#6  The “Stumbling Blocks To Real Spirituality” Series


"IF ONLY...!"


TEXT:         Matt. 23:29-39   Lk. 11:47-51


INTRO:       Ever hear anyone say, “If only I had been there things would have been very different” or, “if I had been put in charge everything would have turned out ok.”


ILLUS:     In Bible College I said, "If only God would give me 2 or 3 committed mature families to plant a new church, I would pioneer a church with them!"  Many years later when God did this very thing it took me at least 3 months to say yes to God!  I kept finding excuses why it couldn’t be done at first.  It was so much easier to say it than to do it!  When I finally did it however it was the greatest experience and joy of my ministerial career. – Dennis Marquardt


It is always easier to say, “IF ONLY...” and of course can be very egotistical; it really is often a statement of vanity and vain excuses!


PROP. SENT:    God's Word teaches us that we are responsible for what we do and don't do, not just what we say we will do or won't do.  If you say, "IF ONLY..." then be prepared to do what you say, God will hold you to it!


I.  WOEFUL REASONING!    Matt. 23:29-32


A.   Alarming Fallacy    Matt. 23:29-30

1.   It was easier for the Pharisees to honor dead prophets than to honor live ones among them like John the Baptist and Jesus!

a.   Dead prophets pose no threat!

b.   Their message was silent – to the Pharisees it was mostly history at this point!

c.   Live prophets however could point out their present sins!

d.   Live prophets were thus unwelcome!

2.   This is the danger with such a line "IF ONLY..."

a.   It is always easier to say what should have been done once the work is over!

b.   They had the audacity to say that had they lived during the time of their forefathers they would not have participated in the wicked actions of killing the prophets God had sent.  "IF ONLY..." they had been there they would have been righteous!!!!  Mat 23:30 “And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”

c.   There is a huge ego factor in such a statement "IF ONLY..."


ILLUS:     We are split spiritual personalities.  We swear allegiance to one set of principles and live by another.

   We extol self-control and practice self-indulgence.

   We proclaim brotherhood and harbor prejudice.

   We laud character but strive to climb to the top at any cost.

   We erect houses of worship, but our shrines are our places of business and recreation.

   We are suffering from a distressing cleavage between the truths we affirm and the values we live by. Our souls are the battlegrounds for civil wars, but we are trying to live serene lives in houses divided against themselves. -- Melvin F. Wheatley -- Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 6068.


3.   This kind of reasoning is a dividing factor, it presupposes the superior intellect of the one who makes such a statement ... unless the one who makes it is willing to do something concrete to bring help.

4.   The Pharisees’ fallacy was that they believed they were too good to have done what their forefathers had done to the prophets YET ... THEY WERE DOING THE SAME THING WITH THE PROPHETS GOD HAD JUST SENT THEM!

a.   John the Baptist (killed)

b.   Jesus (killed)

c.   Later with Stephen (killed)

d.   Later with nearly all the disciples!  (11 of them die a martyr’s death)

5.   It is easy to celebrate a dead past … it is another thing to challenge the present!


B.   Accusing Forefathers!    Matt. 23:30-32

1.   Remember the days when you told your parents, "IF ONLY I WAS THE PARENT I WOULD LET ME DO THIS OR THAT..."

a.   It has become the fashion to accuse the parents of all the world's ills ... but now it is our generation taking over and having ills … or being the ills of society!

b.   The Pharisees weren't being consistent, they accused their forefathers of murder, yet went out and dressed up their graves and then ignored the prophets God had just sent to them!

2.   It is always easier to accuse others of failure than to see our own!

a.   It looked so good to honor those who were dead and no longer had a voice to give to the messages God had sent.

b.   Yet they refused to receive the messages from God sent to them through the perfect and greatest prophet, Jesus the Christ!

3.   This was near the conclusion of Jesus' ministry ... they had the chance to know God's heart by now ... and refused, yet seem to say, "IF ONLY WE HAD LIVED IN OUR FATHER'S DAY WE WOULD NOT HAVE SINNED..."

4.   We should watch out for those "accusing fingers" that can be raised in egotistical judgment!


ILLUS:     Who will listen to the message of God's understanding and love when the messengers of that God are examples of anything but that? -- Greg Asimakoupoulos, Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 4.


5.   It is the principle of "removing the beam from our own eye, before trying to cast out the mote in our brother’s" that should have been in play here.

a.   It is always safe to be spiritual over other people’s sins, especially from a distance.

b.   Yet, it is hard to recognize the very same sins in our lives many times.


II. WAVERING RESPONSIBILITIES!   Matt. 23:33-36   Luke 11:47-51


A.   Applying Fire!    Matt. 23:33

1.   They were standing in the place of receiving judgment; they should not have been dishing it out!

a.   In a sense they were in the "HOT SEAT."

b.   Judgment against them would be greater than their fathers because they had a greater revelation!

c.   It was this that led to the comment by Jesus “… this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matt. 24:34b

2.   Their single pointed finger at their forefathers left them with 3 fingers pointing back at themselves!


ILLUS:     Hypocrite: Someone who complains there is too much sex and violence on his VCR. -- Marriage Partnership, Vol. 12, no. 2.


3.   Judgment without responsibility is a bad marriage!

a.   There are those who want to judge, but not work for better changes!

b.   Unless one has born the responsibility to change something he should be cautious about judging.

c.   The Pharisees waved their responsibility; they only wanted to judge!

4.   Yet when the same situation arose that their forefathers had experienced they failed the test also ... and they had a greater prophet, JESUS!

a.   And so they will have greater fire!

b.   This is always the case, greater knowledge – greater guilt!


