“If only…”

 

Opening:

          We have an Easter tradition here at Life Center that we borrowed many years ago from the Eastern Orthodox Church.  I say, “Christ is risen!”  And you respond, “He is risen indeed!” 

          Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.

That’s why we’re here!  Jesus is alive!  We’re here to celebrate the difference that the living Jesus makes in our lives. 

The title of my talk today is “If only…”.  In the Bible, a sick woman snuck up behind Jesus in a crowd and thought, “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.”  I read that one day and thought, “We all have ‘if onlys’.”

  • If only I could be healed.
  • If only I was a better person.
  • If only I had finished my education.
  • If only I had more time, more money, a better job.
  • If only I could dunk.

We all have these “if onlys”, and today we’re going to consider God’s response to our deepest longings, and the difference Jesus’ resurrection makes.

 

Offering and announcements:

          How many of you have ever thought, “If only I was a better person: more loving, more forgiving, more patient…fill in the blank”?  Starting next Sunday, we’re going to talk about how to become better people.  We begin a new series called “The Big 7”, about the seven deadly sins, and the corresponding virtues.  We’ll focus on how to overcome the sins and how to develop the virtues in our lives, so that we become better people.  So if you want to get better…join us.  If you’re good enough…we’re really happy for you.

 

Prayer

          What is your “if only”?  We’re going to take a couple minutes to pray right now; let’s tell God our “if onlys”.  Tell Him your deepest longings, your regrets, what you wish you could change.  And ask Him for His help.  If you’re thinking, “I don’t know how to pray,” just talk to God like you would your best friend.  He already knows what you think and feel, so you’re not going to surprise or offend Him.  He wants to hear from you.  

 

 

Introduction:

ILL: Sara Ames was discussing with her 7-year-old daughter, Jessica, why bad things happen sometimes.  They read the story of Adam and Eve and discussed how sin came into the world.  Later that week, Jessica was sick and had to stay home from school. Feeling miserable, she told her mom: “If only Adam and Even hadn’t eaten the fruit, I wouldn’t be sick.” Before her mom could answer, Jessica added: “Of course, if they didn’t eat it, we’d be sitting here naked.”

Good point!  We’ve all said, “If only…” and expressed a desire for a better world, a better life, a better self.  Or we’ve said, “If only…” and expressed regret.  Either way, “if only” is a longing for change.  What is God’s response to our deepest longings and what does the resurrection of Jesus have to say about this?  I want to look at three passages of Scripture with you.

 

1. “If only…”: the universal cry

Jesus was walking through a village surrounded by a large crowd, all of them pushing to be close to Him, trying to touch Him.  There was a lady in the crowd who had been sick for 12 years; she suffered from bleeding, perhaps a menstrual disorder or uterine hemorrhaging.  This disease made her ritually unclean, which not only excluded her from worship services, but also from normal social interaction, since anyone who touched her also became “unclean”.  She had seen many doctors, and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better, she had gotten worse.  No wonder, since some of the doctors’ prescriptions would have been pure superstitions, such as carrying the ashes of an ostrich-egg in a linen rag in summer and a cotton rag in winter; or carrying a barley corn which had been found in the dung of a white female donkey. Both of these “cures”, along with many others for this disease, were found in the Talmud, the authoritative book of Jewish tradition.  No doubt this poor woman had tried these desperate remedies, and had spent all she had, only to get progressively worse.  She’s sick, she’s lonely, and she’s broke.  Twelve years of suffering, loneliness and disappointment-this is a woman at the end of her rope; she’s out of options. 

Then she hears about Jesus.  She hears of His miracles, the healings He’s done, and she thinks, “If only…

Matthew 9:21 She said to herself, “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

“If only I can get to Jesus.”  This is her chance, her last chance, her last hope.  So she slips into the crowd secretly, hoping to go unnoticed, since she is unclean.  And somehow she manages to work her way close to Jesus and reaches out to touch the edge of His cloak-and instantly she’s healed.  She feels it; she knows it.

          Incredibly, so does Jesus!  He stops in His tracks and asks, “Who touched my clothes?”  His disciples are incredulous.  “What do you mean, who touched you?  Everyone is touching you!  We’re all getting pushed and shoved by this crowd-we can barely walk-and you ask, ‘who touched me?'” 

          Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I felt power go out from me.” 

          At this, the woman came forward and told Him “the whole truth”-she shared her story.  And Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

          “If only I touch His cloak, I will be healed.”  And she was. 

          Her “if only” was a wish to be healed, to be made whole and restored to her friends and family.  What’s yours?  What is your “if only”? 

There is a universal cry in the human heart.  All of us wish for a better world, a better life, a better self.  There is a cry for wholeness, a desire for change, for things to be different, better than they are.  What is your “if only”? 

          There are two lessons from this lady’s story I hope you’ll take to heart and apply to your “if only”.

Here’s the first: Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings.  This sick woman discovered that Jesus was the answer to her deepest longings.  She had tried everything else available to her, and had come up empty.  Jesus was her last hope, and proved to be her best hope.  Her “if only” found its answer in Him.  Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings. 

Some of you are in that lady’s position.  You’re desperate.  You’ve tried everything else, and you’re still empty.  You’ve got a longing that nothing has been able to satisfy:

  • Money can’t do it. Success and stuff hasn’t done it.
  • No relationship has fixed it.
  • Sex won’t do it. No amount of pleasure has worked.
  • Alcohol and drugs haven’t fixed it.
  • All the self-help plans have failed.

Nothing has given you the peace and purpose you’re looking for.  Nothing has answered your deep longing to be loved and accepted.   Now like this lady, you’re at the end of your rope: you’re sick, tired, broke, lonely and disappointed. 

          Jesus is here…He’s alive.  This is the Easter message: Jesus is not just a figure in history; He is a living Savior, and He’s the answer to your deepest longings.  God has heard your cry, felt your longing, and sent His Son, Jesus to meet your need.  Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings.

          I’m not saying that Jesus will give you everything you want or ask for.  I think we all know that won’t happen.  I thank God that He doesn’t give me everything I ask for, because I ask for some pretty stupid and selfish things!  But there are longings God wants to fulfill.  God created you with a longing for Him, a longing to be loved and accepted, a longing for a better world and a better you-and all these longings find their answer in Jesus.  And I can promise you this: you always get more than you bargained for with Jesus.  You may come looking for one thing, and find far more.  In Jesus, you’ll find love, forgiveness, acceptance, purpose, hope, joy…life!  Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings. 

          Here’s the second lesson: you’ve got to get to Jesus.  When this sick woman believed that Jesus was her answer, she didn’t let anything stop her from getting to Him.  She broke the Jewish law that said she shouldn’t touch anyone or be touched by anyone; she risked public humiliation and scorn.  She didn’t care.  Jesus was her answer, so she pushed through the crowd and touched Jesus.  And Jesus commended her for her faith-faith that was visible in her action.

          It’s true for you too.  Jesus is your answer, but you’ve got to get to Jesus.  If Jesus is going to be your answer, you can’t just go home and do nothing.  You can’t just sit there and hope something happens.  You’ve got to get to Jesus.  Before we’re done today, I’m going to give you a chance to do that.  I’m going to give you the opportunity to reach out to Jesus and touch Him.  And if you do, we’ll send you home with some stuff that will help you stay close to Him, and live a new life.  This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus-it’s a whole new life.  It’s not just going to church-it’s a radically new life 24/7.

          Which leads me to a second “if only”…

 

2. “If only…”: the way to live

There was a guy named Saul who hated the Christian faith.  He hated it so much that he went from town to town arresting Christians and seeing that they were jailed, beaten and executed.  If you were to ask Saul to finish the sentence, “If only…”, he would have said, “If only I could wipe out the Christian faith and rid the earth of these pesky Jesus-followers.”  This was his whole life, his mission: kill the Christians.  Then Saul met Jesus.  He found in Jesus the answer to his deepest longings, and Saul’s entire life changed course.  Now he devoted his life to spreading the faith he had once tried to destroy.  After meeting Jesus, Saul became Paul, and had a new “if only”. 

Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

“If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me; if only I can do what Jesus wants; if only I can live the way He wants me to live-nothing else matters.”

          For anyone to say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may do what Jesus wants,” is pretty radical.  But when you read the New Testament, you’ll see that when people met Jesus and began to follow Him, it was a radical new life.  People left everything to follow Jesus; they gave up their comfort, their money, their jobs, their security, even their lives-all for Jesus.  Why? Jesus is that compelling. 

