This morning, let's look at Matthew 15:21-28, the next in our study of this gospel. Let me read for you the text so you'll have it set in your mind, then we'll flow through it and see the Spirit of God instruct us as to its meaning and application. Beginning in verse 21.
"Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, 'Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.' But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, 'Send her away, for she cries out after us.' But He answered and said, 'I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, 'Lord, help me!' But He answered and said, 'It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs.' And she said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus answered and said to her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour."
The thing I want you to notice as we begin our study of this text is the phrase in verse 28, "Great is your faith." I want to talk to you from this narrative passage on the quality of great faith. The Greek word for 'great' there is basically the root word 'mega,' so this is mega-faith. That gives it a more contemporary feel. Jesus says of this woman, "You have mega-faith, great faith."
What is it about the faith of this woman that constitutes it as great faith? We know the Bible speaks of little faith, weak faith, and also of strong faith, abiding faith, continuing faith, bold faith, rich faith, obedient faith, steadfast faith, dead faith, precious faith, common faith, unfeigned faith, working faith, and all faith. But what is the nature of mega-faith?
By the way, this isn't the first time our Lord has said this. Back in chapter 8, a centurion came to Him and wanted Jesus to perform a miracle on behalf of his servant, who was paralyzed. Jesus said to him, "I have not found so great faith in Israel." There are, then, two times already in Matthew where we hear about mega-faith, and both of them were Gentiles, not Jews. So great faith marks out those outside the people of the covenant on both occasions where our Lord honors it.
I believe, as we look at this great faith, in Matthew 15:21-28, it will show us a beautiful picture of saving faith. The text does not specifically say that the woman entered into salvation blessing, or that she was redeemed from sin, but in the very statement of our Lord about her great faith and in the very nature of the faith itself, it seems obvious to me without even making a statement that she came all the way to saving faith in Jesus Christ. So the picture here is one of the great kind of faith that really apprehends the truth of God in Christ.
Let's begin in verse 21. "Then Jesus went from there," that is, from Galilee where He had been ministering for a long time, "And departed into the region of Tyre and Sidon." First of all, it says that Jesus left Galilee. There were reasons for that - the pressure was really building. His ministry was so far-reaching, everyone knew about it, hostility was beginning to form in the concrete, there were tremendous pressures being applied to Him, and I'll share just some insight into what they were.
First of all, there was the wild, popular frenzy of the political, militarily-oriented who wanted to take Him and force Him to be a king, rush Him down to Jerusalem in the Passover season, gather an army around Him and have Him overthrow the Romans. They were looking only for political things, self-serving free food, and whatever else He might provide for them. They applied tremendous pressure to Jesus.
There was political pressure from another angle, and that was due to the rather bizarre, jealous hatred of Herod that had resulted in the murder of John the Baptist, which certainly would equally have resulted in the murder of Jesus Christ had He exposed Himself to that man.
Then there was certain religious pressure also, from people in a hierarchical position, as well as the masses of people. The Scribes and Pharisees were confronting Him with a desire to plot against and take His life, and in the last conversation, which we just saw, He had exposed the false character of their tradition as that which was antithetical to the truth of God. Having been exposed again, they were even more desirous of eliminating this one who was undermining their religious stature in the community.
Add to that the fact that the mass of people who followed Him, after John 6, when He began to delineate to them the principles of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, "Walked no more with Him." You can see that the religious leaders and religious people, who were initially attracted to Him, were beginning to move against Him. He was, as Edersheim puts it, "Saying distinctly un-Jewish things."
So it was the political and religious pressure that drove Him to seek a time of seclusion with His own. He had tried that earlier, in going across the Sea of Galilee to the northeastern shore, and going up into a mountain. But you'll remember that the multitude gathered below, so that was brought to a halt. He sought it again by going across the sea to the other side, only to find the multitude there. He went into Gennesaret, which is an area of farmland without city, only to find another multitude there.
Seeking again the rest, seclusion, quiet, and time with His own, anticipating the Cross only a year away, and knowing there was much to be readied in their hearts, He sought seclusion. So from the frenzy of Galilee, He went into the north. He went beyond, if you will, the political and religious jurisdiction of the leaders of Israel.
Notice that it says in verse 21 that He went into the region, or the parts, and the Greek is literally 'parts.' It doesn't mean that He just went up to the edge, but He went into the region of Tyre and Sidon. If you were looking at that on a map today, that would be the southern mountains of Lebanon. The journey was perhaps 50 miles at the most through rough, mountain passage roads. It would be a great change in climate, from the hot area of the Sea of Galilee, very low, to the high, very cool mountains of southern Lebanon.
