For this morning, let’s look at Matthew chapter 15 and verses 21 through 28, the next in our study of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew chapter 15, verses 21 through 28. Let me read for you this text and so you’ll have it set in your mind, and then we’ll flow through it and see the Spirit of God instruct us as to its meaning and application. Beginning in verse 21, we read:
“Then Jesus went from there, and departed into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same region and cried unto him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David, my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon.’ But He answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she crieth after us. But He answered and said, ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’
“Then came she and worshiped him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs.’ And she said, ‘Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered and said unto her, “O woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.’ And her daughter was made well from that very hour.”
Now, the thing I want you to notice as we begin our study of this text is the phrase in verse 28, “Great is thy faith.” And I want to talk to you from this narrative passage this morning on the quality of great faith - the quality of great faith. The Greek word for great there is basically the root word mega, so this is mega-faith, and that gives it a more contemporary feel. Jesus says of this woman, “You have mega-faith, great faith.” “You have great faith.”
Now, what is it about the faith of this woman that constitutes it as great faith? We know the Bible speaks of little faith, it speaks of weak faith, speaks 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 great faith? Mega-faith?
And by the way, it isn’t the first time our Lord has said this. Back in chapter 8, a centurion came to Him and he wanted Jesus to perform a miracle on behalf of his servant, who was paralyzed. And Jesus said to him - in 8:10 - “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” There are, then, two times already in Matthew where we hear about mega-faith - note this, please. 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.
Now, I believe as we look at this great faith in chapter 15, verses 21 to 28, it’s going to show us a beautiful picture of saving faith. Now, the text does not specifically say that the woman entered into salvation blessing, it doesn’t particularly say 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. And so the picture here is a picture of the great kind of faith, the kind of faith that really apprehends the truth of God in Christ.
Now, as we look at it, 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 parts or region of Tyre and Sidon.” Now, first of all, it says that Jesus left Galilee, and there were reasons for that. The pressure was really building. His ministry was so far-reaching, everyone knew about it, hostility was beginning to really 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 people 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, only for self-serving free food and whatever else He might provide for them, and they applied tremendous pressure on Jesus.
And there was political pressure from another angle, and that is due to the rather bizarre, jealous hatred of Herod that had resulted in the murder of John the Baptist, which certainly would have resulted equally in the murder of Jesus Christ had He exposed Himself to that man.
And then there was certain religious pressure also from people in a hierarchical position as well as the masses of people. The scribes and the 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. And having been exposed again, they were even more desirous of eliminating this one who was undermining their religious stature in the community.
And you add to that the fact that the mass of people who followed Him when he, in John 6, began to delineate to them the principles of eating my flesh and drinking my blood, walk no more with Him, you can see that the religious leaders and the 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.
And so it was the political and the religious pressure that drove Him really 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, going up into a mountain, but you remember that the multitude gathered below, and 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 was an area of farmland without city, only to find another multitude there.
Then seeking again the rest and the seclusion and the quiet and the 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. And 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.
And you notice that it says in verse 21 that He went into the region or the parts, the Greek word is literally parts. It doesn’t mean He just went up to the edge, He actually went into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And if you were looking at that on a map today, that would be Lebanon, the southern mountains of Lebanon, a journey perhaps to the extreme limit of 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.
And 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, he went into gentile area. He did not just stop on the edge. Mark 7:24 is the comparative passage. Mark tells basically the same story, and Mark uses the term borders. But because Matthew uses the term region, we know we went actually into the region, although He stayed on the border of the region.
He went into gentile territory, and if you have any further question about that, you would find it eliminated from Mark 7:31, which says He went out from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. And that tells us when His work there was done that He left the region, so we know He must have gone into that area. So Jesus did leave Palestine, He did leave the land of Israel on this occasion for a brief time, going into the region - the border region of Phoenicia.
Now, for Jesus, this was a deliberate withdrawal. It was not out of fear, it was out of a desire for time alone with His twelve men, time for preparing them for the cross, for the mission at hand, 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, and He needed this time.
Now, some people find it very, very burdensome to assume that He actually went into a gentile land because of what it says in verse 24, where He said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And 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. And we’ll show you what verse 24 means as we move down through the text, but it is not in any way violated.
