Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 4 2013 - Matthew 23:13-39 – Love and judgment

Much of Matthew 23 records a series of woes Jesus pronounces upon the Jewish leaders. These are the very opposite of the Beatitudes of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The woes are a declaration of God's judgment upon a rebellious and disobedient people.

But at the end of this section, Jesus turns from woes to lament: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:37-38). The picture of a bird protecting her chicks by sheltering them under her wings is one used several times in the Old Testament of God’s care for his people. Listen to the lovely words of Psalm 36:5-9:

Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

The psalm pictures the unfailing love of God in terms of people finding refuge and provision in God, just as young birds find protection under the wings of their mother.

Jesus uses this picture of himself. He is the Lord come to his people. He has come in love; a love that longs to embrace them, protect them and provide for them; a love that will drive him to give himself for them. But they have rejected him. His declaration of judgment is not an expression of vengeance – like that of a wife who may tear up the designer suits of her cheating husband or throw paint on his Porsche. It is a declaration of deep sadness. Here are a people whom God had called to be a light to the nations. They were to be those who revelled in God's care for them and for all that he had made. They were to be engaged in the priestly task of bringing the world to God; calling the nations to take refuge under the shadow of God's wings. But they have refused: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are" (23:13, 15).

God will establish his kingdom, but it will require a radical act of judgment: "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (21:43).

We have fled to Christ for refuge and we revel in God's unfailing love. But that's not the end of the story; we are now called to be a priestly people; a people through whom the whole world is to be brought under the shadow of God's wings – into the embrace of the crucified one.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you are not an angry God out to get me. Thank you that you have shown us the extent of your love for us through the Lord Jesus. Thank you for the warm and protective embrace of your love and care. You are my refuge and strength, a continual source of help in time of trouble. Your love is wide enough to enclose the whole world. Help me not only to hide in the shadow of your wings but also to draw others into the embrace of your love.

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Peter Misselbrook