Matthew 15 from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.
When you find yourself in deep trouble, when the rubber has hit the fan, it really does not matter whose fault it was does it? When you find yourself broke, bruised or beaten up, you are not desperate for a therapist to find out why are you? If you’re distressed, depressed or dejected, it’s not that important to understand the causes is it? All you really want is someone to help, someone to understand, someone to show they care. Someone to hold your hand. You see dying people, broken people, hurt people, used and abused people, don’t need theological explanations, or self-help tutorials, they need practical help, not next month, not next week, but now, today, right this minute. In our series of encounters between Jesus and women, today we meet a mother. A desperate mother.
A mother with a sick child. Imagine that you’ve carried this baby in your womb for nine long months. You’ve been through the excruciating pain of childbirth. You’ve nursed her, fed her, washed her, changed her. Watched her grow, take her first step, say her first word. You can still remember her first day of school. How pretty she looked in that dress. The first time you let her out of your sight. She’s your little girl. Your little girl.
And this was her little girl. Maybe she had been sick before.
A cold here. A headache there, maybe even the flu from time to time. But nothing ever like this before.
In the daytime she screams and shouts constantly. You can’t put clothes on her because she’ll tear them off. Her hair is no longer washed and tidy with sweet little pig-tails. Her hair is all pulled out at the roots and the remaining ones are left sticking up. Strange voices come out of her mouth. She can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t play. But one thing is constant, those eyes. There’s a strange look in her eyes. Eyes that tell you that this is no ordinary sickness, no ordinary problem, no ordinary trouble. She is …. and you don’t want to even say the word… possessed. Can you imagine how helpless this mother feels? I’m losing my little girl. I’m losing my little girl. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you know what it feels like when you are losing your little girl. Losing your little boy. Losing your husband. Losing your wife. Losing your brother or sister, your mother or your father. Whether it’s to cancer, to chronic illness, old age, drugs, alcohol, gambling, work, infidelity, it doesn’t matter. The feeling is the same. It’s a desperate, helpless, hopeless feeling isn’t it? Maybe you can empathise. You know how strong a mother’s love is. She will go miles in search of help for her child. She will travel through the night, on foot, in the cold and rain in search of food or medicine, or whatever her child needs. I’m sure she had been to the doctors, but with all of their skill and knowledge, they couldn’t help her. Maybe she had gone to the priest who sprinkled holy water on her and anointed her with oil, but he couldn’t help her.
Finally out of money and options, she is about to give up hope. Then news spreads about a special man in the area. Not just any man. Jesus is His name. Delivering helpless people is His specialty. Good news travels fast doesn’t it? Good news travels far and wide. Jesus is coming her way. Verse 22 tells us that she was so desperate; she had to meet Him. If you’re sick, you find yourself a doctor. If you have a legal problem, you find a lawyer. If you’re having family problems, you go to a counsellor. If you’re having trouble in school you find a personal tutor. If you’re having problems with your pipes you need a plumber. But if your problem is demon-possession, you need a demon chaser, a yoke breaker, a hell raiser. You need Jesus. I have three questions for you this morning from this story.
1. Are you Desperate Enough to Seek the Help 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 demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” (Matthew 15:21-22)
She eventually found Jesus and began crying out after Him. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Now in the original language the word used suggests that she cried out and kept on crying out. She didn’t just do it once. She wanted his attention, his complete and undivided attention. She is desperate to save her daughter so she presses her case
to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Now have you got to that point? That point of desperation? Are you out of human options yet? Have you realised that you cannot change your behaviour through education? Have you realised you cannot rationalise your past through therapy? You cannot atone for your sin through penance or buy it with money? You will not find peace of mind through self-help books or conferences? First question? Like this mother, are you desperate enough to seek the help of God? Second question:
2. Are you Determined Enough to do the Will of God?
“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 the dogs.” (Matt. 15:23-26)
To her shock and surprise Jesus ignores her. In verse 23, we find Jesus doing exactly the opposite to what we think He should. He does not rush to her aid. He does not agree to follow her home. He does not even soothe her heart with words of encouragement. No, it says he remained silent.
2.1 The Silence of Jesus
“Jesus did not answer a word.” (Matthew 15:23)
Was Christ training His disciples? Showing them exactly how heartless and insensitive the Jews treated the Gentiles. This may be true.