Let me just give you some kind of insight into why He went into this area and why it really doesn’t violate verse 24. This will sort of set the scene for you. Basically speaking, we know that when Jesus went into that area in 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, I’ve had enough of Israel’s animosity, I’ve had enough of the hard soil, I’ve had enough of the shallow soil, I’ve had enough of the weedy soil, I’ve had enough of 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 this: “He went away to the region of Tyre, and when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it.” So He did not go there to minister, he did not go there for the purpose of expanding His ministry into gentile territory, He went there to rest. It is very much like Elijah the prophet in 1 Kings 17 when he needed solace and comfort and provision, the Lord sent him to a house of a widow of Zarephath and said, “You 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 today, had already heard about His ministry. As far back as the fourth chapter of Matthew, when Jesus was first beginning His ministry in Galilee, Matthew 4:24 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 and He cast out their demons, so they were very much aware of Him.
Mark chapter 3, in verse 8, which also records an earlier time, says, “And from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude heard of all that He was doing and came to Him.” And we might also note that they must have had rather receptive hearts. They were hearts that were not burdened by the terrible legalism of Judaism. They were hearts that were not bound by the chains of tradition. They seemed to be less intellectually proud and less religiously proud.
In fact, if you with me for a moment 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 the cities of Galilee, and they did not repent, and so in verse 21 of Matthew 11, He says, “Woe unto thee, Korazin. Woe unto thee, Bethsaida,” and effectively in verse 23 says the same thing about Capernaum, the major city of Galilee. And 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.” And so He says there is a receptivity among the people of Phoenicia that is not true among you.
And I’m convinced that when they did bring people down early in His ministry, there were many of them who did believe in Him, there were many of them who must have responded to Him, who perhaps repented of Him and came to the full faith in the Messiah. And so He is saying that there are people up there who know about this, Matthew is, and who responded to the Lord, and if had seen all that the others had seen, would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long before.
And so there is a sense in which - although He is not fully opening the ministry to the gentiles, He is not canceling out the priority of Israel, He is extending Himself to open hearts. And even though He did not go there purposely to minister as such but to seek seclusion, He knew when He got there that He’d meet this woman because He knew everything. And before He left, according to Mark’s gospel, chapter 7, verse 31, He did minister on a wide range to the people in that area. So He did go to some open hearts.
And I see a sense of pathos in this. He could only take the resistance, He could only take the shallowness, He could only take the hostility and the animosity of Israel so long, and He was driven to go to a place where hearts were more open. And 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. And 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, “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise” - what? - “cast out”? Had He not said to His disciples, “Come unto me, all ye that 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 chapter 4 was even worse in the Jewish mind than a gentile, she was a Samaritan, a half-breed.
And wasn’t His mission always to the world? Didn’t He say it Matthew 28, “Go into all the world and make disciples”? And 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. And 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,” and so we look at verse 22 and see what happened.
Secluded in the house but not for long. “And behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same region and cried unto Him.” We’ll stop at that point. Now, this person doesn’t fit the Jews’ view of who can enter into the blessing of God. First, it’s a woman; secondly, a Canaanite. Do 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, idolatrous, 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, and you can read about it in the Old Testament. If no other place, certainly in the seventh chapter of Deuteronomy. Frankly, the only reason this lady was even alive is because Israel was disobedient. And so if there was anybody ever outside the covenant, it would be a Canaanite. Mark says a Syro-Phoenician; that is, from the area of Syria and Phoenicia, today Syria and Lebanon.
Now, this is that 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. And in a real sense, she’s sort of a picture of genuine, saving faith. She’s outside the covenant, she’s an outcast, she’s a sinner, she’s from a people of sinners, she has no right to the covenant, she has no claim on the covenant, she has no worthiness to ask anything of our Lord, and she is a perfect example of a sinner who comes without right, without privilege, without worthiness to embrace by faith Jesus Christ.
Now, we can conclude at this point that she is utterly unsatisfied 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, and so she comes to Jesus Christ, believing in her heart that He can meet her need. And Jesus says of her, “You have great faith.”
Now listen carefully because 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. And I believe that that is the key to the whole passage, and if you don’t understand that the faith of the woman is the issue, you can’t understand what goes on.
