Reading the Future by Knowing the Past

[As we reflect on Good Friday today and look forward to Easter, the Sunday of Resurrection, here is an updated post from the archives about what it means to remember what God has done and to look forward to what he is doing.]

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I’m reading through Ecclesiastes and ran across this verse:

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecclesiastes 7:10.)

James, the New Testament writer who seems to be the most steeped in his Jewish roots, wrote similarly about making plans for the future:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16.)

Do these passages mean we must forget the past and ignore the future? Not at all.

Knowing Where You Came From

When Solomon wrote about the foolishness of dwelling on the Good Old Days, he certainly had already heard this praise from his father David’s lips:

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him — those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Psalm 22:27-31.)

The ends of the earth don’t reject the past but celebrate it, declaring “He has done it!” So you have reason to look to the past after all, but what about the future that James warns us about? Are you to avoid contemplating it?

Knowing Where You’re Going

Paul says:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14.)

Paul is pressing on for something that is certain, the goal you have in being called to Christ. This is not making an empty boast such as James warned against, but acknowledging a guarantee based on God’s promise to all who belong to him.

Declaring the Past and the Future Today

In your life in Christ, you’ve been given a simple way to focus on the past and the future today:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26.)

In every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we not only remember Christ’s finished work on the cross but also look forward to the day of his return.

Past and future, all proclaimed today.

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4 Responses to Reading the Future by Knowing the Past

  1. I get annoyed when people talk about the ‘good old days’. People have been discussing the subject for millennia. It’s mentioned in a Jane Austen novel, too, as in one of the characters moans about the behaviour of young people nowadays (or words to that effect). Who knows which one? Answers on a postcard, please 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Might it be when Mr. Woodhouse is fearful of what the youth might get up to if they go to the ball? Someone might even open a window and allow a nasty draft to enter the room!

      • Actually no, that’s not the one I was thinking of 🙂 I was thinking of Northanger Abbey when Catherine goes off in the carriage with Mr. Thorpe. Mrs Allen comments about how the youth of today go gadding about in carriages without a chaperone and how she fears for the future!

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