The Faith of an Outcast – Matthew 15:21-28

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Faith Bible Church, NY

January 9, 1994

 

The Faith of an Outcast

Matthew 15:21-28

Introduction

What kind of faith do you have? Over the last several weeks we have seen various people with different kinds of faith. There was Peter who had "little faith," yet was able to do the impossible – walk on water in order to be with Jesus. (See: Keeping Your Eyes on Jesus). There were the multitudes that had enough faith to come to Jesus to be healed of their sicknesses, yet they did not have enough faith to believe His claims that He was the Messiah, and so they left Him. (See:Religion vs. Real Faith). There was the faith of the Pharisees and scribes which was a faith in the traditions that had developed over the centuries that had obscured the Word of God with the precepts of men. There was also the growing faith of Peter who kept pursuing the truth, even if that meant others might think he wasn’t very bright for asking such seemingly simple questions. What kind of faith marks your life?

This morning we are going to examine another kind of faith. A faith that Jesus called a "great faith." But "great" is a relative term. This faith is not "great" large in size, for even Peter’s "little" faith was greater in that sense, but because of it was an exceptional faith for someone who was an outcast from Israel to have. It was a faith that was not expected to be found among the gentiles, yet it is the type of faith that characterizes those who truly seek after God.

THE SCENE

Our text begins in Matthew 15:21. Jesus has completed a very hectic ministry in the region of Galilee in the area of Capernaum. He and His disciples have tried to find a secluded spot in order to get some rest and for Jesus to give the disciples further instruction. They had gone to the far northern tip of the Sea of Galilee to an area Scripture describes as a "lonely place," but it did not stay lonely for long, for the crowds followed Jesus there and Jesus, having compassion on them, healed their sick, taught them, and then fed more than 5,000 people with just five small barley loaves and two small fish. (See: Feeding the Multitudes). Jesus then sent the disciples back south in the boat while He sent the multitudes away, then He spent time in prayer alone with the Father. Later that night, Jesus caught up to the disciples in the middle of the Sea of Galilee by walking on the water. This is when the incident of Peter walking on and the sinking in the water took place. After they reached the agricultural area of Gennesaret south of Capernaum, they still did not gain any peace and quiet for the people recognized Jesus immediately and sent for all their sick. Jesus again compassionately healed them, but they rejected His claim to being the only way to salvation and left Him.

Now in verse 21 we find that Jesus has left the area of Galilee completely. "And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon." Tyre and Sidon were on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Lebanon. Tyre is about fifty miles south of modern Beirut, and Sidon was halfway between the two. In Jesus’ time, as now, the cities were outside the boundaries of Israel. They were gentile cities.

Why did Jesus go there? There are several reasons, but fear was not one of them. Yes, Herod had recently killed John the Baptist and the political situation was dangerous. Yes, the Pharisees were plotting to kill Him. Those things figured into the reasons, but Jesus did not go into the territory of the Gentiles because of fear. Instead, Jesus went in order to try to find a quiet place where He could be alone with His disciples for awhile. Remember that Jesus has been trying to do that, but the crowds keep following Him. Now He has gone into an area where neither Herod, nor the religious leaders, nor the multitudes of people would bother Him. This is not an area where Jewish people are going to come looking for Him. Yet, even here, we find that there are those that seek after Him, for in verse 22 we find a "Canaanite" woman turning from her idols to seek the Lord.

TURNING FROM IDOLS TO THE LORD

"And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."

Now initially this does not seem to be that significant since there have been so many that have already called out to Jesus for healing, for casting out of demons, etc. But remember that this is not in the land of Israel and this is not a Jewish woman. She has no heritage in understanding or even knowing God’s revelation in the Old Testament. She is not even in a place where she would be in regular contact with those who did. This is a woman of Canaanite heritage, a descendant of the people God had commanded Israel to "utterly destroy" (Deuteronomy 7:2).

Her people had been worshipers of Baal, Dagon, Asherah, Astarte, and the pantheon of the Canaanite deities, though now many of those gods would have been replaced by the Greek and Roman pantheon. This woman would have been brought up in paganism, yet now we see a new faith in her. It is a faith that has brought her to Jesus and seeking His mercy.

How would she have known about Jesus? It is very unlikely that a gentile woman with a daughter would have been traveling into the land of Israel. It is more likely that she had heard of Jesus from second-hand sources, from those who had seen and heard Jesus and were now passing through her land. She was coming to Jesus based on the stories that she had heard.

Think for a moment what it meant that she was seeking out Jesus. While we must be careful from reading too much into the fact that she addressed Jesus as "Lord, Son of David," for though those are terms used of Jesus’ Messiahship, that does not mean she understood their significance. Remember, she was coming out of worshiping a pantheon of gods, so she would use whatever name she had been told was appropriate. Then again, it is possible that she was told the significance of that name and believed that Jesus was the Messiah and sought Him out because of that. But either way, for her to come to Jesus required the first step of saving faith – repentance.

Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of directions. A repentant person recognizes that the direction they were going was wrong, so they turn to follow the truth. We can well imagine this woman being so concerned for her cruelly demonized daughter seeking out the help of the deities of her people, and in agony finding that there is not help from them. How could there be? Objects of wood and stone have no life and the demonic power behind the idols rejoice over a girl oppressed by one of them. There would be no help from her pagan gods. Then she hears of a miracle worker in the land of Israel. Could it be true? And now she finds that Jesus is in her area. She will go to Him and plead for His mercy which is further evidence that she does understand something of who Jesus is, for by definition, a person who asks for mercy asks for something that they know that they do not deserve. She turns her back on the idols of her people and turns to the Lord Jesus.

Notice one other thing about this woman’s faith. Faith must have an object, and now she has placed her faith in the correct object. Faith is of little to no value and even destructive if it is in the wrong object. You can have a lot of faith in something, but if it is the wrong thing, then you may benefit by feeling good for awhile, but ultimately you will be left with nothing, or damaged. If you take a pill having faith it is aspirin, but it is in reality poison, you will bear the consequences regardless of your belief. This woman may have had a lot of faith in her pagan gods, but ultimately they left her hopeless. For her faith to be of value it had to be placed in a trustworthy object – in Jesus.

In addition, faith without an object is faith in faith which is faith in nothing. The great tragedy of recently deceased Norman Vincent Peale was that his power of positive thinking was just that. It was faith in faith and ultimately mere wishful thinking and trusting in one’s own imagination. Even more of a tragedy is how many people have picked up this empty philosophy and spread it into the church. It is folly to say you believe everything will work out okay unless God is the object of that trust. To believe in "love," or "faith" itself, or "goodness," or the "power of the stars," or any false god is foolishness. It is an act of faith to jump from a plane with a parachute and your faith is in the parachute. But to jump out of the plane without a parachute while saying, "I believe," is sheer stupidity. So is having faith in faith or having faith in an untrustworthy object.

Now our expectation would be that Jesus would grant her request and that would be the end of the story. But Jesus does not respond that way. Instead, He responds in a way that will elucidate from her a deeper faith, a faith that will come to Him in worship.

REVERENT

Matthew 15:23, "But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.’

Jesus ignores her. How could He do that? Why would He do that? That even seems cruel, and at the very least it is not very good manners. The disciples’ response is even worse. They have become irritated by the woman’s continual shouting to Jesus to have mercy on her. They come and say to Jesus, "Tell her to go away." There is nothing in the text to indicate that their request included that Jesus should grant her request. They simply wanted her shouting to stop and so want Jesus to send her away. We can understand the disciples harshness since they considered Gentiles beneath themselves and unworthy of their consideration, but why does Jesus act this way? Our question becomes even stronger as we read verse 24, "But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’" The answer is directed to the woman, but said to the disciples.

Now Jesus’ statement is consistent with His instructions to the disciples back in Matthew 10:5, 6 when He told them, "do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But still, hadn’t Jesus already healed the servant of a Gentile Roman Soldier (Matthew 8)? Wasn’t the gospel eventually supposed to go to the Gentiles as well? Wasn’t Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all nations? Why then such an answer and why wouldn’t Jesus grant the woman her request?

Again, we find that it seems that Jesus is being harsh with her and we wonder why, but you see that is often the way it is with us. We do not have the full information and it is easy to judge based on the information we do have. We do that not only with one another and think evil of others when we know only part of the story and are therefore guilty of prejudicial judgment (Matthew 7:1-5), but much worse, we also do that with God. When something happens that we do not like we can be quick to cry out, "Why me, Lord," and "How can you do this to me, Lord." We end up blaming the Lord for the evil that befalls us and even worse, in doing so, we think evil of Him.

Let us be clear on this fact. There is no evil that proceeds from the Lord. He is the "Father of lights" from whom "every good and perfect gift" comes and in whom there is "no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17). The Lord God is the one who is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin"(Exodus 34:6-7). He is the one who "cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13). He is the thrice holy God (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4) who is "righteous in all His ways"(Psalm 145:17) and "without injustice" (Deuteronomy 32:4). We may not understand all that God does or why in His sovereignty He allows what He does, but this we do know, He is holy and just, kind and merciful.

There are several reasons why Jesus has responded as He has so far. First, He is bringing out the central truth that salvation is to the Jew first. Even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, drives that point home in Romans 1:16, "for I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." God’s plan was for the message of salvation to go out to the world through the nation of Israel and to this point the Gentiles have not been grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11). The Gentiles would not be grafted in until after Jesus had completed His work in offering Himself as Messiah to Israel. The message of salvation being extended to the Gentiles would not occur until after Jesus’ resurrection.