Just as a note, the term there for 'regions' is sometimes translated 'coasts,' and sometimes translated 'borders,' but the proper term is parts or regions. He actually went into Phoenicia, into the Gentile area. He did not just stop on the edge. Mark 7:24 is the comparative passage, and Mark uses the term 'borders,' but because Matthew uses the term 'region,' we know He went into the region, although He stayed on the border of the region.
If you have any further question about that, you would find it eliminated from Mark 7:31, which says that He went out from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. That tells us that when His work there was done, He left the region. We know He must have gone into that area.
So Jesus left Palestine, the land of Israel, on this occasion, for a brief time to go into the border region of Phoenicia. For Jesus, this was a deliberate withdrawal. It was not out of fear, but out of a desire for time alone with His twelve men, time for preparing them for the Cross, for the mission at hand, and time to take the pressure off the frenzied situation in Galilee. Palestine obviously afforded Him no privacy; no matter where He went, there was a mob there. He needed this time.
Some people find it very burdensome to assume that He actually went into a Gentile land because of what it says in verse 24, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Some people, wanting to keep that firmly within the framework of the borders of Palestine, don't want to allow for the Lord to leave. But you really have to if you deal with what the Scripture says. We'll see what verse 24 means as we move through the text, but it is in no way violated.
Let me give you insight into why He went into this area, and why it doesn't violate verse 24; this will set the scene for you. Basically speaking, we know that when Jesus went into that area of the Gentile lands, He did not purposely go there to minister. This was not the time when He was saying, "I've had enough of Israel's rejection and animosity, enough of the hard, shallow, weedy soil, and their turning against Me. This is the end; I'm leaving." It was not that, and verse 24 tells us that His mission is still yet to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
So this is not a final kind of act; He did not go there primarily to minister. In fact, in Mark 7:24, it says, "He went away to the region of Tyre. When He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it." So He did not go there to minister, or for the purpose of expanding His ministry into Gentile territory, but to rest. It is very much like Elijah the prophet in I Kings 17, when he needed solace, comfort, and provision, the Lord sent him to the house of a widow of Zarephath and said, "Go in the house, stay in the house, and she'll meet your need." This was a time of rest.
But there is a sense, I think, in which Jesus knew there would be ministry there. It had long ago been established that the people of Phoenicia, the people of that area now known as Lebanon, had already heard about His ministry. As far back as Matthew 4, when Jesus was first beginning His ministry in Galilee, verse 24 says that people were gathered out of that area north of the border of Palestine and they were coming down into Palestine, into Galilee, because they had heard of Jesus and they were bringing multitudes with them, and He healed their diseases, cast out their demons, so they were very much aware of Him.
Mark 3:8, which also records an earlier time, says, "From the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude heard of all that He was doing and came to Him." We might also note that they must have had rather receptive hearts. They were hearts that weren't burdened by the terrible legalism of Judaism, not bound by the chains of tradition. They seemed to be less intellectually proud and less religiously proud.
In fact, if you look with me at Matthew 11, I'll remind you of what our Lord said in His denunciation of the cities of Galilee. He had done His works in those cities, and they did not repent, so in verse 21, He says, "Woe unto you, Korazin and Bethsaida," and effectively says in verse 23 the same thing about Capernaum, the major city of Galilee. He says, "For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." So He says that there is a receptivity among the people of Phoenicia that is not true among the Jews.
I'm convinced that when they did bring people down early in His ministry, there were many who did believe in Him, and must have responded to Him, and perhaps repented and came to full faith in the Messiah. So He is saying that there are people up there who know about this, according to Matthew, and who responded to the Lord. And if they had seen all that the others had seen, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long before.
So there is a sense in which, although He is not fully opening the ministry to the Gentiles, or canceling out the priority of Israel, He is extending Himself to open hearts. Even though He did not go there purposely to minister as such, but to seek seclusion, He knew that when He got there, He would meet this woman, because He knew everything. Before He left, according to Mark 7:31, He did minister on a wide range to the people in that area. So He did go to some open hearts.
I see a sense of pathos in this; He can only take the resistance, the shallowness, the hostility and animosity of Israel for so long, and He was driven to go to a place where hearts were more open. There is symbolism in this; He is abandoning traditional religion for true faith. He is abandoning religious pride for humility. He is abandoning the one who seeks nothing for the one who seeks with an open heart. He is always available to that person.
