Living in the present with Joseph (Genesis 50:19-20)

My last post was about living in the present moment so that we can maximize our enjoyment of the Lord and can give ourselves away for the blessing of others. If I am dwelling in the past and lamenting things that cannot be changed, or if I am fearing the future and fixating on the threats that might come, then I am not living in the present. And the present is the only place where I can live and be faithful to my calling (Ephesians 4:1) and accomplish the works the Lord has given me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

In this post I wanted to further explore this idea of living in the present by looking at some biblical pictures of this and asking, “So, what do I do with my past? How do I handle thoughts and feelings about my past? Do I just pretend those things never happened?”

TWO ASPECTS OF THE PAST: MY OWN SINS AND THOSE OF OTHERS

It occurs to me that there are two aspects of our past that can prevent us from living fully in the present. First, there are my own sins and failures. There are the things that I have said and done in violation and rebellion against God’s moral Law and have thus wounded others, and these things now bring me the pain of shame and guilt and regret. How can I ever remove these black marks from my past when the sins are committed, and the words are said and cannot be taken back and are etched in history’s stone? Who will set me free from this guilt and shame (Romans 7:24)? The good news of Jesus Christ answers this question, because most of what the Bible has to say about our past and about how we are to deal with our past is focused on this aspect of our past. The Bible declares that, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).” The Bible proclaims that, because the Lord Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s cross, your sins can be forgiven and your guilt and shame can be removed if you will place your faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel, and only the gospel, offers forgiveness, full and free, from all your sins and failures (John 8:36).  

But the second aspect of our past that can prevent us from living in the present is the things that have been done to us by others. This second aspect has to do with dealing with how others have wounded and harmed us. People can often be thoughtless, and they can be intentionally cruel, and they can inflict deep and long-lasting damage to us. But regardless of who or how the damage is done, we are the ones who must mend and forgive and untangle and resolve and defang these deep pains from our past. These kinds of wounds can stay with us a long time and can leave us trapped in the wreckage of the past. How do we deal with this part of our past? How are we able to bury these specters from the past so that we can live and flourish in the present?

JOSEPH RECEIVED CRUEL AND EVIL TREATMENT, AND YET . . .

            Joseph was the favorite son of his father, Jacob. Then one day, while obeying his father’s instructions to find his ten older brothers (Genesis 37), his brothers conspired together to strip off his special coat and to throw him into a pit to die. Before they could kill Joseph, however, some slave traders come along, and the ten older brothers decide to sell Joseph to the slave traders heading to Egypt. When Joseph is gone, they dip his robe into goat’s blood and tell his father that he is dead. Meanwhile, as a slave in Egypt, Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into an Egyptian prison. Here is a man who should have been trapped by his past and by the evil that was done to him by others. Here is a man whose major hope for the future would be to get out of prison so he can take revenge on his brothers.

            But that is not what we find. Through God’s providence and God’s plan, Joseph is dramatically promoted from prison to the palace and is made second in charge to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And what does he do with the pain of his past?

MANASSEH AND EPHRAIM

            Pharaoh gives Joseph a wife and through her, Joseph has two sons. He names the firstborn Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house (Genesis 41:51).” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (41:52).” Joseph is able to break free of the poison of his past because he focuses on what God is doing, and he focuses on God’s goodness. It is as if he says, “Yes, people can be cruel and evil, but God is good and I will rejoice in Him and I will trust Him to run His universe as He sees fit.” Joseph could have remained trapped in the past, bitter and vengeful and blaming others for his pain, but he chooses instead to trust the Lord and to live in the present and to do today what God has commanded him to do today.

RECONCILES WITH HIS BROTHERS

            What will Joseph do with his feelings toward his brothers? How can he ignore the hateful evil that they did to him, throwing their own brother in a pit and then selling him off to slave traders? But even in this Joseph will not be a slave to his past. He will not be trapped in the pit of self-pity or in the chains of revenge. Instead, when he finally confronts his brothers, the men who robbed him of his home and of the peacefulness of his youth, he says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5).” Joseph knows the God is the one who used the evil deeds of his brothers to preserve life in Egypt. God is the one in control. and God is good. God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt (45:9). Joseph focuses on God and is thus able to escape the slavery to his past. So, Joseph chooses to forgive his brothers and not to hold them under his judgment, and thus is able to live and love in the present. At the end of this scene, Joseph “kissed his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him (45:15).”

CONFESSION OF SIN AND FORGIVENESS AT LAST

            Joseph has been freed from his past, and he has forgiven his brothers’ sins against him, but because his brothers have never admitted (confessed) their evil to Joseph and have never asked for his forgiveness, they remained trapped in the past. They remain fearful that Joseph may some day remember the evil that they have done to him and may take revenge. But finally, the brothers, too, are set free from the evil that they did to Joseph. “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong (Genesis 50:17).” Joseph responds to their request for forgiveness by weeping, as all the evil of the past and its pain finally rolls away, and he says, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:19-20).”

FORGETTING THE PAST SO WE CAN FULLY LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            By fixing his focus on God, and not on the evil deeds of men, Joseph is able to move past his past, so that he can fully live in the present. The Lord has given him the ability to forgive his brothers so he can forget their cruelty to him. He thus forgets what lies behind, so that he can be free to embrace what lies ahead (Philippians 3:12-14). When we focus on the Lord and His goodness, we remove from our past the power to enslave us and we can joyfully live in the present.

