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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 22, 2015
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 and walk on water in order to be with Jesus. There were the multitudes who 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. There was the faith of the Pharisees and scribes which was firmly placed in the many traditions 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. Jesus specifically calls this a “great faith,” but “great” is a relative term. This faith is not “great” as in large in size, for even Peter’s “little” faith was greater in that sense, but because it was an exceptional faith for someone who was an outcast from Israel. 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.
Our text begins in Matthew 15:21. Jesus has had an extremely busy time of ministry in the region of Galilee in the area of Capernaum that began just as His disciples returned from their ministry assignments. In order to get some rest and hear their ministry reports, Jesus has them all sail across the Sea of Galilee to a place near Bethsaida which Scripture describes as a “lonely place,” but it did not stay lonely for long for the crowds followed Jesus there. Instead of being upset, Jesus had compassion on them to heal their sick, teach them and even fed the more than 5,000 people that had gathered there with just 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fish (John 6:1-13). (See: Ministering to the Multitude) Jesus then sent the disciples back across the lake in the boat and He sent the multitudes away. He then 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 out to them. That is where the incident took place of Peter walking on the water and then sinking when he took his eyes off Jesus and noticed the wind and waves. Peter called out to Jesus for help, and after rescuing him and getting in the boat with the other disciples, they all immediately reached the agricultural area of Gennesaret which is just south of Capernaum. (See: Keeping Your Eyes on Jesus) However, they still did not gain any peace and quiet for the people there recognized Jesus right away and sent for all their sick. Jesus again compassionately healed them. (Matthew 14:22-36). Later that same day Jesus and the disciples returned to Capernaum where He was teaching in the synagogue when a crowd of people who had been with Him at Bethsaida the previous day along with some folks who had sailed from Tiberias caught up with Him. Their actions in looking for Jesus demonstrated that they had some level of faith in Him, yet when Jesus challenged them to believe He had come from heaven and could give them eternal life, they rejected Him and departed (John 6:22-71). (See: Doing the Work of God & (See: Responding to Difficult Doctrine). Conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem then escalated when they came up to Galilee and challenged Him about keeping the traditions of the elders. Jesus rebuked them that their worship was in vain for they were breaking the commandments of God in order to carry out their man-made traditions (Mark 7:1-23). (See: Traditions vs Truth)
The next event in the narrative picks up in Matthew 15:21, “And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.” Tyre & Sidon were on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Lebanon. Tyre was about 50 miles south of modern Beirut and Sidon was half way 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 may have been factors, but Jesus never did anything on the basis of fear. All of Jesus’ actions were done on the basis of the Father’s will and plan for His life (John 6:38). That is an example for us to follow in our own lives in overcoming the fears that would otherwise control us. Jesus did not go into the territory of the Gentiles because of fear of Herod, the religious leaders or anything else.
Mark 7:24 indicates the reason for Jesus’ actions. “Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.” Jesus was still trying to find a quiet place where He could be alone with His disciples for a while. By going to a Gentile area they could escape the crowds that kept following Jesus or appearing wherever He went in Galilee. Most Jewish people were very hesitant to travel to Gentile lands and especially those Jews who were serious about their religious heritage. Yet, even here, though Jesus did not want people to know where He was at, He could not escape notice.
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” (Matthew 15:22). Mark 7:25-26 gives us additional detail, “25 But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet.26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”
This request does not seem to be that significant when you first read it because there have been so many that have already called out to Jesus for healing and casting out of demons. However, when you notice that this is not in the land of Israel and this is not a Jewish woman, there is suddenly great significance in what she is doing. This woman had no heritage in understanding or even knowing God’s revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures. She is not even in a place where she would be in regular contact with those who did.
