Trinity 27: The Lord Comes as a Thief in the Night

Wise and Foolish Virgins
Only the five virgins who brought enough oil are allowed into the wedding banquet. (Matt. 25:1-13). From a book publishing Martin Luther’s House Postils (sermons), 1550.

Lessons: Isaiah 65:17-25, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:1-13
Hymns: LSB 514, 516, 513, 674, 673, 515

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      The Bible gives many names for Jesus. Jesus means, “The Lord Saves.” Christ means “Anointed One.” Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He is the Vine, the Door, the Word. He is the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the Sun of Righteousness. He is our Savior, Advocate, Brother. He is our Lord, Redeemer, Shepherd.

      In fact, I found a list identifying 135 names and titles of Jesus, each with a Bible verse to back it up. Lists like these are great. They give us time to reflect on the wonderful works of our merciful Lord Jesus Christ. They help us take refuge in Him, for we learn of His wonderful, caring nature as God.

      In that list, however, one title for Jesus was absent. Perhaps this name or title is always missing in these lists. It certainly doesn’t sound very pious or helpful.

      So what could possibly be omitted in list of 135 names and titles of Jesus? Jesus said in Revelation 3:3, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” He describes Himself to be like a thief!

      Now, the word “robber” is found 15 times in the New Testament. None of them are used to describe Jesus, though He was crucified with two robbers. The word “thief” or “thieves” is found 17 times in the New Testament. Four times the term refers to false teachers. Six times it refers to those who steal other people’s possessions. And seven times (more than any other use), the word is likened to Jesus at the time of His Second Coming.

      It’s kind of shocking to think that Jesus refers to Himself as a thief! But, of course, he isn’t coming to steal from us, though some may think of Him as a robber.

      You see, many people have worked hard to earn their possessions. They have worked long hours, worked smarter, or engaged in hard labor. Some have not worked so hard to have what they have. They may have received high wages, obtained an inheritance, or invested shrewdly. In either case, because they have invested so much into their own livelihoods, they think their possessions belong to them. Then they may have difficulty giving their things away to those in need (like the poor, the widows, and orphans). They may even have difficulty giving back to God because they are afraid that they won’t be able to live as comfortably (or lavishly) if they part with some of their mammon. Then, when they hear God’s Word to give cheerfully to God, they think of Him as a thief, trying to take one’s possessions.

      I once heard an All Saints’ Day sermon in which the pastor gave a true illustration. A fine Christian woman had a husband who did not go to Church. When her husband fell gravely ill, some church members wanted to visit him. After the wife greeted them, she hesitantly went upstairs to his room and told him about his visitors. His voice boomed down stairway and out the front door, “Get them out of here! They only want to take my money and send me to Hell!”

      Thankfully, this man, who thought the Church existed to threaten and steal, was overcome by the Word of Christ and love of Christ taught by his wife and demonstrated by the church members. He died converted to Christ, righteous in Christ, and forgiven of his sin.

      But this man highlighted two common misperceptions concerning the Church. Many misunderstand the proclamation of the Law as sending people to Hell. But we need to hear the Law so we would be grateful to receive Christ and His forgiveness. And many think religion exists to rob and steal people’s hard-earned possessions.

      Now, God is not a thief when He asks us to give back to Him generously. For He has given us everything we have. We are but stewards of His own possessions. All things we have and enjoy are gifts from God. The things we have worked hard to obtain are ultimately gifts sent from our Lord. Even our lives and our time belong to Him. He did, after all, create us, our world, and all things. This week, as we observe Thanksgiving, we are reminded of these realities—to be thankful not only in word, but also in deed.

