by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Regret can be quite powerful when it is a stronghold for the enemy to take advantage. Let’s take a look at Biblical accounts of people and situations when the it could be said, “If I only knew then what I know now.”
I have written some things previously about the regret carried by the apostle Peter and King David. Peter had denied knowing Jesus at a time of immense disappointment for him when perhaps he wasn’t sure that he did really know Jesus, after all (at least not like he thought he did). King David’s life was chalked full of regret from adultery and fornication to conspiracy to commit murder to utter neglect of the needs of his wives and children, resulting in tragic horrific consequences against his family for years to come.
In this chapter, “If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now”, there are examples of the power of regret in the lives of Saul (later named Paul), Jesus, and a certain rich man. Even Jesus, our sinless advocate who understands our every weakness, given the temptation he endured during his time as a human being, experienced regret in a manner I have not heard taught before.
Shall we begin?
Let’s take a look at the life of Paul who would go from persecuting, even killing, God’s people to writing two-thirds of the New Testament for generations to come. Perhaps the best route is to take the road from Saul to Paul. If you enjoy reading Scripture there is a bunch of it here. Let’s begin with Saul’s encounter with Stephen.
Acts 6… 8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 9 But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.
11 So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” 12 This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.
13 The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. 14 We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s. Acts 6:8-16 (NLT)
Acts 7… 1 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
This was Stephen’s reply:
51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:1, 51-60 (NLT)
Acts 8… 1 Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.
A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. 2 (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) 3 But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. Acts 8:1-2 (NLT)
Acts 9… 1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.
15 The Lord said (to Ananias), “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”
22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Acts 9:1-9, 15-22 (NLT)
If I only knew then what I know now. What I know now is…
6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. 7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. 2 Corinthians 12:6-11, 14, 20-21 (NLT)
What would have been different about Paul’s life had he known then what he would experience once he embraced the best and most of his relationship with Jesus? Paul would go on to write…
I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. 2 Corinthians 10:1-4 (NLT)
The duration of Paul’s ministry was more than thirty years. He would be so committed to knowing Jesus to the point that he would consider it honor and privilege to endure the brutality in his suffering as an expression of total surrender. As he surrendered all in his service he would experience blessing on earth that would include an actual glimpse of the heavenly realm.
I wonder if I surrendered the extent to which Paul did, committed entirely unto obedience, willing to suffer for the sake of all things in my relationship with Christ, if I would experience Him to the point that I might catch a glimpse of the glory that is indeed my future? Why is it that I don’t live considering what I value in the world as rubbish compared to knowing and serving God? Might there be a day coming when I might look back to my life as it is today and say to myself, “If I only knew then what I know now”?
I wonder if even David and Peter and Paul look back at the best of their time on earth from the glorious side of eternity and say to themselves, “If I only knew then what I know now”. Three icons in the history of Scripture today live in the time of perfection. All things have been unveiled and revealed to them in glory beyond anything you or I can imagine. With everything Apostle Paul said about the third heaven and all that, I wonder if what he experienced spiritually on earth—a glimpse of glory—pales in comparison to his experience today.
“In all the afflictions of believers He is afflicted.” —Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
Lazarus! How could Jesus have possibly had any regret about bringing his close friend Lazarus back to life?
Let’s take a closer look…
What about the person that has one of those near-death experiences that was actually declared dead but somehow came back to life to describe their experience? Books have been written by these folks. I’d like to take you to a story in the Bible of a man who had been dead for three days before coming back to life.
John 11… 1 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” 25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.
30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
This is a remarkable event on so many levels. What I would like to focus on here is Jesus and Lazarus. Verse 33 tells us that when Jesus saw the people around the grave weeping, a deep anger welled up within Him and He was deeply troubled. Why? Jesus had healed the lame and the blind, and cast out demons. Many of them had witnessed the miracles. Jesus had raised a young girl back to life but it was only witnessed by Jairus and a couple of other people. But He would know that the people weeping around the tomb, while perhaps they had heard stories, would not have witnessed a resurrection before.
