What If . . . Almost

An American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, once wrote, “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’ ” If that is true, then one of the most tragic words in human language must be the word almost.

What if and almost speak of aborted opportunities and missed chances. Have you ever played the What if and Almost games in your life?

What if I had accepted that job across the considered how Almost impacts our spiritual lives, and how our lives would be affected if Jesus had played the game of What if?

Our Worth

What if Jesus would have said, “Never mind, those people are not worth My life”?

Paul wrote, “both Jews and Gentiles . . . are all under sin.” And he continued: “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat [is] an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps [is] under their lips: Whose mouth [is] full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet [are] swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery [are] in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:9–18.

These verses describe not only the people of Paul’s time but each one of us—without the loving mercy of Jesus Christ and His atoning blood.

When these words were penned, God, looking over all the people, could not find a single one who feared Him or sought after Him. The people had either abandoned or corrupted their worship of Him. They not only had turned their backs on God but they had turned against their brethren, thus showing the evil propensity of human nature in general.

What if God was to search our souls today? Could He find a single one with the “fear of God before their eyes”?

Through our actions, words, and music we have corrupted our worship to Him. Ignoring the counsel we have been given, we do not, in our churches, approach His throne with respect or reverence. “The angels veil their faces in His presence. The cherubim and the bright and holy seraphim approach His throne with solemn reverence. How much more should we finite, sinful beings, come in a reverent manner before the Lord, our Maker!” The Faith I Live By, 41.

As Paul described, by our malicious and wicked words we bury, as it were, the reputations of all men. We practice the habits of lying, defamation, and slandering, thus wounding, blasting, and poisoning the reputations of others. Destruction is our work, and misery to us and to the objects of our malice is the consequence of our murderous conduct. We have no peace in ourselves, and we certainly do not allow others to live in quiet.

With very little variation, these are the evils in which the vast mass of mankind delight and live. Without Christ’s death on the cross, we could hope for nothing more.

What We Deserve

What if Jesus had said, “Forget it! You all get what you deserve forever—death”?

“For the wages of sin [is] death.” Romans 6:23. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4. Whatever sin may promise of pleasure or advantage, the end to which it necessarily leads is the destruction of body and soul.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.

“From the opening of the great controversy it has been Satan’s purpose to misrepresent God’s character and to excite rebellion against His law, and this work appears to be crowned with success. The multitudes give ear to Satan’s deceptions and set themselves against God. . . . Through Satan’s temptations the whole human race have become transgressors of God’s law.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 338.

Even if it is just one little, darling sin that is cherished, the Scripture is clear. What we deserve is death. What we have the opportunity to receive, as a result of Christ’s mercy and atoning blood, is eternal life. “By the sacrifice of His Son a way is opened whereby they [sinners] may return to God. Through the grace of Christ they may be enabled to render obedience to the Father’s law.” Ibid.

With the redeeming grace of the crucified Jesus, this what if has a very different ending.

“The Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.” Isaiah 26:21. “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?” Malachi 3:2. “Jesus, our Redeemer, . . . suffered more than we can be called upon to suffer. He bore our infirmities and was in all points tempted as we are. He did not suffer thus on His own account, but because of our sins; and now, relying on the merits of our Overcomer, we may become victors in His name.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 86.

Because Jesus did not play the What if game, we may have eternal life, as a result of His sufferings, death, and resurrection.

Almost Released

What if Pilate had released Jesus? He almost did. Upon examining Jesus, Pilate found no basis for the charges against Him. Neither did Herod. Pilate did not see that Jesus had done anything to deserve death, so he told the gathering that he would release Him. But the chief priests, the rulers, and the people—with one voice—cried out their desire to have Barabbas (imprisoned for an insurrection in the city and for murder) released instead. (See Luke 23:13–24.)

Pilate may be the most infamous almoster in history, because he almost released Jesus. He almost lowered the gavel and said, “Not guilty.” He almost dismissed the charges against this innocent Man, but then he conceded to the demands of the people.

What a difference it would have made in our perception of Pilate if he had stood firm to principle and released Jesus. He almost did it, but he did not. He had the authority to do it. All he had to do was speak the word decisively, and Jesus would have been set free. He did it, almost.

“If at the first Pilate had stood firm, refusing to condemn a man whom he found guiltless, he would have broken the fatal chain that was to bind him in remorse and guilt as long as he lived. Had he carried out his convictions of right, the Jews would not have presumed to dictate to him. Christ would have been put to death, but the guilt would not have rested upon Pilate.” The Desire of Ages, 732.