Now follow. We see, then, there the first element of great faith, and I want to give you about five, five qualities that mark great faith. Now, the first one is this: great faith - or mega-faith, if you choose - is properly directed. It is properly directed. She put her faith in the right person. She was disillusioned with Astarte, she was disillusioned with the idols, the no-gods, the dumb deities, and 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 know, you hear people talk about having faith, people say, “Oh, I have great faith,” “Oh, I’m a person of great faith,” “Oh, I’m a believer.” I always think of that song, “I believe for every drop of rain, a flower grows. I believe that somewhere in the great somewhere, there’s somebody” - what is it? - “who hears every prayer. I believe, in the darkest night, a candle glows.” You know what that is? Stupid. That’s believing in nothing.
That’s like John Greenleaf Whittier, who was a better poet than he was a theologian, he 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 better hope. It’s kind of like a guy being in an airplane and jumping out without a parachute and saying, “I believe.” Pretty 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, it’s an act of stupidity.
There are people who believe - you hear the thing, “I believe in music.” To do what? For what? “I believe in love,” “I believe in believing.” “I believe it’ll all work out.” You see, it’s content-less faith, it has no object, it directs itself to nothing. It is pointless. It is 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, it’s pointless.
In order for faith to be sensible, you have to put it in the right object. And 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, wishful thinking is an illusion. Great faith always has the right object, and she turned from her faith in false gods, dumb deities, no-gods, idols, and she cried - says in verse 22, she cried unto Him. There is a lot wrapped up in that pronoun, isn’t there? Him. Astarte might have been okay until the current dilemma, in which her daughter was badly demonized, and now she couldn’t get any help.
And I’m sure she went through the prescribed religious ceremonies and went through all of the wailings and screamings and whatever you did to get Astarte’s attention, and she came up with nothing, and so she left her religious heritage, she left her friends, she left her system, she left her false belief, she left her prejudice, and she came to the only one who could help her, and she put her faith in the right object.
There’s an element of repentance here. If you were to look, for example, at 1 Thessalonians 1:9 as a comparative, Paul extols the virtue of the Thessalonians because he says, “You turned to God from idols.” That’s turning, that’s repentance, putting your faith in the right object. It’s the same thing stated by Peter in Acts 4:12 where he said, “There is neither there salvation in any other name than the name of Jesus Christ.” Only in His name - there’s no salvation anywhere else.
You remember also that Peter preached in Acts chapter 3, in verse 16. It says, “And His name, through faith in His name hath made this man strong.” Through faith in all that He is, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 20, Paul says in verse 21 that we preach repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:2 says looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our - what? - faith. You know, there are people that are being damned to hell by faith in the wrong object. They believe in the wrong thing. They may believe very hard, it’s the wrong object.
Great faith has the right object, it is properly directed faith. Here is a woman coming out of all this paganism and putting her faith in the right person. That’s great faith, that’s the right place for it.
Secondly, it is not only properly directed, it is repentant. And I’ve already said that repentance has two elements. It is turning from sin to God, turning from idols to God, and wrapped in it is a sense of penitence. And we see that in verse 22, look. “Behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same region and cried unto Him, saying, ‘Have’” - what? - “‘mercy on me.’” Well, what does that mean? What does mercy say? Does mercy say, “Hey, I’m here to tell you what I deserve”? Is that what mercy says? No, mercy says, “I’m here in spite of the fact that I don’t deserve anything.”
That’s what this lady is asking for - mercy. Mercy. The basic assumption of someone 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.” Is that right? You know what you deserve? Hell. You want to tell Him that, that’s your business. But this woman didn’t come saying, “I demand this, I demand that,” she came seeking what? Mercy, and mercy says, “I don’t deserve anything. I need mercy.”
And by the way, the term “mercy” is a very biblical term. If you look at the Greek translation of the Old Testament along with the New Testament and look at the word eleeō which is the word used here, you’ll find it 500 times. I mean it is the very character of man’s relation to God that man comes to God only to seek mercy. There’s no worthiness there. David cries out to God in Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness, according to thy tender mercies.” She is the antithesis of the ugly spiritual pride of the Pharisees and the scribes.
She’s much like the word that we find back in the 34th chapter of Exodus, which characterized the people of God. “And the Lord passed by and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth,’” and Moses responds, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us.” If you are the God of mercy, and I can find that mercy and that grace, then hear my request.
And so I believe in great faith, saving faith, genuine faith that really apprehends the blessing of Christ. There is repentance, there is a sense of unworthy, undeserving penitence. You’re not only turning from idols to God, but there’s a sense of recognizing you’re asking a favor you do not deserve. Great faith has in it repentance. Repentance isn’t something you add to faith; it’s 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,” he says further, “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.” End quote.