B.   Abomination Fulfilled!   Matt. 23:34-36   Luke 11:47-51

1.   I wonder how true this same principle is today ... we talk about how we would serve God "IF ONLY..."

a.   "IF ONLY..." someone hadn’t hurt me in a previous church.

b.   "IF ONLY..." the church did the kind of music I like.

c.   "IF ONLY..." the preacher was more this or less that.

d.   "IF ONLY..." the church had more relevant ministries.

e.   "IF ONLY..." people were friendlier in the church and they cared more.

f.    "IF ONLY..." the church didn’t talk about money so much.

g.   "IF ONLY..." they wouldn’t expect so much.

2.   THEN CHANGE THINGS … the facts are that YOU can make a difference if YOU get involved!

a.   In fact we have greater resources today than yesterday!

b.   The job of witnessing has never been easier!

3.   In Luke's passage Jesus says they will be held responsible for ALL the prophets’ deaths in the past!  WHY?

a.   Because they had the opportunity to see these past prophets’ words come true about the Messiah and they still weren't listening to those old prophets!  However they were decorating the tombs as though they honored these dead prophets while still ignoring their prophecies about the Messiah Jesus who stood in their midst!

b.   What hypocrisy!  Their actions of honoring those prophets were disgusting in the fact that they did not obey what they said, in this way they were “killing” them again, or just as guilty as doing as much harm to them as did their parents!

c.   The Jesus that was spoken of by these past prophets was being ignored and denied by them, though they went to great lengths to show honor to their memories by decorating their tombs!


ILLUS:    For thirty years Jesus did nothing, then for three years He stormed every time He went down to Jerusalem.  Josephus says He tore through the Temple courts like a madman.  We hear nothing about that Jesus Christ today.  The meek and mild Being pictured today makes us lose altogether the meaning of the Cross.  We have to find out why Jesus was beside Himself with rage and indignation at the Pharisees and not with those given over to carnal sins.

   Which state of society is going to stand a ripping and tearing Being like Jesus Christ Who drags to the ground the highest respected pillars of its civilized society, and shows that their respectability and religiosity is built on a much more abominable pride than the harlot's or the publican's?  The latter are disgusting and coarse, but these have the very pride of the devil in their hearts. -- Oswald Chambers in The Highest Good.  Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 1.


d.   This is like Christians today who give great homage to the Bible and a worship service but then gripe and complain all the time and do nothing positive to help bring people to Christ or discipline new Christians toward a mature faith … just throw a few bucks in the offering plate and complain about everything else!

4.   The greatest prophet of all time, the Messiah Jesus Christ was crucified by them!  And to think that they had the gall to say that they would not have done what their forefathers had done!


III. WILLINGNESS & REWARD   Matt. 23:37-39      


A.   Abundant Freedom    Matt. 23:37        

1.   Jesus says to them, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

a.   There was plenty of opportunity for them to follow through on their statement “IF ONLY...”

b.   God gives abundant freedom to us to do what we know to be right, we don't have to say, "IF ONLY..."

c.   God has always given freedom and power to obey!

2.   There is no reward without first responsibility!

a.   One does not go to heaven without asking Christ into their heart ... this is each person's responsibility!

b.   It is possible to lose God's best by not being willing!  “…but you were not willing.” 23:37b

c.   It is easier to talk, than to walk!


ILLUS:     A while ago it was announced that a church in [the Anglican bishop of London's] diocese, St. Mark's in Mayfair, was being declared "redundant," and that a secular use -- probably a restaurant -- was contemplated.  The local well-heeled and highly articulate residents were appalled at this sacrilege, and they appealed to the bishop to stop it.  His reply was suave and devastating:  had they been in the habit of attending the church in question, the issue would never have arisen. -- Kenneth Slack in The Christian Century (Nov. 5, 1986).  Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 2.


B.   Abrupt Finish!     Matt. 23:38-39

1.   What had always been called, "GOD'S HOUSE" was now called by Jesus, "Your House" ... why?

a.   Because the day had come for the Messiah, they had ignored the prophets and so God would turn away from them ... it would now be too late!

b.   God's presence would go from a Temple they had made, to the temple God had made, our bodies!

c.   For those who accepted this Messiah of God's, God's life would enter their body, now the temple of the Holy Spirit!

d.   Jesus was telling them the end was in sight!

e.   24:1 has Jesus leaving the temple of man!

2.   Their "IF ONLYS..." were empty boasts!


ILLUS:     Maxwell Perkins, the famous book editor, once wrote:  "One of my deepest convictions is that the terrible harms that are done in this world are not done by deliberately evil people, who are not numerous and are soon found out.  They are done by the good -- by those who are so sure that God is with them.  Nothing can stop them, for they are certain that they are right." -- Quoted by Father Henry Fehren in U.S. Catholic (May 1986).  Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 3.


a.   They were confronted with the greatest opportunity of all time!

b.   The fulfillment to prophecy stood in front of their eyes!

c.   They heard and saw the Word of God made flesh!

d.   And they rejected Him!

3.   What their forefathers would have hoped to have witnessed, they had ... and THEY KILLED HIM!

4.   An abrupt finish was all they had to look forward to!


a.   Replace any "IF ONLY..." with "I WILL LORD…"

b.   Don't judge others when you think they have failed ... try yourself to do what you think they should do first, then come alongside them and help them!


CONCLUSION:   "IF ONLY..." is a convenient way to appear to be responsible without actually being responsible!  God is looking for people who aren't looking for excuses, but are looking for action!  The man or woman who serves God actively won't need to use the words, "IF ONLY..."  God's call is to "Active Duty," not reserves!