“They gave us our world.”
So said President Bill Clinton on June 6, 1994, at the 50th anniversary observance of the Allied landings on the Normandy beaches of France.
The world in 1994—as now—had forgotten the immense peril threatening the nations in the person of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
Those Clinton was referring to as having “given us the world” were the soldiers from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Poland, and other countries who landed on the five invasion beaches that day.
More than ten thousand Allied troops died that day alone.
In 1995 on a trip to France, my wife and I drove from Paris to Normandy to visit the beaches where Clinton and other dignitaries had paid tribute a year earlier. As we drove through villages, we kept encountering large letters painted on rooftops, walls, fences, and signs: “WELCOME TO OUR LIBERATORS”.
I had to wipe away a tear as I realized that the elderly men and women still alive in 1994 were saluting the elderly soldiers who had risked their lives to stop Hitler in 1944. Rather than coming ashore from the English Channel, the old soldiers were now arriving at Normandy in cars and buses.
But the words on the French survivors’ signs reached beyond my physical senses of sight and pierced into my spirit. Suddenly I realized that this was a greeting the world should proclaim to the Lord Jesus Christ: “WELCOME TO OUR LIBERATOR!
The moment Jesus was conceived in human flesh in the womb of Mary, the initial “invasion” of God’s Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and Spirit-given joy (Romans 14:17) had invaded the fallen world.
Somehow, amid the tears, I was able to keep driving toward Omaha Beach, the site of the largest invasion in 1944. The Normandy countryside is beautiful and peaceful now, but I tried to think about what it had been like on June 6, 1944, when soldiers left five thousand ships and motored in landing craft through barrages of firepower from Nazi guns.
Fifty-one years later, we pulled into a parking lot on the crest of Omaha Beach. It’s important not to over-allegorize, but as we strolled from our car to the cemetery on the crest above the beach, I would see that history at times becomes parable through the work of the Holy Spirit.
I was not prepared for what we would see when we wound from the parking lot to the cemetery. Suddenly we stood before 9,388 graves marked by glistening white crosses and Stars of David.
A cold breeze whipped off the English Channel, and my wife took shelter behind a large memorial wall. I continued to walk among the graves, noting the young ages at which the soldiers had perished.
Among Hitler’s demonic intents was the eradication of the Jewish race. The memorial stones shaped like Stars of David were an important testimony to Jewish young men who were among the “liberators” as the invasion pressed forward into Europe and ultimately to the beastly concentration camps where their own people were being slaughtered.
My tears turned cold on my face.
Then came the big D-Day epiphany that changed my life and ministry.
As I walked among the graves, my mind suddenly shifted to another French beach some 250 miles away: Dunkirk. There, in 1940, more than 300,000 British troops, with their allies and weaponry, were trapped before a surging German army. Winston Churchill was desperate to get his fighters off the beach so that the soldiers could be re-equipped and sent back to fight again.
The need was so urgent the King went on national radio, calling on the British people to pray.
On my walk at Omaha Beach that day in 1995, I reflected on the contrasts between the Normandy and Dunkirk mindsets. The primary focus at Dunkirk was evacuation, while the consuming aim at Normandy was advance on the strongholds of the enemy.
Suddenly my mind went to the church in our time. As a biblical conservative, I believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ, and our being taken up out of this world with Him. However, amid the spiritual, social, political, cultural battles of our time, much of the western church has become more escape-focused than advance-focused.
We should pray, as the Scriptures exhort us, “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) Miraculously by the hand of God, Churchill was able to rescue his armies from Dunkirk, and assuredly Jesus will come for us at the timing known to the Father.
Until then we must watch for the Lord’s coming, but not fall into a mindset preoccupied with escape.
The Allied objective on June 6, 1944, was to establish a beachhead in Europe, and from there advance all the way to the bunker in Berlin where Hitler was holed up. This meant taking victory and liberation village by village, town by town, city by city, and country by country.
The church now must be reassured and inspired by the prospect of Christ’s Return. But we must not corrupt this great hope by falling into escapism.
While the victory would not reach Berlin until May 1945, it was over for Hitler the moment the first Allied soldier stepped boot and shed blood on the beaches of Normandy.
While the victory won for humanity is not yet manifest in all the world, it was over for the powers of darkness the moment Jesus Christ entered humanity and shed His blood at Calvary.
May churches not curl up within their walls waiting for the rapture, but let us anticipate it as we continue moving forward until the Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed and disciples made in all the inhabited world. According to Matthew 24:14 28:18-20, and Acts 1:8, that is the whole purpose (telos) in leaving us here.
Wallace B. Henley’s fifty-year career has spanned newspaper journalism, government in both White House and Congress, the church, and academia. He is author or co-author of more than 20 books. He is a teaching pastor at Grace Church, the Woodlands, Texas.
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