The people saw Jesus weeping and said among themselves, “See how much he loved him?” While I do not doubt that Jesus had compassion for these loved ones of Lazarus, John’s account of this event (inspired by the Holy Spirit at the time he wrote about it) is that Jesus experienced anger well up from deep within Him and was deeply troubled. I’ve got to tell you that I am a bit troubled by that. Would Jesus really be that disappointed and frustrated that His followers were emotional about Jesus not getting there in time to rescue their loved one—His loved one—from death when He had the ability to do so? Would Jesus be that offended that the family and friends of Lazarus would dare to expect Jesus to have some sense of urgency about getting back in time to heal their brother and friend? Wouldn’t Jesus be more gracious, kind, patient, and compassionate than that under these circumstances?
If Jesus was moved with compassion for those weeping in their grief, it is difficult for me to believe that He would be offended by them and angry that they do not believe with faith for the resurrection of Lazarus. No matter what they have seen Jesus do until then it is hard to blame them for thinking that raising Lazarus from the dead might be a bit suspect to say the least; a bit of a reach. What if the sickness had caused Lazarus to suffer in the days prior to his death? I can certainly imagine how troubling it would be to the family that Jesus could have but did not prevent it.
But what if that wasn’t what troubled Jesus to the point of feeling intense anger, angry enough (along with perhaps a deep sense of sorrow and compassion) to weep over it? What if Jesus fully understood what He was bringing Lazarus back from and what He was bringing him back to? (The Jewish people were under brutal oppression) What if Jesus was deeply troubled that, while Lazarus would be returning to loved ones coming back from the grave, he would be exiting eternal paradise (in the time of perfection) to return to a sinful world of selfish spite and hostility; a place where he would once again know hunger and thirst, pain and suffering, eventually to die again.
Would Jesus have encountered a profound sense of regret about what he needed to do; not for Lazarus, but for everyone else (including his best friends)? Isn’t it possible?
While the body of Lazarus lay in the grave, the soul of Lazarus was already with God. We don’t get to hear about the after-death experience of Lazarus. What did he experience? Since time is irrelevant on the other side of eternity in glory, would Lazarus have already experienced grace, since from the glorious side of eternity Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection may have already occurred, and Lazarus was able to experience glory in a way that even the apostle Paul wouldn’t begin to imagine? (Remember Paul had written that God had revealed to him the third heaven, whatever that even is.)
Though upon His death on the cross Jesus would experience three days in the heart of the earth, he told the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Consider for a moment that paradise does not require the time and logic we are stuck on in this time on earth. The laws of time that exist on earth do not apply in paradise. Could it be then that while Jesus is experiencing three days of death in the heart of the earth that he is also having fellowship with with his “cross-mate” who had come into relationship with Jesus, and upon leaving his earthly body of flesh was present with the Lord in paradise?
Lazarus would reap the benefit of three days in paradise with the Lord. And after all that, Jesus would call out, “Lazarus, come forth!” and back he came; as unjust as it was that he would exit paradise. (Another irony is that while Lazarus likely had a glorious heavenly experience for three days and nights, Jesus would spend His tormented in the belly of the earth as the sacrifice for sin.) Having been resurrected into and through the presence of God, I would bet that, while the grave clothes may have been tarnished by death, the body of Lazarus had the fragrance of new life. The crown of glory awaiting Lazarus for his sacrifice might be something beyond imagination that makes it all worth it for him.
My guess is that Lazarus was able to say emphatically, “If I only knew then what I know now.” Except in the case of Lazarus, he most certainly had a testimony for the ages that likely touched a lot of people.
Regret is an emotion generally associated with the real sense that it just wasn’t worth it. In the case of whatever sense of regret over a kind of injustice done against Lazarus, it was still necessary. The people needed to see that it would be worth it to know who and what Jesus is and what that meant for them to see and to know.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
The Rich Man
What about the person who rejected Jesus in this life? Can you imagine an eternity of, “If I only knew then what I know now”?
Jesus said, “For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” Matthew 12:40 (NLT)
Understanding that Jesus spent three days and nights in the heart of the earth, we can have a pretty good idea of where hell is. The Bible also speaks of a new heaven and a new earth for those in relationship with Christ and in His presence for eternity. Will this planet earth be the new earth? Perhaps… maybe even likely. That being said, there would be a great deal of space between heaven and hell. If heaven is a party for all of eternity, I wonder if those in hell will hear the party upstairs… for all of eternity?
19 Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
22 “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.
24 “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
25 “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’
27 “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
29 “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
30 “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31 (NLT)
Do you think this rich man is going to go through eternity with regret about, “If I only knew then what I know now in this place.” Why does anyone have to live in that place with regret?
When I get to talk to folks who resist believing in the truth about Jesus Christ as the only way, the only truth, and the only advocate to gain for us access to new life, I ask them what they are going to do about the empty tomb. Many have sought to prove that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is nothing more than mythical. And many of them in their zeal to disprove the resurrection got stuck on two key points that are serious problems for them. The historical accounts of the empty tomb, and the eye witnesses that went from hiding out to risking their very lives and quality of life to admit that they saw Jesus and spent time with him. Spending time with Jesus meant that your life would be changed forever. How could it not be, especially post resurrection?
People that reported events as they happened in that first century (such as Josephus, who reportedly did not believe) reported that the tomb was indeed empty. He did not see Jesus personally but wrote that the tomb was empty in the morning of the third day despite being guarded by as many as two dozen trained and skilled Roman soldiers. The disciples would not have the capability or the resources to overwhelm the Roman guards. So it stands to reason that the body of Jesus was not in fact stolen, leaving the likelihood of the actual resurrection of Jesus from the dead at least probable.
I have close family members that I love so much that despite what they have heard, and have despite professing belief in Christ in the past, resist or altogether reject that relationship with Jesus is the only way to life for all eternity. There is coming a day of reckoning. There is coming a day when those outside of relationship with God through Jesus Christ, like the rich man, will be muttering to themselves forever, “If I only knew then what I know now.”
It’s the same thing people say who have survived a heart attack and then changed their routines according to what they now know. They had a pretty good idea of what could befall them prior to the heart attack but didn’t make the changes until afterward.
The problem with the rich man that Jesus is talking about above might not have been that he didn’t believe. The problem nay have been what he valued. I would suggest that Jesus, when he refers to “the rich”, is referring to anyone that values what they possess more than valuing the truth of what they can have in relationship with God. C.S. Lewis writes that there are their those that are free in God through relationship, and those free from God, by choice outside of relationship with Him. He wrote that those free in God say to Him, “Thy will be done”, and those free from God, He says to them, “Thy will be done”.
The rich man made his choice. He chose his own way with his own stuff over God’s way with God’s stuff. He chose relationship with what he valued in the moment over relationship with the One that created it all. If he only knew then what he knows now.
Wisdom is adjusting to the truth. Foolishness is adjusting the truth.
The choice is yours; the choice is mine. What do I know and do now about what is coming then? Do I value what I know more than I value what I feel? You see, there is being right and there is feeling right, and the space in between can be a “great chasm” separating the two. There is living and there is dying… forever… and there is a great chasm separating the two.
The one that chooses living through relationship with Jesus will enjoy the celebration for all eternity. The one who rejects relationship with Jesus chooses dying and, forever tormented in the dying, will hear the celebration going on upstairs, forever craving the instant gratification of even a drop of water on his tongue. The gratification in that drop of water, though, would be dashed in a moment. The only thing that would satisfy is to be take part in the feast that is going on upstairs.
NOW is then. NOW you know. Do not wait until it is to late to do something about it. Ask God to show Himself to you if you still are not certain about Him. That is hope. When Christ shows up in your circumstances and delivers, like those first century witnesses, you will be changed. And that then changes everything. Your values about what you own change as you are willing to let go of whatever it is you value that owns you in exchange for that which God owns and values for you; and wants for you.
You cannot serve two masters. You must choose living today. Seek first relationship with God through Jesus today and experience the new life that comes in that relationship.
Come on… join the party.