If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew 15. We're in Matthew 15, and I'd like to direct your attention to verse 21. Verse 21 begins a new segment in Jesus' ministry. The great Galilean ministry is done. It ends in verse 20 of chapter 15. And now Jesus enters into a distinctively Gentile territory. He is now in the region of Tyre and Sidon. The central chapters of Matthew's gospel 15, 16, and 17, record for us a turning point in Jesus' ministry. The people more and more begin to reject Jesus and His teaching.
Now, I want you to understand specifically what I mean by reject. It is not that people cease to come in great crowds to hear Jesus preach. It is not that they cease to believe that He is a great miracle worker. It is not that their estimation of Him is lowered, in fact, in Matthew chapter 16 we're going to see the disciples reporting to Jesus that many in the multitudes are calling Him Elijah raised from the dead; they're calling Him John the Baptist raised from the dead; they're calling Him Jeremiah; they honor Him as a great prophet, but Jesus counts that honor as rejection because they refuse to acknowledge Him as the Lord the son of David, the Messiah. They are rejecting His claims to be the Messiah of God, the one that the Lord had sent for the deliverance of Israel. And so even though the crowds continue to come, they are more and more hardened in not accepting the claims that Jesus is putting forth in His teaching.
Now that is a very important point for our understanding of saving faith. Because saving faith does not simply acknowledge Jesus to be a great prophet or a great moral teacher or a wise man or even one who had the power of God in order to do miracles. Saving faith acknowledges Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners and as Lord and Messiah. And that is one of the great lessons of the passage we'll study today.
Now as we come to Matthew 15 verses 21 through 28, remember Jesus is outside the land of Israel. Hear God's Holy inspired and inerrant word.
Our Father, this is a hard word, but it is a glorious word, and so we ask that by the Spirit You would give us eyes to see and ears to hear and to respond to the truth which is for us in this word. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen.
In this poignant exchange between a grieving and desperate mother and our Lord, we learn a tremendous lesson about saving faith. And we learn a sad lesson about the hardness of the disciples' hearts. And we learn a sweet lesson about the compassion of our Savior. And I'd like you to look we me at this passage for a few moments today. And look at this lesson that Christ is teaching us here.
I. God uses earthly infirmities to draw us to Himself.
First, in verses 21 through 24, we see this lesson commenced. It's a lesson in faith and in compassion. And the commencement of it is in verses 21 through 24. In fact, those verses could rightly be headed by that old saying that you have heard so many times, man's extremity is God's opportunity, because that is exactly what we see happening in the sad events surrounding the life of this Canaanite woman and her encounter with the Lord Jesus. For some time, Jesus had been attempting to get away with His disciples, away from the crowds, away from the multitudes for a time of refreshment and teaching and preparation to go back out and minister again. And every time He withdrew to another district, they followed Him. He went to the other side of Galilee; they were there waiting for Him. He came back again; they were there waiting for Him.
Now, the Lord Jesus takes His disciples out the land of Israel and into the region of the Gentiles around Tyre and Sidon. Perhaps, there would be an opportunity there for rest and respite from the crowds. And as soon as His presence is known in that region, immediately a woman comes to Him, to them, for help. Even after He's left the country, there are folks looking for help; now, upon their arrival in this region, a non-Jewish woman, Matthew makes it explicit she is a Canaanite woman. One of the other gospels calls her a Syro-Phoenician woman, a woman from the area around Tyre and Sidon. But Matthew wants you to know explicitly that she's a Canaanite woman; in other words, she's not only not a Jew, and she's not only a Gentile, but she's a Canaanite Gentile. Can you imagine the emotion that that would draw up in the minds of a good religious Jew to know that this is a Canaanite woman speaking to the Messiah of Israel here. She's comes out. She is desperate. Her daughter is cruelly demon- possessed. There is no human aid she can seek. And so she seeks help in the Lord Jesus Christ. She knows that Jesus is her only hope, the only hope for her daughter being cured.
