Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Services, 4 August 2013
Part 2 of 3

In the previous article, we looked at the context and setting of our text found in Matthew 23:37-39. In this article, we will consider the Lord’s lament over Jerusalem.

The Lament

Verse 37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

In Luke 19:41-44, which took place two days before the words of our text were spoken, we are told that as the Lord approached Jerusalem, in the triumphal entry, He beheld the city and He wept over it, saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”

Christ beheld the city and wept over it. The gospel writers explicitly record only two incidents in the Lord’s earthly life in which He is said to have wept. The first is at the grave of His dear friend Lazarus and the second is as He approached Jerusalem. 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” The Lord repeats the city’s name indicating that it was so very dear to His heart. He had great tenderness and intense emotion and affection for Jerusalem.

Why did the Lord have such great affection for the city of Jerusalem? In order to answer that question, we need to understand the significance of Jerusalem in the history of redemption.

The name “Jerusalem” means city of peace. In the tenth century BC, king David captured it from the Jebusites and from then on, Jerusalem was known as the city of David. David established it as the capital city of Israel. The king’s palace and the temple of the Lord, which Solomon built, were both located in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem thus stood at the very heart and centre of the life of the nation, both politically and especially religiously. For centuries, it was THE place of worship. Pilgrims from all over the land would travel there several times a year for worship.

Even during the time of Christ, Jerusalem was still the rightful place of worship, and Christ Himself went there for the annual feast days. When the Samaritan woman was talking to Jesus about the place of worship, she said, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (Jn 4:20).

And part of the Lord’s answer to her was, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (Jn 4:22). The Lord was essentially acknowledging that Jerusalem was indeed the rightful and divinely appointed place of worship whereas Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshipped, was unsanctioned and thus unapproved by God as a place of worship. Of course, the Lord also told her that a time was coming when the physical city of Jerusalem would no longer be necessary for worship.    

But here in Matthew 23:37, the Lord was thinking of more than just the divinely appointed place of Old Covenant worship. Rather, He was thinking about the nation of Israel as a whole, the Old Covenant people of God or the visible church of the Old Covenant.

Sadly though, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day was in a very bad state, spiritually, morally and religiously speaking. It was acting in a way that was totally contrary to and out of character with what was required and expected of them based on the standard of God’s word.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee…” Such was the extent of her unbelief and rebellion against God that she would go so far as to kill the prophets and stone the messengers of God whom He had sent to her.

One can understand if Rome or Athens or Corinth or any of the other pagan cities persecuted the prophets of God. But Jerusalem? They are the ones to whom pertain the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises? (Rom. 9:4) How can that be?

But that is not all. The Lord goes on to say in verse 37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

Now this imagery of gathering the little chicks under the wings of the hen is rooted in many Old Testament passages. For example, Ruth 2:12, “a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Psalm 36:7, “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.” Psalm 57:1, “my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” Psalm 91:1, 4, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty… He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust…”

To hide under the wings of God speaks of finding safety and refuge and protection in Him, particularly in times of danger. Imagine a situation where the mother hen and her little chicks are out in the open and all of a sudden, a hawk or an eagle appears and is seen circling overhead. The hen notices the predator and calls out urgently and anxiously to her chicks to gather together and to find refuge under her protecting wings.   

Sadly, in the case of Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus calls out to her children to gather under His protecting wings but they would not heed His call. So stubborn and recalcitrant were they that they would rather stay out in the open and be exposed to all the dangers around than to put their trust under the shadow of His wings.

For example, the Lord Jesus gently called out to them in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” But they would not come to Him that they might find rest for their weak and weary souls. And again in John 5:39-40, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

Such a sinful and tragic rejection to the call of the Lord by the outward and visible covenant people of God brought much grief and tears to the eyes of our Lord. He wept and lamented over their impenitence and unbelief. Here we have another very clear instance of the humanity of Christ. God cannot and does not weep but the God-man, even the Lord Jesus Christ, can and does weep.

Think about it. If Jesus could weep at the tomb of Lazarus even though He knew full well that Lazarus would be raised from the dead in just a short while, how much more should He weep over the failure of Jerusalem to come under His wings, knowing full well that her unbelief and impenitence would lead to her final destruction.    

But what about us? Do we, as the people of Christ, weep for the right reasons and causes?

Imagine that you had two bottles of tears before you – one containing selfish tears and the other tears shed out of concern for God’s glory and the spiritual well-being of others. Which bottle would be fuller? What kind of tears do we have? Do we weep for the same reasons that Jesus wept? Are we moved to tears over the same kinds of things that moved Jesus to tears? Do we have the same kind of compassion and pity as our Lord had?

Jesus wept over the stubbornness and hardness of heart of Jerusalem, the covenant people of God. Do we? When we see the visible church today in many quarters in a state of spiritual declension and even apostasy, do we weep? Or are we like the Pharisees, who are proud and judgmental, and who thank God that we are not as other men are? Do we weep or do we laugh and joke about the sin and unbelief of other professing Christians and churches?

Or closer to home: how about our own church? Is everything well and fine with us as a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ or are there things for which we need to weep over and bring before the Lord? Are we critical and condemnatory of the sins and faults of others and of the church as a whole or do we shed tears for them? 

Or even closer to home: how about our own children? Do we weep over them when we see them going astray? Do we shed tears for them when we see their indifference and lack of concern for things of eternal value and significance?

And finally, how about ourselves as individuals? What do we weep for? What do you weep for? What do I weep for? Only for earthly and temporal things – things that are perishing and fading away, things that have no lasting value and significance?

Dear brethren, have we no tears of concern for the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ, and for our own spiritual and eternal well-being? Or must Jesus weep and anguish over the poor state of our souls and of our spiritual health? O may the Lord enable us to weep for the right reasons, and to lament over the right things!

—Linus Chua

… to be continued, next issue