“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Matthew 23:37 NKJV
The warnings to the scribes and the Pharisees and the disciples are over, and the woes are completed, and now the Son of God yearns over the ancient city with great intensity, and then He offers a solemn sentence of abandonment, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate.” And concludes with the fact that Israel shall suffer discipline for an indeterminate period of time until they shall say; “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
Now that is the principal burden of this passage of Matthew. The lamentation in the first verse is, of course the thing that strikes us most clearly as you read these verses.
Now I think there is one thing that appears immediately, and we ought not to forget it. I don’t think that we should ever forget it – particularly if we are teachers of the Word of God, or if we are simply witnessing to our neighbor. There is no vindictiveness in this prophecy of doom. Yet on the other hand, Jesus unflinchingly pronounces it. He does not hesitate to say, behold your temple is left unto you desolate, but at the same time there is no vindictive spirit about Him.
I think you can sense the tenderness of a broken heart in the words of Jesus. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the very repetition of these words points to the deep emotions of a King who yearns wistfully. It almost seems as if He is still hoping to win them from the apostasy to which they have committed themselves.
Notice how Jerusalem is described? “Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you.” Of all the descriptions that you might expect of the most religious city on the face of the earth, this would seem to be the least likely. Jerusalem, the city of peace – that’s the most likely derivation of the name Jerusalem, the city of peace – ---the present participles, kills the prophets, stones them, suggest that this is a constant characteristic of the religious city of the earth.
Amazing isn’t it? Not so amazing when we remember that Jesus said it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside Jerusalem. It is in the religious city……it’s the religious place that you are most likely to find the crucifixion of the truth of God.
This final warning of Jesus to the Jewish people is directed primarily at the leadership. In Matthew 23 there are seven woes in which Jesus detailed how the leadership was false in their preaching, false in their practice and false in their security. Since they had deceived themselves in what they believed and in what they did, they were able to convince themselves that their standing before God was not all that bad……self righteous. In the final condemnation in verses 29-36 Jesus mocks their self-assured attitude.
As great as God’s grace so great is our obstinacy: “I would... but you would not.” If this is Jesus’ desire, then what is the problem? Their wills were diametrically opposed to the desire of Jesus; they did not like the terms of Jesus gathering them; it was too demeaning, they loved their sins, they trusted in their own righteousness; they refused to submit to the grace of Christ and His laws.
If anyone ever wants to believe that free will is sufficient on its own to turn to God, that God votes for us and we must cast the final then this passage will set us straight. The human will, apart from God, does not desire God. We have only ourselves to blame.
What a horribly sad picture: Jesus desires the city to come to Him that people find protection in His care, but they refuse to do so…… they will not. Here is the frightening picture of the person who feels the touch of God, but flinches and runs, who hears the words, but covers the ears, who sees His mercy, but shuts his eyes.
The free will of man moves against the love of God in spite of the most merciful appeals: “I would... but you would not.”
There is misery without Christ. For those who are not gathered by His mercy, the only other option is His wrath. But that wrath is first demonstrated in His absence which leaves the city, the temple and their lives desolate. The temple was often referred to as the House and as we see in Matt. 24:1, Jesus leaves the temple for the last time, never to return. It is not even called God’s house, but “your" house. While the activity of the temple continues for another forty years, it is empty, for God’s presence is gone.
But that same warning should be remembered by us as well. Whenever a house of God does not center itself on Jesus, they too are desolate places. Christ’s absence makes the best-furnished sanctuary a wilderness. Though it is filled with would-be worshippers, half truths and brightly decorated, it is dark and lonely.
There is hope in a final offer of grace. Jesus’ warning does not end with the promise of desolation. His final words to Jerusalem are a warning tinged with hope. There is a promise as well as a curse. “You will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
Jesus desires to gather those that are His. Not just once, but again and again it has been Jesus’ desire to bring together His people. "How often..."
The process of gathering did not occur just once or on rare occasion; rather every time God’s Word is present the Holy Spirit is wooing us so that we would respond to Him.
God’s arms are opened wide for you every time you hear the Word read and preached. Don’t ever allow your hearts to become so hard that you refuse to hear it and refuse to respond.