Behold the bridegroom

by Phillip Wareham

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Please read the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew's gospel chapter twenty five and verses one to thirteen. When we read what is said in verse six, 'behold the bridegroom cometh', the sense here is not one of contemplative meditation as in beholding something (in this case the bridegroom, as we wrote in chapter two). This is an exclamation, and the word 'cometh' is actually added in the Authorised Version. He is not coming. He is here! Look the bridegroom is here. He has come. There is no time now to get ready. It is too late. The door is shut. Either we are ready or we are not. And those that are truly wise amongst his people will ready themselves, as we read: 'the bride hath made herself ready.'(Revelation 19:7)

Now the meaning of the parable is just so clear that we really have to be quite dishonest to miss the point. To say that the five wise were truly born again and the five foolish were not, is a grave error, and 'makes the word of God of none effect.'(Mark 7:13) It takes away the impact of what Jesus is saying altogether. If the parable is about five believers and five non believers, then there is no need for the 'watch therefore.'But Jesus did say 'watch therefore' and so I as a believer must take heed and watch to be ready.

It seems almost a chore to have to prove that all ten virgins are believers or disciples of Jesus, but let us, nevertheless, for the sake of those still doubting. Firstly, the Lord speaks of all ten as virgins, speaking to us of those that have been purified in the blood of Christ, that they have been given the gift of righteousness, as Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, 'for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.' (2 Corinthians 11:2) Secondly, they all had lamps which were burning at some stage and they all had oil, so the lamps could burn. The lamps speak to us of the testimony of the life of Christ in the believers, and the oil speaks to us of the Holy Spirit. The ten of them were born of the spirit and at one time had a life and testimony that shone out. As Jesus said, 'let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.'(Luke 12:35) Jesus never wastes words, or speaks something that means nothing just for the sake of saying it. If our lights could not go out, if they could not stop burning, then what Jesus said is meaningless. No, it is because there is a danger of our light going out that Jesus warns us.

Now we know also that the Holy Spirit is a gift. I cannot think to buy it as did Simon the sorcerer in Acts chapter eight. But for us to be filled with the Spirit, for our lamps to be burning brightly in this dark world, it is going to cost us something. This is the meaning in the parable of the wise telling the foolish to buy for themselves. I cannot borrow your testimony. I certainly can be encouraged by your testimony. But it is your testimony, not mine. You have had to prove the Lord in the hard place, you have had to forsake either family or friends or job or reputation for the Lord's sake. You have had to witness for Jesus where hearts are hard to him. To have a shinning testimony for Jesus will cost us something. We are all different, and the Lord will ask different things from each of us. But one thing is sure it will cost you and I something. If I am not willing to pay the price, I will not have a shining testimony for the Lord, and therefore I will not be ready for the Lord when he comes. I cannot borrow your oil.

Now the Lord asks us, 'Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.' (Luke 12:42 - 43) A wise virgin and a wise steward. One who is ready to pay the price to have a clear and shinning testimony, and one who is ready to feed the Lord's people with the precious word of life. As Jesus asked Peter three times, so he asks us, 'lovest thou me more than these?'(John 21:15 - 16) There is always a 'these' for each one of us. For Peter it was his love of fishing. There is certainly nothing wrong with fishing. But the plain and simple of the matter is, Peter could not feed the Lord's sheep and lambs and, 'go a fishing' at the same time. And so the Lord brings each one of us to a choice sometime in our life, whether we will love him more than these, whatever 'these' may be in your life and mine. Thirdly the unsaved are not trimming their lamps to go out to meet the bridegroom, and they certainly would not be aware that their lamps had gone out. No, it is to his own disciples that the Lord gives this warning and admonition. He says to those who were not ready, who were shut out, and when they came knocking on the door, 'I know you not.' That is, like Samson, they 'knew not that the Lord had departed from them.' (Judges 16:20) Paul exhorted Timothy to 'endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,' (2 Timothy 2:3) and warning 'If we deny him, he will deny us.' (2 Timothy 2:12) If I am not willing to be identified with Christ now how can I expect to be part of his bride?