And I want you to note as well, this woman comes with an attitude which is noticeably different from the crowds that had been following Jesus in Matthew 14 and into Matthew 15. Even in the feeding of the five thousand, no one in the crowd is reported to have acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. And yet this woman says to Jesus in verse 22. She cries out to Him and calls Him, “Lord, Son of David.” In other words, this woman reverenced Jesus as the Messiah. She worshipped Jesus and acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. She calls Him “Lord” like the leper of Matthew 8 verse 2 had called Him “Lord” acknowledging Him as the Lord and master of Israel. She calls Him “Son of David” just like the blind men had called Him “Son of David” in Matthew chapter 9 verse 27 acknowledging Him to be the Messiah. And so, we see this great contrast between the Jewish multitudes who will not acknowledge the Messiah to be the Messiah, and this Gentile, this Canaanite woman who is openly professing Jesus to be the Lord, the Son of David. A great contrast between the faith of that Gentile woman and the unbelief of the Jewish crowds who had been following Him.
Now, Christ, at first, we're told in verse 23 does not even respond to her. He does not acknowledge her existence. He does not acknowledge her question. At first, He says nothing. And it is very important for you to understand that this is not insensitivity. Not only does your doctrine of Christ tell you that that could not be what this is, but Matthew himself is going to let you know in no uncertain terms in this text that Jesus' initial silence and His initial hard words to this woman are deliberate. They are part of a plan. Jesus is saying what He is saying for a reason. And the reason is going to be a blessing for this woman. And so Jesus is not simply being rude. He is not being insensitive. Jesus is doing this for a reason and it for her benefit. In fact, the exchange between Christ and this woman is not only for her benefit but it is actually for the benefit of the disciples. And some of the words that Jesus will speak, are designed to prick the hard hearts of His own disciples so that they might see their lack of compassion.
In verse 23, the disciples' response to this opportunity is, “go away.” This woman comes to them. She's begging, she's pleading. Her life is falling apart. Her daughter whom she loves is in serious, is in grave condition, and the disciples' response to her is simply to go to the Lord Jesus and say, Jesus, this woman is annoying us. She is obnoxious. Send her away. This is not the first time that we have seen the disciples respond to ministry opportunity with the words, “send her away.” The disciples on several occasions have seemed to have their fill of ministry and want no more of it. And all they want is for Jesus to not simply ignore her, but to get rid of her.
Now, I want you to understand that Jesus, by speaking to her in verse 24, is explicitly refusing the request of the disciples. You see, you'd think in verse 23 that by not responding to her that Jesus is showing some form of cruelty. But in verse 24, by speaking to her when His disciples have asked Him to send her away, Jesus is showing that He has something cooking. Jesus has something going on in the response He wants to give to this woman. And He's explicitly rejecting what His disciples have requested. They want her out. They want her away. They want her gone. But the Lord Jesus engages her in conversation, and even though His words are hard they are not only difficult to comprehend, but they may seem to be insensitive in verse 24, recognize that those words represent the fact that Jesus has absolutely no intention of doing what His disciples want Him to do, and that is to ignore this woman in her hour of need.
Now, Jesus responds to her in verse 24 with a very hard word. He says to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That is, He's saying to her, 'woman, Canaanite woman, Gentile woman, I was sent as Israel's Messiah, and My task is to convert and minister to God's ancient people the Hebrews.' And He says it this way, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now, let me say that in this first exchange between Jesus and the woman, we have already learned many things.
First of all, consider the fact that we learn here that saving faith is often found in the most surprising places. Where would you have expected a confession that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is son of David, Jesus is the Messiah to come? Wouldn't you have expected it to come from the multitudes when He fed five thousand? Wouldn't you have expected there to be a public outcry and acclamation that He was Lord, the son of David? Where do you hear it? You hear it in Tyre and Sidon. And you hear it from a Canaanite woman. Very often when we go out to witness, we expect no response to the gospel. And God brings a response in the most surprising ways, in the most surprising places even in the region of tyre and sidon. J.C. Ryle puts it in this beautiful phrase, “It is grace, not place, which makes people believe.” She may have been from the wrong side of the tracks, ethnically and religiously, but God drew her to Himself.