A second reason for Jesus’ response here was to draw the woman out into a greater demonstration of her faith. We find that is exactly what happens in verse 25. "But she began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’"

Notice the complete identification the mother takes with her daughter. The cry is not to help her daughter, but to help her for she sees any help given to her daughter by the Lord is to her as well. This mother loves her daughter very much. Take note as well that this woman is bowing down before Jesus. Bowing before another could be either an act of respect, as in bowing before a king, or it could be an act of worship as in bowing before God. It would be hard to be dogmatic and say that the woman’s faith had increased to the point that she believed Jesus was God and was worshiping Him (as the KJV indicates), but there is a strong possibility of that. But at a minimum, she understood that Jesus was not an ordinary man and was deserving of her highest respect, and so she is bowing before Him. Her action and request brings us to the next point about her faith. Not only was she repentant in turning from her pagan idols to Jesus, not only was her faith in the right object – Jesus, and not only was she reverent to Jesus, but she was also persistent.

PERSISTENT

The English translation does not bring this out well, but the verb tense here states that she was continually bowing before Jesus crying out to Him, "Lord, help me," just as she had earlier been continually crying out to Him to have mercy on her daughter." Jesus’ response of seeming indifference and statement that He was sent only to the House of Israel did not dissuade her one bit. She continued to peruse after Jesus and plead with Him for mercy and help. She was persistent.

Such perseverance should be the mark of every Christian, but sadly it is not. Too often we give up when we do not receive a quick reply to our requests. We may even get discouraged thinking the Lord is no longer listening to us or is ignoring us as He was this woman.

Jesus’ delay to respond to this woman’s request is not unique in the Scriptures. In fact, it is a fairly common occurrence that God does not immediately answer the requests of His children. He waits, even as we parents often do the same, until it is the right time to grant the requests of His children. Children do know what is best for them or when it is best to receive something. It is the parents’ responsibility to structure everything in the best interest of helping the child to mature. God does the same with us.

Consider the following cases where God "delayed" (from the human standpoint) granting a request or fulfilling a promise.

Abraham was 75 years old when God promised to give Him a land he would be shown and make him the father of a great nation. Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born through Hagar, but he was not the son of the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was finally born. That was a 25 year delay. Abraham was able to use all the land he needed, but he never did own all the land God promised to him and his descendants. It would be over 400 years before that promise was fulfilled in its totality (Joshua 11:23).

In Psalm 22:2, David expresses dismay that God has not answered his prayers saying, "O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; And by night, but I have no rest." Remember that David was anointed king by Samuel when he was young – probably in his teens (1 Samuel 16), yet for many years David has to continually flee from wicked King Saul. Finally, Saul dies and David is able to become king over part of the kingdom when he is 30 years old. It is another 7.5 years before David gains the whole kingdom promised to him.

In the New Testament we have the case of Jesus arriving at Jairus’ house seemingly too late for his daughter died before Jesus got there, but then we find that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. The same thing occurs in the case of Lazarus. Jesus purposely delayed for two days waiting for Lazarus to die before He went there. The delay seemed a tragedy to the family, but Jesus’ whole purpose was to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11).

This woman could have left saying that Jesus was cold, compassionless, and His religion was bigoted, but she knew that Jesus was her only hope. She did not understand why Jesus delayed, but she persisted and kept placing her faith and hope in Him. Should we do no less?

HUMBLE

Another aspect of this woman’s faith comes out in verses 26 and 27. "And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’"

The term "dog" here is a specific term meaning "house dog," that pet that is often so dear to the family, so the statement is not quite as harsh as it sounds in English, yet it is still a strong statement. If she had been proud like so many of the people Jesus had been dealing with in Galilee, she would have left right then. But she was not proud. She was humble. She understood exactly the message of Jesus’ statement and accepted it fully, while still pleading for mercy.

The children referred to the people of Israel. The bread referred to God’s blessings. The house dog referred to the Gentiles. In complete humility, she completely agreed with the truth of what Jesus had just said. The blessings were for the children of Israel and she was not worthy of them. She knew they did not belong to her. All she desired was a crumb of God’s mercy that spilled over from the abundance of mercy He had granted to Israel.

What a beautiful example of the humility and faith, and what a contrast she was to the pride and unbelief of those Jesus had been with in Galilee. She responded in complete humility which is the way each of us should respond.

EXALTED

It is no wonder then that Jesus exalts her even as the Scriptures say, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble . . .", and those who humble themselves under God’s hand will be exalted at the proper time (1 Peter 5:5, 6). Look at verse 28, "Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once."

Jesus’ work was still to the lost sheep of Israel, but a fragment of God’s mercy was spilled over as her daughter was healed. This was a drop of mercy given to a Gentile just as had been given to the Centurion in Matthew 8. They were the precursors to the flood of mercy that would come to all people after Jesus had completed His work of redemption.

The delay in granting her request brought out in her a greater measure of faith just as the delays in the case of Abraham, David, Lazarus, and yes, the delays to the answers to our prayers, bring out a greater measure of faith in us.

What kind of faith do you have? The repentant, reverent, persistent, humble faith in the Lord that this Canaanite woman had is an example of the faith that receives God’s mercy. Are those the marks of your faith? It they are not, you had better spend some time this week on your knees before the Lord until they are, for this is both the faith of salvation and the faith that receives God’s blessings.


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