And that’s correct. When we talk about repentance, we’re not adding that to faith, that’s inherent in faith. She is coming saying, “I’m not worthy. Give me mercy.” And so I want you to note that as you make this an analogy to saving faith, that saving faith will be that which is repentant. In other words, it’s synonymous. You could even call saving faith repentance, you could call salvation repentance, you could call conversion repentance because the Bible does. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to what? Repentance.
Peter says, “God is not slack concerning His promise, is not 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 that’s meant to lead thee to repentance” but conversion? And so the woman came, and she turned from idols, and she came with a sense of unworthiness. There was repentance, and in that repentance was a turning and in it was a penitence. This is mega-faith.
There’s a third element. Her faith was not only properly directed and repentant, but it was reverent. It was reverent. She could teach our day a lot, do you know that? Listen to what she says, “Have mercy on me,” verse 22, “O Lord, Son of David.” She gives Him such a reverent title - two titles, really. First Lord, sovereign deity, Son of David, promised Messiah, and Savior. She’s saying more than sir when she says Lord.
Surely, she is. Surely, she’s like the leper of chapter 8, verse 2, he came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean,” and he’s acknowledging His sovereignty and His omnipotence when he calls Him Lord. And I think she comes with 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, some sense of the supernatural, some sense of divinity, some sense of sovereignty over darkness and demons. Yes, there is deity in her term Lord, and then Son of David, that’s a Messianic title, the right to be a king, and there’s sovereignty in that as well. David was a king, and this who was his son, this Lord who was his son, was also of the royal line. And 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 a 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 to call him to slur Him. And so from the irreverence of the hating Jews, He comes to the reverence of this hated gentile.
And it is reminding me, I think, as I think about it, of the irreverence of our own society, our own time. People in our day are very irreverent in treating Christ. Very irreverent. They would slur Him, they would use His name profanely, as a curse word, as an epithet to express their anger or bitterness. And even in the church, I fear that we have become irreverent. I heard a chorus - in fact, I was reading a book and it was describing this chorus, and it said that this is a chorus young people are now singing, and it’s all about Jesus, and one of the verses is “He’s the salt on my Fritos.” There’s a certain obscenity to something like that.
But great faith, the kind of faith that you see with this woman, has great reverence, a great sense of respect, a sense of awe. I know she didn’t understand the fullness of all 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 His power, and His supernatural character. And she says, “My daughter is” - the Greek says - “badly demonized.” And, by the way, the word daughter means my little child. This is just a little child.
Her little child was demonized. This ought to be a warning to us that a little child even in pagan society and pagan religion is susceptible to being demonized. And so she comes to Jesus believing He has power over the lord of darkness. She affirms His power over Satan. She affirms His power over her own gods and deities, who can render her no service in this matter. So whatever the fullness of her understanding of Lordship was, there was something there, and her confidence is astounding. I mean the woman’s faith is astounding.
I thought just of this as I was going through. It’s kind of nice to see a pagan mother, outside the covenant, who didn’t know God, who loved her baby. Kind of nice. Don’t always see that in our society. But I do see, just as a reminder, that basically God has built in even to pagans that a woman should love her child. We see less than that today.
So great faith is properly targeted, repentant, and reverent. Let me give you a fourth thought, and this is the heart of the text. Watch how it unfolds. It is persistent - it is persistent. Great faith is persistent. Now, I want you to notice that beginning in verse 23, Jesus puts up a series of barriers for this woman. You know, some people come to Christ and they have to struggle through their own doubt. Some people come to Christ in the Gospel of Matthew and they have to struggle through the inability of the disciples, say, but this woman, in order to get through to Christ, has to struggle through the barriers that He puts up.
I mean He puts them up Himself. People say, “Oh, it’s so easy to be a Christian.” Well, it wasn’t for this lady. It wasn’t easy for her to get to the Lord. Watch what happens, verse 23, her persistence. She comes with all of this on her heart, and she pours it out, “My daughter is demonized,” and He answered her not a word. Not a word. Never said a word to the woman. You say, “Well, now, that isn’t like Christ. I mean, that isn’t like him at all. He doesn’t say anything.” Chrysostom, the church father, said, “The Word has no word. The Fountain is sealed, the Physician holds back His remedy.”