Mark refers to her as being of the Syrophoenician nation and Matthew is specific that she was a Canaanite woman. Both terms can refer to the area in which she was born and lived with Mark using a term more familiar to the Roman readers of his gospel account and Matthew using Canaanite which would be more familiar to the Jewish readers of his gospel account. These terms may also indicate that she was of mixed ethnic heritage that included being a descendant of one of the nations that God had commanded Israel to “utterly destroy” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2). 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/Roman pantheon. This woman would have been brought up in paganism, yet now there is a new faith in her which 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 or third hand sources of people who had seen and heard Jesus. A major trade route passed through Tyre, so it is reasonable to assume that stories about Jesus were told as people were passing through her land. It appears then that she was coming to Jesus based on the stories that she had heard about Him.
Think for a moment about 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 from a people who worshiped 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 title 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 which is repentance.
Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of direction. A repentant person recognizes that the direction they were going is wrong, so they turn to follow the truth. It is easy to imagine this woman being so concerned for her cruelly demonized daughter that she seeks out the help of the deities of her people and in agony keeps finding that there is no 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 (Isaiah 44:9-17; 1 Corinthians 10:20). 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 out 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, and she must have some belief that He is capable of granting her request. She turns her back on the idols of her people and turns to the Lord Jesus.
Notice an important point about this woman’s faith. Faith must have an object and she has now placed her faith in the correct object. Faith is of little to no value, and could even be 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 a while, but ultimately you will be left with nothing or possibly even damaged. If you take a pill believing it is aspirin, but it is in reality it is poison, you will bear the consequences of your misplaced faith. 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 changed to a trustworthy object which is Jesus.
Let me quickly add here that faith without an object is faith in faith which is faith in nothing. The tragedy for the many who have been lead astray by the philosophy of Norman Vincent Peale is that his “power of positive thinking” is faith in faith. It is ultimately mere wishful thinking and trusting in one’s own imagination. It is an even greater tragedy of how many people have picked up this empty philosophy and spread it into churches that claim to be evangelical. 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 or vain philosophy is foolishness. You must have the correct object of faith. It is reasonable to believe that if you jump out of a plane wearing a parachute, the parachute will enable to survive your fall to earth. 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.
This woman has enough faith to turn from her idols to Jesus and beg Him for mercy believing that He can grant her request. We would expect that Jesus would simply grant her request as He has for so many others and that would be the end of the story. However, Jesus does not respond that way.
Initial Responses – 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 or at least a display of poor 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 want Jesus to send her away. The Greek here indicates what could be described as an impassioned plea with the particular word here (ejrwtavw / er ta ) translated as implored (NASB), urged (NKJV) and begged (ESV). They are courteous, but they are also a bit desperate – “Send her away.” There is nothing in either text to indicate that the disciples’ request included Jesus’ granting her request. They simply want her shouting to stop, so dismiss her, send her away. This lack of compassion on the part of the disciples is understandable since Jews regarded Gentiles to be beneath them and unworthy of their consideration, but why does Jesus act this way? That question becomes even stronger with what He says in 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.
Why would Jesus say such a thing? First, consider that this 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.” Yet at an earlier time Jesus had healed the servant of a Gentile Roman soldier (Matthew 8:5-13), and Simeon had applied Isaiah’s prophecy that Messiah would be a “light of revelation to the Gentiles” to Jesus (Luke 2:32). Why then would Jesus answer in this manner instead of grant her request?
Jesus’ response to this Canaanite woman seems harsh to us and we wonder why, but that is often the way it is with us. We do not have all information and it is easy to fall into the trap of judging based on the information we do have. We not only make prejudicial judgements of others based on our limited information and personal sense of justice, but too often 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 “Lord, How can you allow this to happen? ” We end up blaming the Lord for the evil that occurs, and even worse, in doing so, we think evil of Him.
Let me make this fact clear. 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 lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness 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 6:3; Revelation 4:8) who is “righteous in all His ways” (Psalm 145:17) and “without injustice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). You may not understand all that God does or why He sovereignly allows what He does, but this we do know – He is both holy and just and kind and merciful.
Let me give you several reasons why Jesus responded as He did. 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 at this point in time the Gentiles had not yet been grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:17). 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 generally extended to the Gentiles would not occur until after Jesus’ resurrection.
A second reason for Jesus to respond in this manner 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 and unto 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 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.
