Broken For Good
Nov 10, 2019 | Matthew Cork
Nick- To everyone on the outside was a good man, with good knowledge, with good morals, with a good education, with a good job as a Jewish Leader. He was looked up to, but he was not broken for good! What do I mean?
We live in a time when “boasting” has become not only accepted, but almost celebrated. Don’t believe me? Fire up Facebook and Instagram and look at the pictures and posts that are there. We celebrate the “I can do it all!” attitude, we post only the perfect shots, and even if we do talk about our frustrations, we do it in a “humblebrag” sort of way: “I’m not perfect, and look at how good I am at admitting I’m not perfect.” There is a pride that we see around us today, celebrating our ability to “make it” on our own.
But for as popular as this might be, it needs to be made clear: it is not the way of Jesus, and not the way to salvation. And the only type of people that God can use–indeed, the only type of people that God can save–are those who admit their need for a wholesale change. In other words, if we want to be apart of God’s Kingdom, we need to be “broken” of our self-righteousness.
That’s what a man by the name of Nicodemus found out. We aren’t told too much about Nicodemus; he sort of comes out of nowhere one night to have a conversation with Jesus (John 3:1). But what we are told about him is enough to find out just how admired and respected he would have been in the Jewish world of that day. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a member of the most strict Jewish sect of that day, devoting himself to the following of all 613 laws that the Pharisees believed God handed down to the people. But even among this very elitist group, Nicodemus had distinguished himself, he was a member of the “Jewish ruling council,” meaning the Sanhedrin–the highest Jewish authority of that day. Not only that, but he was also a noted teacher of the day, perhaps one of the most acclaimed in his day and age, as Jesus refers to him as “the teacher of Israel” (3:10 – literal translation).
In this way, Nicodemus has a lot in common with Paul, and probably could have said about himself what Paul had once said: “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:4b-6). No doubt Nicodemus would have thought himself as “faultless,” with much reason to brag. And his encounter with Jesus, therefore, was likely just to talk “shop”: one great teacher talking to another, exchanging ideas–a “meeting of the minds,” if you will.
But Jesus knew something about Nicodemus. Nicodemus had the same problem all other people had: a sinfulness that is inherent within (see John 2:24-25). And that’s why when Nicodemus came to Jesus, Jesus wanted to make it clear that no amount of self-righteousness, no amount of effort, no amount of pedigree, no amount of law-following, no amount of boasting–nothing at all–was going to save Nicodemus.
That’s what is behind this whole “born-again” metaphor that Jesus uses (John 3:7). As John Calvin observes, “By the word ‘born again’ [Jesus] means not the amendment of a part but the renewal of the whole nature. Hence it follows that there is nothing in us that is not defective.” Writes commentator Gary Burge, “When Jesus challenges NIcodemus that he must be ‘born again,’ he is making a fundamental statement about theological anthropology. That is, humanity is broken beyond all repair. God’s work in the world is not a question of fixing the part, but rebuilding the whole. It is described comprehensively as nothing short of another birth.” We need a wholesale change to be saved, Jesus says. But the good news it that God wants to give us that change–that is the reason He sent His Son in the world (John 3:16).
Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus serves as reminder to all of us. “Self-righteousness” is one of the most subtle sins that pervades our world. We are taught from a young age to work hard and to be proud of our accomplishments. Maybe in the area of academics, sports, etc., that’s a good lesson. But it’s insidious when it creeps into our faith, believing that God needs to accept us based on how “good” we are. If we want to be used by God, however–if we even want to be a part of God’s family in the first place–the first step is realizing that we have nothing to give and that we don’t deserve to be there. It’s only once we are “broken for good” of our own accomplishments that we become vessels of God to be used by him (John 3:8). Are we willing to admit our own inability? Can we sing with the hymn that we are “wretches” in need of saving? Can we admit our brokeness so that God can use us? Eternity and effectiveness in God’s Kingdom rides on how we answer those questions.