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By Steve Bietz

Burke County


The mob is already there.  No one has yet realized it, but by the end of the week, these attentive faces will be transformed into faces of frenzy, faces of hatred.  And Jesus, who then will not resist or even answer them, is answering them now.  He is exposing the crowd and the evil that makes them what they are…lost humanity bent on destroying the very one born to save them.  He knows their sinful hearts.  He knows just how far those hearts will take them.  The evil in their hearts will take them to the judgment hall before the corrupt High Priest and puppet government called the Sanhedrin.  That evil will take them to Pontus Pilate who cannot mask his cowardice with false patriotism.  The evil in their hearts will take them through the streets of Jerusalem, where their voices will scream out, crucify Him.  Their evilness will finally take them to Golgotha, where their addiction to suffering and death will express itself in the torturous death of yet three more men.

But evil can take them no further than that.  Having made them the villains of history’s most important scene, evil abandons them there to face the finale alone.  How very alone, became apparent when the sky turns black and the heavens thunder.  They must have felt evil’s cold hand when word came that the temple curtain has been torn, and the priests had fled in terror.  And when the Man, whose life they had demanded cries, “Father, why have you forsaken Me,” they are the ones who have been forsaken.

Sabbath comes, but it brings no joy, and no sense of connection.  They are blindly and horribly lost.  But, if that mob is already present, then so is the Savior.  Christ knows their evilness.  He has seen it and felt it and heard it.  He has lived among it and always called it by its name.  He calls it by its name now.  Numerous times in Matthew the twenty-third chapter, Christ condemns the evil in man’s heart.  He directs much of His words to the Pharisees, the superstars of piety, the henchman of destruction.  He uses language, unprecedented in His teaching.  It is by far the strongest language of His ministry and on this last day of teaching in the temple, Jesus seems determined in exposing the evil for what it really is.

The words come like claps of thunder.  So dark in their vision, so powerful in their expression.  The disciples and those who have followed His ministry, know Jesus to be a man, not just of words, but actions.  They have seen Him cleanse the temple and cast out demons and even raise Lazarus from the dead.  But in these words, He seems to reach further, deeper, and they must begin to wonder just how far He will go.  With words of condemnation give way to an act of destruction.   “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”  Matthew 23:13. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”  Matthew 23;27.

Yes, just how far was Jesus going to go with His strong words of severe censorship.  Matthew 23 does not have what literary experts like to emphasize, no romance, no paradox, no poetry, and no gentle phrasing.  This is just plain talk.  He speaks of those who murder the prophets, not accusingly, but matter of factly.  He knows the crowd will not argue the point.  It’s just one of many sins.  And yet this incident is not about our sinfulness, rather it is about His grace.   When the evil that we mostly are becomes so great as to even seek to destroy Him, He loves us still.  Jesus wants all to know that He has always intended to save us.  Jesus lays out the truth.  You are the murderers.  You are the ones motivated by evil.  Christ says I am not for I am Love sent from Love.

Then, without warning, Jesus chokes up.  His words turn to tender heartbrokenness.   “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”  Matthew 23: 37.

Did Christ’s earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, have chickens?  Did the boy Jesus have the opportunity to quietly sneak up to watch the chicks play around their mother’s feet?  Did He see them run beneath the hen’s strong wings when frightened?   And then, did He think of the prophecies concerning the Messiah.  On this day, no little barnyard lies before Him.  Instead, Christ looks into the faces of the human beings He came to save.  He knows how needy His church is and He must stop and say how much He cares for them and for us.  He reaches past the condemnations, past the evil He sees in every heart, past the terrible experience that lies just ahead, and grabs onto salvation.  Christ says that what matters most, is not that you are killers but that there has been born for you, a Savior.

We have a Savior, who came to save us, even from ourselves.  Like a chicken under our Christmas Tree, a package of love as He wants to gather each of us to Himself if we only let Him.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I long to gather you to myself like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings.  No more tender expression has ever come from lips as it did from the lips of Jesus.  We have a Savior like a chicken under our Christmas Tree.  Under His wings, O what precious enjoyment.  There we can hide till life’s trials are over.  Sheltered and protected, no evil can harm us.  Resting in Jesus we’re safe evermore.  When this world looks for us, may they find us under His wings?  Don’t forget this Christmas, that under the tree, is a Savior like a chicken.  A savior born to save.


Steve Bietz is the pastor at Morganton Seventh Day Adventist Church.