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MIRACULOUS MOMENTS IN MARK: A Dog’s Life: Canaanite Woman

Mark 7:24-30

Jesus was on the road.

But then Jesus was always on the road. The Bible says that “the Son of Man had no place to lay His head.” He was always on the road. Only this time was a bit different, because this time the road led to the land of the Gentiles—to the Mediterranean capital cities of Tyre and Sidon in what we know today as Lebanon. As far as we know, this is the only time in His adult life that Jesus traveled beyond the bounds of the land of His birth.

I suppose you could say that the reason for the journey was to engage in a time of spiritual retreat. Jesus knew that His earthly ministry would be short-lived. While the crowds still gathered at His every public appearance, opposition to Him had arisen, and rapidly had become entrenched and organized. That meant that every day He was dogged by the presence both of those who loved Him and sought His help and those who hated Him and sought to entrap Him. It was a pressure-cooker existence to say the very least.

Consequently, Jesus decided to seek a brief respite from the pressure. So He journeyed north to the land of the Gentiles where He knew no Jew would dare to follow. We do not know how long this time of spiritual retreat lasted. Some Biblical scholars suggest it may have been as long as six months, but we do not know for sure. What we do know is that it was a time of quiet before the storm, a time when Jesus could garrison His own spirit and prepare His own disciples for the stresses and strains He knew were soon to come. Yet, even there, in a land not His own, Jesus was sought. There He encountered a Canaanite woman who came to Him seeking healing for her daughter.

We know so little about this woman. We do not know her name. We do not know her age. We do not know if she was rich or poor, attractive or homely, shy or gregarious. We do know that she was a Canaanite, a Gentile, and we know that she probably was married—at least she had one child that we know of. Apart from these few sketchy details, we do know something infinitely more important. We know that Jesus summarized her whole character and her whole life by paying her the highest compliment He ever paid anyone. He said: “Woman, great is your faith.” More accurately translated, it comes out like this: “Woman, my oh my, what a magnificent faith you have!” Mind you, Jesus never paid anyone else so high a compliment, not even His own disciples. In fact, he frequently chided them for their lack of faith. But to this woman He says: “What a magnificent faith you have!” Just a handful of words, but enough to make her immortal. Obviously, then, this Canaanite woman can teach us a hefty, heady lesson on the subject of faith. Here is what I mean…

The first thing we learn from this Canaanite woman is that faith is turning to the person of Jesus.

This woman had a daughter. The daughter was ill, seriously ill, mentally ill. The woman apparently had heard about Jesus. That ought to give you some clues as to just how far the word about Jesus had spread. Remember, this was a land not His own. Yet, the word had spread that far. Little wonder that the religious leaders and the secular authorities in His own land were so threatened by Him. But here is the point I want us to grasp. This woman had heard of Jesus, and she believed Jesus could help her and she was willing to do anything to get to Him.

She had to do a lot. She had to overcome the barrier of hatred and prejudice—and there is no stronger barrier in the human experience than that. Don’t forget that this woman 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. Do you remember Joshua in the Old Testament? He led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. The people who were displaced, driven out of the homes, were the Canaanites. There was born then a hatred between those two which burned white-hot right up to the time of Jesus. So this woman was a Canaanite and Jesus was a Jew. Yet, this woman was willing to scale this horrendous barrier of hatred and prejudice in order to get to Jesus. She believed that Jesus could help her and she was willing to do anything she had to do to get to Him.

I want to suggest to you that that is the essence 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 get to Him. Understand me, please. I am not talking here about occasionally showing up in church to get a Sunday morning spiritual vaccination which you hope will carry you through the hazards of life for a while. No, I’m talking about making Jesus Christ the central focus of your everyday living. True faith is having a deep, profound, personal relationship with Jesus Christ that your every living, breathing moments is lived in continual reference to Him. Faith is turning to the person of Jesus.

What we learn from this “Miraculous Moment in Mark” is that if you have not made Jesus Christ the constant, consistent, consuming, controlling center of your life, then you… Well, in Boris Pasternak’s book, Doctor Zhivago, there was a young man named Galizin. He was arrested by the Bolsheviks, tried, and sentenced to death for his political activity. He was placed before a firing squad. In that moment, he cried out: “Please, Comrades, don’t kill me. I apologize for anything I have said or done. I will do anything you ask. Please don’t kill me. I haven’t really lived yet!” Friends, if you have not made a deep-down daily commitment to Jesus Christ in your life, if you have not offered to Him the best that have and the best that you are every single day that you live, if you haven’t made Jesus Christ the constant, consistent, consuming, controlling center of your life, then you haven’t really lived yet. I’m here to tell you that there is no life on this earth which can begin to compare with a life lived in daily obedience to the One who is the Savior and Lord of us all. This Canaanite woman sensed that faith is turning to the person of Jesus, making His Word, His will, His way the constant, consistent, consuming, controlling center of our lives.

The second lesson we learn from the Canaanite woman is that faith is staying in the presence of Jesus.

