Two of the saddest words in the English language are “if only” – “if only I had done this, if only I hadn’t done that.” The story of the foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25 will challenge us to make it to the end of our lives where hopefully we can say, “I have no regrets.”
- I will read “Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets” by Andy Stanley.
- I will make parenting a priority, and not abdicate my responsibility.
- I will do battle with the sin in my life.
- I will call someone and say, “I love you.”
- I will take a risk and open up in a relationship.
Full Sermon Script
Hi, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks. If this is your first time joining us in this series, we’re studying the stories Jesus told.
About a third of Jesus’ words recorded in the Bible are stories.
Telling stories was Jesus’ primary method of teaching.
And I believe one of the primary reasons Jesus told stories is because people are defensive.
This is what Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 13.
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
A parable is a story.
And Jesus responded with a passage of Scripture from Isaiah. He said:
Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In other words, people resist truth.
They can see, but they don’t want to see, so they don’t. They can hear, but they don’t want to hear, so they don’t. They’re defensive.
So how is Jesus going to get past their defenses?
With a story.
Jesus knows you can’t just tell someone, “You’re hardhearted and you need to repent. You’re bitter and angry and hostile and you need to straighten up.”
People tend to be defensive against that.
But if you tell them a story – it’s interesting that a story has a way of getting past eyes that don’t see and around ears that don’t hear.
Well, I hope God is using these stories we’ve been looking at in this series to get past some of your defenses so you could see the truth about who you really are. I know He’s doing that with me.
And I hope God does that today as we look at the story of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25.
This is Matthew 25, verses 1-13.
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.
The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Later the others also came. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!” “But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
This is a story about what could be the two saddest words in the English language – If only.
If only I would have known.
If only I didn’t say that to hurt her so badly.
If only I told the truth.
If only I said yes to that job opportunity.
If only I didn’t go to that event.
If only I trained more and was more disciplined.
If only I would have invested in Tesla two years ago.
Do you ever have this dream? This is a fairly common dream. You’re in school and you walk into a class. It’s a class you been taking all semester, but you forgot that this is the day your teacher is giving the final exam.
You haven’t studied so you’re not prepared. All you can do is pray.
Have you ever had that dream? It’s a fairly common one.
Well, when you’re a student it’s wise to remember one truth – there’s a final coming, maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but it’s coming. So be prepared, because you don’t want to have to say, “If only – if only I would have studied.”
This is a fundamental truth about human life, and Jesus, the wisest teacher who ever lived, wants to get at it, so he tells this story.
Jesus tells a story about a wedding and some bridesmaids. And they really only have one task. And that is to be ready for the groom – have oil for their lamps so that they can light the way and be ready for the wedding and the party.
Now, there are a few things we need to understand about Jesus’ day to understand this passage.
First of all, a wedding would go on for several days.
And then at the peak of the wedding celebration, the groom would come to the bride’s home. And he would escort the bride to the final ceremony.
And then there would be the reception – the party to close the whole celebration.
It was very different in Jesus’ day.
In our day a wedding is focused on the bride. The bride walks down the aisle and all attention is on her. We all stand up for the bride. We all use words to describe the bride like, “beautiful,” “radiant.”
No one really notices the groom in our weddings. The groom is just a prop like candles and music.
The groom is like a restroom at an art gallery. You have to have it, but no one goes to look at it.
But as we see from the text, that’s not Biblical.
The way Jesus tells this story, the focus is on the groom.
And something happens in verse five. He says, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming.”
We don’t know what happened, but for some reason he didn’t show up when they expected him.
And of course, in this story the bridegroom represents Jesus. Jesus is going to return.
And when Jesus returns the story will have an ending.
Your life is a story. My life is a story. Our stories will have an ending.
There is meaning and significance for everything that happens in your life, and we’ll find out what that is when the groom comes.
In this story, there are women who have oil for their lamp and women who don’t.
We can understand the lamp and oil to represent your life and my life, your character and my character.
These bridesmaids had just one task, and that was to make sure their lamp was ready, just have enough oil so they could be part of the celebration.
