The Normandy Campaign was the costliest in US history and it marked the beginning of the end of the War in Europe…the campaign (a series of battles) lasted from June 6 to August 25, 1944.
Six months after Normandy there was much talk that the war in Europe was all but over.
“Home for Christmas” was the theme from top leaders down to frontline troops.
The hit song “I’ll be home for Christmas” sang by Bing Crosby came out the year before and had been banned on British radio because they were afraid it would lower the moral of the British troops at that time…troops who been in the fight since 1939 and then in 1943 (When Bing’s song was released) the end was not in sight.
But just a year later, everyone fostered anticipation that they would be home soon…home for Christmas, play as much as you want.
This created a dangerous scenario…because while Allies were preemptively celebrating victory…the Germany army was marshaling its strength for one last punch.
On Dec. 16, 1944…400,000 German soldiers sought to split the allied forces in half in a massive counterattack…they didn’t hope to win the war, but to be able to negotiate the end of the war on better terms.
The resulting series of battles…now called “The Battle of the Bulge” …because of the “bulge” created in the American lines…became the third costliest campaign in US military history.
So, they thought they would be “home for Christmas” …they got…battles, loss, suffering…on a large scale.
The war in Europe went on for months…with many casualties on both sides.
The enemy’s back was broken on D-Day, June 6, 1944…but the enemy’s final defeat came on VE-Day May 8, 1945…nearly a year later.
At the first Advent, Christ broke the enemy’s back…or to use Biblical language…crushed the head of the serpent. (Gen. 3)
Christ’s life, death, resurrection…marked the beginning of the end.
In NT language then, the end times are all the days between the first and second advent of Christ.
Sometimes people will ask “Are we living in the end times?” or “Are these the last days?” …as they look around at world events.
The answer is “Yes” …Since Christ came, humanity has lived between the beginning and the end of the “end” …After the first Christmas…all time is end time.
Trace spoke last week of the “Already/Not yet” kingdom of God.
This important and catchy phrase helps make sense out of what we see in Scriptures and in the world around us…namely that the Kingdom of God has already come in power, but has not yet come in completeness.
Sometimes you hear things like… “That injury marked the end of their season” or “that single play marked the end of the game.”
But if you misunderstand the idiom you might say… “uh, uh…they played 4 more games after the QB was hurt” or “That’s not true, there was an entire quarter left after that play.”
But what is meant is that even though there was time left in the season or in the game…in retrospect…looking back…we can now see that it was all over from that point on.
What we have been given in Scripture is a retrospective view of human history…when know the end before the end…we know that the coming of Christ marked the beginning of the end.
Is. 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
The end is not in doubt…Christ’s advent…we already know, marked the surety of the final outcome…
We live somewhere in the middle of the end.
There are two key dangers that believers face during this period…this middle of the end.
- Trying to claim that the promises made for the end of the end…are already ours.
- The other is to fail to enjoy the promises that are ours now…because they are not all that we want or expect.
- First danger is Trying to claim that the promises made for end of the end… are already ours now.
-Full peace, full joy, full healing, no more tears…these are the things that the Second Advent will bring…but they are not promised now.
-There is peace…but it doesn’t rule the world, or every heart…it is here, clearly it is here…but the battle rages.
-There is joy…but we leak it…it is something that we experience, then we don’t…we have to continually drink joy from our relationship with Christ…daily, hourly.
-There is healing…as God chooses, physical healing…but all physical healing now is temporary…and the healing that is substantial is from the curse of sin.
Now, life is messy…joy and sorrow run on parallel tracks in our lives.
-To believe what God has not promised is a guarantee to become disillusioned and to move into despair or sometimes into disbelief.
Because life itself will strip unbiblical and therefore unreal belief from us.
When this happens :
-People often begin to disbelief the Bible, or God and the gospel…even though God never promised what they were trusting to be true.
- We can fail to enjoy and live in the promises that are ours now.
*I have watched my grandchildren squander opportunities for joy and pleasure that could be theirs in the moment.
But they miss a joy, because what they are currently experiencing is not “all that they expected or wanted.”
This event, this party, this cake…is never enough…but then again they are just kids.
My problem is I can see myself in them…my capacity for discontent is annoying to me.
We have been given much now in Christ…but we can overlook this because it is not all we want or expect.
So, Paul wrote… “meanwhile (here in the middle of the end) we groan…longing for the full experience of the gospel”
D-day has occurred…Christ has come…but V day has not occurred.
Right now, final victory is sure, final peace is certain…but war remains.
This helps explain why life during the “last days” is so confusing.
Where is this peace that has been promised? It is here now in part and it is coming in the future in fullness.
It is already and it is not yet.
Our Scripture for today is Acts 17:16-33
Acts is the book that outlines the birth of the church and the spread of the gospel after the first advent of Christ.
-The book ends rather abruptly…and we are left wondering… “Okay, what next?”
We are next…in a sense our lives, our churches…continues the story that began in the book of Acts…this life between the advents.
Let’s jump in at 17:16
Acts 17: 16While Paul was waiting for them (Silas and Timothy) in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.
