First Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2019
“A Thief or a Lord?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
There are many comforting words that we use when we think of who God is. The Creed begins, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Father. Almighty. Maker – Creator. Good words. How about as a Shepherd caring for sheep who are lost, hurt, need leading? Or, as a Waiting Father embracing a prodigal who has lost their way? Or, like a mother hen gathering the little chicks under her wings? That is who our God is, right? Strong, loving, compassionate, leading, protecting. We like to use those words.
But that is not only who He is. He is like a thief. That is what Jesus says. He likens His return to a thief who breaks in and steals when one least expects it. That same image of “God, the Thief” is given to us by two of His closest friends, John and Paul, as well. “Now, brothers, about times and dates, we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will have no escape.” (I Thessalonians 5:1-3) John, who gives to us the word of Jesus says, “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Revelation 16:15)
Christ is like a thief. But not in the thought of what He comes to steal, but in His coming that is unexpected and where we are unprepared. Our reading from Matthew tells us of all those who don’t know when Christ is going to return:
- The angels don’t know,
- The Son doesn’t know,
- People will be as ignorant as those in the time of Noah when God sent the flood,
- The men in the field won’t know,
- The women who are at the grinding mill won’t know.
- We will be ignorant like the owner of a house where a thief has entered.
Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) The Father knows. But He’s not telling. But He is telling us that we must be ready, prepared. We must be ready when our last hour comes. We must be ready to live life now with faith and courage. We must be ready when we will stand face to face before God, our judge. We must be ready when Christ will come in all His glory with all His holy angels. The Bible uses this picture of God being a thief, not as one who is dastardly and evil, but one who comes when we are not ready.
During this time of Advent we often read the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The bridegroom was a long time in coming and 5 of the ladies who were waiting weren’t prepared for such a long wait. When he arrived they were gone, needing to purchase some more oil for their lamps. He arrived, they were gone, the wedding banquet began. So when they returned they knocked on the door and wanted in. But they weren’t allowed in. The words of judgment for one who is unprepared, in faith, to face their eternity were spoken. “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir! 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.” (Matthew 25:10-13) Aren’t those sad words? “And the door was shut.” “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”
Is Jesus a thief, or a Lord? I guess He’s both. He is a thief. He will surprise the entire world on the day when He returns. For many people His return is unexpected. For those who have not repented of their sins, who have not looked inside to see how empty they are without God’s redemption in Jesus Christ, for those who haven’t looked in faith to Jesus and His death to cover all their sin, and His resurrection showing Him to be the Savior for eternity, they are unprepared. The door is shut. The words, “I don’t know you” are spoken.
On All Saints Sunday I preached a sermon that said, “Your loved ones, all who have died in a living faith in Jesus, are ok. In fact they are more than ok.” So in the hand shaking line after the service someone directly asked me, “How about those who aren’t in Christ? Are they ok?” No, they’re not. God is only their thief. He surprised them. They didn’t expect Him. They were unprepared.
Jesus is a thief. But He is more than that. Jesus is Lord. He doesn’t want anyone of us to be unprepared to die. He doesn’t want anyone of us to be unprepared to meet Him when He comes as judge. He is Lord, Master. He is the one in charge of eternity. He is the Savior of the world. He wants to be the Savior of every individual.
Regularly I get suggestions from you about things that I should preach on. (Some of you have suggested that I stay away from preaching about the Broncos for the rest of the year, as if I have somehow cursed them!!) They said, “Pastor, I got an e-mail from a friend of mine that asked the question, ‘If you died tonight and you were asked why God should let you into heaven, what would you say?’ Pastor, I gave my answer and I got it wrong. I mentioned going to church and being a decent person and helping others. Pastor, that was a big question and I got it wrong. You need to have a sermon about this.”
Yes, I do. I guess I haven’t been clear enough about this. That person wasn’t prepared for eternity. Their answer was wrong because it was an answer that we are saved by self, by a good life, by our own deeds. If that is your answer you’ve got it wrong too. You would be unprepared to meet God. He would say to you, “I don’t know you.” He would say that because you don’t know Him. You see, Jesus is our Savior. We are saved, we enter a joyful eternity, we go to heaven, because Jesus paid for our sins and He rose from death. We trust, we have faith, solely in Jesus.
Thief, or Lord? Lord. Here’s a word that Paul says to the Corinthians, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (I Corinthians 1:7-9) Prepared? Ready? Yes. “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How has that happened? He is Lord over sin and evil, hell and Satan and death.
One of the great pictures of God’s cleansing comes from a book in the Old Testament, Zechariah. This is a picture of God being Lord, in control, doing what only He can do, “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” (Zechariah 3:3-4) John comforts us, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:1-2)
Jesus will come as a thief for all people, Christians and those who aren’t. He will come unexpectedly. But He doesn’t just come as a thief. He is Lord. He prepares our heart. He washes it and makes it pure. He takes away sin and gives grace. He makes us confident that on that day when we die and when we stand before our judge, we are welcomed into eternal joy and a blessed beginning.
Jesus, a blessed thief and a saving Lord. Amen!!