The significance of this is, make sure that you’ve lived in such a way that when your life is viewed from God’s perspective, which it will one day when Jesus comes back, make sure you’ve lived in such a way that from an eternal perspective your life was lived wisely and to the fullest.
Make sure that you gave yourself to that which was worthy and didn’t get distracted by that which was meaningless. Make sure you’re ready.
Jesus says in verse 5:
The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
But then he says in verse 6:
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
They announce his coming, and some of the bridesmaids are not prepared. They have no oil, so they ask the wise bridesmaids, verse 7:
Then all the bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
”No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you.
So why don’t these wise bridesmaids lend oil to the foolish ones? That seems a little selfish, doesn’t it?
I think the point Jesus is trying to make here is, “There are some things that cannot be borrowed.”
A relationship with God cannot be borrowed. Not from your parents. Not you’re your spouse. Not from your friends. You must have it for yourself.
Also, character cannot be borrowed. Not from your parents. Not from your family. Not from your friends. You are responsible for your character.
A life cannot be borrowed.
And you are constructing your one and only life. One day you will stand before God with your one and only life.
Your family isn’t going to be standing with you. Your friends aren’t going to be standing with you.
I think this is the point of the oil in this story: I am responsible to God for my life.
God has given me the freedom to choose good or bad, right or wrong, love or hate. And I make those choices hundreds of times a day, and those choices form the life of my soul, and I can’t borrow them from anyone else.
I think that’s the significance of these women not being able to borrow the oil from the wise ones. There are things that cannot be borrowed – your life, your character, your relationship with God.
A lot of us go through life trying to avoid the responsibility that we have in our life. But Jesus is saying through this story, you and I are responsible to prepare.
Story – Teena Mathew
Teena is a great example of being prepared for the coming of the groom. I hope her words are an encouragement to you like they are to me.
Alright, now we come to another truth, as these bridesmaids discover they can’t borrow someone else’s oil.
They’re desperate, so they run out to buy some.
Do you remember about what time this takes place?
Where are they going to find oil at midnight?
And it’s at this point we discover two more words in the English language that are very depressing – Too late.
While the groom was delayed, it seemed like they had all the time in the world, but the day is coming for every one of us.
Jesus is saying, “There will come a day when we realize how short time really is, and how important the time we have is.”
Notice this is not a story about trying to figure out when the groom will be returning. Too many Christians act like Jesus said, “Try to figure out when I will return.”
That’s not what he says.
So many Christians look at the Bible as if it’s a bunch of information so that we can have the inside scoop on when the end is coming.
Look what Jesus says in verse 13 – he doesn’t say try to figure out when the end is coming. He says:
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
I think what Jesus is getting at here is – we need to be devoting ourselves to what really matters.
What really matters?
Storing up treasures in Heaven and not on earth.
Investing in your marriage.
Investing in your children.
Being part of the mission of God in our community through our church.
Serving those in need.
Caring for the poor, the widows and the orphans.
Jesus says do this because the day is coming when we will all find out what really mattered.
Another question I asked myself as I read this story is, “How did the foolish bridesmaids get to the point where they were unprepared?”
Or the question for some of us could be – how do we waste our lives?
I love the way Eugene Peterson writes about the bridesmaids in The Message – the adjective he uses to describe the bridesmaids who are unprepared.
He doesn’t call them evil bridesmaids. He doesn’t call them wicked bridesmaids. He calls them silly bridesmaids. Silly bridesmaids!
If we were to ask them, “why don’t you have oil for your lamp?” You know what they would say?
Probably the same thing a little kid would say when you ask them why they did something stupid – “I don’t know.”
They’re not being rebellious. They’re not being outright defiant. They never shake their fist in the face of God and say, “I don’t care what you say. I’m going my own way.”
You know what, they probably don’t even decide.
They just drift.
And for how many of us, does the same thing happen? We’re not rebellious. We’re not being outright defiant. We’re not shaking our fist in the face of God, saying, “I hate you, I don’t want anything to do with you.”
We’re just drifting away from what really matters.
Some people will get to the end of their lives and we could ask them:
Why didn’t you devote yourself to knowing God?
Why didn’t you get connected in the church?
Why didn’t you serve more?
Why didn’t you love your children unconditionally?