This woman came to Jesus seeking help for her daughter, and, it says in Matthew’s version of the story that Jesus didn’t answer her. Talk about discouraging, but this woman wouldn’t be discouraged. She kept after Jesus—so much so that the disciples tried to chase her away. Talk about discouraging! But this woman wouldn’t be discouraged. She wouldn’t quit. The Bible says that “she begged Jesus”. You see, she had come to Jesus Christ and she had come to stay.

We need to learn that. We have a tendency, when we engage in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, to believe that we ought to expect instant answers, immediate results, action now—and when it doesn’t happen “now”, we become discouraged, disheartened, ready to throw in the towel of our faith. But we need to remember that faith in Jesus Christ required staying power. Yes, “God is working His purpose out as year succeeds to year”, but God does not always act now. God has all the time in the world. God doesn’t wear a wristwatch. God doesn’t punch a timeclock. God is working His purpose out inevitably and inexorably through the slowly unfolding pages of history and through the slowly unfolding pages of your story and mine. That means that we need to be persistent and persevering in our faith. That means that we need to keep on believing no matter what.

I know it’s not easy in a world like ours to hold fast to Christ regardless, to keep on believing no matter what. But let me tell you from my heart that no matter what may happen to me along my life’s way, I’m going to keep on believing in Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus Christ is nothing less than God Almighty wrapped in human flesh and come to this earth to live amongst us, to die for us and to claim us as His own. I believe that—and I’ll keep on believing that. I believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary—I believe that and I’ll keep on believing that. I believe that this Book is nothing less than the Word of God written, the only infallible rule for what we are to say and do and believe in life—I believe that and I’ll keep on believing that. I believe that there is salvation in no One else, that there is no other name under heaven by which we shall be saved other than that of Jesus Christ Himself. I believe that, and I’ll keep on believing that. I believe that one Friday they hung Him up to die and they hauled Him down and they buried Him tight; and I believe that on Sunday, God reached down from heaven and cracked that grave wide open and lifted His Son to a new life; and I believe that Jesus walked out of that grave alive forevermore, with all the power of heaven and earth in His hands—I believe that, and I’ll keep on believing that and the fact is that every other belief that I hold in my life is built upon that one great shining belief. I believe it and I’ll keep on believing it. So, dear friends, no matter what happens to you in this life, no matter what circumstances you encounter in life, no matter what good or ill may befall you in life, keep on believing. This Canaanite woman understood that faith is staying in the presence of Jesus. Keep on believing.

The third thing we learn from the Canaanite woman is that faith is claiming the promises of Jesus.

There is an amazing exchange which takes place between these two—Jesus and the Canaanite woman. I want us to look at it. It’s a little bit complicated, but it’s so important. So hang on tight. This woman begged Jesus: “Help me.” And then Jesus said: “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Sounds like an insult to me. But it’s not an insult, at least, not the way Jesus said it. You see, Jesus was quoting a saying of that day—and the saying was intended in its original form to be an insult, a racial slur. It was used by the Jews against the Canaanites. The Jews referred to the Canaanites as “dogs”—and not just ordinary dogs, mind you, but street dogs, cur dogs, mangy dogs. But what I want you to notice is that Jesus actually softened the saying and I believe He said it with a smile. He used that marvelous ironic wit of His to change one word in the saying. He changed the word for “street dog” to the word for “house pet”. Do you hear how that softens the saying? Here is what Jesus actually meant: “Isn’t this incredible? I came to those who are of the House of Israel and those people are in the process of rejecting me—yet here is this woman whom the Jews would call a “dog”, and she is reaching out to me in faith!”

Now I love this: The Canaanite woman, who must have been very sharp mentally, picked up on the wit and wisdom of Jesus and she came right back at Him saying: “Yes, Lord, but the house pets get the crumbs that are swept from the Master’s table.” Do you hear what she is saying? She is saying: “Lord, I know I am a dog. I know I am not worthy. I know I don’t deserve anything. But I know You and I know in that great big, gracious heart of Yours there is bound to be a little extra grace somewhere that you can just sweep off and down into my life.” Don’t you love that? She was claiming the promise of Jesus’ grace in her life even when she did not feel worthy or deserving of it.

I believe that this was one of the happiest moments in Jesus’ life. I believe He split the heavens with the sound of His joyous laughter. I believe He threw His hands in the air and cried: “Thank God for this shining moment. Woman, oh woman, what a magnificent faith you have! Your daughter is healed.” The Canaanite woman claimed the promise of Jesus. That’s faith.

Here then is the meaning behind this miracle. I saw a bumper sticker that read: “God loves you whether you like it or not.” It’s true. To see ourselves as God in Jesus Christ sees us will change our lives altogether. He loves and values each of us. He thought we were worth dying for. We may be unimportant to others and we may feel unimportant about ourselves, but we are not unimportant to our Lord. So, my beloved people, no matter what may happen to you in life, no matter what circumstances you may encounter, no matter what hurts or hazards, trials or tragedies may befall you, remember the Canaanite woman and remember that you can never be beaten until you surrender. You can never be ultimately defeated in life unless you let go of God. So keep on believing. No matter what, no matter where, no matter when, no matter why, no matter how…

Keep on believing!

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