“Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:44)
Wholeness can only be achieved through brokenness. It is almost an oxymoronic concept. Yet, this is what Jesus was getting at while speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 21. They had questioned the legitimacy of his authority. He warned them through two parables and by quoting Psalm 118:22-23: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” If they did not allow themselves to be broken by him, they would instead be crushed by him.
Like so many, they wanted to be rulers of their own lives; doing as they pleased. They refused to humble themselves or to be humbled. Do you know anyone like that? It is a dangerous attitude because one day all will acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but only those who were willing to do it voluntarily in this life will be made whole. For the rest, they will be crushed by the Living Stone (I Peter 2:4-8) I have known people whose hearts are so hardened that nothing moves them to humility—not the death of a loved one, nor a life-threatening illness, not even the prospect of death itself. One such man was Gene. I met him in a nursing home where I took students to visit the elderly. He was a bitter man and smoked like a chimney, even when he required oxygen to breathe. I never learned his whole story, but I knew he was divorced and estranged from his children. He liked me and seems to enjoy our weekly visits, but he thought my “religion” was a joke and told me so. He held onto his bitterness like Gollum held onto the ring in The Hobbit.
After Gene died, I went to his funeral visitation. There was no one there and no one had signed the guest register. It was he and I one last time. Only the Lord knows if at some point in his final days and hours if he ever fell humbly on the Living Stone or was crushed by it.
We as humans are not broken easily, but broken we must become to find wholeness. To put it another way, we must come to the end of ourselves and cry out to the Savior for help. We must admit to the futility of our own efforts, to the stupidity of trying to live life on our own terms instead of the Lord’s, to the fact that regardless of our endless attempts, we will always fall short. We must finally acknowledge our desperate need for him. It is only then that we can find our way to wholeness of soul and mind. Broken, but not crushed.
In my lifelong work among college students, I have seen many who insist on doing life the way they want, even those who claim to follow Jesus. They follow him in a way that is comfortable, in a way that demands little from them. They were taught that. Say a prayer and your ticket to heaven is punched. Little more is required, except perhaps going to church and trying to be a good person.
The Pharisees taught similarly. Follow the established rules and you’re good. But Jesus wanted and wants more. It is submission and allegiance he desires because he is not only Savior; he is Lord as well. Unlike most of their colleagues, Nicodemus and Paul came around to understanding and accepting this. Both were willing to be broken in order not to be crushed. Likewise, I have seen students fall on the Lord in brokenness, admitting that their long-held claims of following Jesus were false, and rising up as true disciples.
Toward the end of World War II, the tide was turning in favor of the Allies; yet the Japanese were a proud people and would not surrender. It was at that point, President Harry Truman decided against risking a land invasion. Instead, he opted for dropping two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese were crushed and within days surrendered. If only they had let go of their pride.
Because God loves us so much, he does not want to crush us. What he wants instead is for us to be in relationship with him. But that comes only through the breaking of our pride to the point of surrender. The longer our pride stands in the way, the more we risk being crushed instead of broken. The “life to the full” that is promised to those who follow Jesus comes not from our efforts to obtain it, but rather from our complete surrender to the one who desires to give it to us.
© Jim Musser 2019 All Scripture references are from the New International Version.