Recently I was asked a question about Matthew 23:37 in which Jesus said, “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!” This question concerned the ability of man to make a decision to believe in Christ. Is salvation a matter of the will in making a purely rational decision of the mind, or is a person incapable of choosing Christ because of the depravity of his will? Still another way of asking is, “Was the will of man debilitated by the fall to the extent he is spiritually incapacitated?” These questions are important because they address the ordo salutis (order of salvation).
This is an interesting query that would take quite a bit of time to explore fully. I only mention it today because of our congregational reading in Psalm 81. There is an interesting parallel in this psalm to Jesus’ words in Matthew. The parallelism helps to explain what Jesus meant. His lament over Jerusalem is nearly identical in thought to God’s plea for Israel in verses 13-16: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.”
Notice the parallels: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee.” This corresponds to “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!” How did God speak to Israel? He spoke through the same prophets that Jesus said they killed. Jesus said, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.” This speaks of His power of protection which is echoed by God’s words, ”I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.”
The response of Israel in both cases was “They would not.” It is clear in the Old Testament that God is speaking of the temporal blessings Israel would have enjoyed in the establishment of her kingdom as the dominant government in the world. In the context of Matthew 23, Jesus speaks the same. The result of Israel’s rejection, specifically the rejection of the religious rulers, was the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of any significant role for Israel until the Second Advent. The kingdom of Christ was not ushered in during the First Advent because Israel rejected the Messiah King.
The importance of this understanding of scripture is to show the will of man in salvation is not under consideration in this passage. It is critical to keep scripture in context rather than wresting it from its context to support erroneous doctrines. It is far better to examine scriptures that without doubt deal with the question at hand. For example John 1:13: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Does anyone have an issue declaring this to be a salvation verse? Another is John 5:40: “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Is salvation a matter of the will? Most certainly and nothing is clearer than “Ye will not come to me.” How can this verse be cast positively to argue that man’s will enables him to come when Jesus said you will not come?
There is not time or space to explore this question in depth. A little reading in John chapter 6 would certainly further our understanding of the matter. These are the kinds of questions we explore in detail in our Fundamentals Class on Wednesday evenings. For now, be sure to keep scripture in context lest you run afoul of its plain declarations.
Pastor V. Mark Smith