Brokenness and Hopelessness


Brokenness and Hopelessness

May 7th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 19:34-35

5-7-89    10:50 a.m.




Welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television.  You are a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Brokenness and Hopelessness.  It is a message that comes out of the crucifixion of our Lord described in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John.  Beginning at verse 30 [John 19:30].


When Jesus therefore had received the bitter wine, He said—

Tetelestai; a perfect passive indicative, “It is complete.  It is accomplished”—

It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.

The Jews therefore because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath Day, (for that Sabbath Day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other.

But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they brake not His legs:

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.

[John 19:30-35]


It is out of that background of the breaking of bones and of the breaking of the heart of our Lord that the sermon is prepared for this sacred hour.  There are two things that happened in this tragic moment: one, after the crucifixion of our Lord, and raised between two malefactors, the Jews went to Pontius Pilate and begged that their bodies might be taken away [John 19:31].

There were something like two million visitors there in the Holy City at this sacred Passover season.  And these three crosses were raised right at the main Damascus Gate entrance into the city.  And the Sabbath Day approaching and the Passover being observed, to have those three tragic crosses there at the main entrance into the city seemed like an insult to God Himself.  So they asked Pilate that they might be taken away [John 19:31].

A second thing that occurred in that providential day: the Roman centurion reported to Pontius Pilate that the center crucified Man was already dead.  And Pilate “marveled.”  And I’m using the word of the Scripture.  “Pilate marveled that He was dead already” [Mark 15:44-45].  Usually on a cross, the one who was slain, nailed to the tree, lived from three to seven days.  Our Lord was crucified at nine o’clock in the morning, and at three o’clock in the afternoon He was dead [Mark 15:25, 33-37].  And Pilate marveled that so soon He had expired.  So in order to accommodate the Jewish people, and in order to take away the three men who were crucified, commandment was given for the soldiers to break the bones, to dispatch the two criminals.  But when they saw Jesus already expired, just to make sure of His death, one of the soldiers thrust a spear into His heart.  And when he withdrew the iron, there flowed out blood and water [John 19:31-34].  The heart beats in a pericardium, in a cardiac sac.  And the Lord had died of a broken heart, and when the blood poured out into that pericardium, the red coagulum separated from the lipid serum.  And that was a phenomenal thing as John looked upon it and saw the blood and the water flow out.

Thus, I say, we see the brokenness and the helplessness and the hopelessness of that tragic afternoon.  Number one: God is honored and glorified in our brokenness and in our hopelessness.  And the more broken we are, the more God can use us.  It’s a remarkable thing that our Lord memorialized His ministry in the days of His flesh by the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  Why did not the Lord seek to bring before our eyes and hearts and memory His marvelous, miraculous birth? [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16].  His incomparable, miraculous ministry?  Why was it not at least, the glorious resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:5-10] or His ascension into heaven [Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-10] or His session at the right hand of God? [Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69].  No, out of all of the miraculous, marvelous attendances that waited upon the life of our Savior, this He asked, that we remember His suffering, His brokenness, and His death.  And He did it in the breaking of bread [1 Corinthians 11:24].  

It’s an unusual thing that in the Bible the Lord’s Supper is called the breaking of bread.  Bread is wheat that is crushed and bruised and broken and baked.  And there is no bread without the brokenness and the bruisedness and the baking.  And there’s no salvation apart from the breaking and the suffering of our Lord. So He broke bread and fed the five thousand [Matthew 14:19], breaking bread, breaking bread.  And thus broken things are used of God throughout His Holy Word.  In Gideon’s three hundred, they broke the pitchers that the light might shine [Judges 7:7, 16-20].  Mary broke the alabaster box and the room was filled with the perfume [Mark 14:3].  Brokenness, brokenness, God uses broken things!

In this last week, I read of an artist who made the stained-glass windows in a glorious cathedral.  And at the end of his work, he had thousands and thousands of little broken pieces of stained glass.  And he put them together and created the most beautiful window the worshippers in that sacred place had ever seen.  Broken things; and the more broken they are, the more they are used of God. 

And how eminently true is that of the saints of God whose lives are presented in this sacred Word.  Job was the most righteous man in the earth [Job 1:8; 2:3], and he knew it, and he was proud of it.  And when his friends came to talk to him, he was defensive, justifying himself.  But after the experience when he cried: “God hath broken me asunder” [Job 16:12], and when he cried, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eyes seeth Thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” [Job 42:5-6]; then God blessed Job in his brokenness [Job 42:7-17].

It is a like story of Jacob.  Jacob; his name means traitor, supplanter, cheater.  And when he could no longer remain with his father-in-law, Laban [Genesis 32:2-3], turning back to Canaan, he was being met by his brother [Genesis 32:1-6], Esau whom he had wronged and cheated [Genesis 25:29-34, 27:1-36].  And Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred armed men [Genesis 33:1].  And in keeping with the nature of Jacob, shrewd and planning and arranging, sufficient in himself, he arranged his family into four different groups; and all of his flocks and herds into four different groups.  And in the genius of it, planning to placate, the wrath of his brother Esau [Genesis 33:1-3].

Then that night at the Jabbok River, alone, an Angel of God wrestled with him [Genesis 32:24-31].  And in that wrestling, the Angel touched the thigh of Jacob and left him broken and helpless.  And crying to God for help in his helplessness, the Angel said: “What is your name?”  And he replied: “My name is Jacob, supplanter, cheater.”  The Angel replied: “Your name will be no more Jacob.  It will be Israel, a prince of God” [Genesis 32:27-28].  And the next day when Jacob met Esau, his brother, broken, helpless, and Esau looked upon him and burst into tears and kissed him [Genesis 33:3-4].

God blesses us in our brokenness, in our helplessness, not in our self-sufficiency and our personal strength.  Thus it is that David writes in his fifty-first Psalm, the psalm of confession after he was crushed:


Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

[Psalm 51:16-17]


Crushed, helpless.  And may I choose one other in this roll call of God’s saints?  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:


Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh . . . lest I should be exalted above measure. 

For this thing I besought God thrice, that it might depart from me. 

But God said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in brokenness, in despair, in helplessness, in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I thank God for infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 

[2 Corinthians 12:7-10]


God takes our brokennesses and magnifies His glorious name through it.  As long as I am strong in myself, and justify myself, and defend myself; as long as I am sufficient and adequate in myself; as long as I have a self-will and a self-determination; as long as I keep self on the throne of my life; when I’m reviled, I revile back again; when I am accosted, I retaliate; when I am confronted, I do battle.  As long as I am vindictive and sufficient and defensive; as long as I am on the throne of my soul and my life, God can have no part in me.  I am left to my own devices.

But when I take myself off of the throne of my life, and I admit my faults and my failures, and I confess that I’m not sufficient and I’m not adequate, and I learn what it is to bow in His presence and ask God to assume the leadership in my life, then God can use me, and God can bless me, and God can lead and guide me.  It is only when I am broken and unable that God can remake me.  “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17].  God does it.  God does it. 

I ran across this beautiful poem:


I played with my blocks.

I was but a child.

Houses I built

And castles I piled.

But they tottered and fell.

All my labor was vain.

Then my daddy said kindly,

“We’ll try it again.”

I played with my time.

What’s time to a lad?

Why pore over books?

Why not play and be glad?

Then my youth was all spent

Like a vanishing rain.

And my daddy said kindly,

“We’ll try it again.”

I played with my soul.

The soul that is I.

The image of God

I smothered its cry.

I sullied and spoiled it.

And now, all the pain.

Then my heavenly Father said kindly,

“Let’s try it again.”



It’s the kindness of God that is only able to help us when we come to the end of our own way and are broken before Him.

I heard a most unusual, read a most unusual thing this week.  There were two wonderful doctors; Dr. Paul Brand and Dr. Mary Vaughn.  They ministered to the lepers in India.  And the article said Paul Brand was the greatest authority on leprosy in the earth.  In one of those cruel, inexplicable providences, in a tragic automobile accident, the woman, Mary Vaughn, the doctor, was crushed, and her body useless and paralyzed; in despair, now in a wheelchair.  And the other doctor, Brand, came to her and said: “I want to talk to you.  I want to talk to you about your ministry as a doctor.”

And she replied, “Oh, Dr. Brand, I have no ministry as a doctor.  My life is ruined.  My body is useless, and I’m in this chair.”

“Ah, but,” he said, “your greatest ministry lies before you.”

And she began once again ministering to those poor, helpless lepers.  And the thing I read was this: that as that dear woman in the wheelchair ministered to those lepers, the staff at the hospital noticed and whispered one to the other, “You know, somehow, when the lepers come to her and she ministers to them, they lose their helplessness and their hopelessness.”

God was using the hurt of that dear doctor to bring encouragement to those helpless, broken lepers in India.  That’s God.  He can use us in our hopelessness and our helplessness.  But in our self-sufficiency, He has no place, no room.

May I say one other thing?  This is God’s way of preparing us for heaven: our hopelessness, our helplessness, our brokenness.  Sweet people, as long as I am young and strong and self-willed, and as long as I think I’ve got it made or I can make it; and as long as I don’t need God; and as long as I read the Lord out of my life, in my heyday and in my strength, God has no place.  My treasures are here in this earth.  My strength and ambitions are all encompassed in this world.  But when the days multiply, and when I’m old and feeble, and when I’m crushed with sorrow and loneliness, God has an opportunity then to speak to my heart and prepare me for heaven.

When I came to Dallas, now forty-five years ago, to be undershepherd of this sweet congregation, I was asked to hold a funeral service for a dear, saintly woman here in this church.  At that time there were many small funeral homes in the city of Dallas.  And I went to this home, a small funeral home, and there sat a woman in widow’s tweeds, black, black, black, black, seated there in that little chapel by herself, and the husband in that casket, at the front of the chapel.

I sat down by her side.  And to my amazement, every member of her family had died; every one.  Her mother died.  Her father died.  All her brothers and sisters had died.  Her children had died.  And now, last of all, she is burying her husband.  And she sat there by herself crying.

I thought of that poem by America’s beloved poet, James Whitcomb Riley.


There! little girl; don’t cry!

They’ve broken your doll, I know;

And your tea-set blue,

And your play-house, too,

Are things of the long ago;

But childish troubles will soon pass by.—

There! little girl; don’t cry!


There! little girl; don’t cry!

They’ve broken your slate, I know;

And the glad, wild ways

Of your schoolgirl days

Are things of the long ago;

But life and love will soon come by.—

There! little girl; don’t cry!


There! little girl; don’t cry!

They’ve broken your heart, I know;

And the rainbow gleams

Of your girlhood dreams

Are things of the long ago;

But Heaven holds all for which you sigh.—

There! little girl; don’t cry!

[“A Life-Lesson,” James Whitcomb Riley, 1900]


“Heaven holds all for which we sigh.”

 My home is not here, it’s in heaven [Philippians 3:20].  My treasure’s not here, it’s in heaven [Matthew 6:19-21].  My reward is not here; it’s in heaven [2 Corinthians 5:10].  My life is not here; it’s in heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  And by and by, all of my family, all of my friends and all of you whom I’ve known and loved awhile; all of you are in heaven.  And I don’t want to be here by myself; I want to go too.

You know, a young pastor has so much to learn.  I started when I was seventeen years old in a little country church.  And I went to see an old sainted man of God who lay dying in the bed.  And I knelt down by his side in my youthful inexperience, and I prayed, “Lord, raise him up.  Lay hands of healing upon him.  Make him well.  Give him strength.”  And while I was praying that, he reached forth his hand and put it on me.

And he said to me, “Pastor, young pastor, don’t pray that.”  He said, “Young pastor, all of my family are gone.  All of my friends and neighbors are gone.  And I am here sickened, invalid, and old, and feeble.  Pastor, young pastor, pray that God will liberate me; that I can go to be with my glorious Savior in heaven.”

Feeling the rebuke, I bowed my head again and prayed, “Dear Lord, his life is finished, his work is done.  He’s old and feeble and alone.  Lord, open the gates of heaven and welcome him home.”  That’s the way God prepares us for our heavenly home.


My heavenly home is bright and fair.

And I feel like traveling on.

No harm or death can enter there.

And I feel like traveling on.


Yes, I feel like traveling on.

I feel like traveling on.

No harm or death can enter there.

And I feel like traveling on.


Oh, the Lord has been so good to me.

I feel like traveling on.

Until those mansions I can see.

I feel like traveling on.


Yes, I feel like traveling on

I feel like traveling on.

The Lord has been so good to me

I feel like traveling on.

[from “I Feel Like Traveling On” James David Vaughn]


This is God’s wonderful hope and promise for those who find refuge in Him.  And that is our appeal to you.

If you have listened to this service on television, where you are is a good where to bow your head and say, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart and into my life.”  Write to us.  If you do not know how to accept Christ as your Savior, call us. The number is on the screen.  There will be a godly somebody there who will tell you how to be saved, and I will meet you in heaven one glorious and triumphant day.  And to the great throng in the sanctuary in the balcony round, on this lower floor, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart and I am coming today.  I am giving Him my heart today” [Romans 10:8-13].  Coming into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:8-13], answering the call of the Spirit in your heart, as God shall open the door, answer with your life.  Do it now, welcome now, while we stand and while we sing.