O Jerusalem Jerusalem

O Jerusalem Jerusalem

hen with chick

In a span of three chapters – Matthew 21-23 – we encounter a fascinating collection of Jesus’s personality and character traits.  He first rides into Jerusalem like aristocracy on “Palm Sunday” (21:1-11).  Quickly transitioning from king to combatant, He then rushes the temple and takes no prisoners with his homemade whip (21:12-17).  The next morning, He curses at a fig tree which lacks fruit (21:18-22).  When interrogated with difficult questions, Jesus displays incredible wisdom and composure with His answers (21:23-27; 22:15-46), and, pretty much as always, He cannot resist playing the role of a teacher through the use of three parables (21:28-22:14).

When we arrive at Chapter 23, we then find an assortment of woes directed at the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus really lays into them, calling them hypocrites, blind fools, a brood of vipers, murderers, and children of hell!  One might walk away from such a scathing rebuke and think, “Man, oh, man, Jesus must really hate those Jewish leaders.”  However, upon reaching Matthew 23:37, the rollercoaster that is this Messianic portrait takes a dramatic turn:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Almost a millennium before these words, David’s son Absalom snatches the kingdom from his father’s hands.  Absalom steals the hearts of the men of Israel and takes his father’s house, throne, and even concubines for himself.  Meanwhile, David is reduced to a fugitive on the run, and he is the subject of stones and insults.  At the close of an ensuing battle, a Cushite delivers what he assumes to be good news to David – that Absalom has been killed.  Upon hearing the news, “(David) was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept.  And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!  Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son my son!’” (II Sam. 18:33).

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”

“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!”

Indeed, Jesus laments, mourns, and cries over the tragic condition of Jerusalem.  We, like the Cushite, might expect Jesus to rejoice at the inevitable desolation of the city.  After all, Jesus Himself proclaims, “It is the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”  Jesus uses present tense in this description, possibly as a way of expressing that for which this city is known.  One might say, “I love that movie theater.  That is the one with the really comfortable seats.”  Similarly, Jesus says, “Jerusalem – that is the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it.”

“And so,” we think to ourselves.  “Its tragic fate and depraved condition should be good news to Jesus.  People like that deserve three javelins straight through the heart.”  Instead, we surprisingly find Jesus in incomprehensible sorrow, like when a father loses his precious and beloved son.


On Tuesday, Isaac asks his son, “Hey buddy.  Would you like to play catch?”  The boy responds, “Nah.  Not today.”  Now, suppose Isaac says to himself, “Isaac, you sure have been a loving father.  You offered it to him, and he said NO.  Well done – you are a good Dad.”  Later that week, suppose Isaac’s son conversely asks his father to play catch, but Isaac tells him, “Well, you see, I would but I offered on Tuesday to play catch with you, and you said NO.  So, not today.”

Isaac’s solitary offer of quality time on Tuesday throws doubt on the magnitude of his love for his son.  However, suppose instead that, after being rejected on Tuesday, Isaac himself asks his son again on Wednesday.  If rejected again, Isaac offers another time on Thursday.  Maybe after the boy turns down the offer to play catch, Isaac asks him, “Well, let’s do something different together then.  Want to maybe play a game?”  In this way, Isaac’s love for his son begins to shine in the persistence of his desire to be with him.

Jesus continues, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  How often.”  Jesus’s love for Jerusalem radiates through these words.  He is persistent in His call to His people.  He may be said to be like a master who leases a vineyard to tenants.  The master sends a servant to get the fruit from the vineyard, but the tenants beat the servant.  The master then proceeds to send servant after servant to those tenants – one gets beaten, another killed, and another stoned.  These repeated efforts on the part of the Lord declare His patience and ultimately His love for His people, in an even grander way than Isaac from the story above.  “How often,” the Lord declares.


In The Song of Moses, the leader proclaims how God cares and keeps His people like an eagle spreading its wings (Deut. 32:10-11).  David likewise prays, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8).  Under the wings of the Lord, one finds ultimate protection and favor.  In Jesus’s cry, He declares that this is where He wants His people to be – under His wings.  However, He tragically concludes with these words: “And you were not willing!”  Jerusalem spurns Jesus’s relentless love, and this rejection results in the Lord’s grievous tears.

In conclusion, we then present this question to you: Are you willing?  Are you willing to believe that He still loves you, in spite of all that you have done?  And, even more, are you willing to receive His love for you?