But I suggest his main concern, his primary focus, is in fact this woman, but not yet. She had heard that Jesus could do anything. But when she came to him for help, he is silent. Can you empathize with her? A lady told me last Sunday how she pleaded with God over and over and over again but she got no answer. She wanted to know if he was playing with her? The silence of God is difficult to cope with when you are desperate. I wish I could go through life with God speaking to me moment by moment. Letting me know where to go, what to do, who to see. We all wish our prayers could be answered right away, immediately. But the truth is that sometimes God says ‘yes’, sometimes God says ‘no’ but many times he is silent and says by implication, wait. When God is silent do you give up on that prayer? Do you give up asking God’s direction? Do you give up on that lost person you’ve been praying for? Do you give up and walk away and think that you wasted your time? How do you deal with the silence of God? Have you been there yet? Sometimes you are going to be crying out in the midnight hour and the morning will come but it’s not going to bring any joy. Sometimes you’ll be fasting over something for a long time, showing up for prayer meeting, getting to church early and going for prayer every week after the service, but still God is silent. All the things the books on prayer told you would work, don’t work. Do you stop praying then? Is that when you begin to figure things out yourself?
Verse 23 tells us this Canaanite woman, kept on crying out. She was persistent. She knew that if He didn’t answer, there would be no answer. She knew that Jesus, Jesus He’s the man, if He can’t do it, nobody can. She kept on, keeping on. You and I need to learn this lesson here of persistent praying. Praying that says, Lord I know that only you can help me. Only you can heal me. Only you can lift me up out of this miry clay. Persistent praying. You see some of us have the idea that I’ll pray for a while and then I’ll try something else. I’ll give God a chance to work on this problem and then it’s my turn. I’ll call on God now and if it doesn’t work, I’ll call my cousin. I’ll try God before or after I try my other solutions. Somehow God is trying to let us know that He isn’t another solution. He isn’t another helper. He isn’t another problem solver. He is the only solution. He is the only help. He is the only problem solver. We need to stay right there and pray on until there is an answer from heaven. God may not always change the situation but He’ll make us able to bear it. God is looking for some saints who will say like Jacob, I won’t let you go until you bless me. God is looking for some saints who will stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. God is looking for that man or woman who will pray on and hold on and press on. Persistence. Persistence.
Only by persistence in prayer can gain the victory. The truth is if God can’t do it, it cannot be done. We need to learn to close the blinds, shut the door, turn off the phone,
stop trawling the internet and answering emails and just cry out to the Lord. James 5:16 says The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” This is how we cope with the silence of Jesus. Now verse 23 tells us that when this lady kept appealing to Jesus, and he wouldn’t say anything, she began to get on the disciples nerves. So they give Jesus some advice. She not only had to cope with the silence of Jesus but also,
2.2 The Rebuke of the Disciples
“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.” (Matthew 15:23)
Follow me now, if they are asking Jesus to send her away with such urgency, it seems they must have lost patience with her. They couldn’t cope with her persistence and they took it personally. “she keeps crying out after us.” No she didn’t, but they felt so. But this is one persistent lady. Now the reality is, in your walk with God, there will be times when you not only have to cope with the silence of God but also the misguided advice from his followers. Well meaning, thoughtful, caring, sincere, but wrong. The fact is even Christian friends may lose patience with you. They may suggest it must be your own fault God won’t answer your prayers. Through them, Satan will tell you to give up, you will never be able to change. Give up, look for another career. Give up, asking the Lord for that baby. Give up, your child will never come back to the Lord. Give up, your marriage will never improve.
What the disciples were really saying to her “we can’t cope with you.” That is why we use the expression for some people “EGR” meaning “extra grace required” Isn’t that what we all need at some point? This woman, like so many today, not only had to cope with the silence of Jesus but also the rebuke of his disciples. And then thirdly,
2.3 The Testing of Faith
“Jesus 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 the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24-26)
First Jesus ignores her. Then she has to endure the rebuke of the disciples and finally when Jesus finally speaks, his says
“I haven’t been sent here for your kind. I have more important people to deal with.” It is hard when you feel like God is not only silent, but has rejected you. You can’t find a job. Your kids won’t behave. There is no peace in your home. Your bills are unpaid. Your credit is shot. Your car is costing a bomb, your hair is falling out. Has God rejected you? I have news for you today. Read my lips. No he hasn’t. It’s a test. Verse 25. “The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!”. She is not crying out now. She has his attention even if she doesn’t get the reply she was hoping for. She is not giving up. Despite the apparent apathy and rejection, she worshipped Him.
