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Sermon Message


"But You Were Not Willing"

Matthew 23:37-39
Theme: The Lord's gracious rule and protective care will be withdrawn, when His people persist in rejecting it.

(Delivered Sunday, September 14, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

We come, this morning, to a very sacred and somber passage. It contains the last words the Lord Jesus spoke to the people of His beloved city Jerusalem—just before He died within its walls on a cross.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Lord's final journey to Jerusalem was one that involved a great deal of emotion. Perhaps if we took the time to consider some of the things that happened along the way, we could feel something of the burden of heart He must have felt.

Back in Matthew 16:21, for example, we're told that Jesus "began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day." And in Matthew 20:18-19—as they drew ever closer to the city—we're told that our Lord pulled His twelve disciples aside once again and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” He was aware of what would happen to Him there; and it was much on His mind.

Now, you might have thought from this that the primary emotion our Lord felt was over what it was that He was about to suffer. And we can be sure that He did feel great emotion about that. How could He not have recoiled from the gruesomeness of the cross? How could the thought of bearing the sins of mankind not have effected Him deeply? How could He not grieve over the fact that His holy Father would turn away from Him, as He bore the guilt of sin on our behalf?

But Jesus was not only the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. He was also the long-promised King of the Jews. And as we read on, we discover that the heart of our Lord was really breaking over the city of Jerusalem itself! Luke 19:41-44 tells us;

Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:41-44).

Perhaps we can appreciate some of the emotion He felt over His beloved city if we remember a parable He told not long before. He spoke to the religious leaders of the Jewish people and said;

"There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. (Matthew 21:33-45).

All of this was going on in our Lord's mind as He spoke the words of our text this morning—words we find at the end of Matthew 23. Though it doesn't tell us so, you can be sure that they were spoken with tears in His eyes and deep passion in His voice:

“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! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’" (Matthew 23:37-39).

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; these words were spoken by our Lord to a particular generation of the Jewish people. They were meant for a specific people, who lived at a specific time, and who were in a specific situation.

But there is an important spiritual principle in these words that would apply to all of God's people who have lived at all times since they were first spoken. They apply to us here today, living in our own time. In fact, it may even be that we are under an even greater obligation to heed this spiritual principle than those Jewish people were back then; because the Holy Spirit has set their example before us as something to be learned from—and we know so much more now than they did then.

There is a gracious offer from God, given to His covenant people through His Son Jesus Christ. It's the offer of His rule over our lives. Jesus extends His hand to us, and offers to be everything that we need—to be our Protector, our Provider, our Guide. His offer to us is different from the offer made to the people of those days; because for them it was on the basis of law, but for us it's on the basis of grace. But the spiritual principle is the same—that the Lord's offer of His gracious rule and protective care will be withdrawn, when His people persistently refuse it and reject it.

And when that happens, how sad that is to Him!—and how tragic for us!

* * * * * * * * * *

Look again with me at the love our Lord expressed toward His people in just the first few words of our passage. He mourned over the city; saying "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . ."

Whenever I read that, I think of the times in Scripture when our Lord spoke people's names twice. I think of the time when Peter was boastful and self-assured in his expressed devotion to the Jesus. Peter thought that he'd never deny the Lord. But the Lord knew the truth. He said to him, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32).

Or I think of the time when His beloved friend Martha was frustrated with her sister Mary. Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus—listening to Him teach; while Martha was distracted with chores and with the preparation of food. She wanted Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help; but Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).

I also think about the time when the resurrected Lord Jesus called Saul of Tarsus to Himself. Saul was on his way to arrest Christians and drag them off to prison. But on the way, the Lord met Him. A bright light from heaven shone all around Saul, causing him to fall to the ground. And the Lord said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).

These were people who were not in the place that the Lord wanted them to be. And yet, there's deep compassion and love expressed in the fact that He called them by name—not just once, but twice. His holy heart yearned for them—in much the same way as King David's heart yearned for his rebellious son when he cried out, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 19:4).

And think about it. Does the Lord Jesus ever look upon you and me with deep longing in His heart—as we rebelliously and blindly go our own way? Does He yearn after us as we foolishly reject the good things that He offers to us, and as we turn to every other useless and fruitless expediency in life than to the one Person we most need to turn to? Does He ever compassionately cry out our name—twice?

