Three parables in Matthew 25 all convey fundamentally the same lesson. That there are three shows how important the message is. Those who read the Bible regularly will know them well, but beware that familiarity does not mean the message loses its power.

The first parable is of the ten virgins, half of whom are wise. What made them “wise” as they waited in the darkness for the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him”? The wise had brought a reserve of oil for their lamps. The oil represents faith; how terrible to run short of faith when the midnight cry is heard. Faith cannot be second-hand, it cannot be replenished in a moment.

The second parable is about talents the Master gives to his servants to use while he is away. They represent, we suggest, the abilities and opportunities to represent the Master in his absence. The final parable is of sheep and goats and of “his glorious throne” when the Master returns. Then, and only then, will it be made plain who are sheep and who are goats (in the Middle East they look very similar).

The goats will be blind to their failings, “Lord” they will say “when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (verse 44). And he will say, “Truly … as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (verse 45). Put as simply as possible, this is telling us we are either Christ-centred or self-centred.

Are we labouring effectively in His vineyard?. It seems that the Lord is delaying his coming, the reason being that the final ingathering is not yet complete (see Luke 14:22-23 “still there is room. And the Master said, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges … that my house may be filled’”).

So let Christ’s challenging words illuminate our minds “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day not the hour”. This request is more important than ever, for the storm clouds illuminating human helplessness are greater than ever, and the wise virgins need to be together whenever they can. But what are they to watch for? We will read tomorrow of Jesus in the garden with his disciples and his request, “… watch with me … Watch and pray … the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” (26:40,41). Think about the kind of watching Jesus was referring to.