Title: “7 Woes on the American Church” Epilogue: Woes Assured, Yet Hope Endures
Text: Matthew 23:37-39
FCF: We struggle remaining faithful to our faithful God.
Prop: God’s loyal love endures forever, so we must stop refusing and start pursuing Him.
Scripture Intro: CSB
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 23. As we close out Jesus’ fifth discourse, we can only breathe a sigh of relief. What an excruciating experience to have all these woes come down upon the nation of Israel, and how tragic to find that the woes still apply to today. But not just to the pagan secular world. No, No. That these woes still apply to the broad world of Christendom is absolutely gut-wrenching.
Many of the woes, no doubt, were easy for us to look outside our walls and think, yes, yes, that applies to them, they obviously don’t have this right. But the last few woes I’d wager have been quite challenging for us to accept.
Would it help you to know that although we must get through one final repercussion from the last woe, that hope will win the day? That at the end of all this gloom and doom, that there is hope… even for Israel. And friends, after all Israel has been through, after all they have done, if there still remains hope for them, well then I’d wager there is still hope for the American Church. There is still hope for us.
And as is always the case, that hope is not found in anything less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. There is no device nor creed that we can turn to for hope. There is only the Love of God displayed on that criminals Cross, as Jesus bore the wrath we deserved.
But our hope is not for an alleviation of the woes. No, they are assured. But our hope is toward freedom from what caused the woes to occur. We can be free of the things that brought them.
[Slide 2] In the text before us we will see that even amid all the woes on the Pharisees and even those repercussions on all 1st Century Israel and beyond, with all this true, God’s loyal love yet endures. Even still. And always.
And since our God is forever loyal in His love, we must stop running from Him and in complete surrender, pursue Him. That is the theme we will see today. And it is one of immeasurable hope.
I’m in Matthew 23, starting in verse 37. I’ll be reading from the CSB today, but follow along in whatever version you prefer. If you don’t have a bible with you, you can turn to page 1121 in the pew bible to follow along. And if you don’t have a bible at all – take the pew bible as your own.
Perhaps you are starving for hope from this discourse. While I cannot manufacture it… let me show you where it is.
I.) God’s loyal love endures forever, so we must stop refusing His call.
a. [Slide 3] 37 - Jerusalem, Jerusalem
i. The two fold repetition of Jerusalem in Jesus’ closing statement of the Discourse reveals his heart on the subject matter that He is about to broach.
ii. Obviously this is metaphorical in nature. Jesus is not actually expressing extreme emotion over a city, but rather the people of the city.
iii. And beyond that, probably, Jesus is not even really expressing extreme emotion over the people of Jerusalem itself, but rather, Israel in general. And that emotion, as we will see, is compassion. Love.
iv. Jerusalem is the city of the Jews. It represents, for all intents, and purposes, the whole nation of Israel.
v. So Jesus expressing what He is expressing, should not be focused too narrowly. Some interpreters think Jesus is talking about the religious elite, the leadership, or even the Pharisees in general. However, a quick glance to the next phrase helps us to understand, that this is not even an expression of lament to the Jews of the 1st century, but rather, to all Israel, over all time.
b. [Slide 4] who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!
i. There is something interesting happening here. The first verb in the sentence is not until the word gather. Although in our English translation we may assume that kill and stone are verbs, they are, in fact, participles. Hey wait a second is this English class!?
ii. Why is this significant?
iii. These words, these participles, are being used to describe Jerusalem. They are adjectives that look like verbs.
iv. Jesus is saying, Israel, Israel, and then he gives them two titles.
v. Killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent to you.
vi. Interesting that we have broadened the thought from the previous woe. Woe to the Pharisees for being hypocrites yet desiring to murder Jesus. But results of that come down to all 1st Century Judaism in that the whole generation will feel the judgment for this.
vii. Finally, all of Israel, of all time, will feel the judgment.
viii. Why? Well let’s see…
c. [Slide 5] How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,
i. The timelessness of Israel meeting the timelessness of the will of Jesus, ushers us to a very obvious conclusion.
