The Lament of the King – Matthew 23:37-39

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Faith Bible Church, NY

December 18, 1994

The Lament of the King

Matthew 23:37-39


For a couple of months we have been examining the events that took place during the last few days before Jesus was crucified. After the initial excitement that came with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His cleansing of the temple the following day, there has been a continual effort on the part of the religious leaders to discredit Him as the first step in their effort to destroy Him. Their efforts failed, and instead they were the ones that were discredited for their wicked hearts and limited understanding of the Scriptures were displayed before all the people. For the last two weeks we have examined Jesus’ offensive against them  (See: Traits of False Spiritual Leaders),  (See: Woe to Spiritual Hypocrites). No longer did Jesus simply respond to their questions, Jesus brought His charges directly against them and in so doing gave us a good description of the character of false religious leaders.

It is important for us to note those characteristics and be very careful about those today who claim to be teachers of God, prophets speaking for God, or spiritual leaders showing the way to God. If a person’s life is marked by any of these characteristics, then we need to be wary for they may be false regardless of what else they claim. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:1 to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The test is twofold. The first is theological: are they proclaiming the truth as revealed by God in the Bible, or is it their own thoughts and imagination? The second test is one of character: do they live according to God’s Word?

Jesus described the scribes and Pharisees as those who claimed authority for themselves, but made hypocritical demands of their followers while being unloving and uncaring for their needs. They did their acts of righteousness to impress other men, not please God because they were proud and arrogant. Jesus pronounced woes upon them because they were hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides, serpents and a brood of vipers. They claimed to be something they were not. They claimed to show the way to heaven, but in fact closed the gate in the face of those that wanted to go there. They claimed to be considerate and compassionate of the helpless while they robbed them of their incomes and homes. They were missions minded, but their mission made men twice as self righteous as they were, and twice as much sons of hell. They made elaborate promises to demonstrate how godly they were, but they were liars and their word could not be trusted. They claimed to be the great keepers of the law because of their diligence to minutiae such as tithing herbs, but they failed in keeping they most important points of the law – justice, mercy & faithfulness. They were careful to keep up a flawless outward appearance of being righteous while inwardly they were robbers and self-indulgent. They claimed to be better than their fathers who had killed the prophets of old, but they were the same for they were plotting to kill Jesus Himself.

Be careful of false religious leaders. They are all around us. Be discerning of whose teaching you will allow yourself to sit under, and if they are characterized by any of these qualities mentioned, then flee them!

This morning we are going to look at the last part of this sermon that Jesus delivered against the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. It is Jesus’ lament over their hard-heartedness. In it Jesus reveals His own grief that they will not listen to His warnings which is why judgement has been brought against them, yet there is a message of hope as well. Turn with me to Matthew 23:37

“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 chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'”

The first sentence is the King’s lament. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” “Jerusalem” is repeated twice with a strong sense of mourning and sorrow. The repetition intensifies the emotion of what is being said.

Jesus is grieved over what has become of Jerusalem. Jerusalem means, “city of peace.” It was the capital of Israel, and its people were God’s people. It was the location of the Temple where all the nations were to come to worship the Lord. But instead it was a city of violence against God’s prophets and the people that truly followed. Him.

The two verbs here, “kills”(the prophets) and “stones” (those who are sent to her), are both active. The violence was not just in the past. It was currently going on, and as Jesus had already told them in verse 34, He was going to send more prophets, wise men and scribes whom they would kill, crucify, scourge and persecute.

But the lament is not over just the city of Jerusalem itself, for is representative of the whole nation. As the capital, Jerusalem was the center of all that occurred in Israel and representative of the spirit and attitude of the people as a whole. In Revelation 11:8 it is called, “The great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt”, with Sodom representing moral perversion, and Egypt representing pagan religion. The city of God had become the city of Satan. Jesus’ lament was intense. This was contrary to God’s desire for the city, the nation and the people.


The king’s desire is seen in the next sentence of verse 37. How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. The simile here is that of a hen protecting her chicks from some danger that has come against them, whether it be a hawk that was circling above that wanted to swoop down and devour one of those chicks, or a storm that was fast approaching that might sweep one of the chicks away. A hen will call out to her chicks by clucking loudly. They would in turn come to her and gather under the protection of her outstretched wings. She would lead them into a place of safety.

