If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter 23. You will remember that this chapter breaks into three parts. In the first twelve verses, the Lord Jesus diagnoses the spiritual problem of the Scribes and the Pharisees. He says they are guilty of religious hypocrisy. And then in verses 13 through 36 he proceeds to engage in a scathing denunciation, a withering rebuke of their hypocrisy, a hypocrisy which much of Israel has fallen into. Then the chapter concludes in verses 37 through 39. The passage we’re going to study today with the Lord Jesus own grief-stricken groaning over Israel, as He expresses His heart for those who have turned their hearts against Him. We need to remember that this is Christ’s final public address. The rest of Matthew will be taken up with the passion itself, and private instruction of His disciples both before and after the crucifixion. William Hendrickson says, “It is fitting that Christ’s public ministry closes with a lament in which are revealed both His solemn tenderness and the severity of divine judgment on all who answered that kind of marvelous compassion with contempt. So let’s turn to Matthew 23, verses 37 and following. Hear God’s Holy word.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chick under her wing, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate. For I say to you from now on you shall not see Me until you say ‘Blest is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Thus ends this reading of God’s Holy and inspired Word. May He write His eternal truth upon our hearts. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, this is Your Word, and we ask that by the Spirit You would touch our hearts with its truth, that we might respond to it, that we might embrace it, that we may hear it’s warning and respond to its hope and promises in faith. We ask oh, Lord, that You would make us uncomfortable if we are comfortable in our sins, and that You would comfort us with the peace which passes understanding as we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in now. Cause Your word, we pray, oh Lord, to be effectual to the salvation and the edification of many. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Here is a picture of your God never to forget. The Lord Jesus stands in the temple precinct. He has, in no uncertain terms, just condemned the religious leaders of His people. The most highly respected religious leaders of the land, He has denounced as hypocrites, and with those denunciations still ringing in the ears of the crowd, He begins to openly express His heart, His broken heart, for the very people He has just condemned. His heart is breaking for those hypocrites and for the crowds around him who in a matter of hours will be crying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” His heart is breaking for those whom He has labeled hypocrites and those who will soon put Him to death.
We see here a picture of the heart of God. He does not delight in the destruction of sinners. But He delights when they turn from their sin and flee to Him for grace. In this great passage we see three very explicit testimonies to Jesus’ deities, to the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we also see three very powerful warnings to those who have not repented of their sins. In verse 37 we see a warning about unbelief, a warning about those who reject the overtures of Christ. In verse 38 we see a warning about the immediate judgment that God is going to visit upon those who do not believe. And in verse 39 we see a warning about the final judgment. And I’d like to look at these three verses very briefly with you this morning.
I. A warning against unbelief.
First of all I’d like you to look at verse 37. It’s very interesting. When we see Jesus’ word in verse 37, we see that God’s people have rejected God’s overtures of grace. It has not been that God has not been gracious to the people of Israel. He has been gracious. He has been faithful in sending them messengers to teach them the way of salvation, but they have rejected those messengers. And Jesus laments this in these words. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”
It’s very interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus says that He is the one who has been intriguing Israel to be gathered to God. But He also makes it clear in this passage that many who profess to be God’s people reject His love. Many who are a part of the assembly of God’s people, who call themselves by the name of God, and by the name of His people, actually reject His love. And this is the irony of what Jesus is saying in this passage. After this stinging condemnation of the Scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus now pours out His grief over Israel’s spiritual hard-heartedness. He speaks to Jerusalem, not excluding the rest of Israel, but speaking of Jerusalem as the very heart and center of that nation, speaking of Jerusalem as the symbol of the spirit and attitude of all God’s people in Israel at that time. And He repeats the name, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, and that indicates the intensity of His emotion.
You will remember back in Luke, chapter 10 in a time in which Martha had chosen mundane things over fellowship with her God. Jesus turns to Martha with great passion, and says, “Martha, Martha.” And you’ll remember there was time when Peter was tempted by Satan to reject the essence of Jesus’ gospel sacrifice. And Jesus turns to Peter and He says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to sift you like wheat. And you’ll remember David. His heart breaking over the news of the death of His Son, saying “Absalom, Absalom, my son. Would that it was I that had died.”