Not long before this, had He not said to all the crowd gathered after the feeding had occurred, "He that comes to Me I will by no means cast out," and to His disciples, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest?" No, He had never turned His back on Gentiles. In fact, the centurion in chapter 8 was a Gentile. In fact the woman who was the first to receive the message of His Messiahship in John 4 was even worse than a Gentile in the Jewish mind - she was a Samaritan, a half-breed.
Wasn't His mission always to the world? He said it Matthew 28, "Go into all the world and make disciples." Now, we see Him doing what He always intended to do. Yes, it was to be through Israel that the channel was to be cut to reach the world, but it was obvious that Israel was darkened and hardened. Since His original intention was to reach the world anyway, He was never resistant to one coming from the Gentile world. But at first, He went there to seek seclusion.
Archbishop Trench says, "Like perfume betrays itself, so He whose name is perfume poured out cannot be hid." So we look at verse 22 and see what happened. Secluded in the house but not for long. "Behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him." This person doesn't fit the Jews' view of who can enter into the blessing of God. First, it's a woman! Secondly, she's a Canaanite.
You remember the Canaanites; they were the original occupants of the Promised Land, and when God brought His people in, He said, "This is now your land, the land of our covenant, and when you enter that land, totally eliminate the Canaanites. They are a vile, sinful, wretched cancer on the body of humanity. Obliterate them." They were a cursed, doomed people, set for divine removal through the instrumentation of the people of Israel. You can read about it in the Old Testament, if no other place, then certainly in Deuteronomy 7. Frankly, the only reason this lady was even alive is because Israel was disobedient. So if there was anyone ever outside the covenant, it would be a Canaanite.
Mark calls her a Syro-Phoenician, that is, from the area of Syria and Phoenicia, or Syria and Lebanon. This is the woman who comes to Jesus, and she is one of those who would have repented in Tyre and Sidon if the Lord had done His works there, because she had seen enough up to this point to be convinced, and she really does come repenting.
In a real sense, she is a picture of genuine, saving faith. She is outside the covenant, an outcast, a sinner from a people of sinners, she has no right to or claim on the covenant, she has no worthiness to ask anything of our Lord, and she is the perfect example of a sinner who comes without right, privilege, or worthiness to embrace Jesus Christ by faith.
We can conclude at this point that she is utterly dissatisfied with her idols. If she has been worshiping Astarte alone or in concert with other gods, they have not been able to solve her problem. She is unsatisfied, her needs are unmet, so she comes to Jesus Christ believing in her heart that He can meet her need. Jesus says of her, "You have great faith."
This is an important note: great faith is a relative term. To her, it was great faith because she had so little on which to build it. In other words, she was a pagan outside the covenant, outside the law, outside the promises, outside the Word of God, outside the Scriptures, and she had been in area where the Lord Jesus had not been doing His mighty deeds. So based on the amount of content and information she had, her faith is great.
On the other hand, when the Lord says to the disciples, "Oh you of little faith," it is only little in a relative sense; relative to all they knew and to all they had been exposed to, they should have had a greater faith. But in her case, this is great faith. I believe that is the key to the whole passage. If you don't understand that the faith of the woman is the issue, you can't understand what goes on.
We see then there the first element of great faith, and I'll give you five qualities that mark great faith. The first one is that great faith, or mega-faith, is properly directed. She put her faith in the right person. She was disillusioned with Astarte, disillusioned with the idols, the no-gods, the dumb deities. She now puts her faith in the right object, and that is the first and foremost characteristic of great faith - it has the right object.
You hear people talking about having faith, and people saying, "I have a lot of faith, I'm a believer." I always think of that song that says, "I believe for every drop of rain, a flower grows. I believe that somewhere in the great somewhere, there is someone who hears every prayer. I believe, in the darkest night, a candle glows." You know what that is? Stupid. That is believing in nothing.
That's like John Greenleaf Whittier, who was a better poet than he was a theologian, who said, "The steps of faith fall on the seeming void and find the rock beneath." Whatever that means. Faith is something that jumps out into a big void and finds a rock beneath? You'd better hope. It's kind of like a guy being in an airplane and jumping out without a parachute, and saying, "I believe!" That's dumb. If you have a parachute, you have something to believe in; if you don't, jumping into the void is not an act of faith, but of stupidity.