Jesus has given stern warning to both the people and their leaders of the dangers that face them. There are those about who do the work of Satan and would like to devour them as hawk would a chicken. There is a storm coming. A storm of God’s wrath against unrighteousness, and the only shelter from that is in Jesus Christ. God does not take pleasure in bringing His wrath on people. We are told directly in 2 Peter 3:9 that God’s moral will, His desire, is that none would perish but that all would come to repentance. The desire of the king, Jesus, is to provide protection, comfort, safety to all that will answer His call. David understood this about God and wrote in Psalm 36:7, “How precious is Thy lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Thy wings.” Using this same analogy of a mother bird providing protection for her children the writer of Psalm 91 wrote, “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wing you may seek refuge: His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.”

There is no question about God’s desire for man. God had created man to have fellowship with Him, but man sinned and brought upon Himself the consequences of his disobedience: death, spiritual and physical. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). God’s desire was to redeem man from His sin and bring Him back into intimate relationship with Himself. There was only one way to do that: “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The second person of the triune Godhead became a man: Jesus. And Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and then voluntarily died as our substitute, paying the penalty of our sins for us so that we might be brought back to God (1 Peter 3:18). The king’s desire is to protect and shield. Jesus came to give life and He did everything necessary for that gift of life to be freely offered. Redemption was offered even to these hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. There was just one problem left, one which God has left in our hands, and that is our willingness to answer the call.


Notice again that sentence, How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Jesus was willing but they were not. Jesus came and offered the kingdom of heaven, but they only wanted the kingdom they had imagined for themselves. They rejected the offer, they rejected the king, and consequently brought judgement upon themselves. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost, but many of the lost refuse to respond to His call to salvation. Jesus came to a lift the weary and heavy-laden yoke of sin that was on the people and given them his easy and light yoke instead, but they refused.

God is sovereign, but man also has a responsibility. Much ink has been spilt over the centuries by those that stress one of these truths to the exclusion or near exclusion of the other. Some stress God’s sovereignty to such a degree that it comes close to determinism or fatalism. Yes, it is absolutely true that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Yes, it is absolutely true that you were dead in your trespasses and sins, and corpses are unable to do anything except rot, and it was God that made you alive (Eph. 2). Yes, God is sovereign and no one can resist His will (Rom 9:9; Isa 46:10). The Scriptures make is clear that God is sovereign over all things; but nowhere does the Bible teach fatalism or determinism: the idea God elects some for heaven and others for hell.

The Scriptures are clear that while God sovereign, He has given man the responsibility to respond to His commandments. God calls all people everywhere to repentance (Acts 17:30). Salvation is offered to “whosoever will” John (3:16). Whosoever will believe in Him Matt. (10:32), whosoever will confess be before men (Matt 12:50), whosoever will do the will of My Father (Acts 2:21/Rom 10:13), whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord (1 John 5:1) and whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ…

The call to repentance and salvation is given out and God expects man to respond to that call, and if he does not he is judged according to his refusal. In fact, that man or woman will be judged according to their own attempts at being righteous. Rev. 20:13 tells us that those not written the Lamb’s Book of Life will be “judged every man according to his works.” But we already know that man’s attempt at being righteousness by his own works leaves him as a “filthy rag” before God (Isa 64:6). There is no man who is righteous in himself, there is none that does good, not even one (Rom 3:10f). Without Christ’s righteousness being imputed to a man so that he may stand clean before God, there can only be one outcome for that man: condemnation for his sinfulness.

The way to salvation has been provided by Jesus Christ, but it cannot be appropriated by unwilling people. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace and it is free in the sense that you cannot earn it. However, there are some requirements. Repentance from sin is the first. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). There is a recognition that you have offended God by your sin and you seek to turn away from it while asking God to forgive you (Luke 11:4). There are things you have to believe. That Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the one prophesied of in the OT; that Jesus died as the substitute for your sins; that He was buried and was resurrected from the dead on the third day, and that He is God in human flesh (1 Cor 15, Rom 10, etc.). And there are ramifications to these beliefs that result in a changed life.

Let me see if I can illustrate this very simply. You committed a crime and have been sentenced to death. You get a note from the governor that says he is willing to give you a pardon if you will come to him, ask him to be forgiven, and promise to try and not live a life of crime any longer. Everything has been worked out, all you have to do is go see him and fulfill his requests. If you go, will you have earned the pardon or is it a gift of grace? If you are unwilling to go, then there will be no pardon and you will suffer the consequences of your crime.

Salvation from sin is a lot like that. God does require some things from us as I already mentioned, but in no way can they be considered a means by which we earn that salvation. The offer is made, but many are unwilling to accept the offer. Some refuse the believe the offer is real. Some refuse to accept the conditions of the offer. It is either on their own terms or forget it. Others are unwilling because they are afraid of what other people (inmates) might say. Some are unwilling because they would rather be in jail enjoying the fleeting pleasures of continued sin here and now than the promise of eternal bliss in eternity.

