JESUS BLESSES THE FAITH OF A CANAANITE WOMAN Matthew 15:21-28 Key Verse: 15:28 “Then Jesus answered, „Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.‟ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” The Bible has much to say about faith. It speaks of weak faith, strong faith, shallow faith, deep faith, superficial faith, genuine faith, courageous faith, steadfast faith, working faith, obedient faith, and many other kinds. It also speaks of little faith and great faith. Today‟s passage contains the second reference in Matthew‟s gospel in which Jesus speaks of great faith. In verse 28, Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith.” Of the Roman centurion who asked for his servant to be healed Jesus said, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (8:10). In both cases the person expressing great faith was a Gentile; and in this second instance the passage seems to imply that the woman‟s faith not only was for the deliverance of her daughter but was also for her personal salvation. May God bless each of us with great faith. I. The Setting (15:21) Look at verse 21. “Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.” Until this time Jesus had carried on most of his ministry in Galilee; but now he went away because of the rapidly mounting pressures that faced him there. He was under pressure first of all from the multitudes who followed him from place to place and were convinced that he was the long- awaited Messiah. They were right in recognizing that his miraculous powers marked him as the true Messiah, but they were wrong about the kind of Messiah he had come to be. They expected him to deliver them from the oppressive Romans and to usher to an earthly messianic kingdom. After his feeding of the five thousand, they even intended to come and make him king by force (Jn 6:15). Second, Jesus was under the pressure of possible arrest and execution by Herod Antipas, who thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead (Mt 14:2). The king‟s hatred of anyone who threatened his throne would have led him to murder Jesus just as he had murdered John the Baptist. The greatest pressure, however, was from the Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees of Galilee had already determined to destroy Jesus (12:14), and after he rebuked and embarrassed the delegation from Jerusalem by showing the ungodliness of their man-made traditions (15:1-9), the danger from the religious establishment escalated. Besides his need for physical refreshment and time to be alone with the twelve, Jesus therefore had those additional reasons to find a place of temporary retreat. Jesus therefore withdrew from the frenzy of Galilee and traveled northwest into the district of Tyre and Sidon, out of the land of Israel and beyond the jurisdiction of both Herod and the Jewish religious leaders. The district of Tyre and Sidon was the Gentile territory of Phoenicia, an area now in southern Lebanon, on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. II. The Qualities of Great Faith (15:22-27) Jesus‟ encounter with the Canaanite woman is the story of a faith Jesus called great (28). From her story we can find five general qualities that mark all great faith. It is repentant, properly directed, reverent, persistent, and humble. First, repentant. Look at verse 22. “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, „Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!‟” Because this woman was a Canaanite, of the Syrophoenician race (Mk 7:26), she was probably a worshiper of idols. The fact that she came to Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer, indicates she was disillusioned with the idolatry. In turning to Jesus, she turned from the way of Satan and sin to the way of God, and that is the essence of repentance. The woman‟s plea is further proof of repentance. She knew she did not deserve Jesus‟ help, that she was unworthy of him, and that her only hope for mercy asks for something undeserved. This woman did not come demanding but pleading. She did not ask Jesus‟ help on the basis of her own goodness but on the basis of Jesus‟ mercy. Mercy is integral to God‟s redemptive work for man. From the time of the Fall, man has no way back to God except through his merciful grace. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the Bible the word “mercy” is used some five hundred times. In his profound repentant psalm written after he confessed his sin with Bathsheba, David pleaded for nothing but mercy. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions”(Ps 51:1). Faith that apprehends the blessings of Christ involves repentance that comes from a deep and sincere sense of unworthiness. In his book “All of Grace” Charles Spurgeon wrote: “Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith. All the while that we walk by faith and not by sight, the tear of repentance glitters in the eyes 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 are vitally joined together. Faith and repentance are but two sides of one coin and two handles of the same plow. Repentance has been well described as a heart broken for sin and from sin. 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 warp and woof of the fabric of real conversion.” Repentance adds nothing to faith but is rather an integral part of it. Saving faith is repentant faith. Acts 20:21 says, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Paul declares that “God‟s kindness leads you to repentance” (Ro 2:4). Peter also declares that God does not desire “anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2Pe 3:9). May God give us repentant faith. Second and third, rightly directed and reverent. Look at verse 22b, “„Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!