The Missing Bride: Matthew 25:1-13

Focus Passage: Matthew 25:1-13 (NIrV)

“Here is what the kingdom of heaven will be like at that time. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish. Five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t take any olive oil with them. The wise ones took oil in jars along with their lamps. The groom did not come for a long time. So the bridesmaids all grew tired and fell asleep.

“At midnight someone cried out, ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the bridesmaids woke up and got their lamps ready. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out.’

“ ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There may not be enough for all of us. Instead, go to those who sell oil. Buy some for yourselves.’

10 “So they went to buy the oil. But while they were on their way, the groom arrived. The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding dinner. Then the door was shut.

11 “Later, the other bridesmaids also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. I don’t know you.’

13 “So keep watch. You do not know the day or the hour that the groom will come.

Read Matthew 25:1-13 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, there is a character who must be present, but who is never mentioned. For there to be a groom and bridesmaids, there would also have to be a bride. Otherwise, there really wouldn’t be a wedding.

Perhaps Jesus shared the parable in this way to allow for multiple people to fill the role, but if that were the case, then they all should be at the wedding itself. In first-century weddings, the bridesmaids role was to light the way at night between the wedding ceremony (which would be at a church or synagogue) and the reception hall (which would be in a home).

The bridesmaids had an important role in helping guests make their way from the ceremony to the celebration. If this wedding represents Christ’s marriage with the symbolic bride that is the church, then Christians everywhere would be a part of the wedding ceremony, and the role of bridesmaid would ultimately be composed of a different group of people.

Missing in this parable is the role of the bride. The bride actually links the bridesmaids with the groom. The bridesmaids know the bride, and they are interested in meeting the groom. With this idea in place, the bridesmaids may be composed of friends of Christians who are looking for evidence of their faith, and who desire to meet God themselves. Some of these friends may fall away, looking for something else, while others of them may persevere and find God.

This slight distinction in who fills the role of bridesmaid in this parable makes for an interesting question, but in some ways, it misses an important characteristic of our spiritual journey: No one starts life as a Christ-follower. Life does not begin with us as a part of the symbolic bride.

Instead, as we grow, we make the decision whether to align ourselves with God, Jesus, and those who have aligned themselves in this way, or we make the decision to reject God in favor of another option. Choosing to align with God takes us from being a bridesmaid to being a member of the symbolic bride and this only happens after we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and joining with the bigger body of Christianity.

With the freedom to choose God we also have the freedom to reject Him. It is within our freedom of choice to leave being a member of the symbolic bride and walk away from being a bridesmaid.

With the freedom of choice, we will all fill the role of bridesmaid at some point in our lives, and while in that role, this parable gives us guidance for how to be wise, how to persevere, and how to ultimately and successfully meet the groom.

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Two Unlikely Disciples: John 19:38-42

Focus Passage: John 19:38-42 (CEV)

38 Joseph from Arimathea was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had kept it secret though, because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders. But now he asked Pilate to let him have Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, and Joseph took it down from the cross.

39 Nicodemus also came with about seventy-five pounds of spices made from myrrh and aloes. This was the same Nicodemus who had visited Jesus one night. 40 The two men wrapped the body in a linen cloth, together with the spices, which was how the Jewish people buried their dead. 41 In the place where Jesus had been nailed to a cross, there was a garden with a tomb that had never been used. 42 The tomb was nearby, and since it was the time to prepare for the Sabbath, they were in a hurry to put Jesus’ body there.

Read John 19:38-42 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Following Jesus’ death on the cross, two men enter the story that we would not expect to see. The first was a man who John described as a secret disciple. It is possible that no one knew this man was a follower of Jesus until after this event. The second man had previously shown up in Jesus’ story, but it was always at night or behind the scenes.

Here is how John describes what happened following Jesus’ death. “Joseph from Arimathea was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had kept it secret though, because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders. But now he asked Pilate to let him have Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, and Joseph took it down from the cross.” (v. 38)

The first “secret” disciple was Joseph. His key contribution was asking for Jesus’ body, and supplying a place for Jesus’ body to rest.

John continues by describing the second follower. “Nicodemus also came with about seventy-five pounds of spices made from myrrh and aloes. This was the same Nicodemus who had visited Jesus one night.” (v. 39)

The second “semi-secret” disciple was Nicodemus. In an earlier conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus had listened as Jesus paralleled Himself with the serpent that Moses placed on a cross and lifted up for the children of Israel. Perhaps seeing Jesus on the cross reminded Nicodemus of both this Old Testament story as well as that late night conversation several years before.

Nicodemus came with 75 pounds of spices used for burial.

The two men wrapped the body in a linen cloth, together with the spices, which was how the Jewish people buried their dead.” (v. 40)

Nicodemus and Joseph save the Easter story. They prepare Jesus with the spices and laid Him in the tomb. If the expert executioners who performed the crucifixion messed up and left Jesus unconscious, 75 pounds of burial spices would be enough to finish the task. Wrapping Jesus in the cloth with the spices would fully suffocate Him.

The impression we get from reading all the gospel accounts of this evening is that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jesus is dead.

Luke includes the detail that several of the women disciples watched Nicodemus and John closely to see where Jesus was buried and they went and prepared their own set of spices to use following the Sabbath. (Luke 23:55-56)

Perhaps the women didn’t feel the men had done a good enough job, or perhaps they wanted to pay their own respects to Jesus. Whatever reason these women used to justify their decision, the stage is set for an amazing resurrection miracle! Joseph and Nicodemus help save the Easter story because they prepare Jesus before the Sabbath. The women who plan to come and redo Jesus’ burial become the first to know of His resurrection.  God is able to use every one of us in His Story of salvation!

