The Day of the Lord
The Day of the Lord
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
A thief in the night and a woman in labor - two images that are as different as day and night. They seem completely unrelated... but Paul manages to use both when describing “the day of the Lord” to the Thessalonians.
Of course, Paul was probably remembering Jesus' words. Jesus had said His return - His Second Coming - would be like a thief in the night (per Matthew 24:43). And He’d also said that the troubles of this life are like birth pains of the Kingdom of God (in Matthew 24:8).
It’s understandable to see why Jesus and Paul would use such language. After all, a thief will usually strike at a time no one is watching, right? Jesus said, "If the home-owner had only known when the thief was coming he would have been waiting" (Matthew 24:43). That’s why most of us (these days) invest in home security systems. We don’t want to be caught unaware, in the middle of the night, by an intruder... a thief.
And there’s the similarity: It’s all about awareness... being awake, and alert, and prepared. We Christians are called to expect Jesus’ return - at any moment! Not to fret about times and dates; but to be self-controlled, in faith and love and hope as we anticipate his coming.
But most of the world will be caught unaware.
When Jesus returns many will not be expecting him. They will be surprised... unprepared... asleep. And for those who are unprepared, the coming of the kingdom will bring God's judgment. The total destruction of all that is opposed to God's will. All sin and hatred, all adultery and lust, all prejudice and greed will be cast away. Forever! No more will people kill one another for money or exclude another because of race or chromosomes. God will do away with everything that’s not of Christ. A bright and hope filled promise for those who are IN CHRIST. A day of dread for those who refuse to “watch and wait.”
So, the thief in the night makes sense, but what about the woman in labor?
Well like a thief who comes in the night, no one’s quite sure when a baby will be born. Before modern medicine and medical intervention, babies came when they are good and ready: no sooner, no later. And once they start coming it’s too late to stop them.
But there’s a big difference: the coming of a baby is no surprise. You know months in advance, to get ready. To prepare... to decorate the nursery, and buy up some diapers!
And when it baby arrives there is a time of pain, but in the end there is joy, right... and happiness.
In the same way when Jesus returns, those who’ve been made aware (you and me), will be waiting for him and expecting him. There will be hours and days... years... of waiting, and there will be labor when the time is near, but through it all, we know joy and peace is on the way! God is giving birth to a Kingdom of love and light and peace. And those who are ready for the arrival of that Kingdom will share in its warmth and light; they will feast at the bridegroom's banquet.
These images are as different as day and night. In fact one is an image of darkness and the other of light. The thief comes at night in the dark and brings destruction. While the woman in labor is an image of hope. The couple sees that the baby is coming, and they know moments of pain are coming... but the joy and happiness outweigh the pain.
I believe that Paul’s deliberately contrasting these two images. Because they’re both accurate depictions of Christ’s return... only from different perspectives.
*A thief coming in the night is the perspective of those who are asleep and in darkness.
*And a woman in labor is the perspective of those who are eagerly waiting the return of Christ in glory and light.
That begs the question: How do we know? How can we tell the difference? Well, are we expectant of Jesus’ return... the Day of the Lord when He makes all things new, as He has promised to do in His Word. Or do we brush it off as unimportant, and just merrily go about living like the world; unprepared, un-bothered by the despair around us?
How do you imagine the return of Christ? The Bible says, “Now concerning the times and dates, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you."(5:1) Christ's return will be sudden and no one but the Father knows the exact time. But, as followers of Christ, we’re called to be ready. To watch and wait... to expect the fulfillment and consummation of God’s Kingdom at any moment! Not in fear! Not in trepidation. But in hope... as the old hymn reminds us, “for the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noon day bright! And Christ great Kingdom will come on earth, the Kingdom of love and light.”
I long or that day! I wait for that day, along with you, in eager expectation. I see it as God giving birth to his kingdom. I am a child of the light and Jesus' return will bring glory and light to me. How about you?
Our scripture lesson for today concludes by calling us, as followers of Christ, to, “encourage one another and build up one another” (5:11). What a sobering thought. In a day and age that thrives on division... on tearing down others... particularly in the realm of politics... the Word of God calls us, to do just the opposite! To be “counter cultural” - to stand against the current - and to encourage one another, and build up one another.
Let me give you a word of encouragement. If Jesus is your Lord, then his return will be a day of light and life. That’s a promise from God’s Word. Don’t you let the world scare you. You have no need to fear. The Day of the Lord will be a day of darkness for them, like a thief in the night, but it will be the fulfillment of the promise of salvation and life for all who trust in Christ.