‟ My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Great faith must, of course, be directed at the right object. There are some people who believe that somehow, in some way, by some means everything will ultimately work out for the good. They have faith in an illusion. To declare, “Somewhere there‟s somebody who hears every prayer” is to believe in nothing more trustworthy than his own imagination and wishful thinking. It is foolish to put ultimate trust in something or someone he knows nothing about. That sort of faith is essentially faith in faith, which is no faith at all. For example, to jump out of an airplane with a parachute is an act of faith. However, to jump without a parachute while exclaiming, “I believe it will all work out,” is contentless faith and therefore pointless and powerless. For faith to make sense and to have power it must be placed in a trustworthy object. The Canaanite woman turned her back on her idols and she placed her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, who alone can save her daughter from demon possession. Despite her pagan background, she had heard of the Jews‟ coming Messiah, who was called the Son of David; and she reverently addressed Jesus as her sovereign and omnipotent Lord. She had heard of Messiah‟s great power and also sensed his great goodness; and she treated him with both dignity and expectancy. She approached Jesus in the same reverent, trusting spirit as the leper who met Jesus after the Sermon on the Mount and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mt 8:2). After the irreverent treatment of the Lord by the Pharisees and teachers of the law—who had called him a drunk, a companion of sinners, and demon- possessed—it must have been refreshing for Jesus to hear this Gentile woman come to him with such respect and submission. Although she did not yet understand the full meaning of Christ‟s lordship or messiahship, she came with a sense of awe and wonder. This woman loved her young daughter more than her own life, and she came to the only source of help she knew of. Her faith was great because she turned from faith in idols to faith in Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to drive out demons. Her trust in idols may have seemed satisfactory while things were going well, but when her daughter became demon-possessed, the mother discovered she could get no help from idols. She therefore left her religious system, left her false belief that had no answers or power, and came to the only One who could help her. By her appeal to Christ, she affirmed his power over her former idols. Like the Thessalonian believers, she had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1Thess 1:9). Fourth, persistent. Look at verses 23-24. “Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, „Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.‟ He answered, „I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.‟” Great faith does not give up; it is not deterred by obstacles, setbacks, or disappointments. Jesus therefore tested the faith of this woman by setting up a series of barriers. Some people have to struggle against strong doubts before they come to fully trust Christ for salvation. Others have to struggle against the objections of family. Still others struggle to believe because they have never heard the gospel clearly presented or because they see inconsistencies in the lives of Christians they know. This woman, however, had barriers placed in her way by the Savior himself. Sometimes the hardest response to accept is no response at all, and that is what this woman received from Jesus as he did not answer a word. The disciples interpreted Jesus‟ ignoring the woman as a sign of unconcern and wondered why he did not dismiss her. As she continued to plead with Jesus and he continued to ignore her, his disciples became more upset with the woman and more puzzled about the Lord Jesus. In frustration they came to Jesus and urged him to send her away. The disciples‟ response was insensitive. They did not want to be bothered by this Gentile woman who was interfering with their plans and peace of mind. And on the surface it seems as if Jesus was equally, if not more, insensitive, because he did not even acknowledge her presence. But Jesus did nothing unloving without a divine purpose. He had had enough of superficiality and shallowness of the pretended faith of those who selfishly got what they wanted from him and left. But more than that Jesus wanted to test the woman‟s faith to bring it to full flower. He put up the barriers not to keep her away but to draw her closer. He also used the occasion to show the disciples the value of persistent faith and to help them distinguish between the genuine and the superficial. He erected barriers that only genuine, persistent faith could hurdle. (Cf. Matthew 19:16-22, where Jesus placed barriers before the rich young man to test the genuineness of his plea for eternal life). Speaking directly to the disciples, but within the hearing of the woman, Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The hardness of heart suggested by his silence now seemed to be confirmed by his words. We don‟t know what the disciples thought of Jesus‟ comment, but they must have wondered why he had so willingly healed the servant of the Roman centurion and offered the living water to the Samaritan woman at Sychar but now refused to help this woman simply because she was not of the house of Israel. But by those words Jesus assured the disciples that his plan of world redemption