December 6, 2020 Sermon Transcript
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 2 Peter 3:8-14 ~ Sunday, December 6, 2020
Recently while interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci about the spike in coronavirus cases in America, CNN’s Jake Tapper commented, “So Christmas is probably not gonna be possible.” Tapper’s analysis got a lot of attention.
What do you think? Give up Christmas because of coronavirus? Are you prepared for that possibility? Just to be clear, this isn’t saying we give up the celebration of Christ’s birth. This is about giving up Christmas parties with people from work, the kids at school, the ladies from the neighborhood, or your group of friends. This is about giving up the big Christmas performances, like the school pageant, community tree lighting, the big holiday concerts. This is about giving up holiday travel for festive gatherings with extended family. Are you prepared to give up those things about Christmas? Are you prepared to have that kind of Christmas?
What’s your gut reaction? Disbelief? Doubt? Irritation? Stunned? Angry? Do you feel some grouchiness about any grinches who would dare to steal Christmas from good, upstanding Americans like you? The whole discussion is unsettling.
Kind of like the way Peter talks about another event in Jesus’ life in today’s Scripture lesson. “… the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (v. 10). Peter is saying that when Jesus returns, it’s going to feel like a break-in. On a couple different occasions, I have come out of my house in the morning to discover that my vehicle had been “broken into” overnight. To be more precise: I had left my car doors unlocked and at some point through the night a person (or people) decided to take a look around inside my vehicle without my permission. Even though nothing was stolen, (because apparently I don’t keep anything valuable enough in my car worth taking) it was an unsettling feeling to walk out in the morning to see my car door wide open, and the contents of the car rummaged through. I felt threatened because strangers trespassed in my personal space, violating my privacy.
Peter’s description of the Last Day has that sort of feel to it…and it is especially unsettling to think that this description isn’t just of a nameless, faceless day. This description is really about Jesus, the One who returns like a thief, breaking in and stealing. As similes go, I don’t like this one. I like it when Jesus is ‘like a good shepherd,’ or ‘like a loving father’ or ‘like a Lamb who was slain.’
I wish I could say that this is just Peter being Peter. You know, the way Peter speaks first and then thinks about what he said later on? But that won’t work in this instance. Paul talks about Jesus in the same way. To the Thessalonians, Paul writes, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)
Comparing Jesus to a thief is such an unusual comparison. Where did Peter and Paul get the idea to do that? Well, from Jesus actually. Jesus warned his disciples saying, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 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.” (Matthew 24:42-43) And Jesus reiterates that image in Revelation, the concluding book of the bible, where the book’s author, John, hears Jesus say: “Look, I am coming like a thief.” (Rev. 16:15).
So what are we to think of this? Why would Jesus describe himself like this? And what does this have to do with the way we celebrate his first coming and prepare for his coming again? I was hoping you might ask! Those are great questions … the very kind of questions Jesus wants us to ponder!
Let’s start here: what makes a thief, a thief? A thief is someone who takes for themselves something that belongs to someone else. And they are taking it without that person’s permission. When you give someone a present, you don’t call them a thief for taking it, right? Why not? Because you’re giving them that thing with your permission and your blessing. You want them to have it. You’re glad to give it to them. But if that same person takes something you don’t want to give to them, something you want to keep for yourself, something you insist that they not take from you … now that’s a thief.
That, Peter is telling us, is how Jesus can be described as a thief. He comes and takes from us what doesn’t belong to him. He takes from us what isn’t his without our permission. Now it’s important you think about this precisely so you
understand Peter’s point clearly! What is it that we have that didn’t first belong to Jesus? What do we have that Jesus insists on taking from us?
What truly belongs to each of us is our idolatry, the way we treasure less important things as though they are the most important things. What we have made all on our own is an obsession with all the earthly trappings and traditions that make us feel in the holiday spirit. What is rightfully all our own is our self-centeredness, making sure that we feel merry and bright, even if in order to do so we make others feel like they are grinches, or Ebenezers, or Scrooges. What we make all on our own is ourselves the de facto standard of what constitutes the best choices, and anyone who might have differing ideas to make them feel that they have too little of faith to trust in God, or too reckless with their faith that they fail to use the common sense God gave them, or too focused on faith that they can’t see there are others things in life that matter too.
Yes this is what belongs to us. This is what Jesus, like a thief, comes to take from us. He comes to steal all of our idols and selfishness, all of our pride and prejudices, all of our trespasses and sins. And when he takes these things, his goal is to rob us blind and clean us out and leave us with none of these things left to call our own!