ii. Jesus is Yahweh, speaking on behalf of Yahweh. His will, is the Father’s will. His will and His emotion are the same as the Father and the Spirit.
iii. And what is the will of Yahweh for His people? That they would run to Him, not from Him.
iv. But this brings up something else. We have been stressing up to this point that God is the one who brings men to life and that a man’s soul is saved by God alone. No decision of man instigates such a change.
v. However, here we see God’s will being expressed as a desire for the Israelites to come to God. Yet God does not get his will.
vi. What we see here is that God never imposes his love upon men to the point that He supersedes their will.
vii. This is an important counter-balance to what we have been learning. Even though the decision of man does not change his soul, that does not mean that his decision is unnecessary or irrelevant.
viii. It is true that God brings a soul to life, but the ones whom God brings to life are brought to life that they may be able to desire to repent and believe. But the ones God does not bring to life, are most certainly left dead because they keep refusing to repent and believe.
ix. Man’s decision cannot save him, but it most certainly will continue to condemn him. In this important distinction, God still gets all the glory for man’s pursuit of God, and man receives all the culpability for their rejection of God.
x. In other words God will not force someone to be saved who keeps refusing to pursue Him, nor will God damn someone simply because they are not elect even if they continues to repent and believe. It doesn’t work like that. These groups of people do not exist. In fact there are only 3 groups of people, and from our perspective most of them are in one category.
1. [Slide 6]Those who refuse to repent and believe
2. Those God has brought to life who continue to repent and believe
3. Those whose status is unknown – And this category is by far the greatest. We know that they go into one of the first two, but since we are not omniscient, we are unsure.
xi. What we do know and see from this passage is that God’s emotional, heart felt desire, is that all men would NOT be in the first category. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
xii. So here we see that God would much rather Israel have been a people who did not refuse to pursue Him. So that He may lavish grace and mercy upon them.
d. [Slide 7] But you were not willing
i. Again God will never force His love upon someone against their will.
ii. The strength of the phrase here is not simply that they were passively unwilling or apathetic, but rather, that they heartily refused.
iii. Another translation says, but you would have none of it.
iv. You get the image of a hen trying to round up her chicks and the chicks biting and pecking at their mother’s feet to stay away. Running as quickly as they could in the opposite direction.
e. [Slide 8] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching to the crowds and His disciples and what is Matthew teaching to 1st Century Jews? On the negative side, in the relationship between God and His people, His people are always the adulterers. His people are always the unfaithful ones. But God’s disposition toward His people has never and will never change. He is always loyal in His love for them.
f. Passage Application: There is no overt application in this text. We don’t really see Jesus tell the Israelites to do anything. Nor does Matthew comment on what must be done. However, we can infer from the text that since God’s disposition toward Israel will never change, since He is still like that hen who wants to gather Israel under His wings, the only thing preventing that is their refusal of God. Since God does not change… they must change! They must. This is Jesus’ final call to the children of Israel to repent. And even though that may not allow them to escape the judgment of God on the nation of Israel, it may allow them to escape the judgment of God upon their sin.
g. [Slide 9] Broader Biblical Truth: Since Jesus and Matthew’s point is primarily a spiritual one, it translates quite easily to us in 21st Century America. And if I can borrow the phrase from the Psalmist, the broader biblical truth is simply this… God’s loyal love endures forever.
h. Broader Biblical Application: And so the application of such a wondrous truth, is that since He is always faithful. Since He is always loving. Since He is always loyal… then any time we are distant, any time we are not near to Him, it is not His doing but our own. And regardless whether it means conversion or sanctification, our only hope rests in repentance. Abandoning our refusal of His love and His ways. We must stop refusing His call.
[Slide 10 (blank)] But what happens when we fail like Israel? What happens when we do refuse His call? What can we expect if this is our disposition to God?