You say, “Well, did He care?” Sure, He cared. “Did He have compassion?” Of course He had compassion. “Well, what is He doing? Why doesn’t He say something?” You see, He had had enough of shallowness, He had enough of superficiality, He had enough of people who came and got what they wanted and left. He had all He needed of that in Galilee. There was enough shallow soil, enough weedy ground, and I believe that He wanted to strengthen and test and pull this woman’s faith to its full flower. And 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, in contrast to the shallowness of the prior ones we’ve seen. There is no indifference on His part, there is a moving of this woman to great faith, mega-faith, saving faith.
You remember in Matthew 7, Jesus said the gate is narrow and few there be that what? Find it. Do you remember that He said it’s with difficulty that men enter the Kingdom? Do you remember when He said, “But men are pressing their way into the Kingdom”? Luke 13:24, “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 and so puts up the barriers through which 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. Well, His disciples aren’t nearly so in control, and so His disciples came and besought him, saying, “Send her away, for she krazō after us” - screams, and it’s present tense. “She is following us around, screaming and wailing and yelling. Lord, send her away. Please, Lord. I mean it’s no big thing, just heal her and send her away.” What this indicates to me is that His silence was over a period of time, and He was not responding, and He was continuing to be silent, and she was just yelling and screaming continually. And He was doing nothing.
And the disciples, you can imagine their speech. “Don’t you realize that if this woman keeps screaming, we’re going to attract a crowd, and then there goes our retreat. Besides the fact that it’s awfully irritating to try to have a conversation with a screaming woman running up and down. And, Lord, you’re just standing there. Heal her and send her away. No big thing for you to do that - done it for thousands.” But instead, He says this to the lady - and, of course, they heard. He answered and said, verse 24, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What a terrible thing to say. Like, “Lady, you’re not a Jew. Sorry.”
Why would He ever say that? He’d healed a centurion’s servant, He’d given grace to a Samaritan. Why, multitudes had come out of Tyre and Sidon region, Phoenicia, in Matthew 4 and they’d been healed, and the demons had been cast out of them. What is this, “I am only sent 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?
Well, I think, to the disciples, He’s saying this. “First of all, the plan is still on course. I have not turned my back yet on Israel, in spite of their hostility and bitterness and hatred and murderous plots against me. I’m still calling Israel to repentance.” And He would go back into Israel and preach to them and call them to believe and come to His Kingdom. Right on up to the end, He would do that. And even when He ascended into heaven, Peter stood up in Acts chapter 3 and he preached and says to them, “You have killed the Prince of Life,” and at the end of the sermon, in verse 25 and ’6, he says, “And you’re still the sons of the covenant.” In other words, God is still calling out to you.
You see, the plan was that God would send the Messiah to Israel, and then through Israel, the world would be reached. And Jesus is saying, in terms of the theology of the statement, He is saying, “Look, I’m not now turning my back on Israel. This is not the time to move to the gentiles, we’re still on that plan. I really 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 also said, “Let the children first be filled.” In other words, “I’m going to come and feed you first” of Israel.
Now, we know that, in His heart, He always had the world, right? And always we knew that He would go to the world, and Israel was only to be the channel. And already many gentiles, as I’ve said, have responded, but He wants them to know that that’s still the plan, it’s still going through Israel. So for them, it’s an important note. But for the woman, it’s like a slap.
Now, there are a lot of people who would say at this point, “Well, you can just forget it, then. So long. I’ll find myself a god who cares.” But she’d already been through that problem, and there weren’t any. And she had so much faith that when He says, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” that didn’t deter her at all, and the Lord was just testing her faith. He separates her out 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 came she” - I love this - “and worshiped Him.”
Now, this is really a humble lady. She’s not mad, she’s worshiping and says, “Lord help me.” And she says, “Okay, if the Jewishness thing is problem, I’ll drop the Son-of-David part.” “But you’re not just the Son of David, you’re the Lord, you’re the Creator, help me. I’m a creature.” You see, she is humble. By the way, it says that she worshiped, and the word it’s proskuneō, she bowed down and worshiped, she put her head in the dirt.
Worship is always accepted by the Lord. We saw it in chapter 8, we saw it in chapter 9, we saw it in chapter 14, we’ll see it again in chapter 18, we’ll see the disciples do it in chapter 28, and other places in the Scripture, right on to the book of Revelation, and whenever He was worshiped, He accepted that because He deserved it, He was God. But, see, this is the right attitude. You see, He’s put up one barrier of silence, then He’s put another up of purpose, and it doesn’t matter, she just plunges through both of them and says, “Lord, help me, I’m - I don’t care about that, I just want help.”
