Be Ready, for the “Thief” in the Night is Coming
Psalm 37:34; Luke 12:35-48 (text)
November 30, 2014 (Pasig Covenant Reformed Church & Trinity Covenant Reformed Church) Download this sermon (PDF)
Dear people of God: You’re probably wondering about the strange title I chose for this sermon. We’ve all heard of the text in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 that says, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Paul is only quoting Jesus in our text in Luke 12:39, where Jesus compares himself to a “thief in the night” who burglarizes a house.
In a few of his parables, Jesus actually compares himself to what we call tyrants or even criminals. In Matthew 12:29, he says that he is like a burglar who binds the “strongman” ofÂ the house and then plunders his house. The strongman is Satan, and his house is full of sinners who are his captives. In Luke 16:1-9, the master, who represents Christ, commended his dishonest manager for his shrewdness. In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus compares God to an unrighteous judge “who neither feared God nor respected man.” In the Parable of the Ten Pounds (Luke 19:11-27), the nobleman, who also represents Jesus, is said to be hated by the citizens of his own kingdom because he was a “severe” man, a very strict ruler. The unfruitful servant said, “I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” The king then comes to his kingdom and slaughters all his enemies.
In our text in Luke Chapter 14, Jesus tells of parables that focus on being watchful and waiting for his Second Coming, “Be Ready, for the ‘Thief’ in the Night is Coming.” In these parables, we will consider three things: (1) The Faithful and Wise are Ready; (2) A The Unfaithful and Unwise are Not Ready; and (3) The “Thief” is Ready for Service.
The Faithful and Wise are Ready
In this parable, Jesus tells of several qualities of the faithful and wise manager of God’s household.
He is “dressed for action,” or literally, “Let your loins stay girded,” a man prepared for action, with his long robe tucked under his belt. The Israelites were similarly dressed for immediately leaving their homes in Egypt when the LORD gave them the go signal (Exo 12:11). The Apostle Paul has a similar exhortation to us, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth” (Eph 6:14). The Apostle Peter as well encourages us to be prepared, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13).
He “keeps [his] lamps burning,” another term for readiness and watchfulness. In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, Jesus tells of five who were ready and five who were not. Of those who were ready for the arrival of the Bridegroom, Jesus says, “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps” (Matt 25:7).
The faithful servant is “waiting for their master.” Paul says that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13). He also says that believers are given spiritual gifts, “so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). Then, when our Master Jesus Christ returns and knocks on the door, we are ready and waiting to open the door to him.
The faithful servant is “awake when he comes,” continually waiting and watching for Christ”™s return, because no one knows the day nor the hour of his coming (Matt. 24:36). The faithful servant is awake throughout the “three (or four) watches of the night” between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Jesus encourages Christians to be awake and watching for his return, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt 24:42). While watching for his return, we are to also pray, “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Also, as we keep awake, we are to be sober-minded, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thess 5:6). Compare this with the wicked servant who is always getting drunk with his buddies.
Jesus’ focus is for us his disciples to be ready, watching and waiting for him, because he is like a thief in the night, “if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into” (v 39).
The Unfaithful and Unwise are Not Ready
After Jesus was finished telling this parable, Peter asked him, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” (v 41). Jesus did not answer him directly, but told him another parable: that of a “faithful and wise manager” of his master’s household and an unfaithful and unwise servant.
This manager or head servant has been put in charge by his master over all his household while he was gone, including over all the male and female servants. He has the responsibility of caring for them, including feeding them with food and drink. Again, Jesus calls this head servant “blessed” because “his master will find so doing when he comes” (v 41). He did his duties so well that the master set him as second in command, not only over his whole household, but even over all his possessions (v 44).
Who does this servant remind us of? It is Joseph in Egypt, when he showed his faithfulness to God and wisdom given to him by the Spirit of God. Not only did he interpret the Pharaoh’s dream of a coming seven-year famine correctly, he also gave wise counsel on how Pharaoh should prepare his people. Then Pharaoh made him second in command, the Prime Minister of Egypt, saying, “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command” (Gen 41:38-41). Because “the LORD was with him… whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed” (Gen 39:23).
Jesus then contrasts this faithful head servant with a servant who was unfaithful and unwise. While the master of the house was away, this wicked head servant did not do his duties, because he thought his master was delayed and will still be gone for some more time. So instead of caring for his flock, he beat them up. Instead of feeding the other servants, he threw drinking and eating parties with his friends and got drunk. He was not “dressed for action”””caring and feeding the other servants. He did not keep his lamp burning for his master’s arrival. Since he was always drinking and getting drunk, he was sleeping when his master came unexpectedly.