In Paul’s day Athens was the intellectual center of the world…Socrates, Plato, Aristotle hailed from there…it was THE university town of the Roman empire.
The idols were everywhere…people didn’t literally think the statues were the gods…but that they represented the many gods that were thought to exist.
These gods were fickle, unpredictable…and needed to be managed and appeased or they could make life miserable for you.
17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.
Paul shared the good news of Jesus with Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism (God fearing Greeks) in the local synagogues…but he also “reasoned with them” in the marketplace as well.
Reasoned means…he didn’t preach at them…he entered into dialogue with them…he did proclaim the truth…but it was interactive, it was personal…it was grace and truth combined.
The marketplace was not “Dillons” it was the civic center of Athens…it was surrounded by large sets of columns called “stoas”…between these stoas were shops, temples, music and lecture halls.
Big public space.
18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him.
These were the two main schools of thought in Paul’s day.
The Epicureans sought to live a life as free from pain and stress as possible…they didn’t believe in life after death…you should maximize your life now, it’s all there is.
The Stoics, named for the fact that their founder met with his disciples in one of the
“Stoas” a building in one of the sets of pillars…
Were pantheists…they believed everything, everyone was part of the divine…God was everything…not separate from creation.
And they believed they could discover the truth about ultimate reality by themselves.
So believing you need to get all you can from life now, its all there is…or believing you are in essence, god…
These were two very different views…but both clearly would lead to some messed up ways of thinking about life…both were human centric views of reality.
Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
“Babbler” was a derogatory word that literally means “seed picker”.
The word picture is of a bird wondering around randomly pecking at seeds…it was used of someone who was looked down on by the intellectuals for not having what they believed to be coherent, rational thought…it was someone who randomly grabbed seeds of thoughts from here and there.
The irony is this was not true of Paul…his thought was consistent, coherent…but it was true of the Stoics…their own reasoning was circular, inconsistent.
19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
They took him to a place called the Aeropagus.
It is literally “Ares hill”…named for the Greek god of war, equivalent to the Roman god of war “Mars”…so the King James translates this as “Mars Hill”
Paul was probably taken to a sort of intellectual court there…not a criminal court…but a court of ideas.
So here in a place named for the God of War…Paul gives the gospel message…let’s read it together…then we will take a closer look at it.
“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
There are five sections of two verses each in Paul’s sermon:
22-23: He addresses the Unknown God as having made himself known.
-Notice that Paul looked carefully at their idols…he did this to understand them, to have a point of contact with them…and because he truly cared about these people…what they believed and why.
He didn’t mock…he was honest…but he took them and their seriously.
-He started by commending them for being very religious…but then he addressed the fact of their ignorance.
-They had an altar to the “unknown god” just to make sure they didn’t inadvertently offend any god’s they didn’t know existed.
Paul said “what you worship as unknown, I’m going to make known to you.”
Paul could say this not because of his own brilliance but because the one true God had made himself known.
17:24-25: He briefly describes the reality of this God.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
Two key points:
-God made everything
-God needs nothing from us
But…though God needs nothing from us…he wants something for us…look at the next two verses.
26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
God has placed us each in our time and place so that we would seek him, and find him.
Our purpose is to know God personally…to be in relationship with him…that is what he wants for us.
There is no person and no place and there is no time…where this is not true.
What about those who haven’t heard the name of Jesus?
This is true for them as well…God has and he continues to use all manner of means…his people, dreams, circumstances…the internet…you name it…all so that people would find him wherever they are.
God doesn’t live in temples built by human hands…he doesn’t live in America, or Africa…he transcends all time and place…he is near everyone everywhere.
He has set everyone in their place and time…that they, we would know him.
17:28-29: Makes a personal point of contact with them
Paul didn’t quote Scripture to them at this point…he did that in the Synagogues…they would have thought nothing of it…it had no authority for them yet…he used their own thinking as a point of contact.
He reasons, using their own poets, that if humans are made in God’s image…then their idolatry reverses the order…it makes God in humanity’s image.
This is not the worship of God but the worship of self
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill.
They took great pride in their own wisdom…they truly believed they could discover on their own all the great truths of the universe.
This is, of course, great folly, not great wisdom…to embrace the folly of human pride is to take the path away from truth, from God.
17:30-31: He finished with the reality of the coming Judgment of God
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (change your mind, change your life) 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
The coming judgment of God’s justice is inevitable…the end of injustice will come.
The one who will bring this end to all injustice is the man Jesus…the one who has risen from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead in the past…is proof positive of the finale of human history.
Christ came as suffering Savior, Christ will return as the king of Justice.
Now, here between the advents…God calls us to “repent”
Again…very important…repent is to “turn”…your mind (believe what God has done) and then your life follows as Christ enters your life.
There were three different responses to Paul’s message: See if you can find those three responses.
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius (dio nish eus), a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
- Some “sneered”
-This means they made fun of him.
- Some wanted to hear more…unconvinced but curious
- Some became Christians.
See this same pattern happening in other places in the Bible…and in our own lives as well…same message, different responses..
