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Worship Series: Summer School - Lessons from Jesus
Worship Theme: The Faith of the Canaanite Woman
Lesson: Joshua 2:8-21 (EHV)
Gospel & Sermon Text: Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV)
Music: CW 353 Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness, CW 405 Oh, for a Faith that Will Not Shrink, CW 432 I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb (in worship folder)
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
Message: The Faith of the Canaanite Woman
Over the past several weeks we’ve seen Jesus interact with so many people. Two weeks ago, we saw how he dealt with over 5,000 people. He fed them physically with loving care. Then he fed them spiritually and gave them what they really needed to eat, God’s Word. Not all of them were willing to listen. They just wanted free hand-outs or for Jesus to come and lead the Jews in rebellion against the Romans. So many missed the point that Jesus came to save them from their sins! Last week we heard how Jesus taught the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus taught them to take steps forward in faith. They didn’t need to be controlled by fear because Jesus was there to rescue them. They could be secure in his love. But the disciples didn’t quite get it yet either. They were starting to catch on, but their understanding was far from where it should have been. Even in the next chapter their faith would be called “dull” (Matthew 15:16). It’s a bit depressing when you think about it. The people of Israel, God’s own people, didn’t latch on to beautiful truths Jesus was teaching. Then the disciples, Jesus’ own hand-picked disciples, struggled to discard their own ideas for the Lord’s. Would anyone follow the Lord through strong faith?
After that Jesus and his disciples had a run-in with the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. We didn’t have a sermon on this part, so if you don’t remember this, don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything. Surely, the incredibly intelligent Pharisees will see Jesus for who he is and follow him through eyes of faith. Guess what happens? Instead of following the Lord, they start verbally abusing him. They claim he wasn’t doing anything right. The Pharisees continued to teach things contrary to the God they supposedly followed. They chose not to follow Christ, but their own selfish ambitions and glory.
It’s been a rough week for Jesus. He has lost a relative, a co-worker, and a friend when John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod. He’s been working himself ragged in caring for the masses of people following him everywhere. Furthermore, so many of these people, people that should be repenting, people that are seeing the glory of God revealed right in front of them in Jesus, are ignoring the message Jesus is giving them. So many are rejecting the faith. Even the faith Jesus has been finding in people has been weak and riddled with misunderstandings. This is where our sermon text picks up for today.
Jesus continues traveling away from the big Jewish dominated cities and is now reaching the fringes of Israelite territory. Here there are not just Jews, but Gentiles as well. In other words, Jesus is entering the territory of people who do not worship the one true God. These people were a remnant of those driven out of the Promised Land by the Israelites so long ago. If God’s own people, his own disciples, and the supposedly superior religious leaders of the day had faith that was either weak or non-existent, what hope do these people have? Surely, they cannot be better, but only worse. Yet as we see so very often in the Bible, God does the unexpected and he never counts out a single person based on nationality, skin color, gender, or background.
Anyways, this woman comes along and just starts tailing Jesus and the disciples. She’s crying out after them and they cannot get rid of her. And she just keeps calling out. Think of the kid who wants your attention. “Mom! Mom? Mom... MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM!” It’s going to keep happening until he gets some sort of answer, right? It’s persistence. This lady is following and doing this to Jesus. “JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS. Heal my daughter.” Now when the disciples hear this lady, this is what they see. They see someone who is not an Israelite. Worse than that, she’s a Canaanite – an enemy to the Israelites. Not only that. She’s also a woman. I’m not saying their viewpoints were right in any way. I’m just saying how they would see it. They still have a lot to learn. They are not seeing anything in this woman, but a worthless, annoying, waste of time. They even said to Jesus, “send her away, for she keeps crying out after us (v. 23).” They are looking right past what she is saying. We are not going to do that today. Look at the words coming out of her mouth. “Lord.” “Son of David.” “Have mercy on me!” “Lord” is what the disciples and followers often call Jesus. “Son of David” is a phrase often associated with the Messiah. “Have mercy on me” implies she knows Jesus has the power to help her and at the same time doesn’t owe her anything. Whatever she understood of Israel’s hopes, whatever she knew of the promised Savior, she believed that Jesus was he. And she believed Jesus could and would help her. She was being overlooked by the disciples and yet what faith!