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Lord's heart yearned for the people of Jerusalem as He stood in its midst and said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . ." It was the day of His great offer to them of the things that made for their peace. But they were rejecting Him!

And consider with me . . .


He said, "How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings . . ." (v. 37).

Now; I didn't grow up around farm animals. I grew up an urban boy. For years, I thought chickens only came cooked and already in a bucket. And so, when I wanted to understand why Jesus said this, I had to ask someone who grew up around chickens.

I'm told that a hen will protect anything she hatches. If you slip a duckling egg under her and she broods over it, she'll protect the ducking when it hatches as if it were her own. And I'm told that, whenever a hen senses danger, she makes a clucking noise; and that's the signal for her brood to gather to her. Once they've gathered to her, she puffs herself up and covers the chicks with her wings.

Now; why does she do this? Part of it is because those are her chicks; and she's committed to care for them. If another chick comes along that she didn't hatch, she doesn't cover it with her wings. She only gathers her own brood under her wings. And another reason she does this is to protect them. If anything should threaten them, she bears the threat and keeps them from harm.

So; the Lord Jesus—the Mighty One of Jacob—was telling His people that, all along, it had been His great desire to gather the children of Israel together as His own precious brood; to care for them, and to protect them, and to be everything to them that they need. He says that this had been His desire many times—"How often", He said, "I wanted to gather your children together . . ." He had wanted their experience of Him to be the same as what had been described in Psalm 91:1-6;

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday (Psalm 91:1-6).

And by the way, dear brother or sister; that's what Jesus wants to be to you and me today. He wants to be everything to us that we need. And He can be! As the Bible tells us, He offers to be:

our Advocate to rely on as sinners before a holy God (1 John 2:1-2);

our Armor to wear while in an evil world (Rom. 13:12-14);

our Completeness to rest in for all the fullness of God (Col. 2:9-10);

our Cornerstone to build on for assurance of salvation (1 Pet. 2:6);

our Deliverer to turn to in order to be set free from sin (John 8:36);

our Door to go through as sheep in God’s flock (John 10:9);

our Example to follow as a pattern for serving others (John 13:15);

our Food to eat for eternal nourishment of the soul (John 6:51);

our Foundation to build on for a life that pleases God (1 Cor. 3:11);

our Fountain to drink from for eternal satisfaction (John 4:13-14);

our Head to be attached to as a member of the Body (Col. 1:18);

our Hope to trust in for salvation before God (1 Tim. 1:1);

our Horn to be defended by in preserving salvation (Luke 1:68-69);

our Life to hope in for heavenly glory (Col. 3:1-4);

our Light to look to in spiritual darkness (John 12:46);

our Name to appeal to when asking anything of God (John 15:16);

our Peace to rest in for reconciliation with God (Eph. 2:11-17);

our Passover Lamb to feast on as the sacrifice for sin (1 Cor. 5:7-8);

our Propitiation to trust for satisfaction of God’s wrath (1 John 4:10);

our Refreshment to rest in when weary and burdened (Matt. 11:28-30);

our Resource to depend on for the supply of every need (Phil. 4:19);

our Resurrection to hope in for life beyond the grave (John 11:25-26);

our Righteousness to lay claim to for favor in God’s sight (Jer. 23:6);

our Strength to trust in for doing all things (Phil. 4:13);

our Temple to worship God in throughout eternity (Rev. 21:22);

our Treasure to lay hold of for all wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3);

our Way to follow for eternal life with God (John 14:6); and

our Vine to grow from for real, lasting fruitfulness (John 15:5).

As the psalmist prayed in Psalm 73:25-26; "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." That's what the Lord would have us pray.

* * * * * * * * * *

And that's what He wanted to do for the people of Jerusalem long ago. But that brings us, next, to . . .


He said, "How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (v. 37). He was willing; but they were not.

Look at how they demonstrated their unwillingness. He called Jerusalem "the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her". He had sent the help through those who spoke His word to them. But they didn't want what He had to say. They rejected the ambassadors of the King. As He had said, just a few verses earlier,

"Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:34-36).