ILL: Have you ever discovered something that really captivated you, and it seems like that was all you could think about, talk about, all you wanted to do? 

          I have some friends who feel that way about golf.  They work all week to be able to play golf all weekend.  They read Golf Digest, they go to the range and hit buckets of balls to practice, they constantly talk golf with their buddies. 

          I have some friends who feel that way about motorcycles.  All winter long they have been reading bike magazines, planning long trips, and looking at new chrome for their bikes (you can never have too much chrome or too much power).  One of them told me, “I’d rather be on my bike thinking about God, than sitting in church thinking about my bike!”  Amen, brother.

          I have some friends who feel that way about backpacking in the summer, or skiing in the winter.  They spend hours at REI or Mountain Gear lusting over the latest equipment.  They buy season passes and spend every free day on the mountain in the winter.

          I mention golf, motorcycles, backpacking and skiing, because those are all things that have captivated me.  I love them, and find them compelling….for awhile.  But after awhile, the compulsion wears off.  It’s still fun; I love doing all those things, but they are not…life.  I’d never say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I can golf.”  They’re fun, but not compelling in the sense that I want to devote my whole life to them.

Have you found that true too?  Have you discovered that your compulsions are fun, but not life?  They can’t answer your deepest longings.  They’re not the answer to your “if onlys”. 

But Jesus is.  Jesus is that compelling.  I first met Jesus 44 years ago, and I still find Him the most compelling person I’ve ever met.  Years after he met Jesus, Paul still felt that way.  He wrote:

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

I just read these verses in my devotions this week-as did all of you who are doing our Bible reading plan-and it made me stop and ask, “Does Christ’s love compel me?  Is Jesus the most compelling force in my life?” 

If Christ’s love compels us, what does it compel us to do?  To live for Him who died and was raised again, not for ourselves.  How about you?  Do you feel compelled to live for Jesus, not yourself?  Are you compelled by Christ’s love?  Can you say, “My life means nothing to me, if only I can do what Jesus wants.”  This is radical!

          Why aren’t more Christians living this kind of radical life-this Jesus-life?  I think there are several reasons, but here’s the biggest.  Lots of people have had a second-hand experience of religion, instead of a first-hand encounter with Jesus.  This kind of radical life comes from knowing and following the compelling Jesus.  Far too many Christians settle for just being good church people-nice people who get a little religion, a little goodness, a little Bible, and a little change-but not a lot of Jesus.  Being a Christian means following Jesus.  It’s not about being religious; it’s about having a relationship with the living Jesus, knowing Him and following Him.  Jesus is the most compelling person you’ll ever meet, and once you know Him, it changes everything. 

ILL: I’m reading a biography about William Wilberforce, entitled Amazing Grace.  Wilberforce was a young politician in 18th century England.  His rise to fame and power was meteoric-he became a member of Parliament when he was only 21.  He was charming, witty, brilliant, an excellent singer and a spell-binding orator.  He was a member of every important club and was a sought-after guest at parties.  Wilberforce had one great aim: do whatever was best for William Wilberforce.  He was living for himself.

          And then, at the age of 26, he met Jesus, and everything changed.  He was still witty, charming, brilliant, wealthy and a sought-after party guest.  But he wasn’t living for himself any more.  He was living for Jesus.  And he believed that Jesus wanted him to do certain things, so his two great ambitions became, in his words, “the reformation of manners and the abolition of the slave trade.”  The “reformation of manners” didn’t refer to manners as we think of them, like not burping at the table; it referred to what we would call morals.  England was in sorry shape at that time: alcoholism was rampant as was prostitution, and child labor and a host of other appalling social evils.  And the slave trade was unthinkable in its brutality toward black Africans.  Wilberforce devoted his time, his fortune, his energy, his health, his whole life to these two things-because of Jesus.  And he succeeded in ending slavery and transforming an entire culture. 

William Wilberforce could say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.  For Christ’s love compels me; therefore I live no longer for myself, but for Him who died and rose again.”  Jesus changed Wilberforce. 

          This is what I pray, what I want for each of you.  I want you to meet this compelling Jesus and follow Him.  Nothing less.