There are people who believe in music. To do what for what? Or who believe in love, or who 'believe in believing.' Some people say they believe it will all work out. It's contentless faith, it has no object, and directs itself to nothing. It is pointless, like going on vacation and leaving your 3-year-old at home, and saying, "Pay all the bills while we're gone." It's silly and pointless. In order for faith to be sensible, you have to put it in the right object.
The woman came, turning her back on the idols, and believed in the Lord, the Son of David. Her object of faith was correct. Wishful thinking is not faith; it is an illusion. Great faith always has the right object. She turned from her faith in false gods, dumb deities, no-gods, idols, and cried out to Him. There is a lot wrapped up in that pronoun 'Him.' Astarte might have been OK until the current dilemma, in which her daughter was badly demonized, and now she couldn't get any help. I'm sure she went through the prescribed religious ceremonies, and all of the wailings and screamings and whatever you did to get Astarte's attention, and she came up with nothing. So she left her religious heritage, her friends, her system, her false belief, her prejudice, and came to the only one who could help her. She put her faith in the right object.
There is an element of repentance here. If you were to look at I Thessalonians 1:9 as a comparative, Paul extols the virtue of the Thessalonians because he says, "You turned to God from idols." That is turning, repentance - putting your faith in the right object. It is the same thing stated by Peter in Acts 4:12, where he said, "Neither is there salvation in any other name than the name of Jesus Christ." Only in His name; there is no salvation anywhere else.
You'll remember also that Peter preached in Acts 3:16, "Through faith in His name has made this man strong," through faith in all that He is, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 20:21, Paul says that we preach repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. There are people who are being damned to Hell by faith in the wrong object; they believe in the wrong thing. They may believe very hard, but it's the wrong object. Great faith has the right object, and is properly directed. Here is a woman coming out of all this paganism and putting her faith in the right person. That is great faith, and the right place for it.
Secondly, it is not only properly directed, but it is repentant. I've already said that repentance has two elements. It is turning from sin to God, from idols to God, and wrapped in it is a sense of penitence. We see that in verse 22. "A woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, 'Have mercy on me.'" What does that mean? What does mercy say? Does mercy say, "Hey, I'm here to tell you what I deserve?" No, mercy says, "I'm here in spite of the fact that I don't deserve anything." That is what this lady is asking for - mercy. The basic assumption of one who seeks mercy is a sense of unworthiness. She's not coming demanding anything.
I heard a preacher say this week, "Don't ever ask God for things; just tell Him what you deserve." That is not right; you deserve Hell. Do you want to tell Him that? That's your business. This woman did not come saying, "I demand this or that." She came seeking mercy, and mercy says, "I don't deserve anything. I need mercy."
By the way, the term 'mercy' is a very biblical term. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, the word eleeo, which is the word used here, is there 500 times! It is the very character of man's relation to God that man comes to God only to seek mercy. There is no worthiness there. David cries out to God in Psalm 51, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, according to Your loving kindness, according to Your tender mercies." She is the antithesis of the ugly spiritual pride of the Pharisees and scribes.
She is much like the word that we find in Exodus 34 which characterized the people of God. "And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation.'" And Moses responded, "If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us," or, "If You are the God of mercy, and I can find that mercy and grace, then hear my request."
So I believe in great, saving, genuine faith that really apprehends the blessing of Christ. There is repentance, a sense of unworthy, undeserving penitence. You are not only turning from idols to God, but there is a sense of recognizing that you are asking a favor that you do not deserve. Great faith has repentance; repentance isn't something you add to faith. It is in it.
Spurgeon wrote, "Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith. All the while that we walk by faith and not by sight, the fear of repentance glitters in the eye of faith. That is not true repentance which does not come of faith in Jesus; and that is not true faith in Jesus which is not tinctured with repentance. Faith and repentance, like the Siamese twins, are vitally joined together. Faith and repentance are but two spokes in the same wheel, two handles of the same plow.
"Repentance has been well described as a heart broken for sin and from sin, and it may equally well be spoken of as turning and returning. It is a change of mind of the most thorough and radical sort, and it is attended with sorrow for the past and a resolve of amendment in the future. Repentance of sin and faith in divine pardon are the ways and woof of the fabric of real conversion."
That is correct. When we talk about repentance, we are not adding that to faith; it is inherent in faith. She is coming saying, "I'm not worthy. Give me mercy." I want you to note that as you make this an analogy to saving faith, because saving faith will be that which is repentant. In other words, it's synonymous. You could even call saving faith repentance, or call salvation repentance, or conversion repentance because the Bible does.