II.) God’s loyal love endures forever, so we must continually pursue Him.
a. [Slide 11] 38 – See, your house is left to you desolate!
i. Much like the last couple woes, this second and third verse serves as the result of the hard heartedness of the Jews.
ii. And there is something happening here that we must see.
iii. Jesus is at this very moment, standing in the temple.
iv. He says to the people listening to Him, in the temple, Israel, your house is left to you desolate.
v. So what is Israel’s house?
vi. While there is some debate on whether it means Jerusalem, Israel or the temple, it seems clear that the context here is relating to the temple of God.
vii. And to leave it desolate, would mean to leave it abandoned.
viii. Obviously if people would hear what Jesus was saying, they would look around them and probably give a bit of a chuckle.
ix. Perhaps the crowds and His disciples were saying to themselves, “Uh…Jesus… Look around Master… Passover is approaching. This place is kickin! I’m having trouble breathing over the smell of sheep. What do you mean the temple is left desolate?”
x. But Jesus is not talking about a desolation that has happened. He is talking about a desolation that will happen.
xi. But before we assume that that desolation is purely a physical one… what He says next, I cannot over-emphasize this – what he says next is absolutely gut wrenching.
b. [Slide 12] 39 – For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say,
i. The word “for” here establishes a relationship between what Jesus just said and what He is about to say.
ii. That relationship is one of explanation. He is about to express to the crowds and His disciples, What it means that their temple will be left to them desolate.
iii. And the desolation is a result of them not seeing Him again until some future time, which we’ll address in a moment.
iv. What does this mean? Obviously the people would see Him again over the next few days. Specifically they would see Him die, and some would even see Him raised to life, and a few would see Him ascend to Heaven.
v. So what does He mean that they will not see Him.
vi. Turn with me to Ezekiel chapter 11. Now I need to provide a little bit of context, at least as much as I can. We are dropping right into the middle of a vision that God is giving to Ezekiel. A vision that is half real and half vision. The whole book of Ezekiel is really, REALLY weird. But in this specific vision we see a progressive departure of the glory of the Lord. His very presence. We see Him leave the holy of holies to the temple gate, then the city of Jerusalem and finally in verse 23 we see the glory of the Lord depart from the city itself and go to the mountain to the east of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives. That is when God predicts the destruction of the first temple.
vii. [Slide 13] Read Ezekiel 11:23
viii. Can I suggest to you that as Jesus left that day, the glory of the Lord departed with Him. Why? Because He was the glory of the Lord in bodily form. And where does He go immediately after this? Peek at verse 3 in chapter 24. The Mount of Olives. And where will Jesus touch His toe when He returns? The Mount of Olives.
ix. This is the judgment on Israel. They are in a time when the glory of the Lord has been removed from among them. And this has been the case for over 2000 years. By far the longest time that God has been silent toward His chosen nation.
x. He is still operating among His chosen people, i.e. the elect, the invisible church, some of whom are Jews, but with the nation of Israel, God’s plan has not featured them in over 2000 years. And what is worse… they haven’t sought Him in that time.
xi. But will they?
xii. Oh friends… yes indeed… they will.
c. [Slide 14] ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
i. Now this phrase should remind you of something. Look at chapter 21 of Matthew. Look at verse 9.
ii. The people were shouting this when Jesus showed up on the colt in Jerusalem, only a few short days ago.
iii. So if you were in the crowd today, as Jesus said this, you’d probably be thinking to yourself, “Yeah… but Jesus… we already said that.”
iv. Jesus says, first your house will be desolate. First I will abandon your temple with the glory of God. First there will be judgment. First there will be pain. But one day… you will say those words again… and this time, you will understand them. This time, you won’t simply be looking to me as your deliverer of oppressors, but your spiritual deliverer as well.
v. [Slide 15] This is quoted from Psalm 118. Let’s go there and read this psalm that every single Jew alive in the 1st century saw as prophesy. Now as we read this through I’d like for you to notice two basic components of when Jesus will return for Israel. There are two components. The first is their attitude or their spiritual temperature. The second is a time or situation.
1. 1-9 - Notice the loyalty and faithfulness of the psalmist to God from the beginning.
2. 10-14 - Notice a time when all nations surround Israel. Not one nation, all nations.
3. 15 - Notice that deliverance is celebrated in the tents of the godly and the righteous.
4. 16 - Notice that the Lord’s right hand goes to victory. It is an odd expression which could mean God’s military might. However, who sits at God’s right hand?
