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A Thief in the Night

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Like a Thief in the Night

September 11, 2001 – the sudden surprise.


1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.(NIV)

1.      The Day is Coming!

The day is coming.  The day is coming!  It will come like a thief and many are asleep.  Not an enjoyable topic.  For most, it will not be a day of celebration and glorification.  It will not be a day of deliverance and bliss.  For many it will come as labor pains.  Suddenly agony and terror will overwhelm them.  One moment they are going about their business and the next they are overwhelmed and crushed.

a.        It comes suddenly

You cannot forecast it.  It does not fit on a timeline where his arrival is expected.  The day comes like a thief, swiftly.  A good thief does not telegraph his robbery.  He does not give signs when he plans to strike.  You don’t see a thief coming.  You just wake up and see you have been victimized.  So it is with the coming of Christ.  It comes swiftly and suddenly.  So many are unprepared.  For so many it will be a tragic day. 

Jonathan Edwards – Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

But the foolish children of men do miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in their confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust in nothing but a shadow. The bigger part of those that heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell: and it was not because they were not as wise as those that are now alive: it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. If it were so, that we could come to speak with them, and could inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of that misery, we doubtless should hear one and another reply, “No, I never intended to come here; I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself; I thought my scheme good; I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief; death outwitted me; God’s wrath was too quick for me. O my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter, and when I was saying peace and safety, then sudden destruction came upon me.”

The Day of the Lord will come.  There is no denying it.  It comes swiftly and so many live in darkness.  Those who pretend that the day is not coming are like the ostrich that sticks his head in the sand to hide.  When that day comes there will be no hiding, no and no escape.  So many will not be ready.

b.       There is no escape

Paul declares that destruction will come suddenly, and that there will be no escape.  The Lord is no crooked judge.  He will take no bribes.  He will show no favoritism.  It doesn’t matter if you are a rich or poor, famous or not…there is no escape. 

Revelation 6:12-17
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”(NIV)

The Day of the Lord will come, and it will come unexpectedly as a thief in the night.

What do we do?  How do we get ready for this awesome day?

            Some suggest that getting ready means observing the signs of the times.  Paul’s point is quite the opposite.  He doesn’t even talk about times and signs.  Rather he says, we don’t even have to talk about that because you know that day will come as a thief.  Paul’s point is not to get them to build a timeline of end times events or get into theological discussions about the events leading up to the Lord’s return.  Rather his purpose is to get them ready.  How do you get ready?  How do you come to expect the unexpected. 

2.      Wake up!  Paul’s use of metaphor night and day.

Do not let your faith slumber.  Do not allow your hope to fade.  Put on the breastplate of faith and love and the hope of salvation.  Make every effort to add to your faith and live it out. 

            a.  Be diligent

            “Remember Lot’s Wife”

2 Peter 3:10-14
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.(NIV)

On the first day teaching his class of 250 college freshmen, R. C. Sproul carefully explained the assignment of three term papers. Each paper was due on the last day of September, October, and November. Sproul clearly stated there would be no extensions (except for medical reasons). At the end of September, some 225 students dutifully turned in their papers, while 25 remorseful students quaked in fear. "We're so sorry," they said. "We didn't make the proper adjustments from high school to college, but we promise to do better next time." He bowed to their pleas for mercy, gave them an extension, but warned them not to be late next month.

The end of October rolled around, and about 200 students turned in their papers, while 50 students showed up empty-handed. "Oh, please," they begged, "it was homecoming weekend, and we ran out of time." Sproul relented once more but warned them, "This is it. No excuses next time. You will get an F."

The end of November came, and only 100 students turned in their papers. The rest told Sproul, "We'll get it in soon."

"Sorry," Sproul replied. "It's too late now. You get an F."

The students howled in protest, "That's not fair!"

"Okay," Sproul replied, "you want justice, do you? Here's what's just: you'll get an F for all three papers that were late. That was the rule, right?"

"The students had quickly taken my mercy for granted," Sproul later reflected. "They assumed it. When justice suddenly fell, they were unprepared for it. It came as a shock, and they were outraged."

Do not be lulled to sleep.  Belong to the day.  Figurative speech that communicates a pure life.  He is not saying it will not surprise us in that we will be able to foretell the coming, but in that we will not be caught off guard. 

“Remember Lot’s Wife”

c.        Be ready

Stories of people doing something they ought not to do at the coming of the Lord.  Ashamed and embarrassed at his coming?  Do not be like them.  Where you go and what you do should always have in mind the appearing of the Lord at any time.

Matthew 24:42-51
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. 45“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.(NIV)

My children love the show Cinderella.  Practically every song an word is burned into my brain from their repetitive watching of that show.  Annabelle will watch and look at me and say, “Dat stepmudder is naughty.  She’s meeaaan.”  And as the show goes on and Cinderella goes to the ball sometimes Haven and Annabelle will dance together, or Annabelle might want to put on a pretty dress.  When the show is over, she looks at me with a big grin and says, “Again!”  Oh no no no no!  Not again!   But do you know why they love the show so much?  Because of the way it ends.  The wickedness of that stepmother and the cruelty of her sisters are all overshadowed by the beautiful wedding of her and the prince and the “happily ever after.”  We love stories like that don’t we.  Happily ever after.  That’s why we love that show and so many other classics like it.  Happily ever after.  Can you imagine if the show concluded like this:  Cinderella runs out of the house with her dress being torn apart by her sisters with the evil stepmother grinning all along.  She runs out crying and there appears the fairy godmother.  She says, “Don’t cry dear, you can go to the ball”  “Here is my magic wand!”  And she starts singing, “Bippity, bopity boo” and the pumpkin turns to a stagecoach, the mice into the horses, Bruno the dog into the coachman and Cinderella is clothed in a beautiful dress, complete with glass slippers and all.  At the conclusion of the song Cinderella yells, “What makes you think I need your help anyway!?  I am fine by myself.  Just leave me alone!”  Cinderella returns to the house and lives out her years alone, unloved, bitter .  Horribly ever after.  I don’t think Annabelle would say, “Again” after a show like that.  Yet when the Day of the Lord comes, when he appears in the sky, that is how the story will end for so many.  For God’s grace is being held out to all men.  He has been patiently keeping Christ from returning that people might repent.  It is as if Christ’s hand were extended to you saying, “I have paid your way.  Please accept my grace and be reconciled with me.”  Yet so many shake their heads.  “Jesus isn’t coming” they say.  “I don’t need your help!  I’m a good person.” “I’ve got more important things to do…practical things.”  And one day the Father’s staying hand will drop and Christ will come and the wrath of Lamb upon those who have rejected his grace and love. 

But Paul says to these Thessalonians, don’t worry.  That is not your story!  Yours is a happily ever after.  Your story does not end in wrath but in salvation.  Whether you die before Christ returns or are alive at his coming, Jesus died for you that you might live in him.  Understand and know, be encouraged in the fact that Jesus died for you….he died for you that you might live.  So Christians, you just remember.  Remember that no matter how hard your work is this week.  No matter how much money is lost in the stock markets or how rotten and stressful life is.  No matter how cruel your boss is or how wicked your step-mother.  In Christ, yours is a “happily ever after type ending.”  Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Christians, put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation.  Turn your eyes upward, for your redemption draws near. 

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