Matthew 23 37-39: JESUS THE MOTHER HEN

(1) Introduction Read Mt23 37to39.

Jesus addresses Jerusalem - a city. However, what he says really applies to a people. When Jesus says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem," he is thinking of all the trend setters, opinion makers, political pundits, traditionalists, revolutionaries who lived in Jerusalem.

I am going to examine what the passage teaches about the Jewish people and to see if there are any parallels with the London scene - the English intelligentsia.

The Jews were:

(1) Privileged.

For many centuries Jerusalem had been truly blessed. Godly kings like David reigned there. The prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah, taught in its streets. The temple stood as the place of sacrifice where priests made offerings to atone for the people's sin. Devout souls, of whom Anna and Simeon were but two, frequented the temple courts.

The church in England along with the country itself, has also been greatly blessed by God. The majestic cathedrals, built so long ago, have survived as centres of Christian worship for hundreds of years. The reformation delivered the church from the stifling legalism of Roman Catholicism. Remarkable revivals have broken out periodically to regenerate the church. The Holy Spirit has fanned the smouldering embers of what was left of the church to a cheering blaze. In times of spiritual prosperity churches and chapels were full and fine preachers like C.H. Spurgeon occupied the pulpits of the land. England was spared the equivalent of the French Revolution and its attendant atheism. Nor has it been overwhelmed by communism or fascism.

(2) Proud.

Through the centuries the pride of the Jewish elite made them rebellious and resistant to God's truth. Jesus said that the Jewish leadership had a history of turning against God's spokesmen. They killed the prophets and stoned God's emissaries. It would not be long before Stephen's message was rejected and he was dragged out of the city to be stoned to death.

The trend setters of England are not especially grateful for all God has done for their country through the years. Our politicians voted for abortion and gay marriage and, sadly, many church goers agree with them! Quite a number on the liberal left show more concern for foxes than they do for the unborn child! The media is definitely anti-Christian. Broadcasters hardly ever mention the name, 'Jesus', - they seem embarrassed by it. Many scientists are unwilling to give God credit for creating the universe. They prefer to believe it started itself - a truly remarkable miracle! A lot of young people are actively opposed to Christianity. They dismiss it as a dangerous superstition or condemn it as unnecessarily restrictive.

(3) Pitied.

Jesus pitied the children of Jerusalem whom he likened to chicks. So who were these children? I suppose they could be called the common people. They were ordinary folk with some religious beliefs based on the Old Testament, unhappy with the legalism of the Pharisees but unwilling to submit unreservedly to Jesus. I expect they were content to accept that they were God's chosen people without setting out with any determination to please him.

So, why did Jesus pity them? Why did he want to protect them as a mother hen protected her chicks?

When danger threatens a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, puffs herself out and manoeuvres her young into a place of safety.

A chick has two main types of enemy both of which threaten death. First of all there are those of its own kind: hens frustrated and spiteful for lack of their own chicks and bad tempered, bullying roosters. Second there are the hungry predators: hawks, weasels, stoats and foxes.

The Jewish people were in grave danger from internal and external enemies. The internal enemies included:

Pharisees. Their legalism led to self-righteousness and contempt for the Gentiles

Sadducees. They were rationalists who denied the supernatural - consequently they were sceptical of Divine intervention.

Herodians. These were the collaborationist party who believed in keeping in with the Romans at the expense of national identity.

Zealots. These crazy freedom fighters antagonised the Romans by mounting terrorist attacks.

All these groups in their different ways threatened to destroy Jerusalem and the Jewish nation.

The external enemy the Jews faced was the Roman Empire. The Romans contributed a great deal to the peoples they conquered if they accepted the situation, but it didn't pay to antagonise them too often. The Romans had the military might to raise Jerusalem to the ground and to expel the Jews from the Promised Land.

The Christian church in today's England is threatened by the same kinds of enemies. First, the foes within the church:

Formalists. In this category are many church goers who follow the correct procedures; who go through the motions; who keep up appearances but lack the Holy Spirit's empowering.

Rationalists. These, are so called Christians who want to strip the Scriptures of the supernatural including the virgin birth, the resurrection and miracles of Jesus.

Collaborationists. In spite of the world being one of the great enemies of Christianity there are those in the church who want to adopt its values. The siren call goes out to get with it and adopt gay marriage and the transgender movement.

Fundamentalists. They are prepared to attack fiercely anyone whose interpretation of the Scriptures differs from their own. They are inclined to take all the Old Testament literally. So, they believe in a universal flood although the Genesis account suggests to a Geographer like myself that it was local in extent. No effort is made to reconcile the Genesis account of creation with science. The likelihood that the book of Job was not about real events but a story made up to explore the problem of suffering is treated with suspicion.

The strange thing is that fundamentalists do not take literally Jesus', 'Sermon on the Mount'. What Jesus said about turning the other cheek is usually totally ignored!

All the internal enemies mentioned above weaken the church and have contributed to its decline and death in many parts of England. However, there remains a greater enemy still - an external enemy of whom Paul writes in his epistle to the Ephesians: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the whole armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. Eph6v10and11.

Many an unwary chick has been gobbled up by the prowling lion - seeking whom he might devour! But thanks be to God, Jesus does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Jesus still yearns to protect us from our enemies.

(4) Perverse.

Jesus longs to gather men and women together as a hen gathers her chicks to:

  • Protect from danger.

  • Keep them safe.

  • Comfort them in distress.

