive at any time, whether during the day or in the middle of the night. If the groom had not come by nightfall, the bride’s maidens (virgins like her) would watch through the night with lamps lit and ready to light the way to his home when arrived.  

In Jesus’ parable, it was “the middle of the night” when the groom appeared. The cry went out, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” and everyone woke up—even the wise maidens had been asleep. But the foolish maidens’ lamps had gone out, and they had not brought enough oil to last through the night. So they pleaded with the wise maidens to give them some of their oil, but they were unable to help. Those who had oil in their lamps were able to go with the bride and groom to the groom’s home and enjoy the wedding banquet. 

Understanding this parable requires looking at its context found in the preceding chapter of Matthew. At the end of Matthew 24, Jesus gives several exhortations to be ready when He returns. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (verse 42). And “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (verse 44).

With this context, chapter 25 verse one begins with Jesus saying, “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins . . .”

Since this parable suggests a comparison between familiar facts (everyone in Jesus’ audience knew the wedding customs of the day) and spiritual truths, what are the spiritual truths that we should glean from this parable, now that we know a little more about the facts of story?

One interpretation is that Jesus is speaking to the professing Jewish remnant who will be ready to meet Jesus when He returns a second time at the end of the “Tribulation.” But, as Dr. Kennedy clearly shows in his sermon on the tribulation (available in the ministry resources: The End Times: A Historical Perspective), the historic position of the church has always been that the church will go through the tribulation and when it is completed, Jesus Christ will return to gather all those who have trusted in Him for salvation and redemption from their sins. Furthermore, the previous viewpoint concerning two returns of Jesus was not part of the historic Christian faith until John Darby and William Irving began to preach it in the 1830s. Therefore, we should consider this parable in the context of Jesus’ once and final return to earth as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 -17 when the dead in Christ shall be raised and the living in Christ will be gathered up to meet the Lord in the air.

What is the point then of the parable for us today? As R. T. Kendall notes, “If the parable of the ten virgins is eschatological—referring to the last days, as many Bible interpreters believe—we can easily see what our Lord would say about today’s Church. He woul say it’s asleep. Jesus said, ‘The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all [both the wise and foolish virgins] became drowsy and fell asleep” (v.5).

Kendall lists 14 signs that the church is asleep today, including a lack of fear of God, no sense of outrage over the church’s lack of credibility in the world, little or no concern about people going to hell, and tolerating heresies such as open theism and hyper-grace teaching. I would add to this list the lack of concern about the American holocaust of abortion shown in the reluctance of pastors to address this issue from their pulpits or to get their church actively involved in reaching out to women facing a crisis pregnancy. (If every abortion center had sidewalk counselors standing outside offering words of Gospel hope to mothers and help to keep their babies, the number of abortions in America would soon drop substantially.)

When I read Kendall’s explication of this parable, it spoke to me. Am I among those who are asleep, even as I’m waiting for the Lord’s return? Am I letting my lamp go out—not keeping it lit with the oil of the Holy Spirit (see Zechariah 4, Isaiah 61:1, and Romans 8:9)? Furthermore, do I have a passion for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who are still lost in their sins?

This time of year many people are looking for comfort and hope. Many are lonely and depressed at the thought of spending their holidays alone due to the loss of a family member, divorce, or lack of funds to travel and see their family in other states. Now is a key time for believers to reach out with the love of Christ and share about the God-man who entered this world as a baby born to a humble family with royal lineage. Perhaps you have a story you can use to share Jesus’ love for them.  

This December let the church awake, and let it begin with me!