As Jesus came into Jerusalem during the Passion Week, He mourned over Israel’s history of rejecting God’s prophets and His people’s refusal to believe and repent. In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces judgment on the Jewish religious leaders and their dead religion (Matthew 23:1–39). He grieves over the misguided and spiritually lost children of Jerusalem, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Matthew 23:37, NLT).
Despite Israel’s waywardness and the disobedience of its leaders, the relentlessly loving heart of Jesus aches to gather Jerusalem’s children as a hen gathers her chicks. The poignant imagery evokes a mother hen desiring to enfold her vulnerable hatchlings into the protective shelter of her wings to nurture, guide, and defend.
For the past three years, Jesus had been pleading with the people of Jerusalem to repent and be saved. Rather than heed the voice of their Messiah, the city is on the brink of crucifying its long-awaited Savior. The Lord knows that history is about to repeat itself—the people of God had a track record of killing God’s prophets. Jesus wants to protect and shield His people, but they won’t let Him.
God’s love and compassion—as revealed in His Son, Jesus—are permanent and unchanging because they are part of His nature. “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Timothy 2:13, NLT; see also 1 John 4:8, 16). No matter how deeply we wade into sin and disobedience, the Lord will always want us back. He is perfectly loyal and consistent: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:22–23, NLT; see also Romans 3:3–4).
Jesus’ desire to gather Jerusalem’s children as a hen gathers her chicks resonates in God’s message through the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will hover over Jerusalem and protect it like a bird protecting its nest. He will defend and save the city; he will pass over it and rescue it” (Isaiah 31:5, NLT). It echoes in this ancient Song of Moses: “Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions” (Deuteronomy 32:11, NLT). And it ripples throughout the psalms: “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection” (Psalm 91:4, NLT; see also Psalm 17:8; 36:7).
God loves all people but is especially committed to loyal relationships with His own children (Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 103:17; Isaiah 54:10; Hosea 11:1–4). God’s love for His own is unparalleled. He is more ferociously protective than a mama bear with her cubs and more sacrificial than a nursing mom with her newborn baby: “Jerusalem says, ‘The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins” (Isaiah 49:14–16, NLT).
The apostle Paul prays for believers to “have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18–19). God’s love is perfect and eternal; He never stops reaching out to us with His love, and nothing we do can separate us from it (Romans 8:38). As unfathomable as it may seem, our loving Father always longs to gather us to Himself as a hen gathers her chicks safely under her wings.