Lutheran preaching is at times quite perplexing to outsiders. It’s because, to them, we’re stuck on repeat. Each sermon has the same elements: Law and Gospel, a call to repentance and an assurance of God’s forgiveness in Christ. There’s certainly moral instruction, an encouragement to live by way of God’s Law, but most Lutheran preachers aren’t telling you how to be better Christians by your own actions. We approach each sermon as if we’re dealing with new converts, people who need to be called to repentance. It’s because we are. Both preacher and hearers alike need to be called to repentance week in and week out. It’s part of how we are kept in the faith, by being told we’re straying.
Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins presents us with two messages. One comes directly from the Words of Jesus and the other comes from context, as the Church applies this Parable and puts it together with the Introit, the Collect, and the hymns. What Our Lord tells us about is the visible Church on the Last Day. What He presents is sobering. There should be some fear in our hearts as we hear the most damning of words from Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” But we know that there is also joy in this return of Christ. The thrilling cry means our salvation has finally come. In this Parable we are sent into our lives with readiness and joy.
As the Church Year comes to its close we hear again this Parable of the Ten Virgins. What is this Parable trying to tell us about the Last Day, about Our Lord coming to judge the living and the dead? First, consider our Baptismal liturgy. When someone is Baptized they are given a candle along with this encouragement: “Receive this burning light to show that you have received Christ who is the Light of the world. Live always in the light of Christ, and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end.” Looking at the Parable through this statement from our liturgy, we see that the five wise virgins are those who kept their Baptism blameless. That’s not something we can easily see, which is why in the Parable all ten virgins look the same—they are all waiting for the Bridegroom, all carrying lamps, and all fall asleep. Yet, five are wise and five are foolish.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.