August 19, 2001 / No. 3059
Dear radio friends,
True faith is the gift of God through the Holy Spirit. By that gift of God’s grace we cling to Jesus Christ and will not let Him go. Is that true for you?
The portion of Scripture that we will consider today is found in Matthew 15:21-28. Because of the length of the passage, I will not read it right now. I will refer to it. I would suggest that you have a Bible available to follow along.
The passage begins, “Jesus … departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.” That is, He left the boundaries of the land of Canaan and traveled north along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to the renowned seaports of Tyre and Sidon.
We continue reading, “And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”
We read that the woman was from that area of Tyre and Sidon. In Mark 7:26 Mark fills in a little more of the background of the woman when he tells us that the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by nation. The Phoenicians, we know, were traders and merchants, holding fleets which sailed the Mediterranean. They were leaders in the trade industry. It could well be, then, that the woman was wealthy, well-to-do, influential. But none of these things matter to her. None of these things could possibly help her at all. Her daughter was grievously vexed with a devil. She came to Jesus.
How did she know of Jesus? She very plainly believed that He was the Lord, the Messiah. How did she learn of Him? We do not know. It does seem that the elect of God throughout the nations in the day of Jesus treasured the crumbs of the Word of God. And even with the most meager, little revelation, they came by the mighty grace of God to Christ.
She was driven to Christ out of a deep need, out of a fierce wind blowing in her heart. It was the presence of a devil in her daughter. Her daughter, she said, was grievously vexed by a devil. That word “vexed” means “troubled, agitated, stirred up.” Grievously vexed – strongly stirred up. You remember the son of a man who came to Jesus. The devil had cast this son into the fire to be burned and into the water to be drowned. He was grievously vexed. Well, this daughter, so dear to this mother’s soul, was also grievously vexed and beyond the mother’s aid to help. She could do nothing for her. So she cried out, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, Thou son of David. My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” Her plea was for mercy: “Have pity upon me. I am miserable. Have compassion to do me good. Lord, deal with me out of the bowels of mercy alone.” Notice that her plea was not, “Have justice. Do with me as I deserve.” No, “Have mercy.”
Her faith was rooted in two things. First of all, she had an absolute faith that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. He was the Lord, the very Son of God. And, secondly, He was the Messiah, the Son of David, she says – the promised Son of David, sent of God, to establish the spiritual kingdom of God in the way of defeating the enemies of sin, and setting up the reign of grace in the hearts of God’s people. So her plea was: “Son of God, promised Savior, help me. Act toward me in my woe and helplessness on the basis of Thy eternal mercy.”
Does that mirror your plea? Is that true of you, by the grace of God? Have mercy upon me, Lord.
But it seems that the Lord Jesus Christ put her off. We read, “But he answered her not a word.” He gave no response at all. And if you scan ahead in the passage, you see that it even gets stronger. It seems as if the Lord is almost indifferent, cruel, heartless to this woman. He does not answer her. He puts her off.
As we proceed in this passage, I want to say that there is, of course, no sin in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor is there in Jesus Christ a shred of indifference towards His children. Do not ever think that! The Scripture assures us that His eye is upon us and His tender pity covers us. The Lord is acting here out of love, a love mixed with perfect wisdom. The Lord has a purpose, namely, to strengthen the woman’s faith, to dig it out. The Lord will bring her to one place, without a plea, to trust in Christ alone.
Then remember, too, that the Lord’s apparent failure to respond is not unique. It might be very severe in this case, but it is not unique. Very often God seems not to answer. But that is not true. The Scriptures tell us in Psalm 89, “Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” And we remember that God always promises us that He will be with us, that He will never leave us. Yet it seems to the believer, at times, that God forgets, that God does not speak. The truth, of course, is that God never speaks so loudly as when apparently He says nothing. When He says nothing, He speaks loudly and He says, “Do you trust? Do you believe My promises? Will you, by faith, cling to Me? I do not want you just at arms’ length. I want you to cling to Me, by the grace of God. I want you to cling even when the clouds darken and you cannot see My face.”
