Matthew 24:42-44 — (Jesus said), “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But 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. So you also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Several years ago, the home of my Aunt and Uncle was broken into and robbed. It was a disturbing experience, as you might well imagine. Not only was there the financial loss of what was taken, but there were also items missing that no amount of money could ever replace, such as special family heirlooms or precious gifts from deceased loved ones. Along with that was the irritating knowledge that someone was in their house, going through their personal belongings; someone who had no right to even being on their property. And, there was also the loss of security that stayed with them for a very long time. Every time they left, they wondered if their place was safe. Every time they came home, they wondered if someone had been there, or perhaps was still there. If it happened once, it could happen again. Having a thief come into your house is a very disruptive and disturbing experience. And yet, in the above reading from Matthew 24, the merciful and loving Lord Jesus compares his return at the end of time to the coming of a thief in the night. What does Jesus mean by that?
As I pointed out, a robbery will affect you in several different ways. Jesus does not mean that he will literally come and steal your jewelry and your cash. What he means is that there are some aspects of his return that make it similar to a robbery. It will first of all be unexpected. No one will know when that time will be. Therefore, you need to be prepared always. Just as you would do your best to guard against a thief, you must do you best to guard against being unprepared for our Lord’s return.
Secondly, although Jesus doesn’t specifically say it here, we might find His coming to be even more disturbing and disruptive to our lives and feelings and attitudes than a robbery. His first visit to this earth certainly proved to be disturbing and disruptive to many folks, so much so that they had him killed. We would surely be kidding ourselves if we thought that our lives right now are already so in line with God’s will that a visit from Jesus would not change a thing. In the long run the return of Jesus will bring the greatest blessings possible. But as in many other things, sometimes that which does us the most good, can also bring with it a certain amount of disruption and pain.
But Jesus seems to be such a nice guy, how could his coming disturb us in any way? Well, for just one example, consider our concept of fairness. Every child has probably somewhere along the line said to his or her parents, “It’s not fair.” In the same way, there probably has not been anyone who ever believed in God who hasn’t at one time or another entertained the thought that God was not fair. One of the most common of all prayers is, “Why me, Oh Lord– why me? What did I do to deserve this?”– or, in other words, ‘It’s not fair.’
But what if Jesus came back to earth today and made everything fair all at once– that is to say fair throughout the whole world? Well, if all of the world’s wealth was immediately distributed evenly and fairly among the world’s 6 billion people, most Americans, even the poorest among us, would stand to lose a great deal. And if the size of all the houses in the world was averaged out and made fair, most of us would be living in far smaller quarters. And just think if the average life expectancy throughout the world was all of a sudden averaged out and made the same and fair for everyone. For one thing, Social Security and Medicare in this country would both be saved, because far fewer people would live long enough anymore to use either one. If we had our choice, I think we would quickly decide that it would be far less disruptive to endure an armed robbery than to endure the Lord’s return to make everyone in the world equal and everything in the world fair. (I am not saying that is what the second coming of Christ will be all about. I am just raising our own questions about fairness in this context.)
Finally, if we were to be fairly and justly punished for all of our sins? The Bible says a great deal about God’s justice, but it says even more about his mercy. There are many prayers in the Bible for both. Prayers for mercy are usually requested for the one praying, or, for his or her own people. Prayers for justice are usually for the enemy, for the other guy. When a crime is committed against someone, they are eager to see justice done and to see punishment come for the one who has wronged us. But when we have made the mistake or committed the sin, we are not as eager for justice as we are for mercy.
In the Bible, God is always going out of his way to extend mercy until the last possible moment. Those who read the Bible from cover to cover in order to get the whole sweep of the story are often amazed at the patience and forgiveness of God. So many times, warning after warning is not heeded and God is even openly despised; and yet God will delay the promised judgment and punishment. And even when the punishment does come, the prophets always attach a promise, a promise that looks beyond the judgment to a merciful restoration. Then, more and more in the Old Testament, those promises began to look forward to the coming of a certain individual, one who would make all things right again.
That God would come at all to us on this little planet is a great wonder. Martin Luther once said, “It would be spectacular if a king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness. Yet the Son of God becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins.” This is the greatest of all wonders and miracles.
The way to God and to eternal life has been opened for us, so now it is for us to be ready for that day when Christ will come again. “Understand this,” says Paul in Romans, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over and the day is almost here. And so clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…” With Christ as our hope, says Paul, our whole way of looking at life and death changes. Without Christ, death is spoken of as that time when everything ends and the darkness closes in around us. But with Christ, says Paul, we look towards death as the end of the night, and when Christ comes to us again, either at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives, the full light of day will be here.
Make us, we beseech you, O Lord our God, watchful and alert in waiting for the coming of your Son Christ our Lord, that when he comes and knocks, he will not find us sleeping in sin, but awake and rejoicing in his praises. Amen. —Gelasian Sacramentary