Luke tells this story in this way to demonstrate how Paul went about telling the good news of Jesus.
He sought to build bridges into the lives of people…looked for points of contact.
Here in the intellectual center of the mighty Roman Empire in a place named for the God of War…to a people enthralled by their own intellects, living largely for the day…Paul spoke of the already/not yet Kingdom of God…a kingdom of peace and future justice (judgment means justice)
When a judge makes a correct judgment…justice is served.
So when you hear or read of “future judgment”…that means injustice will end…that is a good thing.
He said Jesus has risen, giving proof that Jesus will return (judgment will come)…now repent and believe this gospel.
This is our peace now…to repent…turn in our minds from human pride and efforts to save ourselves…and turn to Christ and this free gift of grace.
The angels said on the first Christmas “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
What is this peace that was proclaimed…how do we experience it?
This peace was Jesus
Peace is a person.
Eph. 2:13, 14 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace…
The good news is that we can now have peace with God through Jesus Christ…he is our peace.
Okay…but what does this mean right now…between D-day and V-day…in this time of “not yet”, what does “already” look like in terms of peace?
It looks like freedom from the guilt of our sin…peace in our souls and peace between one another…because of peace with God.
*My grandson Oliver is six, Monday I was barking orders at him.
He began to cry and asked “What did I do?”
The answer…nothing really, he was just being six…the question was…what did I do?
I sinned…I felt horrible…you would have too if you had heard the sound of his little plea.
I told him he didn’t do anything (not that he doesn’t sometimes do things worthy of my barking).
I told him it was my fault not his.
I thought of his anguished cry the rest of the week “what did I do?”
I had made this kid who really wants to please me feel great guilt.
Two points from this story:
- I really really wanted him to know he is loved and accepted and not judged by me…I didn’t want him to stay in that guilt he felt.
-I told him several times… “I love you, proud of you.”
-And I’m just a man…how much more does God want us to be free from actual guilt and to Know his love.
- I was very sad and feeling guilt about what I had done…I was so glad to be forgiven by Ollie and by God.
-I thought this week of many people who carry the weight of great guilt in their souls…there is no peace there…just guilt.
*Christ can bring peace of forgiveness to that guilty soul…this is newsworthy…good news of great joy.
He doesn’t always remove all the consequences of our sin in time…and sometimes others will not forgive us.
So the full experience of peace is not yet…but the peace of receiving God’s forgiveness is right now…and that is no small thing.
*We cannot work for God’s forgiveness but we often have to work to believe we are forgiven and to live in our minds and lives in that forgiveness.
Guilt is a powerful thing…it loves to find cracks into our minds and hearts like a spider looking to enter our homes.
We do not have to live in guilt…we can live in his peace…but we must continually believe the good news of forgiveness in Christ and continually doubt the bad news of believing we are not forgiven or cannot be forgiven.
What about my lack of “inner peace” where is it? Why don’t I have a sense of well-being?
I can believe the gospel and that I am forgiven as a set of facts…but where is the experience of peace that I want?
Why do I feel anxious?
Why don’t I feel secure, confident, comforted?
If Jesus is my peace…why don’t I feel peace?
Complex issue…many different possible areas of response.
Think: already/Not yet.
Already: If I have repented (believed the Gospel, turned in my mind and heart to Christ) then I have peace with God…this is an objective reality for me.
It is my fixed state of being…I am forgiven…at peace with God.
My future is not in doubt, it is secure…I do not have to fear the end of my life and beyond.
Because Christ has forgiven me and I have peace with God…I have new power to forgive others, and to be forgiven by others…Christ has changed me and he is changing me…I can have peace in new ways with many people that would have been impossible before.
Not yet: Though I have peace with God I live in a world torn with stressful events, the future this side of eternity is uncertain.
I live in a body that is easily hurt, sick…it is such a fragile thing…it can be a terrifying to live in this body…that we depend on and yet it is just so weak.
I have a mind that “lives” in my brain…I can and I have trained my mental reflexes in certain ways (to fear for instance, to be self-centered)…I have certain inherited traits from ancestors…I may have bio-chemical issues in my brain…all this can mean I don’t always “feel” peaceful…I live in a body…full peace is not yet, not in this life.
Others can decide to not forgive me, they can decide to make life hard for me, they can go to war against me…as Paul said in one of his letters…as far as possible, as much as you are able…Live at peace with everyone.
-This of course means…sometimes it’s not going to be possible to have peace with others, others will not allow you to live in peace with them.
What am I to do…in this already not yet…Between D-day and V-day?
What can I do?
I can Grow…peace with God through Jesus is received by faith…no work on your part.
To Grow in my experience of peace…that requires attention and effort…and he has given the resources to live more fully in it.
2 Peter 3:8 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (this is already here for us)
For this very reason (since God has given us what we need know to grow…”
make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ
These are promises that are “already” ours.
*You are not stuck in the middle of the end…tossed about by forces beyond your control…waiting for the finale…you have been given all you need to become more like Christ day by day.
You and I…we can grow…we have a part in making what is “not yet”…more and more “already.”