The Jolly Thief

Revelation 16 of 16


This is the last Sunday of Advent
and it’s our last Sunday in the book of Revelation…
so we’ll be in Revelation 22 today.

Next Sunday is Christmas Day…
next week is arrival of God into the world.

It’s the day when we celebrate
that a jolly thief quietly steals into our world
to fill our lives with comfort and joy and every good gift.

And that jolly thief (of course) is God himself,
stealing into our worldquietly, when no one is expecting it—
and surprising us with the gift that he gives us:

God gives us himself.

Next week we celebrate
God forever joining the human race—

we celebrate
the foolishness of God
having his diaper changed in a food trough—

we celebrate
that God’s greatness and power
is most clearly made known in God’s weakness and vulnerability—

we celebrate
that God gives us his very own presence—
that God gives us himself.

That God is WITH us
because God is FOR us.

Next week we celebrate
that God comes to us.

And that’s the promise of the end of Revelation as well.

After all the sensational and strange visions,
after all the images and symbols and pictures,
after God promising to end evil and destroy death
and resurrect the world so that sacrificial love reigns forever,

after twenty-one chapters,
John’s letter to the seven churches
ends with the voice of Jesus promising
that he will come.

Ends with echoes of Jesus
from chapter 3 and chapter 16

promising that he’ll come when we least expect it
that he’ll come like a thief—and he wants us to be awake.

That jolly thief who stole into Bethlehem
is coming againcoming soon
to bring us his life

So let’s read it… and just for context,
we’ll start with the tail end of what we heard last week
that vision of the heavens and earth resurrected:

(Rev 22) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

(v6) The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

This is either the second time that
John makes the mistake of worshipping an angel
or it’s the second time that
John is telling us about his mistake.

He tells us something very similar to this back in chapter 19 (v10).

A huge part of Revelation is challenging the people of God
not to worship counterfeit gods or bow down to counterfeit kings,
and I think John is leading from vulnerability
by bringing this back up.

It’s like he’s saying:

“It’s really easy to do—
to throw our lives down in worship
to things that are not God.”

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to you
don’t worship things that can destroy you.”

(v10) Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

In verse 10, John is told NOT seal up
the apocalyptic letter he’s writing.

In other apocalypses like Revelation,
the scroll would be sealed for some future time—
almost like putting a letter in a time capsule.

(You can actually see this at the end of the book of Daniel.)

But this is one more clue
that Revelation really was meant
to be read and understood by its original hearers.

Don’t seal this up—
people are struggling right now—
they’re hurting under the rule of Rome—
they need to hear this.

They need to hear
the encouragement
and the hope
that this letter brings.

And verse 11 makes clear that Revelation is less about
trying got change people’s minds or hearts or lives
than it is reassuring those who ache for Jesus
that he’s coming soon.

(v16) “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

That’s it—that’s the end of The Revelation.

The end of the letter
feels almost like
the end of a dream.

You’ve experienced that before, right?

You’ve been sleeping so soundly
you’re right in the middle of a dream
and then suddenly the dream starts to melt away.

And as the dream is ending,
it’s not quite clear why the car honking in your dream
sounds so much like your alarm clock.

Everything is a little scrambled,
and it’s hard to tell what’s still dream
and what’s real life…?

Is that voice still in your dream
or is that real a person talking to you?

But it’s pretty clear that two things are being said here.

First, to those of you
who are carrying around this letter,
don’t change anything (v18-19).

Don’t add to it,
don’t take away from it—
this is serious business here.

And second, to those of you
who are hearing this letter,
know this:

I—Jesus—the Living One—
Alpha and OmegaBeginning and End

God of David and Child of David (v16)
“I am coming to you all.”

That’s the way the letter ends…
Jesus promises us
that he is coming.

He’s coming.
He’s coming.

That verb—“to come”—“erchomai” in Greek—
shows up seven times in these closing verses.

Verse 7, verse 12, verse 20
Jesus himself uses the word three times
to say that he is coming.

And every time Jesus uses this word,
he uses it with the word  “tachu” or “soon.”

Erchomai tachu.
Erchomai tachu.

I am coming soon.

Idou! Erchomai tachu!

Behold!—Lo!—Look!—I am coming soon!

The Apocalypse ends—
the peek-a-boo of God ends—
with one last revelation of what God is like.

The Great Mystery—the God revealed as Jesus
is the God who is coming soon.

God is not a God far away,
not watching us from a distance as Bette Midler sang,
not distant or detached or disinterested.

The God revealed in Jesus—the God revealed as Jesus—
Look!—See this!—this God is coming soon.

Idou! Erchomai tachu!

After the heartbreakingly beautiful visions at the end of Revelation,
it’s really good news that Jesus is coming soon.

Whether we know it or not
whether we can put the words to it or not
we’re all aching for this.

We’re all aching for it
in the parts of our week that are dry and dead,
in the parts in our lives that feel cold and lifeless outside the city walls,

in the areas of our souls that petrified and pealing—
where we ache for more but we have doubts
whether we’ll ever find it.

What we’re really, truly aching for—
all of us, at the bottom of all our longings—
the longing behind the longings—

is for a wedding night.

For the God who is the Groom who is Jesus
to come and make us his own.

The hard-to-pin-down voice of verse 17
puts it into words to it for us:

You can hear the ache of practically all creation
crying out for this God to come.

The Spirit of God in the world
and the Bride herself—the Church—
are groaning, “Come!”

And then the hope is that everyone who hears this letter
will join the groan, join the ache, join the call,
and say “Come!”