  • Convey his love and meet with a response.

I often see a toddler with its mother in the supermarket where I shop. I long to pick the small child up to cuddle it - to show affection. However, if I so much as wave to the little one he hides behind his mother's leg. This was the sort of reaction that Jesus received.

Why might chicks refuse to take refuge with their mother? There are several possibilities:

  • They did not realise the danger they were in.

  • They were preoccupied with something else - a patch of grain that someone had spilled.

  • They wanted to be free. It was time to assert their independence. They were big chicks now!

  • It was all squashed up under mother hen's wing. They were all in a tangle. It was most uncomfortable - especially where brother Cheepy had his beak!

  • They had forgotten who mother was.

The Jews were very much like these foolish chicks. They didn't appreciate the extreme danger they were in. The scholars and Pharisees were preoccupied over trifles - fussing about keeping this regulation and that. Most of the Jewish elite longed for independence. They resented the Romans telling them what to do. The nationalists found it profoundly irksome rendering to Caesar what was Caesars. There was a dreadful failure on the part of most Jews to recognise Jesus for whom he was. They did not respond in love to his loving care. They hid behind the fact they were God's elect people.

Jesus still yearns to save men and women. He has his arms stretched out to the people of England. He doesn't cry from the depths of his being, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem," but "Joseph, Joseph," and "Beckie, Beckie." Tragically, men and women refuse Jesus for much the same reasons as a chick shuns the safety of its mother's wing:

(a) People don't face up to their peril. The fate of all those who refuse Jesus is death and destruction. I often repeat the words of Jesus to the congregation at a funeral service: "The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." Jn3v35. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this: How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation. Heb2v3.

(b) Men and women are distracted by all sorts of things - family, pleasures, work, responsibilities, sport - to such an extent that no time is made for Jesus.

(c) Christianity may be all right for children and old ladies but they have outgrown Bible stories, choruses and all that stuff.

(d) There is nothing very exciting about going to church. The pews are uncomfortable, the preaching tedious, the hymns banal and the congregation stuck in the past.

(e) There is a terrible suspicion of Christ's intent. So many fail to grasp just how much Jesus loves them. They are like the little lad hiding behind his mother's leg - wary of the strange old man, unresponsive to his yearning to show and receive a little love.

Jesus wants the best for us. The responsibility for refusing Jesus is ours. Jesus says of the Jews who refused the safety of his wing, "But you were not willing."

Jesus is willing to save. It is men and women who are not willing. May if NEVER be said of us that the Saviour was willing and we were not!

William Barclay wrote in his Commentary on Matthew: There is no handle on the outside of the door of the human heart; it must be opened from the inside; and sin, (the unforgiveable sin) is open-eyed, deliberate refusal of the appeal of God in Christ Jesus.

(5) Punished.

Jesus told the Jews: "Look your house is left desolate." v38.

The Jewish elite and most ordinary Jews rejected Jesus. John begins his gospel by telling us he came to his own and his own received him not. Isaiah prophesied: He was despised and and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Is53v3 On no occasion was this more evident than at the trial of Jesus. Pilate said, "Here is your king." The crowd shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!" Pilate was appalled. He responded: "Shall I crucify your king?" The chief priests to their everlasting shame cried out: "We have no king but Caesar."

The Jews did not see themselves as chicks in need of a mother hen to protect and preserve them. They did not value a submissive, humble, trusting spirit. Rather the Jews saw themselves as a special people in need of a warrior king to deliver them from the ungodly Romans. A superiority complex, a fierce nationalism, a hatred of Gentiles resulted in a revolt against the Romans in AD70 that left Jerusalem and the temple in ruins, over a million dead and survivors scattered far and wide.

Jesus told a parable, the Parable of the Tenants, to highlight the peril to the Jews of rejecting God's son. He concludes with these words: "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to people who will produce fruit." Mt22v43. The history of the Jews since the time of Christ's ministry has been an unmitigated disaster.

I fear for my own country which has largely rejected Jesus after being so blessed for so long. Barclay wrote: It is a fact of history - even in time - that the nation which rejects God is doomed to disaster. Japan is a case in point. In the 17th Century Christianity was all but eradicated in Japan as a result of exceptionally merciless persecution. There was a price to pay.

There are also lessons for individuals in the passage under consideration. I am indebted to the Pulpit Commentary on Matthew for the following points:

(a) God may provide many opportunities to a man or woman to reach out for Jesus. But a time comes when the opportunities are at an end. The day of Grace concludes as the day of Judgment dawns.

(b) Even the intense desire of Jesus to save may be frustrated. It is not sufficient to know he yearns to save us; we must want to be saved.

(c) Prolonged, obstinate, stupid resistance to the gospel will lead to ruin just as surely as Jewish intransigence led to the ruin of Jerusalem. Jesus can save from the worst sin; but none can be saved who wilfully reject him.

(6) Promised.

Jesus told the Jews: "For you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Jesus acknowledged by these words that a day will come when the Jews would once again shout, as they did when he went up to Jerusalem, "Hosannah to the son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD." Mt21v9. The many prophecies of future blessing, made throughout the Old Testament would finally be fulfilled. For example: Hos3v4: For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterwards the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.

Paul was well aware of these Scriptures and affirms in Romans: I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited. Israel has experienced hardening until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved as it is written: 'The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.' Rom11v25to27.

So Jesus ends his grim assessment of religious life in Israel with a shaft of light - a glimpse of future blessing before his return in glory.