5. 17-18 - Notice how the psalmist speaks of severe punishment from God, yet not abandonment to death.
6. 19-21 - Notice how God’s temple is open to those who are righteous, those who are Godly.
7. 22 - Notice the reference to the chief cornerstone
8. 23-26 - Notice the statement in verse 26, which is what Jesus says will be the event where He returns.
9. 27-29 - Notice that actual sacrifices commence in the temple again in verse 27.
vi. [Slide 16 – 25] All this fits together in another passage of the Old Testament, Zechariah 12-14. I won’t read it all, but I have included a series of verses from it. I hope you’ll read the whole section when you are able. (12:10; 13:1-2; 8-9; 14:1-5; 9-11; 16)
1. This describes a day when the Lord will return and restore a remnant of Israel
2. This very obviously has not happened yet, because if anything, Jerusalem is lower than it has been, it is not raised, nor is it a bastion of worship to the Lord. The only way this could already be fulfilled is spiritually – but drawing the spiritual conclusions of this passage would be a mad guessing game on what goes where.
3. This very obviously is not simply the church – because God specifies the tribes that will be awoken. Again, you could spiritualize it, but with great difficulty.
vii. Jesus is pointing unmistakably to a time in the future where God’s plan will one day feature Israel again. The difference will be that all of Israel at that time will not only be a nation, but they will be elect. They all will finally not only be ethnically Jewish, but inwardly righteous.
viii. Such a time has not happened yet, but we hope and rest in that future being sure.
d. [Slide 26] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching to the Israelites, and what is Matthew trying to show to saved and unsaved Jews in the early 50s AD? This is a little tricky. Because even at the time of Matthew’s writing this, the temple had not yet been destroyed. So where we clearly see Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple, it may not have been quite so clear to Matthew’s original readers. However, what was abundantly clear at the time was that unconverted Jews were persecuting any who converted to Christianity, especially Jewish converts. It was not a wonderful time to be a Jew. Either you were a Christian who listened and obeyed the call of your Messiah and were alienated by your own people, or you were a Jew who killed their own Messiah and was ultimately the reason the cup of wrath was poured out. But Jesus’ promise to the Jews is that God’s love for them has not changed. Even though His glory has departed… it will come again one day. And that day will be not only a specific time in the future, but at that time, their disposition toward Him would change.
e. Passage Application: And so the application to the Jews who read Matthew’s words was simply… pursue God now. You cannot escape the glory departing from Israel, but God can place His glory in you. So pursue Him.
f. [Slide 27] Broader Biblical Truth: The broader biblical principle for us remains the same from the previous point. Even after a severe judgment against this nation, God still loves them and will return for them when their disposition toward Him has been changed. When He opens up that spring and gives that Spirit of Grace – they will repent and cleanse their sins. And such a day will be a glorious one indeed. So for us, here and now, it is still true… God’s loyal love endures… FOREVER!
g. Broader Biblical Application: And in application to that, having seen God’s love poured out even after His judgment… the application is not just to stop refusing… but to start pursuing Run to Him. He is full of mercy and grace. He is ready to forgive and restore.
[Slide 28 (blank)] So from the epilogue of this discourse we have seen very clearly that God’s loyal love endures forever. His call carries on, even when judgment is being reigned down. And let me tell you something, that message is dearly needed in our culture. Let me tell you why.
Over the course of the past four weeks we have looked at 7 woes on the American church. Originally Christ gave them to the religious elite of His day, and surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly to you, these woes correlate very well to current practices being employed in your average American church today. The religious elite of our day, the 21st Century American Christian church is still violating scripture the same way the nation of Israel had during their entire history.
For review, let’s tread back through these woes.
[Slide 29] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You claim to have God’s good news for the world, but do not preach all of it, either because you do not believe it all, or because you have rejected the parts you do not like.
[Slide 30] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You zealously spread your half gospel relying on methodologies and arguments of men to convince people to believe, when no one believes unless God gives them faith to believe.
[Slide 31] Woe to the American Church, Blind Guides! You twist scripture by inserting your opinions into it so that you can excuse yourself and others from following the law of God.