This is what we are to prepare for. Why is that? Because sad to say, we don’t want to part with what belongs to us. We tend to cling to it as tightly as we can, even when we see how much it hurts others. Even when it hurts us. It doesn’t matter. It’s ours and we don’t want to let it go. We fear losing this part of ourselves, something of our own that we’ve made so near and dear to our hearts. So we build high walls to secure parts of our hearts in attempt to keep him from breaking in. We install alarms that warn us when He is getting too close so that we can create some distance. We hold tightly onto what is ours and guard it with our life, which is really our death.
Think I’m being overly dramatic? Think about this in terms of celebrating Christmas, this Christmas in particular. What if, for the sake of public health safety, we can’t have Christmas in several of the ways I described earlier? Is Christmas ruined? Is your Christmas spirit shattered and your heart broken? Can I be honest with you? Shouldn’t we react quite differently to the taming of the world’s approach to Christmas? I mean, for years church-going Christians have lamented that the world has turned this time of the year into everything but a celebration of Christ. “Keep Christ in Christmas! Jesus is the reason for the season!” committed Christians have clamored for as long as I can remember…and rightly so! So now that the world is saying maybe we should all tone it down this year, shouldn’t we as Christians be out front as an example of what it means to be truly joyful in Christ without the trappings of cultural Christmas? Shouldn’t we be seizing this as an amazing opportunity, our chance to witness to the watching world what it looks like to make Christmas all about Christ? To demonstrate how meaningful and memorable this season really is when you’re focused on the Christ who is the heart of it all? Or have we become really good at publicly criticizing the world for what it gets wrong about Christmas while personally and privately being upset or angry or complaining that Christmas just won’t be Christmas if we are robbed of the very things of Christmas we’ve criticized in our culture?
This season, this year is really revealing to me how much I need to repent of, how much of my preparation for Christmas really isn’t about Christ, but about culture, and tradition, and my own preferences. Or to put it in terms of thievery: A thief is only a thief so long as he takes from you what you don’t want to let go of. A thief isn’t a thief when he takes from you what you want to get rid of. Repenting is having a heart that wants to let go of anything and everything that Jesus wants to take away from us. That’s the message John preaches: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Don’t stop him at the door and keep him from your heart. Better yet, what he wants to take from you, don’t make him steal it away. Prepare yourself to let go of it. Invite him to take it. Instead of filing a complaint with this Father, give thanks to the Lord, for this thief is the very thief that each of us needs! Rejoice and be glad that he comes to rob you blind of all of your blindness. He comes to steal every prideful thought, every destructive idol, every crooked way from within you.
Yes this thief is truly good, for he doesn’t just take from you, but he also leaves things behind for you. He himself said that every other thief “… comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). You see, after Jesus has finished cleaning us out, the only thing you’ll be left with is what is rightfully his, pure and perfect things he leaves behind. And what is rightfully his is pure love for God and for others.
What is rightfully his is godly priorities, the kind that always keep the main thing the main thing. What is rightfully his is a heart that always wants to do what Heavenly Father wants.
With a heart like Christ’s, Peter tells us we can prepare for something else too: “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Are you prepared for this? Everything that money can buy – ‘burned up and dissolved.’ Everything that we have carefully stored up and saved up for ourselves – gone, the whole thing – dissolved in the heat. Yes, let that sink in a bit. This isn’t shared to stress you out, but to help you put everything in your life in it’s proper place.
If this doesn’t make us stop and examine our lives, then I’m not sure what will. It certainly caused Peter to examine his life. “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” If you’re looking for a question that will help you figure out how to prepare for Christ: this is it!
What kind of people ought we to be? We are to be believing people. People who hear this word as the word of the divine thief himself, giving fair warning so that we are prepared and ready when he breaks in upon our world on the Last Day.
In fact, our faith moves us to be people who love others enough to warn them too. Peter explicitly says that’s why the divine thief hasn’t returned yet. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (.v 9)
That last thought affirms that we are eager to be repenting people. People who repent of clinging to the kinds of things Jesus knows we’re better off without. People who repent of holding on too tightly to the things that are actually only temporary. We are to be people who welcome the divine thief, people who encourage the divine thief to come and pull off his grand theft in us!
And that means we are people who are growing in generosity. Here’s why. Since everything that we have stored up in our backyard sheds and bank accounts is going to be destroyed in the end, we ought to be generous with it while we have the chance. It’s all going to get burned up and if you refuse to let go of it – you’ll end up getting burned in the process too!
It suggests a great way of using the Christmas season as real life practice for the Last Day. Think about it this way. With each gift you give, you’re practicing and training and preparing to let go of the things that will eventually be taken away from you when Christ comes again.
You see in the end, there is only one thing that will not be taken away from you. Only one thing that will not be burned up and dissolved. “The word of our God will stand forever.” The Word that stands forever is the Word that was made flesh on Christmas morning and who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and who rose again on the 3rd day and ascended into heaven. And one day he will come back again, like a thief. For that, we are prepared with repentant hearts. And to that our repentant hearts call out to speed his return: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”