Because there’s something free
something quenching, something life-giving
something satisfying like nothing on earth on satisfies
that is always being offered.

This is what John
has always been inviting
us to receive.

Life. Real, lasting life.

That water (v17) flowing down the thoroughfare of that undying city (v1)—
that life-giving water that makes the tree of life bloom (v2)
that living water that is the very Spirit of—the very life of—
God himself flowing from the Father and the Son

God is always giving away that life—
his own life—without cost to us.

The promise of Jesus
is that he will come with this life
with this living-water, with his Spirit.

And Jesus is coming soon.

Which leaves us with a question
at the end of Revelation:

[slide #1]
The question we ask a lot of times…
When is Jesus coming?

Jesus is promising here to come soon…
so where is he?

Where is this Jesus who promises
to remake the world?

Where is this Jesus who assures us that
the wrongs of Aleppo—the wrongs in Syria—
the wrongs of everywhere in all of history—
will righted?

Where is this Jesus who whispers with quiet confidence
that sickness and heartbreak and death—
as powerful as they appear right now—
do not have the last word?

Where is this all-powerful, unstoppable Jesus
who rules the kings of the earth?

These words tell us
he’s coming soon…

And these words were penned
two thousand years ago.

Two thousand years is a long time.

“Where is this Jesus?”
It’s an honest question.

“Behold, I’m coming soon!”
Idou, erchomai tachu!”

Plenty of people
have read these words through the centuries
and basically stopped living.

They’ve strapped on a cardboard sign saying “The End is Near”
and just sat on their hands and waited.

We have a letter in the New Testament to a church in Thessalonica
who heard promises of Jesus’s Second Coming
and did exactly that.

But… then I think when we do that, we wind up with
“Soon, soon—he said soon—but where is he?

But—if you haven’t figured it out by now—
Jesus is more patient than we are.

I think we might be impatient two-year-olds
thinking Christmas will never come
and Jesus is the grown-up promising “soon.”

His promise of coming soon
isn’t meant to be a source of anxiety or worry
or “why’s-it-taking-so-long”?

If Jesus’s words cause you concern
it might be a sign that you’re lost in tachu
and you’ve lost sight of idou.

Don’t get lost in “soon”
and lose sight of “behold!”—“look!”

Lo!! Behold!! Look!!
Look around you!

Look—see—behold—the ways
the water from the throne is already flowing.

Can you see the ways
that the Spirit of Christ is already coming?

There—of course—is a day coming
a literal, actual, historical, circle-it-on-a-calendar day—
when the real-and-living Jesus will return
and make all things new.

That’s central to the hope of the Church.

Jesus’s coming will be unmistakable one day,
but until then will we recognize the ways
that he’s already meeting us?

Christmas—maybe more than any time of year—
should make us question our assumptions
about how God appears to us.

He’s always the jolly thief—
always full of surprise—
never arriving when expected.

He steals into our worldbreaks into our lives
and fills those who desire him—those who are awake for him
with his very own life.

[slide #2]
Revelation leaves us with less of the question
When is Jesus coming?”
and more the question:
How is Jesus coming?”

Or maybe: “How else is Jesus coming?”

Until he comes at the end of history
how else does Jesus meet the world?

And how do we stay awake to him,
how can we participate with him,
how do we join him,
right now?

Jesus, after all has promised that he is always already with those
who love him and are loyal to him—even to the end of the age.

In fact, the church confesses
that Jesus is always already with everyone everywhere
holding all things together and sustaining the entire world.

In countless, immeasurable ways,
Jesus is already here.

If he weren’t here already,
we wouldn’t be able
to live or move or exist at all.

“Look,” Jesus says, “I’m coming to you
when you show love and mercy to those in need.

Pay attention to kindness like that,
watch out for moments like that,
stay awake to life like that… because I’m coming.

“I’m meeting you there.

“When two or three of you gather in prayer
I’m coming to you.


“When you gather around this table
when you break the bread and drink the cup
I’m meeting you, I’m coming to you—
you’re participating with me.

We started our tour of Revelation by saying
that Revelation seems to make everything strange
so that maybe—just maybe—we’ll start to see.

Maybe that mindset should be something like our prayer
as we hear Jesus promising, “Behold, I’m coming soon.”

Maybe we should pray:

Jesus, more than WHEN you’re coming in the future,
will us help me recognize HOW you’re coming in the present?

How you’re already meeting us?”

“And will you help us stay awakepay attentionbecome aware
of how the ways that your Spirit already waters the earth?

“And until that day when you surprise the world
and judge the living and the dead,
will you participate in your life?”

Soon he’ll be meeting us in the warmth of loved ones,
in moments of painful generosity,
in seasons of struggle and sickness,
in the peace of falling snow,
in the hope of a sunrise.

None of that is empty sentimentality or wishful thinking…
it’s learning to become awake.

Awake to what is real. Awake to what is true.

When we have moments of realizing that we’re loved by God
and begin experiencing love or joy or goodness or peace or loyalty,
we’re actually tasting the fruit of the Son’s presence.

Perhaps we should name it:

“That’s Jesus… Jesus coming and bringing grace and peace.

The living God—the living Jesus—
actually, literally meets us
in our lives.

May we recognize his presence
and walk with him
even before his great Revelation.

May we have eyes to see
and ears to hear and lives awake
to the ways that Jesus comes to us,

may we thirst for the water that will quench our longings
and believe the good news that this water is free,

and may we learn to live alive with Jesus—that jolly thief—
the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last,
the beginning
of all our desires and dreams,
and the end of all our doubts and death.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

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