God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Peter says, "God is not slack concerning His promise, or willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." What does he mean by that? Salvation. What does Paul mean in Romans 2:4 when he says, "The goodness of God is meant to lead you to repentance," but conversion? So the woman came, and turned form idols, with a sense of unworthiness. There was repentance, and in that repentance was a turning and a penitence. This is mega-faith.
There is a third element. Her faith was not only properly directed and repentant, but it was reverent. She could teach our day a lot, don't you think? Listen to what she says, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!" She gives Him such a reverent title, and really two titles. The first is Lord, sovereign deity, Son of David, promised Messiah and Savior. She is saying more than 'sir' when she says 'Lord.'
Surely she is like the leper of chapter 8, who came and worshiped Him saying, "Lord, if You will, You can make me clean," and he is acknowledging Jesus' sovereignty and omnipotence when he calls Him 'Lord.' I think she comes in the same spirit; I think that bound up in 'Lord' is the sense of His sovereign deity. She knows He has supernatural power.
In fact, the very fact that she seeks and believes that He can raise her daughter from a demon vexation back to the normal place indicates that she believes that He has power over the supernatural kingdom of Satan and demons. She must be putting into the word 'Lord' some sense of deity, of the supernatural, of divinity, of sovereignty over darkness and demons. Yes, there is deity in her use of the word Lord.
Then she calls Him, "Son of David." That is a Messianic title, the right to be a king, and there is sovereignty in that as well. David was a king, and this Lord who was his son was also of the royal line. She sees in that Messianic name the royal, sovereign Christ. She treats Him with great dignity. It must have been refreshing for Him; it certainly was of great contrast to the irreverent Jews who called Him a drunk, a friend of publicans and sinners, and demon-possessed, and every other thing they could think of to smear Him. So from the irreverence of the hating Jews, He comes to the reverence of this hated Gentile.
It is reminding me, as I think about it, of the irreverence of our own society and time. People in our day are very irreverent toward Christ. They would slur Him and use His name profanely, as a curse word, an epithet to express their anger or bitterness. Even in the church, I fear that we have become irreverent. I was reading a book and it was describing a chorus. This is a chorus that young people are now singing, and it is about Jesus, and one of the verses says that He is the salt on my Fritos. There is a certain obscenity to something like that.
Great faith, the kind of faith that you see with this woman, has great reverence, a sense of respect and awe. I know she didn't understand the fullness of the Lordship of Christ, and she would not have perceived the sweeping reality of what these titles meant, but she sees in there some sense of His Lordship, and power, and supernatural character. She says, "My daughter is badly demonized," which is the literal Greek.
The word 'daughter' means just a little child. This ought to be a warning to us that even a little child, in pagan society and religion is susceptible to being demonized. She comes to Jesus believing that He has power over the lord of darkness, and affirms His power over Satan, and her own gods and deities, who can render her no service in this matter. Whatever the fullness of her understanding of lordship was, there was something there and her confidence is astounding; her faith is astounding.
I thought of this as I was studying. It is kind of nice to see a pagan mother, outside the covenant, who didn't know God, who loved her baby. We don't always see that in our society. But I do see that basically, God has built in, even to pagans, that a woman should love her child. We see less than that today.
Great faith is properly targeted, repentant, and reverent. Let me give you a fourth thought, which is the heart of the text. Great faith is persistent. Please notice that beginning in verse 23, Jesus puts up a series of barriers for this woman. Some people come to Christ and have to struggle through their own doubt, some struggle through the inability of the disciples (in the gospel of Matthew), but this woman, in order to get to Christ, has to struggle through the barriers that He puts up Himself. People say that it's easy to be a Christian, but it wasn't for her.
Watch what happens in verse 23. She comes with all of this on her heart, and pours it out saying, "'Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.' But He answered her not a word." He didn't say a word to her. You say, "That isn't like Christ. I mean, why does He do that?" Chrysostom, the church father, said, "The Word has no word. The Fountain is sealed; the Physician holds back His remedy." Did He care? Sure. Did He have compassion? Of course. But what was He doing? Why didn't He say anything?