      The true thieves are not those who encourage us to be generous with our possessions and practice godly stewardship. Instead, the true thieves are those who would rob us of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the comfort we receive from above. When we do not actively raise our children Christian or tell our neighbors of Jesus’ bleeding dying love, we are robbing them of the greatest blessing they could possibly have. When we do not preserve the pure proclamation of the Gospel, we are stealing the Gospel’s comfort from ourselves and from all who may gather to hear the saving Word of Christ. When we do not frequently attend the Divine Service and receive Holy Communion, we are robbing ourselves of the greatest treasure we could possess.

      St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, announces that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Jesus will return when many are not expecting Him. People will be robbing themselves of eternal comfort as they reason, saying, “There is peace and security” while assuming Jesus won’t return soon. They’re living in darkness. They have set aside the helmet of the hope of salvation and the breastplate of faith and love.

      This, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is not how God would have us live. He has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us (1 Thess. 5:1-11).

      Let’s not rob from ourselves the comfort the Gospel provides. Let’s take refuge in Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Let’s recognize that He alone paid for our many sins on the cross, and He cancels them all out by grace through faith. Let’s listen intently to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation. Let’s receive the Lord’s Supper frequently, for by it we receive a foretaste of the blessed feast to come. Let’s rejoice in the Lord, for He has done all things well by reconciling us to our Father in Heaven.

      Yes, Jesus is described as a thief when it comes to the timing of His Second Coming. He will come when many are not ready. And so, God calls on us to be watchful and ready.

      How do you know if you are ready for His great appearing? Ask yourself this. Are you ready to meet Christ in the Lord’s Supper? Are you prepared to receive His Body and Blood? As a communicant Christian, you are certainly ready. You’ve been absolved. You’re hearing the Word. You have reflected on the forgiveness of sins Jesus has earned for you. If you are ready to come to the Lord’s Table, then you are ready for our Lord’s return for Judgment on the Last Day.

      The Bible tells us of two things concerning readiness when Jesus returns. Both are centered on being watchful, alert, read, for Jesus will return at an unexpected time (like a thief). First, God threatens condemnation for those not ready. There’s no second chance. If you’re not ready, you will miss out, as the foolish virgins did in today’s Gospel. Second, if you are ready, there are no threats concerning Jesus’ return. Our Epistle says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:1-11). In the previous chapter, God the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write concerning our Lord’s return and the Resurrection of all flesh. When Jesus returns all the dead will rise and we will meet the Lord in the clouds in the air. Paul concludes that teaching by writing, “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

      For Jesus’ return will be good for the Christian, even though it will be sudden and unexpected (like a thief who comes in the night). In fact, Jesus says concerning His return, “Look up and lift up your heads, because your Redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). When Jesus comes, we will not need to run in fear or hide in shame. For He will judge His saints, judging them not guilty—acquitting them, granting them a divine pardon. He will do so because the penalty for our sin was placed on Jesus who suffered in our place on the cross. We will be vindicated of all wrongdoing, for Jesus has replaced our sin with His very righteousness. Even now, through the accomplishments of Christ, we appear before our Father in Heaven as perfect.

      And so, when Jesus returns at the time appointed by our Heavenly Father, He will make all things new, creating new heavens and a new earth. Christ’s Church will be a joy and her people will be glad. We will be received into God’s eternal kingdom.

      Christ is our Bridegroom, and, collectively as the Church, we are His Bride. He is coming to usher us into His wedding hall, the place of Paradise, where we will be perfect in every way. God has adorned us with His very righteousness. He presents us to our Father without any spot or blemish. He loves us, cherishes us, and will do all to defend us.

      The joy that we will experience will never end. The perfect bliss will never falter. Sin and tears of sorrow will forever be gone. We will rest from our labors and will dwell in the very presence of God. We will worship Him and praise Him to all eternity.

      Oh, that He would come and bring these blessings to us! He will. He is faithful.

      His coming could be soon or He may delay for many more centuries. We do not know. And so, we watch in eager expectation, redeeming the time, and making diligent use of the means of grace. That way, we’re ready. That way, we will be joyful at His appearing.

      Come Lord Jesus! Make us ready for Your return. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen