Brokenness and Hopelessness


Brokenness and Hopelessness

May 7th, 1989 @ 8:15 AM

John 19:34-35

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    8:15 a.m.


And welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on KCBI, our great radio station for the metroplex, and through their affiliates to thousands of other people in the great Southwest.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor bringing the message entitled Brokenness and Helplessness.

In our preaching through the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 19.   This is a recounting of the passion of our Lord, and reading in chapter 19, beginning at verse 30: “When Jesus received the bitter wine, He said, tetelestai.”  A perfect passive indicative; all that God hath purposed hath He finished. “And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.  The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation”—getting ready for the Passover—“that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was a high day)” [John 19:30-31].  Not only was it the Sabbath day, but it was a Passover day:

They besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, 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,

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 19:31-35]

This was fulfilling the Scripture in Zechariah 12:10, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced” [John 20:19-37].

There are two things that brought about this brokenness: breaking the bones and breaking the heart of our Lord.  One of them was, it was the request of the Jews that these who had been nailed to the cross might be taken down [John 19:31].  They were nailed there at the main Damascus entrance gate of the city [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12].  And there were something like two million visitors come from the ends of the Roman Empire, thus to observe the Passover.  And to have those felons exhibited there as they entered into the city was an affront to the Jewish conscience.  So they asked Pilate that they might be taken down [John 19:31].

The second thing that precipitated this brokenness was the report of the centurion to the Roman governor that Jesus was already dead [Mark 15:44-45].   He was on the cross from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon [Mark 15:25, 33-37].  In that period of the darkness of the sky and of the sun, our Lord had died [Mark 15:25-37].  And that was an amazing thing to Pontius Pilate because anyone nailed to the cross stayed alive on it from three to seven days.  And that Jesus was already dead was an astonishment to the governor [Mark 15:44-45].

And that precipitated the command of the procurator of this brokenness, to break the bones of the malefactors [John 19:31-33].  And then the soldier to make sure that He was certain that Jesus was dead, thrust that iron spear into His heart [John 19:34].  The pericardium, the cardiac sac in which the heart beats gathered the blood, the red coagulum, the lipid serum.  He had died of a broken heart.  And when the spear was thrust into His body, blood and water poured out [John 19:34].

And that brings to my mind the message of this hour, a brokenness and hopelessness.  God can use broken things.  And the more broken they are the more God can use them.  It’s a remarkable thing to me that out of all of the story of Christ, the one memorial supper brings before our hearts and minds His suffering, His brokenness, His death [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  I would have thought it would have been His resurrection [Matthew 28:5-10].  I would have thought it would have been His ascension into glory [Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-10].  I would have thought His reign among the angels in heaven [Colossians 2:10].  The one memorialized event in the life of our Lord is His broken heart, His suffering and death.  And the very symbol of it characterizes the brokenness of our Savior.  It is bread [1 Corinthians 11:23-24].

Bread is crushed, baked, hurt.  As long as the grain is not crushed and not baked, it’s not bread.  As long as it abides above the ground, it’s not bread.  Bread is a symbol of our suffering Lord.  It’s a strange thing.  The Bible refers to the Lord’s Supper as the “breaking of bread” [1 Corinthians 11:23-24].  So our Lord broke the bread, feeding the five thousand [Mark 6:41-44].  And so throughout this Holy Word, broken things are used of God.  In Gideon’s three hundred, they broke the pitchers that the light might shine [Judges 7:16-20].  In the anointing of the body of our Lord, Mary broke the alabaster box, and the ointment pervaded the room, filled the room [John 12:3].

I read this week of a stained-glassed window in a great cathedral.  When the artist had shaped and formed all of the windows, he had before him thousands of little broken pieces.  And he had taken those broken pieces and had put them together and made the most beautiful window in the cathedral.  Broken things.  And the more broken they are, the more God can use them.  It is thus in the lives of the saints, depicted here in this Holy Scripture.

Job was the most righteous man in the earth [Job 1:8, 2:3].  The trouble was, he knew it.  And he was proud of it [Job 32:1].  And when God broke him, Job was defensive [Job 13:1-8].  When his friends came to speak to him, it was a confrontation [Job 6:25-30].  But in the midst of that trial, Job cries, “God hath broken me asunder” [Job 16:12], and finally, in agony, spoke before the throne of grace, crying, “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]—brokenness.

It is thus in the life of Jacob; Israel, the prince of God [Genesis 32:28].  His name was “supplanter, cheater,” Jacob [Genesis 32:27].  And when he had to leave his father-in-law and go back to Canaan [Genesis 31:1-3], he faced his brother Esau and four hundred armed men [Genesis 32:6].  And scheming as he always did, he placed his family into four different groups, with four different flocks, thus to meet Esau and to assuage his wrath; scheming, smart [Genesis 32:13-21]. 

But at the River Jabbok, he wrestled all night long with an Angel [Genesis 32:24-31].  He was stubborn, self-willed, determined.  And the Angel touched his thigh, and he was broken [Genesis 32:25].  And asked him, “What is your name?”

“It is Jacob.”

“No longer.  It will be Israel, the prince of God, yiś·rā·’êl, God’s prince” [Genesis 32:27-28]. 

And the next day when he met Esau, he was pitiful.  Esau had come to destroy him and his family.  But when he looked upon him, as he met him—broken, Esau burst into tears, and kissed him [Genesis 33:1-4], brokenness.

It is no different in the life of David.  “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” [Psalms 51:16-17], brokenness.

And could I choose yet one other?  The sainted apostle Paul:

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

For this I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

But He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee:  for My strength is made perfect in brokenness, in weakness.

Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  for when I am weak—and broken—then am I strong.

[2 Corinthians 12:7-10]

Brokenness.  Helplessness.

As long as in ourselves we are self-sufficient, we are defensive, retaliatory, proud, abusive, have need of nothing, as long as self is on the throne and we live in our own strength, Christ has no place in our hearts or in our lives.  But when we are broken, when I admit my faults and my failures, when I’m not adequate for the decision that is made or the providence that I face, when I empty myself, then Christ can be King of my life and take up these broken pieces and make them according to the infinite goodness of His own will.

He has to have a broken life if He is to be able to remake us.  “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17].  God has to do it.   But God Himself can’t do it unless I lay myself at His blessed feet.

I read this last week of two doctors, Dr. Paul Brand and Dr. Mary Vaughn.  Dr. Brand was the greatest world’s authority on leprosy, and they worked together in India.  And in one of those tragedies of tragedies, in a terrible automobile accident the woman Mary Vaughn was left helpless, paralyzed.   And in her despair, she was in a wheelchair, broken, helpless, paralyzed.

And Dr. Brand came to her and said, “Now I want to speak to you about your ministry as a doctor.”

And she replied, “How can I minister, be a physician, thus broken, helpless?”

And he said to her, “Your greatest ministry is this that lies before you.”

And here’s what happened.  The people in the clinic who were helping with those lepers noticed that under the love and guidance of this blessed physician, helpless in her wheelchair, that they somehow lost their helplessness and their despair.  And they found hope and help in her broken condition.   That’s God who can take our brokenness and make us an infinite blessing and encouragement.

I have time for one other thing.  As I am a shepherd and a pastor for these sixty-two years, I have learned it’s the brokennesses of life that prepare us for heaven.  As long as you are young, and vibrant, and viable, and alive, and strong, you don’t even think about heaven.   But when the providences of life break you, it’s the life that is yet to come, it is the promises of God in a better world, in a better body, in a better home that become increasingly dear and precious to your heart.  Brokenness prepares us for heaven.

When I came to Dallas, now forty-five years ago, there was a funeral that I was asked to conduct—didn’t know anyone in the city.  And at that time, there were many small funeral homes in Dallas, little, little funeral homes.  And when I went to this funeral home to conduct this service, I was astonished!  There in the little chapel—right to my left—there sat a woman in black widow’s tweeds, black, dressed in black; seated there by herself, crying and her husband in the casket before the podium.

As I sat down by her, her new pastor, I learned that every member of her family had died, everyone. Her father was dead.  Her mother was dead.  All of her brothers and sisters were dead.  Her children were dead.  And this was her husband and he had died.  And she sat there alone in this world, weeping.

As I conducted the service, I thought of that poem of America’s most beloved poet, James Whitcomb Riley, looking at her crying.

There! little girl; don’t cry!

They’ve broken your doll, I know;

And your tea-set, blue,

And your playhouse, 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]

Heaven holds all for which we sigh.  Our treasures are not here; they’re there.  Our home is not here; it is there.  And by and by our families and our friends are not here; they’re there.

You know a young pastor has so much to learn, so much.  I was seventeen when I began.  And I went to the home of one of the families, farm families, in my little country church, and knelt down and prayed by the side of an old saint of God who was sick unto death.  And as I knelt by his side, just a seventeen year old lad, the young pastor, I prayed, “Dear Lord, make him well.  Raise him up. Lay hands of strength and healing upon him.”  That’s what I prayed.

In the midst of my prayer, he reached forth his hand and put it on me and stopped me and said, “Young pastor, don’t pray that.  Don’t pray that.  Young pastor,” he said, “I want to go be with my Lord.  My family are all gone, my friends are all gone, and I am weak and feeble and sick.  Pastor, don’t pray that I’ll be well and strong.  I want to be in heaven with my Lord.  Pastor, pray that God will release me.”

So I prayed that the Lord would release him.  I have never forgotten that, after sixty-two years.  Brokenness.  Helplessness.  Age and infirmity, sickness, hurt, and pain, and sorrow, and suffering, and loneliness, brokenness; these just prepare us for heaven.  And heaven becomes nearer and sweeter and dearer as you live through this life of hurt, and sorrow, and loneliness, and tears.  That’s why Jesus came, that He might open for us the gate into glory [John 10:10].  Sweet people, there is nothing in this earth as dear and as precious as the hope we have in our wonderful Lord.  Bless His name forever.

Now we’re going to sing us a song of appeal.  And while we sing the song, if God has spoken to your heart, you come and stand by me.  “Pastor, I want to put my life in this dear church, and this is my family, all of us are coming today.”  Or just you, “I’m accepting the Lord as my Savior and openly, unashamedly, I am confessing my faith in Him” [Romans 10:9-10].  From the balcony round, from the throng on this lower floor, on the first note of the first stanza, “Pastor, here I stand.”  Welcome, while we sing our invitation hymn. “This is God’s time for me.”