When you see the name repeated, you see a token of pathos and intensity and emotion. And so as the Lord Jesus looks upon Jerusalem, he says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Calvin says, “The pathos in Christ’s voice was raised up at the Christ was raised up at Israel rejecting her redeemer. He goes on to say, “It is a wonderful and incomparable proof of His love that He did not mind using endearment to win rebels to His service.” They were rejecting Him, but He was bearing His heart as He spoke in these words. And then He uses that glorious picture of the hen gathering in her chicks. This is an Old Testament image. You know that very often from Exodus to the Psalms, God is depicted in the pictures of the Old Testament as sheltering His people under His wings. He speaks of bearing His people up on eagle’s wings in Exodus 19. And in the Psalms and many places, He talks about sheltering His people under the wings of the most high. It’s a picture of His love for His people, His protection of His people against their enemies, and against providential judgment. And here Jesus is saying, “I have longed to protect you from danger. I have longed to protect you from judgment. Even the judgment of God, even like a hen gathers her chicks.
The picture is earthy, isn’t it? It takes us right into a farmyard and perhaps there’s a chicken hawk circling above the farm, and the hen notices it and immediately she gathers her chicks under her wings to protect them so that this hawk doesn’t swoop them down and take them away and him them a feast. Or perhaps the image is the image of a storm. A storm is approaching, a storm is cropping and the chicks are frightened, and they are in danger. And the hen again sensing this danger gathers her chicks under her wings to shelter them and protect them. And the Lord Jesus says, “That is precisely what I’ve wanted to do for you, Jerusalem. That’s precisely what I’ve wanted to do for you, Israel. I’ve wanted to protect you, I’ve wanted to spare you from the judgment of God.” And then there are those wringing words at the end of verse 37. “You were unwilling.”
Now you know these words are not just for people who lived on earth 2,000 years ago. These words are for us. And so immediately we have to ask ourselves today, have we truly responded to God’s gracious overtures of love, or have we, so like so many in Jesus’ times, though we have heard the voice of our Savior in the read and preached word of Scripture, have we, too, rejected His overtures of grace?
By the way, Jesus makes here an unmistakable claim to His deity, doesn’t he? He says that He is the one who is always seeking to gather and to protect God’s people in all ages. He is the one who is sending the prophet. C.S. Lewis put it this way. On one occasion this man is sitting down looking on Jerusalem from a hill above it, and suddenly comes this extraordinary remark. “I keep on sending you prophets and wise men. Nobody comments on it.” And yet quite suddenly almost accidentally He is claiming to be the power that through all the centuries is sending wise men and leaders into the world. You see what the Lord Jesus is saying. “I am the God who has been sending you prophets with the word of grace to draw you into living and eternal fellowship with God. I am the power behind those overtures.”
But we note also that not only this clear testimony to Jesus’ deity, we also note the very clear warning. Jesus is the one who sends the prophet, but it is very possible that many will reject their overtures of love, many who even profess to be part of the people of God. But it’s very clear from this passage that those who are lost are lost through their own fault and their own choice. If a person is saved, it is wholly of God. If a person is lost, it is wholly of his own doing. Listen to what J.C. Ryle says: “Let us understand that the ruin of those who are lost is not because Christ was not wiling to save them, nor yet because they wanted to be saved, but could not. But because they would not come to Christ.”
This passage makes it very clear, Christ is far more willing to save than we are to be saved. Matthew Henry puts it this way: “It is wholly owing to the wicked wills of sinners that they are not gathered under the wings of the Lord Jesus.
On the judgment day when men and women stand to rebuke God, how can you condemn me. The word will come. You were unwilling. You have foregone Me in this life, you now forego Me in eternity.” The Lord Jesus Christ is ready and willing and longing to gather sinners under His wings. But we will not have it. Such is the perversity of our hearts. Such is the warning of this passage.