Jesus’ response of seeming indifference and statement that He was sent only to the House of Israel did not dissuade her. She continued to peruse after Jesus and plead with Him for mercy saying, “Lord, Help me!” Mark 7:26 states, “And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” 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 ignoring us as He did 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 fulfill the requests of His children. He often waits – even as we parents will also do – until it is the right time to grant the requests of His children. Children do not know what is best for them or when it is best to receive something. It is the responsibility of the parents to structure everything in the best interest of helping the child to mature. God does the same with us.
Consider the following cases where, from the human standpoint, God “delayed” granting a request or fulfilled a promise.
Abraham was 75 years old when God promised to give Him a land that he would be shown and make him the father of a great nation. When Abraham was 86, he followed his wife’s poor advice to bear her a son through her maidservant, Hagar. The result was the birth of Ishmael, but he was not the son of the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was finally born through Sarah as had been prophesied. That was a 25 year delay. In addition, 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 (Joshua 11:23).
David express his dismay in Psalm 22:2 that God had not yet 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, perhaps only in his teen years (1 Samuel 16), yet for many years David had to continually flee from wicked King Saul. Saul finally died in battle with the Philistines, but even then David became king only over a part of the kingdom when he was 30 years old. It is another 7.5 years before David gained the whole kingdom as had been promised to him.
In the New Testament there is the case of Jesus arriving at Jairus’ house seemingly too late, for his daughter died before Jesus got there. Yet as the story continues it becomes plain that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing including the timing of His arrival. The same thing occurs in the case of Lazarus. Jesus purposely delayed coming for two days so that Lazarus would die before He got there. The delay seemed a tragedy to the family, but Jesus’ whole purpose was to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11).
After being first ignored by Jesus and then receiving such an unpleasant response, she could have concluded that Jesus was cold, without compassion and a religious bigot and then just left. However, she did not. She did not understand why Jesus ignored her and then responded to her request with such seeming indifference, but she persisted anyway and kept placing her faith and hope in Him. Should any of us do no less even when we do not understand what God is doing or His timing?
Another aspect of this woman’s faith comes out in what occurs next. Mark 7:27-28 gives a slightly fuller account than Matthew 15:26-27 in this exchange. 27 And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”28 But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.”
Jesus describes a common real life situation which He uses as an analogy for the people of Israel and the Gentiles. The children referred to the people of Israel. The bread referred to God’s blessings. The dog referred to the Gentiles, though I must point out that the specific word used here (kunavrion/ kunarion) is a word of affection used for house dogs which were pets and often very dear to a family, so this is not quite as harsh as it sounds in English, yet it is still a strong statement. Just as it would not be proper to take food meant for the children of a house and give it to the dogs, even if they were pets, until after the children were satisfied, so it would be improper to give to Gentiles God’s blessings meant for the children of Israel.
If this woman 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. In complete humility she agrees with the truth of what Jesus had just said. She was not worthy of the blessings which were meant for the children of Israel. However, she came to plead for mercy and not something deserved, so she continues that plea in seeking 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 which was in complete contrast to the pride and unbelief of those Jesus had been with in Galilee. She responded the way each of us should respond – complete humility
1 Peter 5:5-6 states “. . . God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time . . .” That is what happens here as Jesus extends grace to her and exalts her. Combining Matthew 15:28 and Mark 7:29-30 we find that 28 “Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great, it shall be done for you as you wish.” And then 29 “He said to her, ‘Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.’ 30 And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.”
Jesus’ work was still to the lost sheep of Israel, but a fragment of God’s mercy spilled over to this woman and her daughter who had the demon removed. This drop of mercy given to a Gentile was a sign of 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 similar delays did in the cases of Abraham, David, Lazarus and so many others. Indeed, delays in answers to our own prayers should also 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 and the kind of faith each of us should have. If you do not have this kind of faith, then you need to humble yourself on your knees before the Lord this week and seek it from Him, for these are the characteristics of the faith that results in salvation and the faith that receives God’s blessings.