But again, it seems that the Lord is putting this woman off in a very severe manner. The woman persists. Even though the Lord does not answer her a word, apparently He does not even look her way, she begins to follow the Lord and the disciples and to press her plea more urgently. She does not fade away deflated. But evidently she continued her plea to the point of making the disciples embarrassed and uncomfortable. We read in verse 23, “And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.” Perhaps the disciples were exchanging nervous glances. Maybe Peter said, “Lord, tell her to go home. Here she is trailing us, following our steps. She doesn’t give up her request. The woman’s pleading is distracting, it’s embarrassing to everybody. Send her away.”
Evidently this woman, during that conversation, comes even closer to the Lord with her plea. She falls at His feet and says, “Help me.” She begins to worship Him. Now that is an advance, is it not? Not only does she cry for mercy, but she begins to worship.
Still the Lord acts as if she is not even there. Speaking to His disciples, He says (v. 24), “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” They say, “Lord, say something to her. Send her away.” And the Lord says to them, “My mission concerns the lost sheep of Israel. It’s not time yet for the gospel to break forth to the Gentiles. This woman is from Tyre and Sidon. She’s not from the land of Canaan. My work towards those countries shall be through you, My apostles. I am here to be rejected by Israel. Then the gospel, upon My death, will go unto the Gentiles. She is a Gentile. I can’t help her now. I am sent to the lost sheep of Israel.”
But the woman perseveres. She does not give up. We read, “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.” And at last the Lord does speak directly to her. But it seems to be the most cutting and cold response yet. He says, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.”
Now the Lord is putting her through a rigorous test. She is being molded by His rebuffs. In His wisdom, He is trying her. And by His grace, He is sustaining her. For she perseveres in her plea. “Lord, help me.”
A very powerful lesson is before us. Faith, of course, as we said, is not our strength. It is not our will, it is not our tenacity of spirit. It is the Lord’s work in us of uniting us to Jesus Christ. It is sustained by God. Yet that faith, the gift of God, is an activity. God calls us to be active in our faith, to trust the Lord. Faith, we know, is fed by the Word of God and through prayer and through the preaching of the Word of God. Faith is fed by the increase of spiritual knowledge and the deepening persuasion of our own helplessness and sinfulness. Therefore, we are called to stand in our faith, to persevere. This woman certainly perseveres.
But when the Lord gave that last word, it might seem to be just too much. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs.” That was the most severe repulse yet. And what did the woman respond? She responded with the words, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Now that is amazing! The Lord said to her, according to His words, “I am the bread of Life. I have been sent now to the lost sheep of Israel. They are the children. The bread belongs to the children. I am come now for the lost sheep of Israel. The Gentiles are apart from Israel. They are dogs. It is not meet for Me to give the bread intended for the children to dogs.” The Lord’s words, then, are emptying her. He is saying to her that she has no right at all to Him. He called her an unworthy sinner. That is what He called her – one who had no claim, no worthiness. She was only an empty sinner, totally hell-deserving before God.
That is the hardest thing, is it not? We persist, by nature, in imagining that there is something good about ourselves, something worthy of merit. Surely, we think, there is some ground, some merit that we can bring to God. We have nothing, absolutely nothing? Certainly God’s acceptance of us must be on the basis of something found in us. We are at least a little better than the other guy.
Now look at the context. The Pharisees had just been offended in Jesus. They had been offended in Him because He told them that they had nothing to recommend them to God. But that Pharisee which is offended in Jesus is really ourselves. It is a picture of our own sinful nature as we refuse to acknowledge the total reality that we are defiled and corruptible and unclean sinners. It is impossible for us, apart from God’s grace, to believe that. We never want to hear that we have no merit, no worthiness. We have no claim to salvation whatsoever. We are as dogs before God. We do not deserve the bread of eternal life.