[Slide 32] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! Even when you teach others to follow God’s law, you make it seem like all God wants from us is blind obedience, when really God wants every part of us to conform TO Christ, THROUGH Christ.
[Slide 33] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You passionately teach a faulty view of man, whereby a man can change who he is by merely changing his thinking and his actions.
[Slide 34] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You have sought to convert men’s souls by converting their minds and actions with convincing words, but no one is truly saved unless God brings them to life. And when God brings them to life, He will change their thinking and their acting to bow to His will.
[Slide 35] Woe to you American Church, Hypocrites! You have allowed humanism to infect your doctrine of man, and without a correct understanding of the true nature of man, no man will ever repent and believe.
[Slide 36] And if we allowed ourselves we might think that all this has been a recent development. That only within the last 20 or 30 years have we seen things really take a spiral down. But friends the roots of the American church’s betrayal of the gospel go farther back than you might think. All the way to the second great awakening. Where this man Charles Finney, still hailed as the father of American Revivalism by many in the mainstream Christian world, began teaching some of the very things we have found in these woes.
From his aberration from a God centered gospel to a man centered gospel, we have seen the church reel and pendulum between legalism and lawlessness ever since. Because after all if this faith is all about us – then either how WE perform or God’s love for US takes center stage.
And the liberalism found in our nation is directly correlated to the abundant betrayal of the gospel of Jesus Christ by those who call themselves His church. Do not think for a moment that the reason our culture is so bad is because the people are who they are. No friends, the reason our culture is in the state it is in, is because the thing that calls itself the church in this nation has abandoned God’s Word, promoted secular humanism, and has made it clear that the only thing it has to offer the world is a way to cope with how terrible life is.
And that brand of drivel is different from church to church, but it advertises an elixir that if you take it you can either be happy now or happy after you die.
[Slide 37] Would you like to hear an uncomfortable truth? Of course not. But I’ll tell you anyway. This country is already under the judgment of God. And we know that, because of the sins that we as a nation are flocking to. You see when God judges a people He allows them to collapse upon themselves as their sin overwhelms and falls back upon their heads. Proverbs 13:6 says that righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.
[Slide 38] The reason our culture is calling sin good and good sin, the reason people cheer in celebration for the legalization of infanticide, the reason they celebrate when justice is unjustly doled out, the reason is because this nation is right now, not in the future, not in danger of, but IS right now, under the judgment of God. The woes are already falling upon us. Because the American Church has failed to present the gospel of Jesus Christ, we see this country falling apart.
[Slide 39] And friends, I wish I could tell you that if we repent… if we stop doing what we are doing and do what God has called us to. If we run to God, I wish I could say that God will put an end to His judgment but I have no promise in scripture for that. The Israelites had no such promise. Their woe was assured. And unfortunately, I believe that our woe in this nation is probably assured as well.
But friends… Hope endures. Why? Why does hope endure?
[Slide 40 (end)] Because God’s loyal Love ENDURES FOREVER!! He is near to the contrite. He is with the lowly. And His mercy draws men to repentance.
Even for the nation of Israel, as a Jewish Christian reading the words of Matthew, I might take solace in knowing that though my entire nation crumble, I have been given a new name.
And as a Jew who had not turned to Christ – I might know – that God is still that hen wishing, hoping, wanting to gather me under His wings and save me from the wrath that is to come.
My friends, whether you are followers of Christ, or rejecters of Christ, God’s loyal love endures! And His promise to answer the persistent knocking of the humble, his promise to hear the continued request of the lowly, His promise to find the relentless contrite seeker, is still just as much valid today as it ever has been.
Even though we may be deep in the judgment of God – though our nation crumble – though wickedness and perversion abound – though thousands be killed – though everything fails, this one thing remains… God’s loyal love endures forever!
STOP Fleeing from Him! It is nonsensical. It is counterproductive. It is dangerous. Repent!
AND RUN TO HIM! He is the only place that love will last. He is the only place safe. And you may lose your life… but if it is for His name… it is the greatest gain there is.
We may not be able to stop the woes… but nothing can stop God’s love!
Repent and Run to Him. He is our only hope.