II. A warning of judgment to come.
Then we look in verse 38, we not only see that the danger that many who profess the name of God and profess to be the Lord’s people reject His love, but we also see that those who reject Him choose desolation. Look at verse 38. “Behold your house is being left to you desolate.” Those who forego Christ, forsake abundance, and choose desolation. I know that seems crazy. Who would forsake abundance and choose desolation? Yet the Lord Jesus Christ says, “Those who forego Me, those who bypass Me, those who are apathetic about Me, those who reject me, those who reject My gospel My gospel, they forego abundance, and they choose desolation.” Jesus in this passage makes it clear that His departure means the loss of God’s presence. When He says your house is being left to you desolate, surely He is speaking of that destruction which would soon become against Israel and against Jerusalem by the Romans. He is saying that this is part of God’s covenantal, providential judgment against His people. And He proclaims that the razing of the temple, and the ruin of the whole people was part of God’s judgment, His desolation of Israel. But primarily, the desolation about which Jesus is speaking is the loss of His presence, His absence by unbelief to His people. You remember that it was the presence of God in the temple that made the temple a place to serve as a place of intercession, as a place of mediation, as a place of devotion. But without God’s presence, those instruments are nothing. So Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, was to prove a unique turning point in her history. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and ascension were the very stuff of salvation for all those who believed in Him. But, the very same thing, His crucifixion, His resurrection, and His ascension, were condemnation and isolation to those who did not believe in Him. His crucifixion was their condemnation. His resurrection was their condemnation. His ascension meant His physical nonpresence with them. And if they had a not a saving spiritual faith with Him, they had not the blessings of His presence. And so the Lord Jesus Christ is saying, “You reject Me and your house will be desolate.
And again, we have to ask us the question today, is our house desolate? Does Christ dwell in our hearts by faith? Does He dwell in Your heart by faith? Are you being filled up, as Paul says, to all the fullness of God by His indwelling. Or have you rejected Him, are you apathetic about Him, is there something that you love greater than Him, or have you not trusted in Him trusted in Him alone for your salvation?
Matthew Henry says, “Christ’s departure makes the best furnished, best replenished place a wilderness, though it be the very temple of God. For what comfort can there be where Christ is not? And though there may be a crowd of other contentments, yet if Christ’s spiritual, special presence can be withdrawn, that soul, that place has become a wilderness and a darkness, as of darkness itself. And that’s why Rutherford could say, “If Christ’s love is not in heaven, then I want to go where it is, because heaven would not be heaven if Christ’s love were not there.” And so Christ threatens and warns of the desolation which results from those who forsake Him in verse 38.
III. Christ returns on clouds of glory.
And then in verse 39 He tells us of His future coming on God’s clouds of glory, and He reminds us that everyone will bow the knee to Christ one way or another. Everyone will bow the knee one way or another. When I was a young boy, my father often repeated this phrase to me. “Son, do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?” In a much more profound sense the Lord Jesus Christ is saying, “Do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?” When I come every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, willingly or unwillingly. You will either embrace Me as your Savior by grace through faith, or my angels will force you down to your knees to confess that I am the one, the only, the only salvation under heaven and under earth. Jesus is saying to those who are gathered around Him, after this week of passion, you will never see Me again publicly proclaiming the gospel of salvation as the Messiah of Israel until you see me coming on clouds of glory and everyone in heaven and earth professes that I am indeed blessed, and I am the one, and I am the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
But don’t forget, this is the last public message, the final sermon of the Lord Jesus Christ to the people of Israel. And in His last words He reminds them that now, today is the day of salvation. There is no tomorrow. Never again will their ears hear His blessed voice saying the words of salvation.
And that urgency is with us today, isn’t it? Have we put off closing with Christ? Do we realize that today is the day of salvation. Have we thought in our hearts well I’ll wait until next week to deal with these spiritual issues. There may be no next week. There may be no tomorrow. Today is the day of salvation. Calvin said, “A dreadful vengeance awaits us as often as the teaching of His gospel is put before us, unless we quietly hide ourselves under His wings, in which He is ready to take us up and shelter us. By God’s grace, may we all seek the shelter of His wings by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, we ask the spiritual wisdom by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to fly to Christ and to His cross, and so to find in Him Himself and all His benefits. To the saving of our souls and the comforting of our spirit, we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.