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Encounters With Christ: The Woman Christ Complimented

Matthew 15:21-28

What a great thing it is for us to celebrate Dad’s Day here at MDPC. And I salute all dads and granddads. Clint’s right. I’m a dad and I’m a granddad. And I also have a favorite team.

I wish to read for you these words from the 15th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. This is the Word of God:

“Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him crying out, ‘Lord, son of David, have mercy on me. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.’ 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.’ 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 master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted,’ and her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.

Pray with me, please.
Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

Jesus was on the road. But then Jesus was always on the road. The Bible says the Son of man has no place to lay His head. Jesus was always on the road. Only this time, the road was a bit different. This time, the road led to the north up to the land of the Gentiles, up to the Mediterranean coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon, up to the land that we know today as the country of Lebanon. As far as we know, this is the only time in His adult life that Jesus ever traveled beyond the bounds of the land of His birth.

I suppose we could say that this particular journey to the north was for the purpose of engaging in a spiritual retreat. You see, Jesus knew that His earthly ministry was not long for this world. Now, while it was true that great crowds always eagerly gathered to hear Him or to see Him whenever He made a public appearance, at the same time, enormous opposition to Him had arisen, and that opposition had become organized and entrenched. And as a result, Jesus was dogged every single day by the presence both of those who loved Him and sought His help, and those who hated Him and sought to be rid of Him. It was to say, the very least, a pressure cooker existence.

And so there came a point where Jesus wished to take a brief respite from the pressure. And so He journeyed north, north to the land of the Gentiles where He knew the Jewish people would not dare to follow. We do not know for sure how long this time of retreat lasted. Many scholars suggest probably no more than a couple of weeks or so. But what we do know for sure is that it was a time of quiet before the storm. It was a time when Jesus could garrison His own spirit and prepare His own disciples for the stresses and the strains He knew soon to come.

And yet, even there in a land not His own, even there Jesus was sought. He encountered this woman who came to Him seeking healing for her daughter. Now, we know precious little about this woman. We do not know her name. We do not know her age. We do not know whether she was rich or poor, attractive or homely, shy or gregarious. We do know that she was a Canaanite. That is, she was a Gentile. We also know that more than likely she was married. At least we know that she had a daughter. But apart from these few very sketchy details, we actually know something infinitely more important about this woman. We know that Jesus summed up her whole character and life by paying her the highest compliment He ever paid anyone. He said to her, “Woman, you have great faith.”

Now, I want to tell you that that is a very poor, very weak translation of Jesus’ words. When you actually translate literally the words that He spoke, it comes out sounding like this, “Woman, my, oh my, oh my, what a magnificent faith you have.” That’s the highest compliment Jesus ever paid anyone. He never paid anyone else that kind of compliment, not even His own disciples, for He was forever chiding them for their lack of faith. But to this woman, He said, “Woman, what a magnificent faith you have.” And therefore, on the strength of the complement Jesus delivered to this woman, I want to contend with you today that this Canaanite woman can teach us a hefty, heady lesson on the subject of faith.

In the first place, we learned from the Canaanite woman that faith is turning to the person of Jesus.

This woman had a daughter. The daughter was ill. She was seriously ill. She was mentally and emotionally ill. And this woman apparently had heard about Jesus and His supernatural power, and she believed that Jesus could help her and she was willing to do whatever she had to do in order to get to Jesus. And she had to do a lot. She actually had to scale the barrier of hatred and prejudice in order to get to Jesus. Understand, please, she was a Canaanite, Jesus was a Jew. The hatred between the Canaanites and the Jews was every bit as intense then as the hatred between the Arabs and the Israelis now.

You do remember, don’t you, the story in the Old Testament where Joshua led the people of Israel in to occupy the Promised Land? Well, the people who were displaced by that occupation were the Canaanites, and therefore, a hatred between these two peoples was born then and it burned white-hot all the way up to the time of Jesus. And so this Canaanite woman had to scale the barrier of hatred and prejudice in order to get to Jesus. But she believed with everything she possessed that Jesus could help her, and she was then willing to go to any length in order to get to Him.

Now, I would like to suggest to you that that is an apt definition of faith. Faith is believing that Jesus Christ can make all the difference in your life and then being willing to go to any length to do whatever you have to do in order to get to Him. Faith is turning to the person of Jesus. Faith is making Jesus Christ the constant, consistent, consuming, controlling center of your life. Faith is having such a deep personal profound relationship with Jesus Christ that your every living breathing moment is lived in continual reference to Him. Faith is turning to the person of Jesus.

Now, let me kindly suggest that if you have not up to this point made Jesus Christ the central focus of your life, then let me—well, how shall I put this? Let me try this. Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago has in it a young man named Galuzin. Galuzin was arrested by the Bolsheviks, accused of political insurrection, sentenced to die, and placed before a firing squad. In that moment, he cried out, “Comrades, please don’t kill me. I apologize for anything I’ve said or done. I will do anything you ask. Just don’t kill me. I haven’t really lived yet.” That’s it, that last phrase. “I haven’t really lived yet.” Let me suggest to you that if you have not given the best that you are and the best that you have to Jesus Christ, if you have not made Jesus Christ the constant, consistent, consuming, controlling center of your life, then you haven’t really lived yet. Because I can tell you on the strength of my own journey in the faith, there is no life like the life lived in obedience to our Savior and our Lord. No life on this earth like that. Faith, you see, is turning to the person of Jesus.

But we also learn from the Canaanite woman that faith is staying in the presence of Jesus.