Why didn’t you give away more of your money to help the poor?
Why didn’t you follow the spirits leading in your life?
Why didn’t you take more risks for Christ?
Why did you spend so much time watching TV instead of caring for the people in your life?
Why were you so obsessed with gaining more instead of giving more away?
Why didn’t you prepare for the return of the groom?
Do you know what their response will be?
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know, it just didn’t seem important at the time. Other things seemed like they mattered more or were easier to do.”
What happens is we get this kind of spiritual complacency that sets in on our hearts, and we fail to have an urgency about what really matters most in life.
That’s what a lot of people say when they get to the end of their life.
So in the time that we have left, I want to look at a few areas where we end up with regret; and I want to ask you to think about each one of these areas in your life.
Think about where you are in your life right now.
And if you were to continue down the road that you’re traveling, would you get ten, twenty years down the road and have regret?
Would you be the person who says, “if only,” or “too late”?
Alright, I’d like you to think about where you are in your life in three areas. First, I want to talk about the area of
I want to talk about no-regret parenting.
And I want to talk about a different character in the Bible in each one of these areas.
On the parenting deal, I want to look at Eli from 1 Samuel.
Eli was a priest of God. He devoted himself to the people of God. He spent his time in worship and prayer. He taught Samuel to recognize the voice of God.
He did all these things faithfully, but he had two sons who were corrupt.
They used the temple to steal offerings intended for God.
They used their status as religious leaders because of their dad to exploit and seduce women. Women who intended to serve at the temple were seduced and led into sexual sins by these two young men.
And Eli knew about it. Yet he abdicated his parental responsibility.
God says in 1 Samuel 3:13:
I have warned Eli that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them.
Eli knew what was going on with his sons but he did nothing about it. He whined a little bit, but he took no decisive action.
Maybe it was because they drifted away so gradually.
Maybe he was afraid they would reject him as a father.
Maybe he was preoccupied with his ministry.
Maybe he was blind.
Maybe it was because he didn’t want to put the time and energy into parenting.
Maybe he was in denial and said it wasn’t so bad, but it was.
Imagine the regret he faced at the end of his life.
Imagine what might happen if every parent listening were to say, “I’m not going to let that happen. I can’t control what my kids will do, but I will pledge before God today that I will seek to parent in a no-regret manner, as best I can, with God’s help.”
Maybe you have a child that desperately needs confrontation. They’re dealing with behavioral problems, with sin, and you have not confronted them.
Here’s the deal, the longer you put off confronting destructive behavior patterns in children, the harder it is to bring change.
Maybe you need to make a decision right now – “these words are enough for me to realize there is something in one of my children that is going off the path. I have either been blind or ignored it or not wanted to deal with it, and I’ve got to confront them. We need to have that talk.”
So will you do it?
Maybe for you, the parental regret road you’re traveling down is words of affection you haven’t spoken. Maybe they don’t come naturally for you. Maybe you never received them.
You don’t want to get to the end of your life, when the groom comes back, and have regret because you never spoke the words of affection that your child was dying to hear.
Maybe you need to go speak those words.
Maybe for you the area is time. You’re so tired after work that you have no energy to create memories.
When was the last time you did something spontaneous and unpredictable with your kids just for fun?
If you’re a parent, will you say, “As best I can, I will do no-regret parenting?”
Because you don’t want to get to the end of your life and look back at major parental regrets.
Here’s the deal – who decides when they have their first child, “I’m going to be ineffective at parenting.”
No one decides that! It just happens.
Alright, another area where I want to talk about getting rid of regret is the area of
This is a deceptive one.
Have you ever had a bad habit in your life that just spontaneously went away?
You used to chew your nails, or call other drivers bad names, and then one day these behaviors just magically disappeared.
I believe one of the strongest “if only” statements in our lives is going to be attached to sin.
So look at your life right now. Are there any patterns of sin in your life right now that you haven’t dealt with?
Is there sin in your life right now that will lead to regret?
Because Jesus, the groom, is really coming back.
The book of Genesis tells the story of Cain. He wanted to serve God. He offered God a sacrifice, but he was overtaken by sin. He was destroyed, consumed with envy for his brother, Abel.