To his great surprise, however, his master returns unexpectedly, while he was beating up the other servants, or drinking with his buddies, or sleeping (v. 46). What does the master do to him when he catches him redhanded in his wicked works? His punishment will be swift and extremely harsh: the master “will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” This punishment seem to be an impossibility: he will be cut in pieces, to certain death, but then be cast into the same place with all other unfaithful servants. What then does “cut in pieces” mean?
The meaning can be found all the way back to the ratification of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. God commanded Abraham to cut animals in half and lay the two halves in two rows. God, symbolized by the smoking fire pot and flaming torch, then passed between the cut animals. This is an oath by God that if he broke his covenant, he could be cut by Abraham into pieces. Again, in Jeremiah 34:18, God prophesied that he would punish all “the men who transgressed my covenant… I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts.” This he did by sending the Babylonians to destroy Israel and making them slaves. So, when the master “cuts the servant in pieces,” it means that the servant broke his master’s covenant with him, and will be punished severely.
What is the punishment? He will be put in a place where all the other unfaithful servants are sent. In the parallel text in Matthew 24, we get a clearer picture of this place. The master “will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites” (v 51). It is also the place of judgment against “hypocrites.” “Hypocrites” in the Bible does not only refer to those whom we say “nagpapakitang-tao.” It is much more than that.
“Hypocrites” are those who are in the church, pretending to be believers, disciples of Christ, even masking themselves as servants of Christ. But their motives are evil””shameful gain, power, acclamation and praise by others, pride in their own human wisdom and knowledge. Jesus calls the elders, Pharisees and scribes of the Jews hypocrites because of their pretentious words and deeds. According to Jesus, those who are in the church, going through the motions of singing, prayers and listening to God’s Word, but have nothing to show for it in their lives, are hypocrites, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6). They will be those who would say to Christ on Judgment Day, “Lord, Lord, we did this and that in your name.” But he would completely reject them, and send them to hell, saying, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness!” (Matt 7:22-23).
Matthew also says that in the place the wicked servant is thrown into, “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v 51). This place is none other than hell itself, the “outer darkness”! (Matt 8:12) The punishment will be commensurate with the offense. Because the wicked servant beat his fellow servants, “he will receive a severe beating” (v 47). This is another word to symbolize the eternal torment and punishment in hell.
In contrast to the severe punishment of the wicked servant, Jesus says of the faithful and wise servant three times in our text, “Blessed is that servant…” What makes him “blessed”?
The “Thief” is Ready for Service
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the blessedness of being a faithful and wise servant of God consists in inheriting the kingdom of heaven and the earth, being comforted and satisfied, receiving mercy, seeing God and being called sons of God, and finally receiving a great reward in heaven (Matt 5:2-12). While Matthew’s Gospel says that the master will set him “over much” (Matt 25:21), Luke’s Gospel is more specific, saying that the master will reward him by setting him over all his possessions.
This blessedness also includes complete joy in heaven, so Jesus welcomes the faithful servant, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21). So in John’s Gospel, after promising the Holy Spirit to them, Jesus assures them, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
But most of all, the faithful servant’s blessedness includes communion with God and Christ on earth in this age and in heaven in the age to come. In our text in Luke, there is an amazing reversal of roles between the master and the faithful servant. In verse 37, Jesus says of the master of the house, “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” The master becomes the servant! He will change from his garments of royalty and wealth to a servant’s garment. And then, he will make the servant recline at the table, serve him rich food and wine, and they will eat and fellowship together at the master’s table. This does not happen much even today!
Remember what Jesus did after the Passover meal on the night before he was crucified? Jesus laid aside his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet, saying, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Again, he says to his disciples who humble themselves to one another, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:14-17). This is why in Revelation 3:20, the Apostle John remembers his master’s words, when Christ tells the lukewarm church in Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). And in the great endtime heavenly Lord’s Supper, Christ the Lamb of God himself will be hosting and serving the wedding guests, his Bride! (Rev 19:6-9).
Therefore, Jesus the “thief in the night” is the one who serves us in the church with his Word and sacraments to give us his gracious gifts.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, are you ready, watching and waiting for the return of our Lord and Savior? Are you getting ready by praying? Are you getting ready by doing his will in your life and in the life of the church? Are you using your spiritual gifts to also serve your brethren humbly, as Christ humbly served us when he willingly offered his body and blood for our sins?
Or are you like the wicked servant, not caring and thinking about the return of our Lord? How do you spend your life while our Master is preparing to return to take us to our heavenly home? Are you wasting your time in careless merrymaking? The Apostle Peter warns us as we wait for his return, “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” (2 Pet 3:11-12).
As Jesus faced his cruel and agonizing death on the cross for our sins, he endured the cross and despised the shame because he looked forward to “the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2). We too must look forward to the joy of seeing Christ and communing with him in the heavenly places at his coming.