So it is a matter of the will. Remember, 'He is able.' Am I willing? We know the story of Abraham's servant being sent to look for a bride for Isaac in Genesis chapter twenty four. Before he set off, the servant asked Abraham, 'Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest?'(Genesis 24:5 - 6) Abraham's answer came ever so clearly, 'And Abraham said unto him, Beware that thou bring not my son thither again.' (Genesis 24:5 - 6) Abraham here is a picture of God the Father, Isaac a picture of God the Son, the unnamed servant a picture of God the Holy Spirit, and Rebekah a picture of the church, the bride of Christ. The Holy Spirit is searching for those to be in the bride,' reproving the world of sin, righteousness and of judgment,'(John 16:8) and revealing Christ to those who believe. He gives gifts to the church and beautifies her to present her to Christ. In the story, after they had heard the servant's testimony of God's leading, had seen the precious gifts of gold, and heard of the greatness of Abraham, the family asked Rebekah, 'wilt thou go with this man?' And she said, 'I will go.'(Genesis 24:58) Thank God she was willing. It would have been no good for Rebekah to say 'Yes I am willing to marry Isaac but I want to live here with my family. Can you please go back and bring Isaac here to me.' No, that would not have done at all. The servant was under strict instructions from Abraham not to bring his son back again. And Christ will not come back to be sacrificed again for his church, to again prove his love. He will not follow us. We must follow him. He will never lower his standard but raises us up to him. We must go to where he is. We must 'follow on to know the Lord.'(Hosea 6:3)

The Song of Songs is another beautiful story of the marvelous love and grace of God to call us as his bride to follow him. There are three key verses which reflect three different stages in the Shulamite woman's following and her changing attitude towards her heavenly lover. The first in chapter two, verse sixteen,'My beloved is mine, and I am his: He feedeth among the lilies.' The second in chapter six, verse three: 'I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies:' And finally in chapter seven, verse ten we read of her simply saying, 'I am my beloved's and his desire is towards me.' There is never any doubt of her love for him, even from the start. But her love is an imperfect and inconsistent love, whereas his is always a perfect love. She loves him but she wants him on her terms. She possesses him and she is the centre of their relationship. She is taken up with the blessing she receives and when he doesn't behave as she expects him to, she becomes temperamental and blurts out 'I am sick of love.' (Song of Songs 5:8) But he continues to woo her and calls to her 'rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.' (Song of Songs 2:10) He is full of boundless energy and comes 'leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.' (Song of Songs 2:8)

He calls her to come with him to the mountains of Bether. Bether means divisions. There is always division when Jesus Christ comes into our life. A separation immediately of light from darkness, and of carnal from spiritual. Jesus asked his disciples, 'suppose ye that I am come to give peace on the earth? I tell ye Nay; but rather division. For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father. The mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother. The mother in law against her daughter in law and the daughter in law against her mother in law.' (Luke 12:51-53) And so the mountains of Bether can be a bitter experience for us, but they are sweetened by the Lord's presence with us.

She loses touch with him but then seeks him and finds him. How like us. The Lord waits for us to follow and when at times we don't, we lose the sense of his presence. We know then we can't go on without seeking and finding him. Thank God for the watchers - those who watch over the flock. He moves on to the 'mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense,' (Song of Songs 4:6) and calls to her to, 'come with me'. From the lions dens, from the mountains of the leopards.' (Song of Songs 4:8) He is calling her to come away with him and to 'know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death.' (Philippians 3:10) Jesus never forces us to follow, nor does he tell us to go here or go there on our own. He simply calls us to follow him to be with him where he is. He is the good shepherd. And as we follow, he promises to never leave us nor forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5) Even if the lions or the leopards kill us, he is still with us as he was with Stephen.

Again he comes to her in chapter five, but she forgets that her beauty was only 'perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee.' (Ezekiel 16:14) She tries to beautify herself and perfect herself. By the time she is finished he is gone again. She, like the foolish Galatians, had left off faith and was now trying to make herself perfect by the flesh. (Galatians 3:3) And, like the Galatians, needed this time a sharp rebuke. Just like Peter did, and we do from time to time. 'The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me.' (Song of Songs 5:7) But she loves him, receives correction, and knows only that 'his mouth is most sweet: yea he is altogether lovely.' (Song of Songs 5:16) He alone has 'the words of eternal life.' (John 6:68) And so she comes to the point where she can say 'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.' She is still in the picture but he now has the pre-eminence. He is first and she follows.

Until she finally comes to the point where she simply says 'I am my beloved's and his desire is toward me.'(Song of Songs 7:10) That is enough for her. She is completely satisfied in him. She is now ready to go forth with him into the field, to lodge in the villages, to get up early to the vineyards. There she experiences the fullness of his love. (Song of Songs 7:11 - 12) She simply wants to be with him, where he is. Nothing else will do. She is not like Lot's wife, looking back, and thinking of what she has left behind. She has eagle's wings. She is the Lamb's bride.

And our Lord is calling you and I to be part of his beautiful bride.