He had had enough of shallowness, of superficiality, of people who came and got what they wanted and left. He had gotten all He needed of that in Galilee; there was enough shallow soil and weedy ground, and I believe that He wanted to strengthen, test, pull this woman's faith to its full flower, so He puts up barriers through with she must persist to show the reality of true faith. That's why I believe this account is in the text, to contrast with the shallowness of the prior ones we've seen. There is no indifference on His part, but a moving of this woman to great, saving, mega-faith.
Remember in Matthew 7, where Jesus said that the gate is narrow and few find it? He said that it is with difficulty that men enter the Kingdom, but that they are pressing their way into the Kingdom. Luke 13:24 says they are agonizing their way into the Kingdom. It may foul up your theology a little bit, but Jesus resists shallow faith and wants to demonstrate in this woman the truest faith, so He puts up the barriers through with only genuine faith will persist.
I don't know that we shouldn't be thinking seriously about that. There are some barriers to salvation that we could put up to screen out shallow faith. So He doesn't say anything. His disciples aren't nearly so in control. "His disciples came and urged Him, saying, 'Send her away, for she cries out after us.'" They're saying that she krazoafter them, or screams after them. "She is following us around screaming, yelling, and wailing. Send her away please! It is no big thing to just heal and send her away."
What this indicates to me is that His silence was over a period of time, and He was not responding but continuing to be silent, and she was yelling and screaming continually. He was doing nothing, and you can imagine the disciples' speech. "Don't you realize that if this woman keeps screaming, we'll attract a crowd, and then there goes our retreat!" Besides the fact that it is awfully irritating to try to have a conversation with a screaming woman running up and down. The Lord was just standing there. "Heal her and send her away; it's no big deal, and You've done it for thousands."
Instead, He says this to her, and of course, they heard. "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." What a terrible thing to say! It's saying, "Lady, you're not a Jew. Sorry." Why would He say that? He had healed the centurion's servant, given grace to a Samaritan. Why, multitudes had come out of Tyre and Sidon in Matthew 4 and been healed, and the demons had been cast out of them. What is this? "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." That's like saying, "Go away; you're not a member of this church. We don't care what your needs are; you're not a member." What a strange statement.
What is He saying? I think, to the disciples, He's saying first of all that the plan is still on course. He hadn't turned His back on Israel yet, in spite of their hostility, hatred, bitterness, and murderous plots against Him. He was still calling them to repentance. He would go back into Israel, and preach to them and call them to believe and come to His Kingdom; right up to the end, He would do that. Even when He ascended into Heaven, Peter stood up in Acts 3 and says, "You have killed the Prince of Life," and at the end of the sermon, he says, "But you're still the sons of the covenant." In other words, God is still calling out to them.
The plan was that God would send the Messiah to Israel, and then through Israel, the world would be reached. Jesus is saying, in terms of the theology of the statement, "I'm not turning My back on Israel. This is not the time to move to the Gentiles; we're still on that plan. I don't have to do anything here, because I'm still sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Mark adds in his account that Jesus said, "Let the children first be filled." In other words, "I'm going to feed Israel first." We know that, in His heart, He always had the world. We always knew that He would go to the world, and Israel was to be the channel, and already many Gentiles had responded, but He wanted them to know that that was still the plan, to go through Israel. So for them, it's an important note. But for the woman, it's like a slap.
There are a lot of people who, at this point, would say, "You can just forget it then. I'll find myself a god who cares." But she'd already been through that problem, and there weren't any. She had so much faith that when He said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," it didn't deter her at all, and the Lord was just testing her faith. He separates her from the shallow.
In fact, look at verse 25 and see the next characteristic of her faith - it was humble. Properly targeted, repentant, reverent, persistent, and humble. "Then she came and worshiped Him." This is a humble lady! She's not mad, she's worshiping. She says, "Lord help me." And she's thinking, "If the Jewishness thing is problem, I'll drop the 'Son of David' part. But You're not just the Son of David, but the Lord, the Creator, help me! I'm a creature." She is humble. By the way, it says that she worshiped, and the word is proskuneo, which means she bowed down, and put her head in the dirt in worship.
Worship is always accepted by the Lord. We saw that in chapter 8, 9, 14, we'll see it in 18, and the disciples do it in 28, and it other places in the Scripture, right on to the book of Revelation. Whenever He was worshiped, He accepted it because He deserved it; He was God. But this is the right attitude. He has put up one barrier of silence, then another of purpose, and it doesn't matter; she plunges through both of them. She doesn't care about that, she just wants help.
