Pentecost 24 “Thief”
November 15th, 2020 – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The word “Thief,” what does it bring to mind? A person dressed in all black sneaking around taking things? A faceless person who broke into your house or car, took things, and made you feel violated? Or maybe your little pup who sneaks up on the table to steal a piece of food off your dinner plate.
You do not see a thief coming. You are unaware and unprepared, and they take from you.
To use a metaphor, you are “in the dark” about what they are going to do.
If you DO know a thief is coming, you could be called “in the light.” Have you seen any of the Home Alone movies? Fun Christmas movies. A boy who is left home alone sets up traps all over his house to deter thieves who want to break in and steal from his family. Now, there is a boy who was in-the-light about thieves coming. He was prepared for their coming, and so, they did not rob him.
Our sacred texts, they compare the Day of the Lord, to a thief that comes in the night.
Brief digression on the Day of the Lord:
The day of the Lord is the day God comes in judgement at the end of the world. At that time, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come” (Joel 2:31).
The Prophet Amos says,
“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?” (Amos 5:18-20).
Joel prophetically speaks about that day in metaphors saying,
“Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before…
They leap upon the city,
they run upon the walls,
they climb up into the houses,
they enter through the windows like a thief.
10 The earth quakes before them;
the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.
11 The Lord utters his voice
before his army,
for his camp is exceedingly great;
he who executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
who can endure it?” (Joel 2:9-11).
There are so many more passages describing this Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is great and terrible. It sneaks up like a thief and ends in the destruction and judgement for the entire world.
Why are we talking about this now? Why do we look at these texts mid-November? [Why when we’ve had a baptism? I’ll get there.]
Another winter is upon us when the sun comes out less and lush green plants all die in the cold. Our part of the world is covered in a blanket of cold snow. Death of plants and stillness is all around us. Not only this death, but we are looking forward to someone coming. The Christmas lights already up on people’s houses gives a hint to who we are looking forward to coming. We are at the end of another year and we are looking forward to the coming of Jesus – in two ways.
Yes, we celebrate Jesus coming as a baby in a manger at Christmas, but before that, we always look forward to His second and final coming as judge over the world at the Day of the Lord. As the Church Year Ends, and as the beginning of a new year begins with Advent, we take time to ponder this great and terrible day. This day of judgement.
This is a day when all wrong will be rightfully punished. Think about all the people who have hurt you and wronged you. The lies, the backstabbing, the theft, the emotional manipulation and turmoil. Think now about the injustices you have suffered over your lifetime. The evil that has been committed throughout time against innocent people and still happens.
This is the day Christians wait for because it is the day when God will finally take His vengeance on everything that has been wrong, and fully and completely punish it. Scripture says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave itto the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
Wonderful! Good! You might think. Finally, when this day comes, they will be punished. The governments who have done wrong, the Christians who have been unfaithful to God in their lives, your parents for not being the good parents they should have been to you, your brother or sister who pushed you one time when you were toddlers and took your toy will suffer Hell. Your pastors of old, and your present one, for the mistakes they made. Your spouse and children will justly suffer the intense wrath and punishment of our Holy God for the wrong they have done. Everybody will come under the wrath of God and be fairly and thoroughly sentenced to an eternity suffering, burning, in extreme agony without any relief.
Good! You might say. It’s about time.
You cannot escape this. You are under the same judgement. No amount of advice I give you on a Sunday morning, or throughout your entire life, will help you. No perfect life that I lead will be able to negotiate any lesser punishment for you. No harsh words I speak to you will be able to make you do any better. Even if those harsh words I speak to you are God’s own words.
If you want advice on how to live a better life, I can give it. Follow the Ten Commandments. Read Luther’s explanation on each one of them. Commit it to memory and do it. Read Psalm 1. Understand it. Memorize it. Live it.
When you realize, however long it takes you, that you cannot live it. Spend your entire life trying. Never stop. But when you realize that the punishment is coming for you. When you realize, really realize, that the thief is coming for you and you are in the dark, then and only then do I have something for you. Until then, I have nothing more to say to you.
Then and only then will you be at the point where you are on your knees begging for mercy. Only then, when you have truly given up all hope and trust in yourself, will you be ready to hear actual good news.
Good news that Jesus alone is your only way out.
You need to die. Noah Ogilvie has died this morning. God has commanded us to baptize him and by being baptized he has died with Jesus (Romans 6:4). His eternal punishment in hell has been taken away from him and given to Jesus who already suffered the punishment of death and risen again. Noah has been rescued from himself by God. He will rise again to eternal life forever in paradise. You all, baptized children of God, will rise again to eternal life with Noah.
This isn’t rocket science. You cannot save yourself. Stop trying. God already has.
That fact is Gospel. That is Good News. That is light! The Day of the Lord is coming, “but you are not in darkness… for that day to surprise you like a thief.” You are children of the light. “The light” is the good news. The news that Jesus “died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him… [so] encourage one another and build one another up” just as we are doing right now in hearing these words this morning (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11).
So why don’t we thank Him? Why don’t we use the lives He has rescued – for good? Why don’t we let others know about it? Why don’t we baptize them, too? Why don’t we forgive others for their sins against us that God would punish them for with Hell? Why don’t we forgive each other just as we have been forgiven? (Ephesians 4:32). God has given us such a gift.
Glory be to God the Father, Glory be to God the Son, Glory be to God the Spirit, God Almighty, Three in One! Hallelujah! Glory be to Him alone.