So God said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Sin is crouching at your door.”
God told Cain that sin was going to attack him.
Sin is a personal force. It’s not just that Satan is out there in the spiritual world trying to destroy us. It’s that our sin is going to destroy us, if we don’t master it.
Part of what God is saying to Cain is, “you don’t have to be defeated by sin. You have a choice.”
And if you know the story, Cain doesn’t master it. He never deals with his envy, resentment, anger, and bitterness, and it ends in violence. It ends with him killing his brother.
I hope you have ears to hear on this, because you may be listening today for this very reason – to hear this statement – sin is crouching at your door, and if you don’t deal with it, it will destroy you. I don’t know how else to say it any simpler!
So what are the destructive patterns in your life?
They could be addictions.
They could have to do with gossip.
They could have to do with ego or pride.
They could have to do with dishonesty.
They could have to do with greed.
They could have to do with behavior problems.
They could have to do with the people in your life.
They could have to do with sexual issues that are going on.
What patterns of sin in your life are destroying your soul?
Maybe you need to start praying, crying out to God right now about this:
“God, no matter what else happens between now and the end of my life, between now and when the groom returns, God, I am going to do battle with this area of sin in my life.”
Maybe you need to start praying that today.
Maybe there’s a sin in your life that you’ve kept a secret. You need to confess it to God and acknowledge it to yourself… but you also need to confess it to another person.
You probably need support. You need someone to be praying for you.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is James 5:16. James writes:
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Maybe you’ve tried and tried and tried to defeat this on your own, but you can’t. You need to confess it to someone, obviously someone who is safe, where they won’t gossip, but you need to take the step to get support.
Maybe you’ve never devoted yourself to prayer on this issue – you need to ask God for the spiritual strength to deal with this.
Maybe you’ve never seriously reflected about the consequences of your sin.
This is the truth, I can’t say it any simpler – the groom is coming back.
The day is coming when you and I are going to say: “What was I thinking? Why did I allow that to go on and on and on day after day and week after week and month after month and year after year, choking the spiritual life out of me? Why didn’t I acknowledge my problem and confess it openly and seek whatever help I needed and declare war on it?”
It’s the sin area, and it is going to be responsible for huge piles of regret for enormous numbers of people.
And I just feel a strong sense that I need to press this one.
I don’t know how to get you to decide on this one, but you may be listening today because you’ve got to deal with this one. I plead with you, don’t walk away from it.
Alright, the last area where we don’t want to feel regret is in our
There’s a king in the Old Testament named Saul. He was a man who had a lot of power. He was looked up to. He was a king of Israel.
We’re told that he stood head and shoulders above the men of Israel. We’re told he was the glory of Israel.
And he had some amazing people in his life. He had a man named Samuel, who wanted to be his friend, to serve as his shepherd and mentor.
But Saul deceived Samuel and abandoned him when he spoke the truth to him.
There was a young boy named David, and David could have been Saul’s protégé. David longed just to be Saul’s servant and hopefully he could become Saul’s friend.
But Saul was so filled with envy because of David’s popularity and the love the people had for David that he tried to kill him a number of times.
Saul could have had friendship, intimate community, with anyone he wanted with a single word. One repentant conversation would have done it, but he never said it.
We’re told in scripture he died of his own hand, and essentially, spiritually, he died alone.
Now I want to ask you, are you heading down the road towards any relational regrets?
I’ll tell you, the saddest words in the English language are, “if only” and “too late.”
Maybe today, before you do anything else, you need to go to a person or call someone and say, “I love you. Do you know how much I love you?”
Maybe you have a lot of relationships, but pretty much, they’re all superficial. No one really knows you, and you need to take a risk and open up and go deeper.
Maybe you’re in a relationship where there’s a grudge and you’ve been carrying that around for a long time now. You need to ask yourself the question today: “Do I want to carry that kind of bitterness into eternity?”
I don’t think you do.
Will you say, “I’m sorry?” Will you forgive where forgiveness needs to be extended?
Whatever it is you need to do, don’t wait.
Life is precious and time is short. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t reach the end of your one and only life and be tormented by those words, “If only.”
Alright, let’s pray and then the band will lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church