This is the truly seeking heart, the beatitude attitude, where you come begging in your spirit, meekly, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and even the Lord Himself cannot put sufficient barriers to hold you back. This is a great truth. Her request was so humble. She is bowed down, with her head in the dirt, saying, "Lord, help me." She doesn't argue, or get into a theological debate. She is so humble, and in deep distress, with no pride.
She didn't say, "Well, who do You think Jews are? Better than everyone else?" Not at all. She doesn't come like so many would think you could come, saying, "Hey, Lord, it's me. Aren't You thrilled?" There is none of that. She's saying, "You're the only one and I'm here because of that, and I'm going to stay here." It is the complete absence of pride, and self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. That marks great faith.
Then the Lord says, "It's not right," and that doesn't mean morally right, but the normal, accepted thing to do, or reasonable, "To take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." This is getting really painful. At first He's silent, then He gives her some dispensational deal, and now, He calls her a dog! It's another barrier. You're thinking, "Is the Lord trying to convert this woman or not?" But He gives her a little picture.
There are two words in the Greek for 'dogs,' and one is the mangy, scroungy, mongrel, vicious kind of dogs that ran in packs and prowled around the garbage. The other is the word for little pet dog, and that's the word He uses. So it is not a vicious statement; what He's saying is that anyone knows that while you're eating dinner, you don't take the kids' food and give it to the begging pet dog that is at their feet.
We know what those pets are like - they're in the house, and part of the family. They may even, by this time, have your last name. They've been around a long time. And you know how it is when you eat; they get up to the table, and start that little routine of wanting your food. He says, "This is a basic principle of life that when the pet dog comes around the table, it's part of the family, and everyone knows it's included in the house, but you don't give the food to them, but to the children. That's the way it is." And another barrier goes up for this woman.
He's testing her faith. And He's done this before, by the way. He said to Abraham, "You're going to have a son," then made him wait years until that son came. Romans 4 tells us why: Abraham grew strong in faith. He was strengthened by testing. Then there was the time that the Lord was going to feed the multitude, and He knew He was going to feed the multitude, and Philip says, "Lord, what are we going to do? What are we going to do?" And Jesus plants the problem in Philip's mind, but the whole time, He knows He's going to feed the whole crowd! The Bible says, "This He did to test Him," or work on his faith. When Lazarus died, He didn't come; He stayed away until Lazarus was beyond sick, but dead. And not only dead, but dead four days. Then He shows up. Why did He wait? In John 11, He says, "For your sake, that you may believe." He tested their faith.
That's what He's doing with this woman: drawing out her faith, letting it demonstrate its reality. He's delaying to test her; putting up the fences and making her plow through them. I like her, she is a sharp lady. He gives this barrier, "It's not fitting to take the children's bread and give it to dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord."
Now, she's not just emotional, but she's sharp. "Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." I like that; she picks up on His analogy and takes it a step farther; she's persistent. If He was going to make Jewishness an issue, she'd go through that. If He made this analogy an issue, she turned the analogy to fit the situation. That couldn't stop her either.
It's true. Through the time that Jesus was feeding the children of Israel, crumbs were dropping to the Gentiles, and we see it all through the gospel account. Finally, of course, the dawn will come when the church is born and Gentiles are embraced in a marvelous way. What a persistent lady.
Watch our Lord's response in verse 28. "Then Jesus answered and said to her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour." I believe that was a saving day for that lady, because she had great faith. Spurgeon says, "The Lord of glory surrendered to the faith of the woman." What a story. She brought her great faith and found the blessing she sought. That's what great faith does. Let's bow together in prayer.
I'm reminded, Father, that we see many instances in the gospels where people break through hindrances keeping them from Christ - the paralytic breaking through the outward hindrance, the roof; blind Bartameus pushing his way through the hindrance of his fellow man; and this woman, maybe most heroic of all, breaks through the hindrances even placed by Christ Himself. We thank You, Father, for the true faith that forces its way through opposition until it can draw living water from the wells of salvation. May Your Spirit produce in the hearts of many this day great faith, faith that saves, desperate faith that says, "I turn from everything, acknowledging my unworthiness, I cry for help to the one who alone can help. Nothing will still that cry, and I ask in humble worship." Father, may that be the faith in our hearts.
We pray that You will work Your work, that no one would come short of great faith, and in having great faith, genuinely hungering and thirsting for Christ, coming in meekness and brokenness to embrace the Savior. Do Your work, Lord, and we will praise You. In Christ's name, amen.
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