SDG                 rmb                  10/1/2020

Ever in the present (Exodus 3:14-15)

The LORD, the one true and living God, is eternally in the present. That is what the Bible teaches and what the LORD declares about Himself. All events take place in the present for the LORD because He exists beyond time. He is aware of time, for He is the One who created time, but He is not bound by time, so He does not live within time.

I AM WHO I AM

In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked His name, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Then God told Moses that His name was “the LORD.” The word that we have in Hebrew for God’s name is “YHWH,” which is connected with the Hebrew verb “to be.” The point is that even God’s name declares that God is always in the present. He did not say, “I WAS,” or even “I WILL BE,” but He proclaimed “I AM.” For God, all the events of His universe occur in the present. “I AM WHO I AM.”

JESUS IS THE ETERNALLY PRESENT ONE

In John 8, when Jesus was being challenged about His identity and about His claims to deity, He said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58).” The Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus because they understood that Jesus was claiming to be YHWH. Jesus was claiming to be the ever-present One for whom everything is in the present. Jesus did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” That would not have angered the Jews, but it may have confused them. Ah, but when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” there was no question what Jesus was claiming. Jesus was claiming to be YHWH, the great “I AM.”

JESUS MODELED FOR US WHAT IE MEANS TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT

In Jesus, we see the unique combination of eternal deity entering time and space and intentionally being subject to the ravages of time and even subject to the experience of death. While Jesus lived on this earth, He had a mission to accomplish (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19 – and parallels; also John 17:4), which involved Him being delivered over to evil men who hated Him and then being crucified on a Roman cross. Jesus understood in the fullest possible terms exactly what His mission required, and yet at no point in His ministry does He dwell on the cross. Instead, Jesus remains always in the present moment.

For example, in Mark 10:32, “they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed.” The crowds are going up to Jerusalem so that Jesus can be arrested and crucified. There is no one who is more aware of what is shortly to take place than Jesus. He knows every lash from the whips, and He knows the spit that will drip down His face, and He knows the blows He will feel. He knows the mocking He will endure. He knows the nails that will rip into His flesh. He knows that, as He bears all the sins of His people, He will be abandoned by His Father. He knows the words that He is to say from the cross to fulfill the prophecies of His crucifixion. He knows all this perfectly. But now is not the time for that. Now is the time to walk up the mountain to Jerusalem, so He walks on ahead of the crowd. Now is the time to stop and have mercy on Bartimaeus, and to give him back his sight. Now is the time to call Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree so He can go to be a guest in his house. Now is the time to ride the colt into Jerusalem. Now is the time to baffle the religious leaders with parables, and to tell His disciples about His return, and to have a final supper with His apostles. In all these events, Jesus is fully in the moment, fully present, completely trusting what is to happen in the future into the hands of His Father. Even though the horrors of the cross drew steadily closer, Jesus remained in the present moment, perfectly obeying the Father’s every commandment.

As in everything He does, here also Jesus, as the perfect Man, models for us how we are to live for the glory of God in this fallen world. Jesus lives in the present moment and entrusts His future into the hands of His Father. Just so, we are also to strive to live in the present moment and entrust our future into the hands of the Father.

HOW THE DISCIPLE IS TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            PRINCIPLE/THEORY: The more we live in the present, the more we live like the Lord. This is based on the idea that because Jesus lived in the present, He has shown us that we are to live in the present. This keeps us in the middle of the “trust zone.”

            When I am dwelling in the past, I am often dwelling in the place of sin and shame and failure that cannot be changed. While there can certainly be pleasant memories from the past, most often if we are living in the past we are living with regret or with guilt that holds us prisoner and that robs us of present peace and contentment and joy.

            On the other hand, when I am living in the future, I am living in a place that does not exist and I am distracted from giving my energy and my attention to what is here and now. More than that, because we live in a fallen world, the future often evokes fear and dread. Often our future skies are full of dark clouds and whirling tornadoes as threats of loss loom large.

            So, how am I to live in the present, in the so-called “trust zone” with Jesus, when I am haunted by my past and frightened of the future?

THE ANSWER IS THE GOSPEL

            The answer is that I am to believe in the Lord Jesus and trust Him.

            What do I do to forget the past and to stop dwelling on the sorrows and wounds of the past? Practically, I will rest in the Lord and trust Him with my past, knowing that He has sovereignly ordained all the events of my past for His perfect purposes to produce the man He wants me to become. I will forget what lies behind (in the past), and strain forward to what lies ahead (in the present) and press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14).

            How can I overcome my fears and doubts about the future, especially in our present time when there are threats on all sides? Practically, I will trust the Lord with my future, because the Lord has declared that there will never be a time in the future when He will not be with me (“I will never leave you or forsake you (Joshua 1:5).”) “The LORD is with me like a dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” “If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?”

CHRIST HAS FREED ME FROM SINS IN THE PAST AND FEAR OF DEATH IN THE FUTURE

            But the ultimate answer is that I will live in the present, secure in the fact that Christ’s death on the cross has erased the sins of my past and His resurrection has removed the threat of death in the future. (John 11:25-26; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-55; Hebrews 2:14-15) This glorious reality allows me to live in the present, in the middle of the “trust zone” with Jesus. SDG                 rmb                 9/24/2020