For many, “Yesterday" by The Beatles is a poignant and powerful song. It is one of, if not the most, covered songs by the Beatles. It brings back memories of regret, remorse, heartache, and heartbreak. Why do we like this song so much if it seems to cause us such pain? What is so appealing in it?
Is it that we are just gluttons for punishment? Is exposing ourselves to, and suffering, the pain it brings us a type of self-imposed penance?
“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away; Now it looks as though they're here to stay"
Perhaps we think it is a way to deal with guilt? A type of catharsis through reliving the sad estate of our less-than-perfect resumes?
“Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be; There's a shadow hanging over me."
Personally, when I hear this song it reminds me of many long nights I have spent lying awake. Unable to sleep with restless thoughts strolling through my head, I have sought the solution to the problems I brought upon myself till the first light breaks across my windowpane. Yet, relief from the waking nightmare will not come with the rising of this sun. It will take something far more remarkable than a beautiful sunrise to chase away the shadows I have invited in.
Through that night, that long, seemingly endless night, I had prayed and asked God for the impossible. I knew it was a silly, even pointless prayer. But desperation drove me to it. Maybe you’ve prayed a similar prayer?
“God, I know this is crazy. But if I could only have one impossible thing, I would pray that I could go back to yesterday, before I did You know what. All I’m asking is for one mulligan; one do-over. If You could just turn back time… I mean, You made the Sun stand still for a whole day once. Surely You could make it go backward, to…”
I know. Pretty ridiculous, right? But can you blame me?
Well, I guess you can. Yes, I am the one to blame. It is my fault and no other’s.
As far as motivations for wishing time travel were real, I figure mine were about as pure and noble as any sinner could muster up. I just wanted to go back and undo all the pain I had caused others, the suffering that would ensue, and the disappointment that would linger for who knows how long.
It seems the whole world wants to believe in yesterday. The Beatles certainly did.
If you haven’t ever wanted to believe in yesterday, if you regret nothing, you’re either an amnesiac, or a liar. We all want to believe in yesterday. The reason why we like this song has nothing to do with catharsis, penance, or our being gluttons for punishment. I would posit another reason for why we like this song. “Yesterday” doesn’t leave us entirely bummed out. Instead, it gives us a glimmer of hope, a glimpse of another possibility besides endless despair.
Paul McCartney sings, “Oh, I believe in yesterday.” There is the hope in the song, no matter how unlikely, improbable, and impossible. It’s not much. It’s a bit ridiculous. Okay, it’s simply crazy. Yet we find some small crack in time and dig, claw and grasp at that hope. We all believe in yesterday, or at least wish we could. If I could just go back to a time before I screwed it all up, if I could do it all again, I wouldn’t make such a mess of things. Or so we think.
God, however, has taken our prayers and wishes for a fresh start on yesterday and given us something much better. We constantly look back because we cannot really look forward. We move into the future facing backward into the past. We can only anticipate the future based on a pattern emerging from the sum of all our yesterdays. But God stands outside of time, and sees it all at once. Unlike us, He can conceive of a grander, much better solution to our problem of yesterday.
Instead of giving us yesterday to just screw it up all over again, God provides us with a yesterday unstained by yesterday’s sins. God gives us “what no eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined…” God gives us what He “has prepared for those who love Him. And “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We love Him much because He has forgiven us our sins, which are many (Luke 7:47).
God's love and forgiveness are not partial, nor based on conditions. There are no strings attached. He doesn’t forgive us based on our merit, or some foreknowledge that we will prove ourselves worthy of His forgiveness and make it up to Him someday. He just… forgives. And He forgets. That’s right. God gives Himself selective amnesia so that it is as if we had never sinned.
This is far better than a mulligan, second chance, or do-over. In the meantime, while we’re wringing our hands and worrying about yesterday, God in Christ has stepped into all our yesterdays (and today, and tomorrow) and expunged all transgressions from them. He has mopped the filthy room of yesterday with the body of His only begotten Son, and His blood has cleansed us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
The problem isn’t just those sins of yesterday that the song “Yesterday” recalls to our memory, but all sins of all yesterdays. We could have a million and one yesterdays to do over, and we would still end up with as many yesterdays to make up for again, and again, and again. We can’t get yesterday right, so God has to step in, take yesterday out of our hands, and give it back to us in Christ.
We get to keep all our yesterdays and none of yesterday’s mistakes. Not only that, but we also get all of Christ’s righteousness. Beautiful, isn’t it? In the Gospel, God has rewritten all your yesterdays, and they look like Jesus. All your sins are erased and a lifetime of perfect righteousness is counted to you as if it were your own (Romans 3:19, 4:5).
God doesn't turn back the sun so we can fix yesterday. Neither does He simply raise the sun and wave a magic wand over our problems to make them disappear. He takes a far more drastic, radical approach to our seemingly hopeless and impossible predicament. He dies for our sins. He is buried. He rises again, the Firstborn of a new creation. He takes our impossible situation and does the impossible.
Yes, dear friends, I believe in yesterday—a beautiful, wonderful and mysterious yesterday. It is a yesterday that is plunged into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is a yesterday that is drenched in Jesus’ blood and bursting forth with His life. It is a yesterday of self to which you have died and of God to which you now live. It is a past that is propelled into the future and ricochets back into your present where you are raised to new life in Christ to enjoy all its benefits now.
Every word of this is true. It’s a check you can take to the bank and cash. Keep believing in yesterday, my friends.