Jesus & the disciples had been very _____in ministry and were looking for a place of rest – but did not get it
Crowds followed Jesus to Bethsaida to get ____________- and Jesus also taught and fed them
Peter’s faith was _________, but he still got of the boat and walked on water before Jesus had to rescue him
The people in Gennesaret brought their _____________to Jesus to be healed
Crowds followed Jesus back to Capernaum, yet they would ________________He was from heaven
Jesus _________the Pharisees and scribes for breaking God’s commandments for the sake of their traditions
Jesus and the disciples ________________to the district of Tyre & Sidon
Jesus’ actions were never based on ___________for He came to do the Father’s will
Mark 7:24 – they were trying to find a quite place away from the crowds, but Jesus was ____________again
The significance of the request is that it was coming from a ______________woman
She is a descendant of the _______Canaanite people that were supposed to be utterly destroyed (Deut. 7:1-2)
She probably heard about Jesus from ____________who passed through her land
To come and make a request of Jesus requires ______________- a turning away from her pagan deities
Pleading for mercy demonstrates she ____________Jesus was greater and capable of granting her request
Faith must have an object, and it must be in the ____________object to be of value
Faith in faith (the power of positive thinking, etc.) is faith in ___________ and foolish
Initial Responses – Matthew 15:23-25
Jesus _____________her, she keeps shouting for mercy, the disciples implore Jesus to send her away
Jesus’ response seems harsh, but we have neither the information or position to __________what God does
Jesus emphasizes that salvation is to the ___first. The Gentiles will be grafted in later (Romans 1:16; 11:17)
Jesus draws the woman out to a ______________demonstration of faith – Matthew 15:25
The woman bows to Jesus (reverent) and ___________for help – identifying completely with her daughter
She persisted in her request – _______________should be a characteristic of every Christian
God often ___________granting requests and fulfilling promises – He knows what and when is best
Abraham – it is _____________before Isaac is born. It is 400 years before his descendants receive the land
David is anointed king, but ___________10-15 years to receive part of it and another 7 ½ to get all of it
Jesus purposely _______until Lazarus was dead before coming to him that He might resurrect him – John 11
Though ignored and then getting an unpleasant response, she remained ____________and persistent
Children – Israel. Bread = God’s blessings. Dog (house dog) = Gentiles
With humility she accepts the truth of Jesus’ statement, then seeks __________in begging for the crumbs
Her ____________of humility and faith was in stark contrast to the pride and unbelief of those in Galilee
1 Peter 5:5-6, God opposes the proud, but gives grace and will exalt the ______________
The delay in granting her request brought out a ________faith – as it has in countless others & should in you
Do you have a repentant, reverent, persistent, humble _____________like this woman?
If not, humble yourself before God and seek it from Him – that is the faith that receives God’s ___________
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times “faith” or “believe” is mentioned. 2) Discuss with your parents what it means to have true faith in Jesus Christ.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Trace the ministry involvement that Jesus had from the time the twelve returned from their ministry assignments (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10; John 6:1) until He went to the region of Tyre (Matthew 15:21; Mark 7:24). Did Jesus ever do anything on the basis of fear? Explain. Why did Jesus and the disciples go to the region of Tyre? Where is Tyre and Sidon? How would a Syrophonecian woman know about Jesus? What was the religious culture of the Canaanites? What was necessary for this woman to believe before she would come to Jesus and ask for mercy? Why were the disciples upset with the woman? What did they want Jesus to do? Why would Jesus ignore her and then answer her that He was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? What was the woman’s response? How should we respond when we do not get the answer we want from God? Describe the character of God. Can God be just accused of any kind of evil? What are some of the reasons that God will delay granting a request? Give Biblical examples if you can. What did Jesus mean by his analogy that children are to be satisfied first and that it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs? What was the woman’s response? What was required in her character in order to respond in that way? What was Jesus’ final response to her? Evaluate your quality of your own faith in Jesus. If there is a lack, what do you need to do in order for it become a “great faith” as demonstrated by this Canaanite woman? When will you take those actions? Who will you tell about it?
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