2168) Surprises (part two of three)

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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.

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     (…continued)  This idea of surprise is illustrated in a true story from the early days of the American colonies, a story that is, in fact, about the coming of a thief in the night.  It concerns a middle aged man named Mr. Dorsett who was respected by everyone in the small New England town where he lived.  He was admired for his strong faith, his honesty, and his kind and gentle spirit.  Late one night, Mr. Dorsett was awakened by a noise in the cellar.  He got out of bed and walked silently to the top of the cellar stairs.  There he was surprised to see light in the basement, and could hear for certain that someone was down there.  Mr. Dorsett quietly walked down to the bottom of the stairs, and there saw a man with a candle in one hand, taking pork out of a barrel with his other hand.  Mr. Dorsett stood still and watched the proceedings until the thief had taken the last piece of meat.  Mr. Dorsett then walked over, placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, and said in a perfectly kind and friendly voice, “Neighbor, you act unfairly, because you are not leaving a proper share for me.”

     Now, it was the thief’s turn to be surprised.  Even though the voice was friendly, the hand on the shoulder was a shock, and he was very ashamed to be discovered.  Being filled with guilt, he dropped to his knees begging for forgiveness from this good man that he had know since childhood.  Mr. Dorsett cheerfully forgave him, and promised not to report him to the authorities.  He did, however, seriously admonish the man for his crime, and firmly advised him to be in church the next Sunday to ask for and receive that forgiveness from the Lord.

     There was one more surprise to come.  Mr. Dorsett knew this thief was not a criminal, but was an otherwise good man.  Upon questioning, Mr. Dorsett learned that the intruder had come on hard times and was having difficulty feeding his family.  Then, in an incredible act of forgiveness and kindness and generosity, Mr. Dorsett divided the pork into two equal piles, and even helped the repentant robber carry half of the meat over to his own house.

     There are several surprises in the story.  First, Mr. Dorsett is unpleasantly surprised by an unwelcome guest at an inconvenient time.  That is the kind of illustration of surprise that Jesus used in one of his parables.  Then, it was Mr. Dorsett’s turn to do the surprising, and his surprise come first as unpleasant, and then as pleasant; first as judgment, and then as grace.  Certainly the thief was most unhappy to feel that hand on his shoulder, for it meant guilt and shame and punishment.  But then Mr. Dorsett turned out to be a gracious judge, as he was more than ready to receive the thief’s apology and forgive his sin.  Once forgiven, the thief received far more than he could have ever imagined.  Not only would he not receive the punishment he deserved for his crime, but he would receive what he wanted in the first place; now, not be by his dishonesty, but by Mr. Dorsett’s goodness.  The similarities to Christ’s offer of forgiveness cannot be missed.  Our sin is forgiven by God not by any of our own deserving, but by the goodness and sacrifice of God himself in Christ Jesus.  Not only are we then forgiven, but we continue to receive abundantly God’s blessings every day.  The thief did his part only by admitting his guilt, asking for forgiveness, and then with gratitude, receiving the undeserved blessing.  (continued…)