The Eternal Now

Seventh Sunday of Easter


May 13, 2018

John 15:26—16:4

Question: What was God doing before He created the universe?

This is the kind of question human beings ask when they are bound to a fallen and sinful world. Adam and Eve were created perfect but fell into sin. Each of us has been born into sin. Thus, we try to figure things out like what God was doing before He created the universe. But this question assumes that God is bound to time and space as we are. It assumes that God lives and operates under the same limitations we are bound to. And so it is the wrong question. 

God is eternal, eternity being something we can’t quite wrap our head around. How can there be no beginning? How can there be no end? How can you exist apart from time? When God created the universe time was part of His creation. In other words, God does not exist in time, He is outside of time, He created time along with everything else He created. He is not bound by time as we are.

The question of what God was doing is what we ask when we place God into the same existence as we have, being bound by time. We cannot think of existing and being and doing except in time. 

Here’s the way God looks at things. In the Gospel reading today Jesus says, “When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who goes out from the Father…” Notice how Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit. He is the Paraclete. Different translations deal with this in different ways, He is the Comforter, the Advocate, the Helper. The Holy Spirit is the one who comes to us to help us in our need. But here’s the thing. When is the when Jesus is talking about? Is it Pentecost? If so, does that mean the Holy Spirit wasn’t around yet?

Here in the Gospel reading Jesus is referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of our Lord, which we will celebrate next Sunday. But Jesus is not saying that the Holy Spirit had not been around before. The third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is God. He has always existed, He is not bound by time. There was never a time when He was not around. In other, when Jesus says that He is coming, that the Father will send Him, He is not saying that the Holy
Spirit had not yet been. He is speaking of a specific point in time when the Holy Spirit will come upon the apostles. God is outside of time but He comes to us in time.

This coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost will be His action of coming to the apostles in which He will testify of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will make known one, and that one is Jesus Christ. Now look how Jesus speaks of the work of God in regard to us and to time which we are bound to. “The Holy Spirit will bear witness to Me, and you also will bear witness to Me, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” The work of the apostles in witnessing to Christ is in what they saw themselves in Jesus’ ministry and suffering, death, and resurrection. Their work of bearing witness to Him is in time, each day they wake up and go about the work their Lord has given them to do.

Why will they do this? “Because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Beginning is a very time-oriented word. It’s how the Bible starts out, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The disciples had been with Jesus from the beginning. In Acts 1 Peter speaks of filling the void left by Judas. “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” Then he describes how Judas hanged himself and quotes from David, “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’”

Then Peter said, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” The beginning Peter is speaking of is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. About thirty years after Jesus was born He was baptized by John and anointed into His ministry. The twelve who would be ordained as apostles by Jesus were there with Jesus from the beginning. There were others also, as Matthias, who was one of them, was chosen to take the place of Judas. 

“You have been with Me from the beginning.” You will be the ones who will point people to Me. The Holy Spirit will come to you and point you to Me and then you will go do that for others. Jesus, who is God, who is apart from time, entered time when He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He who is not bound by time was living for thirty years on this planet before entering into ministry. And He who has no beginning and no end died on a cross. For three days He rested in a tomb. On a particular day in time, three days after dying, He rose from the grave. The eternal God entered time to bring us out of our bondage to sin and eternal condemnation. How does God who is eternal save us who are not? He entered time to bring us into eternity. 

God gives His Son. He gives His Holy Spirit. Because in time, in this life, on this earth, there is sin, temptation, sorrow, suffering, and condemnation because of our sin. Jesus says to His apostles, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may not fall away.” When Jesus ascends into heaven and they are left on their own will they keep the faith? When the Holy Spirit comes and points them to Christ will they remain firm? When they are making known salvation in Christ and they are met with opposition will they stay strong? Or will they fall away?

He is telling these things to them now so that they know ahead of time, so they won’t fall away when these things happen. He knows what is ahead of them. They are bound by time, they cannot know how the future will unfold. But Jesus knows. “They will put you out of the synagogue and the hour is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering service to God.” Here again Jesus speaks as one who is out of time but to a point in time when they will suffer persecution for the faith. This hour will not be just a point in time but an ongoing reality in the life of the Church. You and I have not experienced being threatened with death for believing in Christ but the opposition to Christianity is alive and well around the globe and is increasing in our own land. 

Why is this? Jesus says “they will do these things because they have not known the Father or Me.” There unbelief in this life results in opposition to Christ and His Church in this life and results for them in eternal condemnation in hell. They do not even realize that what they believe and do in this life affects their eternal soul. For His apostles, knowing this ahead of time meant that whatever persecution they suffered in this life was momentary. Because they carried out the commission the Lord gave them we have the Gospel today. 

You and I gather here for an hour or so each week. The amount of time we spend in the House of God is not the focus. What happens here is what the Church Father Augustine called the Eternal Now. We are bound by time and space and so we gather in the church building and we gather for a certain length of time. But what is occurring is outside of time because God the Holy Sprit is bringing to you the Christ who suffered on the cross to bring you to the Father. You are hearing the Gospel. You are receiving the eternal gift of forgiveness and salvation. These are not bound by time or space. God is not giving you things that are temporary. He is always in the Now, not in time which at some point has an end. When you are forgiven, you are forgiven. When God saves you, you are saved. These gifts are forever.

Christ has ascended into heaven. We are here on this earth in time. What did the apostles and the first Christians do with their time? They listened again and again and again to what the Holy Spirit testified. The Holy Spirit continued to point them to Christ. And not just what He had done, what He continued to do in the life of the Church. You may not remember the topic of the sermon three weeks ago, but in hearing the Gospel proclaimed you were strengthened, fed, and forgiven. You may have gone out for lunch or dinner last Sunday and had a nice meal. But you were not fed with food for your soul. That is what you received here in God’s House, taking into your own body the body and blood of Jesus for your forgiveness and life.

Peter speaks in the Epistle reading of the time being near. Two thousand years later it seems like a long time for Christ to come again in glory. But that is because you think in terms of time. Think rather of the Eternal Now. The eternal Lord coming to you in time where you are receiving His eternal gifts. And you are in time serving others with your time, talents, and treasures. Or, think of it this way. Today is Mother’s Day. Is it the only day you honor and love your mother? Of course not. How you love her and give thanks for her should not be bound by time but what you consciously and naturally do day-in and day-out. This is what your Lord gives you to do in all your relationships and you are blessed by Him to see it as always Now and the joy of loving and serving because of the gift of the Holy Spirit always pointing you to Christ. Amen.