Matthew 23:37 (ESV)
 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
I’ve been reflecting on characteristics of mothers that are true of God. The verse above does not refer to a human mother, but to a mother hen. I have never personally observed chicks hiding under their mother’s wings, but I have seen pictures of it. One blogger recounted that as a child she observed this with older breeds of chickens. She recounted how two cats would work together to cut off a chick from its mother so they could catch it, but if the chicks stayed close to their mother they were safe. In the above passage Jesus was reflecting on the future. In the following chapter he foretold the destruction of the temple. Earlier in chapter 23 Jesus chided the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. At the end of the chapter we find verses 37-39 in which Jesus laments the fact that Jerusalem had repeatedly rejected the prophets God had sent.
There is a story that has been circulating for years recounting a forest fire in which a mother hen died in the fire but saved her chicks by hiding them under her wings. It is often told in one form or another to connect the verse quoted above with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is a great story, but misses the point of the Matthew 23:37. In this verse Jesus is not referring to his sacrifice. He is referring to Israel’s unwillingness to come to him for protection.
The blogger referred to early pointed out that the mother hen did not run around gathering her chicks under her. They chicks had to come to her. There is a truth in this. Salvation begins with brokenness. You cannot come to faith until you first recognize that you need to be saved. Salvation is not about praying a magic prayer in case there is a God. Salvation comes when one realizes that their life is offensive to God from the inside out but that God loves them anyway. It comes as one acknowledges that they have nothing to offer God, but that grace and forgiveness are free gifts for which we can do nothing. Salvation occurs not as we go through religious exercises, pray religious prayers, or agree to certain promises. Salvation occurs when we flee to God like chicks to a hen and hide under his wings by faith.
Jesus lamented, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Where do you stand with God? Are you still trying to earn his favor? Are you still relying on a magic prayer? Are you still insisting that God will accept you because deep down you really are a nice person? None of those carry any weight with God. But, like a mother hen, he is waiting for you to flee to him and hide under his wings. As Augustus Toplady wrote in the third verse of the old hymn Rock of Ages,
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
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