Notice also that we learn in this passage that Christ’s people are often less gracious and compassionate than He is. There may be many of you here today who have been put off by Christians before. Christians have been unkind to you and you have been disappointed. Maybe some of you have been so disappointed as to be cynical about Christianity and even cynical about Christ. I want to remind you that even the Apostles stumbled in this area, and it did not make what Jesus was saying untrue, and it did not make Jesus untrue. Jesus' followers will fall short of His calling. And it'll happen more often than not. But to those of us who are followers of Christ, is this not a warning that we must not fall in the Spirit of spiritual selfishness into which the Apostles had fallen? We must manifest the same compassion that the Lord Jesus Christ manifested even to those who are different than we are. We believers need to beware this kind of a Spirit, and practice the same kind of grace and compassion as our Lord.
There's another lesson we learn in this first exchange between Christ and the woman, the Canaanite woman. And that is that affliction sometimes brings a blessing to the soul. We are often in times of trouble quick to ask why. Why God? Why are you allowing this to happen to me? I want you to pull back and look the demon possession of this woman was God's instrument to bring her into the kingdom of heaven. Listen to that again. The demon possession of this woman was God's instrument to bring her into the kingdom of heaven. Had she not had a daughter, not only a sick daughter but a demon-possessed daughter, she might have been tempted to look somewhere else for her security, for her satisfaction, for her aid in life. But in the case of a demon- possessed daughter, there was only one place she had to turn. And so God took that horrible tragedy in her experience, and He used it as her hour of grace. Understand this, the affliction of her daughter was this woman's hour of grace.
Now we too must be careful to watch God's providences and often times when He brings dark providences in our experience, it is precisely because that is the hour of grace. J.C. Ryle says this, “There is nothing which shows our ignorance so much as our impatience under trouble. We forget that every cross is a message from God and intended to do us good in the end. Trials are intended to make us think to wean us from this world to send us to the Bible and to drive us to our knees in prayer.” Indeed. Indeed they are. This woman's affliction was her hour of grace. Is there not a lesson for us in that?
II. Saving faith is not easily deterred.
We move into the second section of this passage in verses 25 through 27, and continues this lesson in faith and in compassion. And we learn in verses 25 through 27 that saving faith is not easily deterred. Christ has responded to this woman, 'Ma'am, I haven't come for you. I've come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' And the woman is not daunted in the least by this apparent rebuff by the Lord Jesus Christ. She follows after Him. She worships Him. She bows down before Him. She prostrates herself at His feet, and she cries out to Him asking Him, crying in faith, “Lord, help me!” And that's a beautiful prayer. If you can't think what to pray to the Lord, that's a beautiful prayer. “Lord, help me,” she cries. It's a beautiful and simple prayer of faith and of anguish.
This woman knows two things. She knows her need. And she knows that the only one who can answer that need is the Lord Jesus Christ. And she is not about to allow a theological answer to stop her from seeking the fulfillment of that need in the Lord Jesus Christ. She pursues in hope against hope even though the Lord Jesus has said, 'I haven't come for you, Gentile. I've come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' She pursues just like the Gibeonites. Do you remember them in Joshua 9? Israel had come into the land. The people of the land had already learned of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea on dry ground. The people of the land had already heard of Joshua bringing the children into the land of Canaan. They had already heard of the fall of Jericho and the fall of Ai, and in Joshua chapter 9 verses 1 and 2, all the great cities of the land of Canaan decide they're going to band together in alliance and fight against the Lord and fight against Joshua and fight against the people of Israel, except one great city, the city of Gibeon. The Gibeonites realized that they had two choices and two choices only, either they would be slaughtered before the unconquerable Israelite army– they had already heard of the fate of Egypt. They had already heard of the fate of Jericho and Ai– or they would somehow make a covenant with Israel. Those were their only two options. There was no fortification that could resist the Lord God of Israel. There was no hope– either a covenant or die. It was that simple. This woman understood that. She didn't care what Jesus said to her. She knew that without Him she had no hope. And so she pursues the Lord Jesus.
And again Christ answers her explaining to her her task. Notice His words again, He says, “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” Now Jesus, in a hard phrase, is saying to her the blessings meant for Israel ought not to be given to the Gentiles. He is using a racial, and an ethnic and a religious slur. 'Dogs,' He refers to her. It's a reference to a Gentile. By the way the word 'dog' there is a reference to the household pet style of dog not the wild dogs which Matthew had referred earlier to, but it is a reference to her as a Gentile.