You see this is the truly seeking heart, this is 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 keep you back. Great truth. And her request was so humble. She is bowed down, with her head in the dirt, and she says, “Oh, Lord, help me.” She doesn’t argue, she doesn’t get into a theological debate. She’s so humble, deep distress, no pride. She didn’t say, “Well, just who do you think Jews are? Better than everyone else?” Not at all. She has no pride here.
She doesn’t come and say - like so many would think you could come, “Hey, Lord, it’s me. Aren’t you thrilled?” None of that. None of that superstar stuff. She’s just saying, “Listen, you’re the only one, you are the only one, you are the only one and I’m here because of that, and I’m going to stay here.” Complete absence of pride, complete absence of self-reliance, complete absence of self-sufficiency. That marks great faith.
And then the Lord says this - well, verse 26, He answered and said, “It’s not right” - it doesn’t mean morally right, it means it’s not the normal, accepted thing to do, or reasonable - “to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs.” I mean this is getting really painful. I mean at first He’s silent, then He gives her some dispensational deal, and now He calls her a dog. It’s another barrier. You say, “Is the Lord trying to convert this woman or not?” But He gives her this little picture. He says it’s not right to take the children’s bread or food and throw it to the dogs.
There are two words in the Greek for dogs, 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. And so it’s not a vicious kind of statement. What He’s saying is anybody knows that when you’re having dinner, you don’t take the food intended for the children and give it to the little begging pet dog that’s at their feet, right?
Now, you know, we know what those little pet dogs are like, you know? They’re in the house, they’re part of the family. They may even, by this time, have your last name, I don’t know, they’ve been around a long time. And you know how it is when you eat and they get up to the table and they start that little routine of wanting the food. And he says this is a basic principle of life that when a little pet dog comes around the table, it’s part of the house, part of the family, everybody knows it’s part of the family and included in the house, but you just don’t give the food to them, you give it to the children, and that’s the way it is.
And another barrier goes up for this woman. You say, “What’s He doing?” I’ll tell you, He’s testing her faith. He’s done it before, by the way. He said to Abraham, “You’re going to have a son,” then made him wait years until they got that son. And Romans 4 tells us why. Abraham grew strong in faith. It’s strengthened by testing. That’s right. And 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 the Lord gives Philip this big problem, well, how are we going to do it, 200 pennies and how many - and where we going to buy - and He’s giving this whole deal to Philip and all the time He knows He’s going to feed the whole crowd. And the Bible says, “This He did to” - what? - “test him,” work on his faith. And when Lazarus died, He didn’t come. And He stayed away until Lazarus was not only sick but dead, and not only dead but dead four days, and then He shows up. You say, “Well, why did He wait?” Well, he says in John 11, “For your sake, that you may believe.” Tested their faith.
And that’s what He’s doing with this woman, He’s drawing out her faith, He’s letting it demonstrate its reality. He’s delaying to test her, He’s putting up the fences and making her plow through them. And I like her, she is a sharp lady. Because He gives this little deal, “It’s not fitting to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs,” and she said, “Truth, Lord.” Now, she’s not just emotional, she’s sharp. “But the little dogs do eat the crumbs which continually fall from the master’s table.” I like that, she picks up on His analogy and takes it a step further.
I mean she is really persistent, isn’t she? “You’re going to make Jewishness an issue, I’ll go through that.” “You want to make this little analogy an issue, I’ll turn the analogy to fit the situation.” That couldn’t stop her, either. And it’s true, through the time that Jesus was feeding the children of Israel, there were the crumbs dropping to the gentiles, weren’t there? And we see it all through the gospel account. And 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 unto her, ‘O woman, mega is your faith. Great faith. You’re a persistent lady. Be it unto you even as you will.’ And her daughter was made well from that very hour.” I believe that was a saving day for that lady; 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 she found the blessing she sought. Now, that’s what great faith does. Let’s bow together in prayer.
I’m reminded, Father, that we see many instances in the gospel where people break through hindrances keeping them from Christ, the paralytic breaking through the outward hindrances through the roof, blind Bartimaeus pushing his way through the hindrances 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 alone who can help. Nothing will still that cry. 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’ll praise you, in Christ’s name. Amen.
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