Father, Forgive Them

So Jesus was released to His death. Soldiers went about their tasks. They were used to crucifying people. They had done it many times before. First, they laid the cross upon the ground, then they placed Jesus upon it, driving sharp spikes through His hands and feet. Then they hoisted the rough wooden cross into the air and dropped it into the hole that had held crosses before. Perhaps they even drove stakes into the ground around the cross to steady it. And then they were done. Jesus was crucified.

There He hangs between heaven and earth. Looking through tears and blood, He could see the faces of the people who had gathered around Him. Perhaps he was looking for familiar faces, but He did not see Peter or James or Andrew or Bartholomew. The soldiers gather underneath the cross and begin throwing dice, gambling for His robe.

Do we see a little bit of ourselves in the soldiers at the foot of the cross? Sometimes we are so close to the cross and yet so far away. Almost we decide to look upon the Saviour and accept His love and grace, but then we become distracted. They were right there, right next to the blood that was dropping to the ground. They could hear the cries of pain. They could look up at any time and see Jesus, but their minds were on other things—on the material things of life.

Jesus began to pray. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. Father, forgive the soldier who drove the nails into my hands. Father, forgive Pilate who found me innocent but sentenced me to die anyway. Forgive Annas and Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin and all the rest. And Father, forgive the Christians who will meet in [your church] in [your town] in 2004, because their sins nailed Me here, too. Yes, Father, forgive them all.”

What if you and I prayed that kind of prayer? Would it bring us to our knees before our Saviour? Would it make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us? “We are not forgiven because we forgive, but as we forgive. The ground of all forgiveness is found in the unmerited love of God, but by our attitude toward others we show whether we have made that love our own. Wherefore Christ says, ‘With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ Matthew 7:2.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 251.

What if He had Escaped?

Scientists tell us that self-preservation is a very basic instinct. Whenever we encounter danger, we automatically seek to protect ourselves. If we stumble, we put our hands out to break the expected fall. If we are riding in an automobile and suddenly it appears that we are going to crash, we automatically brace ourselves—even though experts say that is not the wisest thing to do. We automatically do it, because self-preservation is a basic instinct in man.

So the enemies of Jesus gathered beneath His cross. They reasoned that Jesus would want to save Himself. They thought that if He really was the Son of God then He had the power to come down from the cross. That would be the natural thing to do. But when Jesus did not save His own life, they assumed He did not have the power and therefore was not the Son of God. “He saved others; himself he cannot save,” they mocked among themselves. (See Mark 15:29–32.) That was their conclusion—a logical conclusion but a false conclusion.

You see, Jesus could have saved Himself. He could have saved Himself by not going to Jerusalem. He could have stayed in Galilee. He could have saved Himself by escaping from the Garden of Gethsemane. He could have saved Himself when He was in Pilate’s judgment hall. He chose not to escape.

What if Jesus had escaped and saved Himself? Well, Jesus could not have saved Himself and us, too. There is no greater love than “that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13.

What if we try to save ourselves? “You cannot save yourself from the tempter’s power, but he trembles and flees when the merits of that [Jesus’] precious blood are urged.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 317. “You want your own way, and do not rend your heart before God, and with brokenness and contrition cast yourself all broken, sinful, and polluted, upon His mercy. Your efforts to save yourself, if persisted in, will result in your certain ruin.” Ibid., vol. 2, 89. “You cannot save yourself by any good work that you may do. The Lord Jesus has not made you a sin-bearer.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 325.

“The cross of Christ is our only hope. It reveals to us the greatness of our Father’s love and the fact that the Majesty of heaven submitted to insult, mockery, humiliation, and suffering for the joy of seeing perishing souls saved in His kingdom. . . . Save yourself and your household, for the salvation of the soul is precious.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 502, 503.

What if we are almost persuaded to accept Jesus, His sufferings, His death on the cross, and His resurrection? “To be almost persuaded, means to put aside the proffered mercy, to be convinced of the right way, but to refuse to accept the cross of a crucified Redeemer.” Sketches From the Life of Paul, 260. [Emphasis supplied.]

Oh, friend, that is a game you do not want to lose. Do not decide to wait for a more favorable opportunity; it may never come. That is a what if you want joyously to testify that you did. That is an almost you want to report as fully accepted.

“It is perilous to the soul to hesitate, question, and criticize divine light. Satan will present his temptations until the light will appear as darkness, and many will reject the very truth that would have proved the saving of their souls. Those who walk in its rays will find it growing brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.” Review and Herald, September 3, 1889.

A LandMarks staff member, Anna Schultz writes from her home near Sedalia, Colorado. She may be contacted by e-mail at: jschu67410@aol.com.