Synopsis of the Sermon
Americans hate to wait. We want things quick and we want things now! Today there are one-minute bedtime stories designed for busy parents who apparently cannot wait long enough to finish an entire story for their child! There are dozens of “instant” weight loss products, again because we cannot wait to lose weight. People regularly expect pastors to come up with a solution to their 20-year marital problems in just a 30 minute counseling session. We Americans hate to wait.
The parable Jesus tells of the ten virgins is all about waiting—waiting for the king—the bridegroom. In this parable, the bridegroom represents Jesus and the virgins represent the church. This illustrates for us the amazing intimacy between God and people. He is our husband and we are His bride!
Across the globe there are hundreds of different customs surrounding marriage and weddings. To appreciate this parable, we need to understand the customs of Jesus’ day. In Palestine in the first century on the wedding night, the groom and his friends would set out towards the bride’s house. They would meet up with the bride, her family and her friends. Then there would be a grand procession of everyone back to the groom’s house for a great wedding feast and celebration. (Throughout the bible, our reunion with Christ is portrayed as a grand wedding feast and celebration!)
Because it is dark, torches are necessary for the procession. Rags would need to be soaked in oil, then lit and attached to poles. So in this parable, some of the virgins had oil for their torches and others did not.
The problem in this parable is that the king—the bridegroom is delayed, and so the virgins much wait. Waiting is a theme in the bible. We see God’s people regularly dealing with delay and being forced to wait. Abraham had to wait for the promised son. Moses had to wait to become Israel’s great deliverer from slavery. The children of Israel had to wait in the desert before they could finally enter the Promised Land.
As Christians we often find ourselves waiting. Pain and waiting are the main tools God uses to grow us up, mature us spiritually and teach us to trust Him.
In the parable, while they are waiting the virgins are sleeping. There is nothing wrong with the sleeping, but there are two types of sleeping. There is foolish sleeping, which comes from exhaustion over running around, frantically spending time and energy on things that do not matter. Then there is wise sleeping, which is restful trust in God—the realization that we don’t run everything, we are not in control and so we can have peace.
The arrival of the king—the bridegroom—is at midnight, which suggests it is sudden and unexpected. This is also a theme in the bible about the return of Christ. He will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, when we least expect it. He will return suddenly, like the flood in the days of Noah.
The wise virgins are supplied—they have what they need. The oil represents prayer, which is what gets the church through times of waiting. We must regularly and daily go to God and connect with Him, otherwise we will burn out, as the foolish virgins did.
The parable concludes with a judgment and a separation. The king judges the foolish virgins, the door is shut and they are excluded from the wedding feast and celebration. Again, separation is a theme in the bible, particularly in Matthew. We see it with the wheat and the tares, the big catch of fish, the wise and foolish builders and the sheep and the goats. In the church, everyone may look similar on the outside, but not everyone has enough oil! Some do and some don’t. Some pray and others do not. This parable warns us that one day there will be a great separation.
In 5 minutes or less, briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon. What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling? Explain.
Getting the Conversation Started
These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.
- What were some surprises for you in this week’s sermon? What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
- What was your immediate “take away” this week? What one thing did you feel God was emphasizing for you from the sermon?
Context: This psalm of David is a prayer for help. We don’t know the exact reason for his distress, but from the prayer we know it involves his own sin (v.12). David’s distress is exacerbated by the gloating of his enemies, who perhaps mock him for trusting God when God is apparently doing nothing to help him. David is comforted by recalling past experiences of God’s faithfulness and help, and this seems to strengthen him to seek the Lord again in his current troubles.
Read Psalm 40
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in him.
4 Blessed is the one
who trusts in the LORD,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.[b]
5 Many, LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.
6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened[c]—
burnt offerings and sin offerings[d] you did not require.
7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.[e]
8 I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.”
9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips, LORD,
as you know.
10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
from the great assembly.
11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
13 Be pleased to save me, LORD;
come quickly, LORD, to help me.
14 May all who want to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
15 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
be appalled at their own shame.
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
“The LORD is great!”
17 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
you are my God, do not delay.
- In v.1 David speaks of waiting for God “in the pit.” Think of some times in your life when you were forced to wait. Did you ever feel like you were “in a pit?” Share some of these stories with the group. What was your experience like?
- What aspect of waiting is the hardest for you? What are some lessons you’ve learned while waiting? How has God used waiting for good in your life?
- In v.4 David mentions some things that we are tempted to turn to when we are waiting on God. What are they? What are some examples of “the proud” or “false gods?” Have you ever found yourself doing this when forced to wait on God? Describe.
- In v.6 David mentions “sacrifice and offering.” What does he say about them? Have you ever turned to “religious activities” to try to get God to do something for you or to act more quickly on your behalf. Describe.
- David began this psalm by saying he “waited patiently for the Lord” (v.1). Find some reasons from the psalm for why David was able to be patient while waiting. Which are most meaningful to you right now and why?
- David is quite frank about his needs and does not hold back in telling God what he really wants (see v.12-17). Are you able to be totally honest and transparent with God about how you really feel and what you really want? If so, why are you? If not, what are some of the reasons you are uncomfortable to be like David?
Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.
- Allow time for everyone in the room to come up with what it is they are currently waiting on God for. (It could be a loved one’s healing or salvation; it could be a job; it could be the healing of marriage problem; it could be a breakthrough with a personal struggle like anger or un-forgiveness.) Let those who are comfortable share with the group what they are waiting for.
- Pray for those who would like prayer—either for themselves as they are waiting or for God to (as David put it in v.17) “not delay” any longer!
- The lesson of this week’s parable is that we ought to be more like the wise virgins and less like the foolish ones. Pray for those who feel they need God’s help in establishing a habit of regular prayer.