And it wasn't just that they didn't want what He had to say to them. They didn't want Him! They wanted something else instead. It wouldn't be too long afterwards that Pilate would offer to release Him; only to hear them shout that they wanted the murderer Barabbas instead (Matthew 27:21). It wouldn't be too long that Pilate would stand Him before the crowds and say, "Shall I crucify your King?"; only to hear the chief priests—in words almost too horrible to repeat!—answer, "We have no king but Caesar!" (John 19:15).

And once again; just think, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how it must break our Lord's heart when we don't turn to Him in our times of greatest need because we don't like what He may make us do! How it must grieve Him when we run around banging our heads against this wall and that—trying to find some solution to the needs of our life other than Him!

* * * * * * * * * *

As I suggested earlier, the example of the Jewish people teaches us that, when the Lord keeps offering Himself to us as the rightful King of our lives—and when we keep showing Him that we don't want the gracious guidance and protection that His lordship would provide—then a time comes when He pulls His hand away and allows us to suffer the consequences of our choice.

The Lord Jesus offered to gather the Jewish people together under His wing. It was what He truly wished to do for them. But they didn't want it from Him. And so, finally, we see . . .


He says, "See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!" (vv. 38-39).

"House", as it's found here, may mean the temple. After all, the next thing we find in Matthew's Gospel is the disciples admiring the buildings of the temple—and Jesus then shocking them by telling them that "not one stone will be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2). Others have said that it refers to the nation itself. In other places in this Gospel, Jesus refers to the people as "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6; 15:24). Personally, I believe we're meant to understand that He is speaking of both the nation of people and the temple. The temple was the prized possession of the city of Jerusalem—and remove the temple, and the nation would lose its most distinguishing landmark.

And, in fact, that's exactly what happened. Some forty years later, the temple—and the city itself—were leveled by the Roman general Titus. The people of Israel lost their temple, their chief city, and their status as a nation. They didn't want the King; and so they lost the kingdom. And as Jesus said, "See! Your house is left to you desolate . . ."

* * * * * * * * *

Now; I hasten to add my conviction that their loss is not permanent. God has not revoked His promises to Israel (Romans 11:29). He still loves Israel, and it is still in His plan that "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26). And I believe we can see a hint of this in Jesus' words. He quotes Psalm 118:26; saying, "I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'" (v. 39).

There's a "till" in God's plan. The people of Jerusalem had already said these words about Jesus as He first rode into the city (Matthew 21:9); but because they were about to crucify Him, that wasn't the fulfillment of those words. It could only be a hint of their fulfillment, because they were about to reject Him and crucify Him. But there is still a great "till" that is told us in Zechariah 12:10; where God says,

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn" (Zech. 12:10).

But in all of this, let's not miss the greater lesson of this passage. The people of Jerusalem suffered the loss of the good things that they could have received from their King—His protective care and love—because they would not receive it. I dare to say that this is why the Jewish people—the most remarkable people group on the face of the earth—has suffered more than any other people group in history. They didn't want to get under the protective wing of their King—and so, He removed His care and let them have what they wanted.

* * * * * * * * *

I praise God that, one glorious day—as the Bible promises—they will receive Him! And as Paul says, what will that be for this world "but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15).

But what about you and me today, dear brothers and sisters? Will we allow Jesus Christ to completely rule over our life as King or not? Will we renounce all the false things we trust in, and turn to Him for our every need? Will we quit rejecting His help, and instead allow Him to be our Protector and Provider? Will we humble ourselves and come under His wing?

If we wont, then we need to know that the day comes when He removes His protective hand; and allows us to suffer the consequences. As Jeremiah 13:15-17 says;

Hear and give ear:
Do not be proud,
For the LORD has spoken.
Give glory to the LORD your God
Before He causes darkness,
And before your feet stumble
On the dark mountains,
And while you are looking for light,
He turns it into the shadow of death
And makes it dense darkness.
But if you will not hear it,
My soul will weep in secret for your pride;
My eyes will weep bitterly
And run down with tears,
Because the LORD’s flock has been taken captive (Jeremiah 13:15-17).

May it not be said of us that He was willing—and we were not!

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