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Well. . .Almost
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “No Wonder They Call Him The Saviour,” published in 1998.
Almost. It’s a sad word in any man’s dictionary.
“Almost.” It runs herd with “nearly,” “next time,” “if only,” and “just about.” It’s a word that smacks of missed opportunities, aborted efforts, and fumbled chances. It’s honorable mention, right field, on the bench, runner-up, and burnt cookies.
Almost. The one that got away. The sale that nearly closed. The gamble that almost paid off. Almost.
How many people do you know whose claim to fame is an almost?
“Did I ever tell you about the time I almost was selected as the Employee of the Year?”
“They say he almost made the big leagues.”
“I caught a catfish that was taller than me! Well almost.”
As long as there have been people, there have been almosts. People who almost won the battle, who almost climbed the mountain, who almost found the treasure.
One of the most famous “almost’s” is found in the Bible. Pilate. Yet, what he missed was far more significant than a catfish or an award.
He almost performed what would have been history’s greatest act of mercy. He almost pardoned the Prince of Peace. He almost released the Son of God. He almost opted to acquit the Christ. Almost He had the power. He had the choice. He wore the signet ring. The option to free God’s Son was his. . and he did it... almost
Almost. How many times do these six ugly letters find their way into despairing epitaphs?
“He almost got it together.”
“She almost chose not to leave him.”
“They almost tried one more time.”
“We almost worked it out.”
“He almost became a Christian.”
What is it that makes almost such a potent word? Why is there such a wide gap between “he almost” and “he did”?
In the case of Pilate, we don’t have to look far to find an answer. It is Dr. Luke’s acute commentary in chapter 23 that provides the reason. Let’s tune in at verse 22:
A third time he [Pilate] said to them [the crowd], “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed (italics mine, RSV).
You’re right, Luke. Their voices prevailed. And, as a result, Pilate’s pride prevailed. Pilate’s fear prevailed. Pilate’s power-hunger prevailed.
“Their” voices were not the only voices, you know. There were at least three others Pilate could have heard.
He could have heard the voice of Jesus. Pilate stood eye to eye with him. Five times he postponed the decision hoping to gratify the mob with policies or lashings.1 Yet Jesus was always sent back to him. Three times he stood eye to eye with this compelling Nazarene who had come to reveal the truth. “What is truth?” Pilate asked rhetorically (or was it honestly?). Jesus’ silence was much louder than the crowd’s demands. But Pilate didn’t listen.
He could have heard the voice of his wife. She pleaded with him to “have nothing to do with that righteous man for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.”2 One has to pause and wonder about the origin of such a dream that would cause a lady of purple to call a small-town Galilean righteous. But Pilate didn’t.
Or he could have heard his own voice. Surely he could see through the facade. “Ananias, Caiaphas, cut the phoney allegiance, you slobs; I know where your interests are.” Surely his conscience was speaking to him. “There is nothing wrong with this man. A bit mysterious maybe, but that’s no reason to string him up.”
He could have heard other voices. But he didn’t. He almost did. But he didn’t. Satan’s voices prevailed.
His voice often does prevail. Have you heard his wooings?
“One time won’t hurt.”
“She’ll never know.”
“Other people do much worse things.”
“At least you’re not being hypocritical.”
His rhetoric of rationalization never ends. The father of lies croons and woos like a traveling peddler, promising the moon and delivering disaster. “Step right up. Taste my brew of pleasure and sing my song of sensuality. After all, who knows about tomorrow?”
God, meanwhile, never enters a shouting match with Satan. Truth need not scream. He stands permanently, quietly pleading, ever present. No tricks, no side shows, no temptations, just open proof.
People’s reactions vary. Some flow immediately to the peddler of poison. Others turn quickly to the Prince of Peace. Most of us, however, are caught somewhere in between, lingering on the edge of Satan’s crowd yet hovering within earshot of the message of God.
Pilate learned the hard way that this stance of “almost” is suicidal. The other voices will win. Their lure is too strong. Their call too compelling. And Pilate also learned that there is no darker hell than the one of remorse. Washing your hands a thousand times won’t free you from the guilt of an opportunity ignored. It’s one thing to forgive yourself for something you did. It is something else to try to forgive yourself for something that you might have done, but didn’t.
Jesus knew that all along. For our own good, he demanded and demands absolute obedience. He never has had room for “almost” in his vocabulary. You are either with him or against him. With Jesus “nearly” has to become “certainly.” “Sometimes” has to become “always.” “If only” has to become “regardless.” And “next time” has to become “this time.”
No, Jesus never had room for “almost” and he still doesn’t. “Almost” may count in horseshoes and hand grenades, but with the Master, it is just as good as a “never.” (79-82)
1. Luke 23:4,7,17,20,22
2. Matthew 27:19, RSV
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