Why would Jesus speak this way? Why would He use a slur to speak in response to this woman? Let me just say this, friends. Jesus is not making fun of this woman. He is not being unkind to her as a woman, or a Gentile. Jesus has a theological agenda in what He is saying. First, He is setting up His disciples for the event that is going to occur in verse 28. He wants His disciples to understand, in no uncertain term, the significance of what He is about to say to this woman. And secondly, He is mirroring to the disciples their attitude towards this woman. He is holding up as it is, a mirror to their hearts and saying, 'Look at how you think of her. You want to send her away. You think her unworthy of the blessings that the Messiah came to bring to Israel. Watch her teach you what true faith means.'
And then for that woman, His words are designed to give her the opportunity, in her response, to express a universal truth about saving faith and to grow in the strength of her faith by having to persevere. He throws up obstacles. She continues to persevere. He throws up another obstacle. She continues to persevere. Jesus' words here, hard as they may seem, are designed to bring a blessing to His disciples and to this dear woman.
Now in response to Jesus’ hard word this woman does not get offended. She does not respond, “How dare you call me a dog!” She does not rage and wax indignant. How dare you suggest that I'm not just as deserving of the blessings of Israel as the children of Abraham. No. Her response is, “Yes, Master what you say is true, but even household pets are well kept by their masters.” This woman, in that response, teaches us a truth about faith which shall stand to the end of the world. This woman reminds us that no one deserves the grace of God. No one has a claim on God. No one can say, “You must give me this, God!” She teaches that we all stand as beggars before God, deserving only wrath and condemnation. And yet she willingly holds out her hands, and she says, 'You are my only hope, give me the crumbs.' What she's teaching us there is that we're all dogs. We all stand precisely in the same position.
You see, this is not about where Gentiles stand in juxtaposition to those of Israel in Jesus' day. Ultimately, this is about where every human being stands before God. We do not stand before God in a position where we may demand of Him His grace. We stand before Him deserving condemnation and begging grace. For the woman, Christ gave her an opportunity for her faith to be strengthened. For the disciples, He is laying the groundwork for their eventual mission to the Gentiles. You remember in the previous passage, He's already declared all foods clean. Now He is implying that that Old Covenant divide between Jew and Gentile is going to be brought down into rubble in His kingdom. And that the Gentiles, the Canaanites, will worship the God of Israel by the grace of the Messiah of Israel. We learn here that faith never looks at the salvation of God, at the grace of God, at the blessing of God as an entitlement. We are entitled to nothing but hell. Grace is grace.
And when we go before God, we go as importunate beggars opening our hands and asking God to give us what we do not deserve. What a lesson this spiritual and godly woman was afforded to share with us through the work of God.
III. Saving faith always gains its hope.
One last thing we see here in verse 28. Now the lesson is concluded. This lesson of faith and compassion, and again we learn that saving faith always gains its hope in this passage. Jesus pronounces a compliment to this woman that He never, ever gave to His own disciples. Never once, and you may scan the gospels, will you find Him saying to His disciples, 'O men of Israel, your faith is great!' No. It is to a Canaanite. A Canaanite woman that the words come “Your faith is great.” Just like to the centurion. “Your faith is great.” It was only on Gentiles that Christ pronounced that benediction. What a blessing of God. To hear from her Savior the words, “Your faith is great.” He had given her that faith. And yet, He praises her for her persevering exercise of saving faith. And immediately the woman's daughter is healed. There is no intervening time. There is no search for the daughter. He is the God of heaven and earth. And instantaneously faith gains its victory.
Is there not a lesson in this for us. Do we exercise saving faith in the Lord, the son of David, the Messiah of Israel? Or do we think of Him as something less? Learn a lesson from this woman. Less than the Lord, the son of David cannot heal your soul. Only the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the living God has that power. May God grant us the grace this day to receive Him as He is offered in the gospel and to gain the victory of faith. Let us pray.
O Lord and our God, the very thought of our Savior moves us. We would trust in Him alone for our salvation. O Lord, use your word to draw to draw all to Him. We ask it in His name. Amen.