 

3. “If only…”: the ultimate fulfillment

          Paul devoted a whole chapter in his first letter to the church in Corinth to the subject of the resurrection.  In it, he wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

What is Paul saying?  If this life is all there is-if there is no life after death-then pity the Christian who gives everything to follow Jesus.  Pity those who give their lives to serve Jesus.  Pity a man like Paul who is willing to lose his life for Jesus’ sake-for if there is no resurrection, no life after death, then he wasted his one and only life.  “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” 

But because there is a resurrection, because there is life after death-and we know that because Jesus was raised from the dead-then it’s worth it to live for Jesus now.  It’s worth it to make some sacrifices; it’s worth it to get beyond yourself.  It’s worth it. 

ILL: This story was reported in the Spokesman Review on January 2, 2004.   

A woman in Yakima, Jayne Painter, got a new ring from her husband Steve, for Christmas.  She liked it so much, she took off her old one-her mother’s gold wedding ring-and placed it in the box the new rang came in.  Steve didn’t know that though, and he tossed the box, along with the wrapping paper, in the trash.  The next day, just before Jayne noticed the ring was missing, the garbage truck came and took it away. 

          Jayne was frantic. She drove around the neighborhood looking in vain for the garbage truck.  Then she called the Public Works Department.  Supervisor Randy Layman wished her luck but told her not to get her hopes up.  They pick up more than 3,000 containers of garbage a day; by now, her ring was buried beneath tons of trash.

          But Jayne was determined.  She and Steve set out for the dump to start looking.  With the help of a city worker, they began raking and sifting through empty beer bottles, boxers, wrapping paper, and what Jayne described as “gross turkey stuff.”  They were looking for one white trash bag among thousands of trash bags. 

          To everyone’s astonishment, Jayne recognized her trash within 20 minutes: it was a box for a crystal vase-another gift from her husband.  Inside that box was the box with ring in it. 

          Why would anyone rake through tons of garbage?  It was the value of the ring.  The ring was fashioned from her mother’s wedding ring and she’s worn it for more than 20 years. 

“It was worth it,” Jayne said. 

How many of you would have waved bye-bye to that ring-no way you’d go digging through the dump?  It wouldn’t be worth it to you, but it was worth it to her. 

          What’s worth it for you?  Why would you sacrifice, deny yourself, give to others and live for God?  Because this life is not all there is and it’s worth it.  “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  The good news is that we have hope in Christ for this life, and for the life to come, and that makes it worth it.

Jesus is the answer to our deepest longings, but not all of them will be fulfilled in this life.  In this life, we’ll experience sacrifice, suffering, injustice, pain and evil; and while we will make a difference, we won’t fully overcome all those in this life. Jesus brings substantial healing in our lives, but the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest longings will happen in the next life, not this one.  This isn’t heaven and won’t ever be.  The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of a better world to come.  It’s this promise of a better world to come that makes our sacrifices worth it.

  • This is why a group people from Life Center are sacrificing their time and money to go to Kenya next month to serve the poor and share the gospel. And it’s why hundreds of you chipped in your hard-earned money to drill a well there so people could have clean drinking water. We’re willing to sacrifice because we know Jesus, and we know it’s worth it.
  • This is why hundreds of you make sacrifices, large and small, every week to serve Jesus and others. This is why Ron Mize visits prisoners at the jail. This is why Lori Bradley loves on people in West Central, and why Alec and Lynda Gonzales are starting a church there. This is why so many of you volunteer your time to serve the poor, to care for the sick, to counsel the confused, to free the addicted, and to work for justice; and give your money to help others. You could spend all your time and all your money on yourself-but you don’t, because of Jesus.

If this life is all there is, be your own selfish pig.  But if there’s another life, a bigger life, still to come, then get beyond yourself!  Make the sacrifice…it’s worth it.  It’s worth it now…and forever.

The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of a better world to come.  It’s this promise of a better world to come that makes our sacrifices worth it. 

 

Opportunity to choose Jesus

I hope that when you stand before God, none of you will say, “If only I had trusted Jesus.” 

 

Benediction:

          Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings-so go after Jesus!  Pursue Him with all you’ve got.

          Let Jesus and His love compel you-live a radical new life!

          Go live every day for Jesus and for others-knowing that it’s worth it!  It’s worth it!