The Lord’s desire is clear, but many are unwilling to heed the call and accept His offer of grace and mercy and come to Him for salvation from their sins. Like a chick that refuses to come to the hen when called, they will be left without protection from the dangers that lie ahead. There will be consequences.


The result of the refusal and the unwillingness to come to Jesus will be as Jesus says in verse 38, Behold, your house is left to you desolate! They would be forsaken, abandoned, and their land devastated and laid waste. The kingdom would not come as had been offered. Instead it would come in its spiritual form, the church, and the nation of Israel would be devastated. The house here refers not only to the temple and Jerusalem, but by implication the nation as well. Several decades later, the nation became physically what it had already become spiritually: a wasteland. The temple and Jerusalem were destroyed and the people of the land were either slaughtered or carried off into captivity again. This was a fulfillment of what God had continually warned the people. Even as far back as Deuteronomy, God told the people that if they would not obey Him, then the curses listed in chapter 28 would come. The nation had already suffered for this before in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, yet the lesson was not learned. They still refused to obey God, and they were unwilling to heed the message of His Son, Jesus the Messiah. Israel would again suffer the curses and be left desolate.

Understand that God is not mocked and that sin is a reproach on any people. God is longsuffering and patient, but there comes a time when He will allow the consequences of sin to come and His wrath will be poured out on the ungodly and wickedness. It was true for Israel. It is still true for nations and individuals. Paul put it this way in Gal. 6:7, “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to the flesh shall reap corruption; but he that sows to the Holy Spirit shall reap everlasting life.”

What are you sowing? What will you reap?


Even in the midst of condemnation, God’s grace still shines forth, for in verse 39, while speaking of the certainty of God’s judgement, also speaks of the certainty of a hope for the future.

“For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'” Notice the word, “until.” It is a word of certainty. It is something that will absolutely happen and it will not be dependent on man; it will occur by God’s sovereignty. If it was dependent on man it would have said, “unless.”

The judgement in the verse is that they would not see Jesus again as they had become accustomed to seeing Him. There would not be further opportunity to debate with Him, to hear Him teach, or to see Him perform miracles. Jesus’ public ministry ended here. He would never enter there again. Jesus would continue to teach the disciples and the twelve, but it would be in private settings. No longer would He teach in public. There will still be some miracles He would perform, like the manner in which Jesus directed the disciples to find the Upper Room for the Passover meal, then there would be the resurrection and the miracles following that, but there would not be any further public miracles. No more healings, casting out of demons, or stopping the wind or calming the seas. Jesus’ public ministry ended with these words. All that was left was teaching the disciples a few more things and then preparation for the crucifixion.

Jesus would be seen in public as He walked through Jerusalem to the Upper Room, then out into the Garden of Gethsemane. He would be seen as stood trial and then carried His cross up to Calvary where He would be publicly crucified. But Jesus public ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing that began all the way back in Matthew 4 had ended, and they would not see Him again until something drastic had changed.

If the sentence had ended without the last phrase, there would be no hope for Israel and the promises that God has made concerning her would remain forever unfulfilled. That of course would have also destroyed the message of the gospel as well because it would have demonstrated that God does not keep His promises to Israel, and if God did not keep and will not keep His promises to Israel, then His promises to us for salvation are also suspect, for He would be untrustworthy. But God’s promises are certain and He does not leave them in the hands of man. They would not see Jesus again until they would say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

They had shouted that very sentence only a few days before when Jesus had entered Jerusalem. “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD; Hosanna in the highest.” The phrase comes from Psalm 118:26 and refers to the coming of Messiah, the Redeemer, who would free them from their sins and establish His kingdom among them. They had shouted it earlier thinking that Jesus would break the bondage of Rome but when that was not immediately forthcoming, they shouted instead, Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Yet, there is a coming day when the nation of Israel will recognize their Messiah. There is a day when, as Paul puts it in Romans 11:26, “all Israel shall be saved.”

The prophet Zechariah put it this way, 12:10; 13:1, “And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born…. In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for in and for impurity.” “And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land… And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested, They will cal on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'” Chapter 14 goes on to describe the LORD descending upon the Mount of Olives, the nations in rebellion being put down, and the setting up of the kingdom of the LORD in Jerusalem.

The Lord’s promises are true. They can be trusted. Every single one of them will come to pass. To those who are unwilling to accept the salvation offered in Jesus Christ, there will be judgement, but to those who will come to Him for the forgiveness of their sins and place their trust in Him, there will be eternal life. And remember eternal life is a quality of life, not just quantity. It is a life in the present that is worth living because it will have eternal value, and it is a life in the future of eternity with Jesus.

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