But, by faith, the gift of God, this woman had great humility. She said, “Truth, Lord. That’s right.” You see, that is true faith. True faith does not raise an argument against the Scriptures when the Scriptures condemn us in our sins. True faith does not say, “Ah, but it can’t be that bad.” Oh, no. True faith is first of all the confession that indeed I am an unworthy, great sinner. I have no merit before God, no claim upon God for salvation. True faith recognizes what we are: hell deserving.
Yet that true, humble faith not only submits to the judgment of God that we have no merits of ourselves, but, without contradicting God, without becoming irreverent, it nevertheless pleads upon God on the basis of His mercy. “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.” She is not contradicting Jesus. She says, “That’s right. It’s not correct to give children’s food to dogs. But dogs eat crumbs which fall from the table.” She is saying, “Yes, I am unworthy, I have no right. I plead mercy. I plead even the least of Thy mercies. The least of Thy mercies would be enough. I do not come to Thee on the ground of merit. I do not desire on merit to sit at Thy table and eat bread with the children. The little crumbs which inadvertently fall from the table….” She so trusted the mercies of Christ that she believed even the smallest display of that mercy would be enough for her. Her problem was great. “My daughter is grievously vexed.” But she believed even the smallest kindness of the Lord would be sufficient for her. Not that she deserved even that smallest kindness, but of mercy alone. The smallest mercy would be sufficient for her. That is her faith, given her of God. What faith! She confesses: “I am a dog. I have no rights. My hope is in Thee alone. I do not come on the ground of merit. But I trust the slightest kindness, the slightest measure of mercy to be more than sufficient, to satisfy all my needs.”
We read in verse 28, “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 whole from that very hour.” Now, there was the Lord’s purpose. The Lord’s purpose was to strengthen her faith, to show what faith is, to show that by faith we stake everything on the mercy of God, even the smallest of God’s mercy. Faith is that gift of God whereby we cling to God’s mercy as the only ground and reason for our salvation.
By faith, she was given to trust in the mercy of God. And Jesus marveled: “Oh woman, great is thy faith!” There we find that God marvels in His own work, that God’s desire and God’s purpose is to bask in the light of His own grace. Faith gives glory to God because faith is God’s power in us to trust in God’s mercy given in His Son.
So God brings us down low, He brings us to know our desperate need. He writes upon our hearts the confession that we are hell-deserving, we are mere dogs to be cast away. But by faith we cling to His mercy and we trust that even the smallest mercy of God will be sufficient to deliver us from all of our woe. This brings glory to God.
Is this faith, by the grace of God, in you? Does that faith, given to you of God, persevere in your life? By faith do you cling to the promises of God in Jesus Christ? Does that faith give to you the knowledge that you are nothing of yourself, that you have no trust in yourself? Does that faith, by grace, give you to trust in Christ, His atoning blood as your righteousness? His bloody sweat and cross and death; His glorious resurrection and ascension and intercession with God – all of these things are your salvation. You commit all things to Him and say, “I will trust Him in His mercy – though He slay me, though all be dark, though it seems to me there is no answer from heaven; yet I will not let Him go, I will trust in His mercy.”
Then the Lord says, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Because, in a real sense, faith gets what it wants. We want, by faith, Christ. By the grace of God we plead mercy, the smallest mercies of God. We desire that Christ be all to us, whether we live or die, in sickness or in health, joy or sadness, that Christ might be magnified in us. And that we might receive the crumbs of His mercies to be our portion.
Is that true of you, by the grace of God? Is that your faith?
Then, in God’s mercy, this incident is repeated today. Then, by the grace of God, we come to Christ out of the consciousness of our great need. We plead His mercy. The Holy Spirit brings and draws us to Christ, to plead, “Lord, help me. Son of David, even the crumbs of Thy mercy shall be sufficient.” And we hear Him respond: “O woman, O man, your faith is of Me. I will help you. I will bless you.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray again that it may be written upon our hearts and that by faith we might persevere and trust in Thy mercies. Amen.