I was reminded of this recently in Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The whole thing centers around ladies with lamps. I realized that they shared an experience that most of us have never known.
More than that, I realized that God Himself put oil lamps at the very center of religious experience. From Mt. Sinai until the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.—over 1,500 years—the priests of Israel entered the holy place twice a day to refill and to trim seven lamps.
Those lamps were not just for lighting. They were a lesson. They taught about the nature of our human existence.
Every lamp has three essential components. It is a vessel made of clay. It is filled with oil. And, it is tipped by fire. The fire is the point of the whole thing. Without fire the rest of the lamp makes no sense.
Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. His is the light that was intended to shine from each and every human being. From the beginning, Jesus is the point of human existence. Faith is not an added “extra.” It is the essence of life.
In ancient days, fire and light always went together. Today, LEDs make it possible to have light without heat. But light from a burning lamp is always powerful and contagious. Such is the light of Christ. It is not “tame” light; it is fire.
In a lamp, the light does not fuel itself. Rather, it is fueled by the oil. Throughout the Scriptures, oil is identified with the Holy Spirit. So, also here. The light of Christ must be constantly sustained by the Holy Spirit. Should the Holy Spirit depart, the light will go out.
That was the problem that the five foolish virgins were having. The made no provision to replenish the oil of the Holy Spirit. So, when the Bridegroom arrived, they had lost Christ.
It is a constant temptation to admire our own faith and think it could never go out. This is the reason the foolish virgins didn’t think to replenish their oil. The wise, on the other hand, saw that the more brightly the flame of faith shone, the more quickly it used up their oil.
Christians who experience the brightest burning faith, are those who should be the most intent on hearing God’s Word and renewing the Holy Spirit. They do not need less oil, but more.
The lamp is a vessel of clay fashioned to hold oil. In the same way, our vessel of clay was fashioned to hold the Holy Spirit. The LORD God formed Adam from clay and breathed into Him the Spirit of Life (Genesis 2:7).
Unlike any other animal in the world, human beings are deliberately made by the hands of God to be vessels of the Holy Spirit so that our clay might show forth the Light of Christ into the darkness.
As the days are growing every shorter and ever darker, light is needed now more than ever.
I suppose that’s why lamps and candles have always been a part of Christian worship. They are a constant reminder that our vessels of clay were made to be filled with the Holy Spirit and on fire with the Light of Christ.
We are born with our clay. The oil and fire are God’s gift through the preaching of His Word.