Red Letters: Did Jesus Really Say That?

In the past several years there has been a growing movement of Christians who take on social matters with a Biblical lens. Pushing back against a trend among believers to avoid matters of politics and social justice, Christ followers began to look with a renewed lens. They have come to be known by many as “Red Letter Christians,” followers of Christ who form their responses according to the words of Christ – the letters found in red in many Bibles.

This is not a new approach, of course. But, with ever-changing social issues and cultural complexities, it is good to return to the One who stepped into our world from a heavenly home. Talk about a culture shock. We know that Jesus did not distance himself from the problems of the day, nor did he take a “no comment” approach. Jesus spent time with those who were sick and culturally outcast, he overturned tables within religious institutions, and he addressed the matter of taxation (several times).

Noting my own growing interest in cultural matters as well as the failure of many church bodies to address them, I would like to devote one post each week to the red letters. I picked up in my reading with the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). This parable falls in the middle of a lengthy discourse recorded by Matthew. It falls soon before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, and much of the discourse is identified as pointing to the end times.

In this parable, Jesus notes that ten virgins waited for the bridegroom. This reference points toward the coming of Christ. As we understand it, we see it as the return of Christ. Five of the virgins were prepared with enough oil for their lamps, but the other five were not. There were no street lamps, no flashlights and no cell phones to light the way. If you had enough oil, you could keep your lamp burning through the night.

All of them fell asleep while waiting. All of them heard the call at midnight that the bridegroom had arrived. Only five of them were ready. Those who were unprepared asked for oil from those who were ready. The response to their request was “No.”

In the study Bible where I read this parable, I find this note: “When Christ returns, preparedness cannot be shared or transferred.” I cannot find any room to argue that. What my father and mother believe cannot speak for me on that day. What my pastor or neighbor believes cannot be my ticket. Nor will my faith speak for my children. There are no coattails on the path to eternity. While most may accept the position that each person will account for their own actions, I find another note more unsettling.

The analogy of oil for lamps as used by Jesus comes with another note in the study Bible: “Torches required large amounts of oil in order to keep burning, and the oil had to be replenished about every 15 minutes.” That’s a lot of preparation! In that regard, I would have to admit to falling asleep and being unprepared in this sense: I do not do a faith check that often.

I do not believe in salvation by works; we can read that we are saved “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). But we can also read that our faith, without action, is dead (James 2:17). So what does that mean for us? How can we be prepared?

I believe that a verse in I Peter 4 points us in the direction of our answer: “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – ” (verse 3a). We cannot sleep on our faith. We cannot become complacent and carry on in our old ways. We cannot subscribe to “cheap grace” by sitting in our sin.

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. ~ Proverbs 28:13

He who does not come prepared for the bridegroom will find the door shut. We don’t like to think about that. We like our loving Jesus, our loving God. But we cannot miss the fact that we serve a just God and a living Jesus. We do not know when Christ returns, but we do know we must be ready.

The enemy whispers the same version of the same lie over and over again: “Did God really say…?” In order to know how to combat the lie, we should make sure that we know what God really says.

I was thinking about the note on the 15 minutes. I quickly wanted to brush off what I was thinking: “No one should have to do a ‘faith check,’ a ‘readiness check’ every 15 minutes. That’s silly.” Then I thought about this: if my child was ill and needed a dose of medicine every 15 minutes in order to live, would I ever miss one?

We must be aware. We have spent “enough time” in our life doing as we pleased. We must make sure that we now spend time doing as we’re commanded. Be ready.