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Testable Faith: Mark 11:12-14, 20-26

Focus Passage: Mark 11:12-14, 20-26 (NCV)

12 The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, he became hungry. 13 Seeing a fig tree in leaf from far away, he went to see if it had any figs on it. But he found no figs, only leaves, because it was not the right season for figs. 14 So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And Jesus’ followers heard him say this.


20 The next morning as Jesus was passing by with his followers, they saw the fig tree dry and dead, even to the roots. 21 Peter remembered the tree and said to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed is dry and dead!”

22 Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. 24 So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you. 25 When you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. [ 26 But if you don’t forgive other people, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.]”

Read Mark 11:12-14, 20-26 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Have you ever wondered or struggled with faith or doubt in your life?

Have you ever experienced complete faith and had no doubt about anything?

In my life, I can answer the first question with an easy “yes”, and the second question with just an easy of a “no”. I imagine that you can relate with me on this. Most of us cannot imagine a life without some sliver of doubt.

And with this in our minds, we come to one of Jesus’ teachings, specifically one that the self-help movement within Christianity has latched on to. In Mark 11:22-24 we read, “Jesus answered, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, “Go, fall into the sea.” And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you.’

Mark’s gospel clearly states that Jesus says that when we have no doubts in our mind (or “heart” in some other translations) and believe, God will do it for us. However, is there an epidemic of doubt that has swept through the world today since there are not many clear “miracles”?

When I don’t receive a “yes” answer to a prayer, does this passage then tell me that the lack of an answer is because I have doubt in my mind and/or heart?

What if the prayer was something that was against God’s will? Would God change His will if I had enough faith?

This passage/teaching causes my mind to have more questions than answers – and I think Jesus intended it to. It is a challenging teaching, because it speaks into our human condition – we cannot know everything on this side of Heaven, and I wonder if even after we get to heaven, we will still be forever learning.

But does learning and knowledge erase doubt, or is something else the missing piece?

Here we have another question, and a very important one. In Hebrews 11:1, we read “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) Many modern translations substitute the word “evidence” for “conviction”, and while the Greek word can be translated either way, the “conviction” it refers to comes from something testable (i.e. evidence).

This says that faith is testable; that it is “conviction based on evidence”, and from this idea, we can conclude that a growing track record of experience strengthens our faith. The first disciples had a strong track record of miraculous faith from being with Jesus, but the second, third, and subsequent generations lost this growth experience. This might be one reason why there were fewer miracles recorded following the apostle’s deaths in early church history.

In science, when we have an idea we want to test, there is no doubt that we will find a result, it is just that we don’t really know “what” the result will be. We might have an idea of what we will find, but it is only after we test the idea that we learn what the result actually is.

How does this relate to faith in our lives?

When we approach faith similar to how we approach science, we have little reason to doubt. Our requests and subsequent responses from God help us see our lives differently; these responses help us see how God wants the best life for us – from an eternity perspective.

Some requests are returned unanswered or answered with a “no”, but that is not a reason to doubt in the One who answered, but additional evidence that He knows something that I don’t.

Faith is testable. Experience grows our faith. When we test our faith, this does not mean we doubt God, it means we want to grow into a deeper relationship with Him. When the request returns as a “no”, a “not, yet”, or a “here is something different instead”, we can trust that God knows something we don’t, and that He has our best long-term, eternity-focused interests in mind.

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Jesus Gives a Death Sentence: Matthew 18:7-11

Focus Passage: Matthew 18:7-11 (NASB)

In Jesus’ teaching, probably the greatest warning He ever gives is to those who cause others to stumble or lose faith. When addressing this group of people, Jesus shares some pretty harsh remarks.

Matthew records one of the statements Jesus made. In this statement, Jesus warns us that challenges are destined to come, but we should strive to not be the source of those challenges. Matthew tells us Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (v. 7)

This statement does not mean that we should not challenge other believers regarding sin in their lives. That is a separate issue. This statement has more to do with those who share cynical statements regarding faith and belief in an attempt to shake someone’s faith in God. This warning is directed to the atheist or cynic who is actively trying to break a Christian’s faith in God.

Matthew also includes Jesus’ follow-up statement a few verses later. To add to this warning, Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (v. 10)

Mark’s gospel even shares this idea in a more extreme way where He describes Jesus saying, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)

When I read the phrase “little ones”, my first reaction is to think of children – and this is one very valid way of reading this statement. When someone commits a crime against a child, they should receive little to no sympathy from the courts or jury.

However, another way to read the phrase “little ones” is to think of the brand new Christ-followers. In some ways, this aligns with Mark’s version of Jesus’ statement because Mark included the idea of belief attached to the phrase “little ones”. Regardless of their body’s age, understanding the phrase this way describes people who are starting their faith journey and who are on fire for God.

When understanding that this statement could be applied to brand new Christians, it makes even more sense that there would be those who would “despise” (hate) them. Not many adults truly despise children, but plenty of people who hate God despise those who claim to follow Him.

Jesus tells us that people will challenge our faith, but just because challenges come, we shouldn’t focus on the challenge. Instead, in some ways, we maybe should feel sorry for the person who is giving the challenge. It is the person who challenges another’s faith that Jesus gives this warning to. Our response when challenged is to stay focused on Jesus and to share His love with others – even towards those who despise us.

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