Ok, before we move onto this next section I need to ask you all a question. Is Jesus a good guy? Of course he is and yet in this next part of our scene, he doesn’t seem like it. He seems like a class A jerk who is overlooking her just like the disciples. Let’s look at our text. First he ignores her. “He does not answer a word (v. 23).” Even the disciples are a little thrown off by Jesus’ actions. He always goes out of his way to help other people. They even ask him to do something for her just so she will leave them alone. “Come on Jesus. Do your thing so she goes away!” Then when she keeps pleading with him for help, he answers coldly. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (v. 24).” He pretty much says, “Hey lady, I didn’t come here to help you.” Now you’d think that would be the end of the matter. Jesus said “no.” It’s all over. But it’s not over. The woman continues to ask for help. She throws herself before his feet and says, “Lord, help me (v. 25)!” If you thought what Jesus said before was insulting, then listen to this. Jesus says, “It is not right to take the Children’s bread and toss it to the dogs (v. 26).” OUCH!. The disciples are probably recoiling as he says this. “Did he really just say that?!?!” One or two probably have a dopey smile on their face as they realize the verbal beatdown Jesus has just given this poor woman. Do you get what Jesus is saying? He is saying that the Israelites are the children of God. He then says this woman is nothing more than a dog. The children are the ones who are cherished. They are the ones who are loved, the ones who are educated, the ones who receive the inheritance. Jesus is saying that the best this woman can hope for as a dog, is crumbs from the meal. The leftovers. The part that was missed or was so tiny it wasn’t worth bothering to eat it. There are a lot of commentaries out there that say this isn’t what Jesus actually said, but he did. A lot of people will try and make these words from Jesus seem gentler, but they are not. These are the type of words that leave people shattered and broken.
Let’s pause the scene for a moment. Jesus is not acting like the God-man that we know so well. Why would Jesus say something like this? Here’s a couple of insights that might help. 1. Jesus knows how to deal with each of us on an individual basis. Some of us do best with gentle encouragement. Some of us need someone to kick us in the pants to do the right thing. Jesus knows exactly what is going to be best for this woman’s faith and as we are going to see, it works. 2. With these statements, it seems that Jesus wants to show this: does the Canaanite woman really know who he is, or are the things that have come out of her mouth just words and nothing more. Remember, Jesus has just witnessed the weak or lack of faith from the nation of Israel, the disciples, and the Pharisees. Does this woman truly have faith or is she just another in the long list of those whose words are false, hearts are empty, and only want Jesus as a personal genie to fulfill their own selfish agendas?
Let’s resume the scene. After hearing the cold words Jesus says, the woman does something almost as surprising as the rest of the story. She agrees with everything Jesus says. While keeping with the analogy, she shows her faith. ‘“Yes, Lord,” She said, ‘yet their little dogs also eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s tables (v. 27).’” The woman is saying even that would be enough. She passes the test. She knows who Jesus is and what Jesus does. He’s the Savior who works for the good of his people. If he is offering the woman crumbs, then she knows that will be more than enough. It is complete trust in who the Savior is and what he does. She knows he will keep all his promises to her even if it doesn’t seem like it at the moment. Jesus sees she passes the test. He turns to her and says in a voice that is suddenly soft and filled with the care he’s had for her all along, “Woman, your faith is great! It will be done for you, just as you desire. (v. 28)” And, of course, her daughter was healed right away.
Did you know, it is recorded that Jesus is only amazed at great faith twice? Both times the great faith came from Gentiles. The Jews who should have believed, who had the most reason to believe, who had seen the most, weren’t the ones with great faith. What a lesson for them. That God works faith in all sorts of people. What a lesson for us! We often act just like those Israelites. Like faith is a birthright instead of a gift. Like we were conceived holy and perfect when instead perfection was received at our baptism or from hearing the Word. We often treat our faith as a one-time thing we receive and then never think about again when instead it’s something living and active, showing itself everyday. What would Jesus see if he came into our church? Would he see a church full of people using their faith as a reason to cling to Jesus and bring others to him? Or would he see a church full of people only using faith as an excuse to brag about how we are better than others? Would he be amazed at our faith or marvel at our unbelief?
The lesson Jesus teaches us today is that everyone is a sinner who is in the same boat. No one is exempt from the need of a Savior. And it’s certainly not based on nationality, gender, ability, whether you were born a Christian or came to the faith later in life, your likes or dislikes, if you have a great family life or not, your worship preferences, or whether you are dragging a bunch of baggage through life or none at all. Faith is for everyone. It’s not just for your grandparents or parents or a certain type of person. This is a faith for you. If you believe in Jesus currently or not, this is a faith you need. Jesus is a Savior for everyone and is enough for anyone. He died for the sins of everyone, everyone. This gift of covering our sins with his blood, of forgiving us is not because anyone is superior, but because he loves you. It’s especially important to remember this message at a time when our nation is divided by hate. This gospel message is yours, but it’s also for those who are different and those who may make you uncomfortable.
Let me give you a scenario to bring this point home. You are at the church. Someone new comes in. The person tells you she is a stripper who just finished her shift. What do you do? Think about it. Let me give you another situation. A homosexual couple comes in to hear the sermon. What do you do? The answer? The same thing you would to everyone else. You share God’s Word. You let them know Jesus has died for their sins. You let their faith grow. It’s a faith in a Savior they need too, just like you do. Conversations about God’s Word will come for sure, but turn others and yourself to Jesus first. Notice how the Canaanite woman turns to Jesus first and trusts that he will take care of her in whatever way is best and that’s exactly what he did. Trust in Jesus is never misplaced. It’s the same for us. No one is excluded. He is the Savior for all. He is the Savior for you. Amen.