This woman came to Jesus looking for help. And what does the Bible say? Jesus did not answer a word. Holy smoke. She came to Jesus looking for help and He didn’t say a word. Talk about discouraging. But this woman wouldn’t be discouraged. She stayed after Jesus, so much so that the disciples actually tried to chase her away. Talk about discouraging. But she wouldn’t be discouraged. She wouldn’t quit. She wouldn’t give up. She wouldn’t be turned away. She had come to Jesus Christ and she had come to stay. We need to learn from the Canaanite woman that faith in Jesus Christ requires staying power. We need to be persistent and persevering in our faith. We need to keep on believing in Jesus Christ no matter what.

I saw that so clearly in the last years of my dad’s life. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The final chapter of her life, all of her mental capacities were completely shredded. She returned to a kind of infant state. She couldn’t tend to her own needs. My dad had to feed her every bite, just as my mother had had to feed me every bite when I was an infant. And my dad sat by her bedside day after day after day, year after year. She couldn’t communicate. She couldn’t say what hurt. She couldn’t say I love you. All she could do was cry. And my dad sat at her bedside day after day after day, watching the woman he loved for 50 years gradually disintegrate right before his eyes. At one point I said to him, “Dad, how can you keep doing this? Don’t you think you ought to give it up?” He wheeled around on me and with the fire of faith that always burned in his eyes, he said, “Son, I love your mother and I have faith. I don’t understand it all, but I still believe.”

I’ve never forgotten that. And that’s why I can tell you that no matter what may happen to me in my life, I’m going to keep on believing. I’m going to keep on believing in Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus Christ is nothing less than God in human form come to this earth to live with us, to die for us, and to claim us as His own. I believe that and I’ll keep on believing it. I believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, the only begotten Son of Almighty God. I believe that and I’ll keep on believing it. I believe that this book is nothing less than the Word of God written, the only inerrant, infallible rule for everything we are to say, and think, and do, and believe in life. I believe that and I’ll keep on believing it. I believe that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus Christ. There is no other name under heaven by which we shall be saved, save the name of Jesus Christ. I believe that and I’ll keep on believing it. I believe that one day they hung Him up on the cross on Friday and then they hauled Him down and they buried Him tight. And I believe that on Sunday, God reached down and cracked that grave wide open and lifted His only Son to new life. And I believe that Jesus Christ then walked out of that grave alive forevermore and carrying all the power of heaven and earth in His hands. I believe that and I’ll keep on believing it. And furthermore, every other belief that I hold in my life is based upon that one shining belief. I believe it and I’ll keep on believing it. I’ll keep on believing in Jesus Christ.

And therefore, I call you, my beloved people, no matter what you may encounter in your life, no matter what may come your way be it good or ill, no matter, keep on believing in Jesus Christ. Keep on believing. Learn from the Canaanite woman that faith in Jesus Christ requires staying power. Faith is turning to the person of Jesus and faith is staying in the presence of Jesus. One thing more, faith is claiming the promise of Jesus. There’s an absolutely amazing exchange that takes place in this story that I want you to see. I don’t want you to miss it. It’s a little complicated because it’s not clear in the English version. But I want you to hold on tight with me for just a few moments because I want you to see this. I don’t want you to miss it.

This woman came to Jesus pleading for help, and Jesus said, “It’s not right to take the food from the table and throw it to the dogs.” Now, I want you to understand something at that point. That sounds to me like an insult, an epithet. And in its original form, that’s what it was. Remember that hatred between the Canaanites and the Jews? Well, the Jews referred to the Canaanites as dogs. It was an insult, an epithet. But the word they used for dogs was the word for street dogs, cur dogs, mangy dogs, ugly dogs. But Jesus took that saying and by changing one word, He softened it in what He said to the woman. He changed the word for street dogs to the word for house pets. Cute, little puppy dogs.

And so you see, Jesus was actually saying to her, “Listen, I have come to the children of God, the people of Israel. I’m offering them the bread of life and they are rejecting Me. And yet here you, a woman whom they would refer to as a dog, and you are reaching out to Me in faith.” It’s an incredible moment. But it doesn’t end there. I love what happens next. This woman, this Canaanite woman, she must have been so sharp because she immediately caught the wit and the wisdom of Jesus. And so she came right back at Him. She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the little puppy dogs get the crumbs that are swept from the master’s table.” She was saying, “Lord, I know that I’m someone that the Jews would call a dog. I know that I’m not worthy or deserving of anything from your hand. But I also know that way down deep in that great big, gracious, loving heart of yours there are just a few crumbs of grace left over, and I’m asking you if you would take those few crumbs of grace and just sweep them down into my life.”

She was claiming the promise of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. I have to tell you, I believe that this was one of the happiest moments in Jesus’ earthly life. I believe that when this woman said what she said, Jesus split the heavens with a burst of joyous laughter. I believe He threw His hands in the air and He cried, “Thank God for this shining moment. Woman, my, oh my, oh my, what a magnificent faith you have. Your request is granted. Your daughter is healed.” Faith is claiming the promise of Jesus.

Not long ago, I saw a bumper sticker. It read, “God loves you whether you like it or not.” But that’s so true. God loves us whether we like it or not. Whether we acknowledge it or not. Whether we are worthy or deserving or not. God loves us, loves us so much that He actually gave His only begotten Son to die for us. And when we begin to understand that God loves us like that, well that begins to change everything. It changes the way we live and it changes the way we love. And therefore, I call you to turn to the person of Jesus, stay in the presence of Jesus, claim the promise of Jesus. I call you. No matter what may come your way in life, no matter what hurts or hazards or heartaches, no matter what troubles or trials or tragedies, I call you to remember you can never ultimately be beaten in life unless you give up. You can never ultimately be defeated in life unless you let go of God. And therefore, my beloved people, I call you. I call you to keep on believing no matter what, no matter when, no matter where, no matter why, no matter how. Keep on believing in Jesus Christ. Yes. Keep on believing. Keep on believing.

Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.

 

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