Sermon for Sunday November 27th, the First Sunday in Advent
The Lessons : Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Topic: The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ will be like a thief in the night.
At a time when many shoppers become excited about shopping for Christmas gifts, the tradition of the Church confronts us with a season of penitence, reflected in the use of violet or purple as a liturgical color. Just when the world becomes excited about Christmas for different reasons, we focus on the urgency of being ready for the Lord Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. The Lord Jesus Christ will come again so unexpectedly, that for many he will come like a thief in the night. This simile was so effective in communicating the suddenness of Jesus’ Second Coming, that the Apostles used it also. St. Paul wrote, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, NRSV), but a little later he assured his readers, “But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night, or of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5, NRSV). St. Peter issued this warning, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed” (2 Peter 3:10, NRSV). In the Lord Jesus Christ’s message to the Church in Sardis, in the Book of Revelation, he gives this terrible warning:
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.
(Revelation 3:2-3, NRSV)
Someone may ask me, “What do you know about thieves coming suddenly in the night?” Well, when I was rector of my first church in Grahamstown, South Africa, I lived in the ghetto area of town, where most of my parishioners lived, and the church is next to the railroad station. One Sunday morning the chief sacristan told me that a thief had broken into the church during the night and stolen all the church wine. This might have been a catastrophe had we not had a spare flagon of wine stored at another location. Then, almost two years later, after the churchwardens had made sure all the windows of the rectory had burglar bars, burglars broke in and stole many clothes and curtains my bride of less than a month had purchased and made. Though we made a police report, all these items were never recovered.
MATTHEW 24:36-44: THE LORD COMES AGAIN SUDDENLY
The Lord Jesus Christ will come like a thief in the night. But for Christians, his coming will not be a surprise, but will bring great joy. Yet we must always be living in readiness to meet the Lord Jesus. Therefore the Lord warns his people:
Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
(Matthew 24:44, KJV)
If we think we can be ready for the Lord Jesus Christ’s Second Coming by being able to predict exactly when he will come, our Lord informs us all that no-one except God the Father knows when this day and hour will be (Matthew 24:36). It is a secret withheld from all the angels and even from the Son, at least while he was on earth. Since we cannot say with certainty when the Lord’s Second Coming will occur, how shall we be ready?
The answer to this question is that we must be watchful, spiritually vigilant throughout our lives, for at any time the Lord may come. Noah was forewarned by God, and in reverence for God and his word, built the ark as God had instructed him. But the people of the world at that time continued with their daily pursuits, not knowing the great catastrophe about to come upon them, since they chose rather to live in ignorance of God than to draw close to him by turning from their evil deeds. They were engaged in the ordinary activities of life and knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away. So will the coming of the Son of Man be.
Someone may ask, “Well, why doesn’t the Lord send a few angels or even risen saints to warn everyone to turn away from sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ before he comes?” The Lord already answered that question in Abraham’s words to the rich man in hell, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31, NRSV). Today we have the testimony of the written word of God, to which we must pay all the more attention as the Day of the Lord approaches.
The sayings about the two men in the field and the two women grinding at the mill have been used to support the doctrine of the Rapture, a sudden vanishing of Christians from the world to meet with the Lord Jesus. However, the statement that one will be taken and the other left does not necessarily imply that the one who is taken is taken to the Lord Jesus in heaven. It could be the other way round, that one is taken away for judgment, and the believer is left. The essence of these sayings is that there will one day be a separation on the basis of whether one is ready to meet the Lord or not. In order to be ready, we must be vigilant, as the Lord commands us: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42, KJV). We can only be ready for the Lord by being spiritually watchful. What does this watchfulness entail?
To be watchful, we must keep awake spiritually, praying always, maintaining a close relationship with the Lord by reading the Bible daily, praying to the Lord and listening to whatever he may have to say to us or reveal to us.
Are you living a spiritually watchful and prayerful life? Are you ready to meet with the Lord Jesus Christ when he comes?