was still on course. Israel was still the Lord‟s chosen people and the kingdom was still offered first to the seeds of Abraham. Despite their hostility, resentment, and rejection, the Lord Jesus would continue to call the house of Israel to repentance. His primary ministry was still to the children of the covenant. It was not yet time to move to the Gentile nations, because the full opportunity to Israel had not as yet been presented. It is important to note that even after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter still referred to Israel as the sons of the covenant to whom Jesus was first sent for blessing and cleansing (Ac 3:25-26). Whatever effect Jesus‟ response had on the disciples, it must have been a painful blow to the woman. Most people would have indignantly said, “What? What did you say? So much for your God of love, your message of compassion, and your narrow, bigoted religion. I want nothing to do with a God or religion like that.” But this woman had no resentment or bitterness, only an abiding love for her afflicted little girl and a determination to have her freed from her demonic torture. She also knew that the gods her people worshiped did not care. She knew Jesus was the only hope and that she had nowhere else to turn. She said in effect what Peter had said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (Jn 6:68) Fifth, humble. Look at verses 25-27. “The woman came and knelt before him. „Lord, help me!‟ she said. He replied, „It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.‟ „Yes, Lord,‟ she said, „but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.‟” To kneel before him literally means to prostrate oneself and is frequently translated “to worship.” Whether or not the woman kneeling before Jesus was intended to be worship, it was clearly an act of humility. She threw herself at Jesus‟ feet and pleaded with even greater desperation, “Lord, help me!” But again Jesus put her off, saying to her the same basic truth he had just pointed out to the disciples (24): “It is not right to take the children‟s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Jesus‟ remarks were far from a compliment. The woman knew that children referred to Jews and dogs referred to Gentiles, because both figures were commonly used by Jews. Jesus‟ words sounded much like the insults Jews frequently cast at Gentiles and that the woman had probably heard many times before. But she was undaunted, and in an incredible flash of light she picked up on Jesus‟ own illustration, saying, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters‟ table” (27). She knew she was sinful and unworthy of anything he had to offer and was willing to concede that she was less deserving than Jews. In doing so she demonstrated a complete absence of the pride, self-reliance, and self-righteousness. She was willing to settle for the crumbs which fall from their masters‟ table, because that would be enough to meet her needs. A tiny leftover of Jesus‟ great power could heal her daughter and that was all she asked. Although Jesus‟ priority mission was to the Jews, the crumbs of the gospel did indeed fall from their table and feed humble Gentiles who hungered for the bread of life. Peter said in his epistle, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, „God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.‟ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God‟s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1Pe 5:5,6). May God give us humble faith like that of the Canaanite woman. III. The Lord’s Response (15:28) Look at verse 28. “Then Jesus answered, „Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.‟ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” After putting up a barrier of silence and then a double barrier of seeming rejection, Jesus heard what he wanted to hear: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters‟ table” (27). Think about how much Jesus must have been pleased with her faith. Her seeking heart would not give up. Like Abraham, she grew strong in faith through God‟s testing (Ro 4:20), and like Jacob wrestling with the Lord (Ge 32:26), she would not let go until he blessed her. She fulfilled the pledge of Jeremiah 29:13-14, “„You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,‟ declares the Lord.” Highly pleased with the woman‟s response, Jesus declared, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Without having heard the Sermon on the Mount, she came with the humble, repentant, mourning, meek and seeking heart that God requires for kingdom entrance. Jesus said in Matthew 5:3-6, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” She demonstrated the attitude expressed in Matthew 11:12 of vigorously pressing forward into the kingdom, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Because of her great faith, Jesus granted her request and her little daughter be delivered from the demon. Verse 28 says, “And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” Praise the Lord! As Spurgeon said, “The Lord of glory surrendered to the great faith of the woman.” She kept asking until she received, seeking until she found, and knocking until it was opened to her (Mt 7:7). Today we learned that Jesus blessed the great faith of the Canaanite woman. Her faith was great because it was repentant, properly directed, reverent, persistent, and humble. May God bless each of us with great faith like that of the Canaanite woman. Let‟s humble ourselves before Jesus and acknowledge him as the Sovereign Lord and ask his mercy and help on all our suffering children.
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