Author: Ron Graham
Empty House, Empty Lamps
—Mistakes people make
The two parables in the lesson have quite different subject matter. One concerns a man possessed of demons. The other is about maidens at a wedding. However the point both parables is similar.
The parables warn us that we must properly obey God's word, and not be neglectful or do it by half measures. Carefully hearing and doing with a faithful heart filled with a passion for God’s grace and goodness —nothing less will do as a preparation for judgment day.
The parables in this lesson focus on some of the great mistakes that people make. We considered these in one of our introductory lessons, Great Mistakes. These mistakes include failing to properly hear and obey God’s word, and to get ready for the judgment (Matthew 7, Matthew 25).
1 The Empty House
This parable is also recorded in Luke 11:24-26.
The subject of the parable is a house occupied by an an undesirable tenant. When the tenant vacates or is evicted, the house is swept and made neat and clean. However the house is left unoccupied. The tenant who left, unable to find anywhere else to live, sneaks back to the house bringing seven other homeless with him, and they all move in and become squatters.
What makes this parable unusual is that the tenant is a demon and the house is a human being. Most parables picture simple physical things —vineyards, houses, sheep, business, banquets, and suchlike. This parable enters into the metaphysical.
Only one other parable, the Rich Man and Lazarus, does that. In this parable of the Empty House, Jesus simply describes some familiar facts about demon possession. The people listening to Jesus would not find the parable strange, because they knew from experience that demons could enter into people and do them harm.
Note —DEMON: A demon (or daemon) is an insanely evil and outcast spirit being, who seeks a parasitical incarnation in a fleshly body. This invasion causes various kinds of mental and physical illness and abnormality in the victim.
The background to the parable is explained in earlier verses.
When we learn the circumstances in which Jesus told this parable, we understand why Jesus chose demon possession as an illustration. Jesus had cast out a demon from a man who was both blind and dumb, and the man was then able to see and hear (Matthew 12:22-24). Some debate and discussion arose out of this miracle, and this led Jesus to utter the parable of the Empty House.
The point of the parable is aimed at the Pharisees who were maligning Jesus in the discussion (Matthew 12:24-28).
Note —PHARISEE: A member of one of the opinionated and self-glorifying sects among the religious leaders and lawyers in Jerusalem. Pharisees accepted miracles, resurrection, angels, spirits, etc whereas their rivals the Saducees did not.
The typical Pharisee was certainly like a house "swept clean and put in order", for he lived in a most orderly, scrupulous, and religious manner. The problem was that he was an empty house, a house "unoccupied".
Although he might zealously have purified himself by religious rituals, he neglected to fill himself with justice, mercy, compassion, and such like. So he was a nice neat house but untenanted, just waiting for evil to come back and squat. Since the discussion had been about casting out demons, Jesus used that topic as an analogy of an even worse problem suffered by the Pharisees.
We learn the lesson from this parable that, when we get rid of evil, we must fill the void with good, otherwise the evil will come back with a vengeance. It is like weeding a garden but neglecting to fill it with good plants and leaving the ground bare. Many more weeds will soon infest the soil than you removed.
To make ourselves ready for judgment day, we cannot be satisfied with merely ridding ourselves of evil. We must also fill ourselves up with good. When we consider the "deeds of the flesh" (Galatians 5:19-21), we should make up our minds to be rid of such as these. Yet we must also go on to consider "the fruits of the Spirit" and make up our minds that we will be filled with such as these (Galatians 5:22-25).
2 The Empty Lamps
The parable of the ten virgins is a simple story about people's behaviour at a wedding. As the bridegroom in the story, Jesus is representing himself as God with the power to open and shut the doors of Heaven (Revelation 3:7). The point of the story is not to make the terrible mistake of being unprepared for the bridegroom’s coming.
The wedding customs in the parable would be entirely familiar to Jesus’s listeners. These customs are probably quite different to what you are used to. However you can easily enough imagine what is going on, and the exotic customs only make the story all the more impressive and memorable.
Matthew 25:1-4 picture the ten maidens each looking lovely, dressed up for the wedding celebration, and each with her oil lamp burning brightly. But look very carefully and you will notice a small difference between them...
See, five girls carry small flasks along with their lamps, the other five do not. This small difference makes a big difference. The five girls who do not carry flasks are foolish, while the five girls who do are wise, and we will soon find out why.
Matthew 25:5-9 tell of the crisis. All the maidens got drowsy waiting for the bridegroom. They all fell asleep because the bridegroom delayed his coming. Their lamps continued burning, burning, using up the oil. "Then at midnight there was a shout". The bridegroom has been sighted. He is coming!
There was a flurry among the girls. Their oil lamps had almost gone out, and the wicks had become sooty. A quick trim of the wicks, to make them burn brightly again, and quickly replenish the oil from the little flask, now rise and run out to meet the bridegroom. But there’s a problem. Five girls didn’t bring flasks of spare oil. The other girls don’t have enough to share. So the five who were foolish have to run off and find some oil. Will there be time?
Matthew 25:10-13 bring us to the point. The five girls who were ready, entered in to the wedding feast with the bridegroom. The door is shut and will not be opened for the five who were not ready. Imagine how the five girls felt as they stood outside the locked door and knew they had missed the wedding feast and could not enter in.
The Lord’s warning is clear. Be wise, be alert, be prepared, be ready to meet me when you hear the shout, yet make provision for a long wait. Never let your lamp go out. There is a day coming, a midnight hour when the door of Heaven will open. You must be ready to enter in before I shut the door forever.