She threw herself down before Him and she worshipped Him. Can you worship when everything is falling apart? Not only when there is silence from heaven but when you do get an answer, its not the one you want? Jesus answers her: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs.” (Matthew 15:26).
Was Jesus calling this woman a dog? Her daughter is demon-possessed and he labels her a dog. Now today we say that a dog is a man’s best friend but back in Jesus’ day, most dogs were not domesticated. They were scavengers like rats. They were annoying, barking and howling late at night, hanging around the rubbish dumps in packs by day. Dogs were disgusting, they would eat almost anything. They would eat from garbage heaps and dumps. They would tear into the strewn, rotting carcasses of dead animals. They were scavengers. And the worst part is they sometimes went back to eat their own vomit. Now humour me for a moment, if Jesus was actually calling her this kind of dog, is that a problem for you? If Jesus calls us that kind of dog, do we have a problem with that? I want to suggest that if Jesus did, He would have every right to do so. You see if we look back on our life, we can remember times when we have acted like dogs. Sin will make us act like dogs. We will feed our minds and sometimes our bodies almost anything. We may have looked at all sorts of detestable things on television and video. We may have listened to suggestive songs telling us to do unto others before they do unto us. We have looked on the Internet at all sorts of questionable things. But worse than that, even when God delivers us from sin, we sometimes go crawling back like dogs to our own vomit. God delivers us from gossiping but we go back to it. He gives us power over lying but we crawl back into it. So I have no problem today if Jesus wants to call me a stray dog. I’m not going to call you that. It may damage your self esteem but I’m willing to concede that would be true of me. The good news is that in the original language, Jesus doesn’t call her a stray dog, even though he had every right to do so. Jesus uses a different word. Jesus describes her as a little dog, a domesticated household pet. And here we begin to understand why Jesus is treating her in this way. The question is, like this mother, are you desperate enough to seek the help of God? Are you determined enough to do the will of God, whatever he may call you? Thirdly,
3. Are you Depending Entirely on the Grace of God?
This lady clearly is. See her reply to Jesus statement?
“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 15:27-28)
You see the Pharisees called the Gentiles ‘dogs’ all the time but never this kind of dog. They were always stray dogs but never pet dogs. How did dogs get into the house? Who lets the dogs in? I said, Who lets the dogs in? You see nobody owns stray dogs. They are on their own to fend for themselves. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from. But not a pet dog. A pet dog has a master who feeds and shelters it. That is why she challenges Jesus, “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” The lady is saying, “If you call me a pet dog Jesus, I’m alright with that. I have no problems with that. But if I am a pet dog then I have a Master and you, Jesus, are my Master and my daughter’s master too so please help her.”
Crumbs are the remnants of a meal. Crumbs are what you wipe off your mouth and the plate. That’s all I need Jesus, the crumbs. You see she was recognizing that this was no ordinary man, no ordinary prophet, no ordinary healer. He could do whatever He wanted where ever he wanted to whom he wanted and whenever He wanted to. And if I’m your pet dog then please feed me and my little girl. He didn’t just have some power. He had all power. And his crumbs are better than everyone else’s dinner. And so she says, Lord, just your crumbs alone will satisfy me. Just a little morsel from your hand will give me more than I ever needed. Just a little touch from you O, Lord will make my daughter whole. Just a little word from you will soothe my aching soul.
Just a little move of your Spirit can change my life. Just your crumbs, O Lord will satisfy me. No wonder Jesus responds, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 15:27-28)
Praise God, Jesus answered this woman’s prayer. Can you imagine the scene when this mother got home to find her daughter delivered? Healed? Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; to his feet thy tribute bring; ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, evermore his praises sing” But now He does not call us stray dogs or even house dogs but sons and daughters of God. Co-heirs with Jesus.
The only question is, like this woman, are you desperate enough to seek the help of God? Are you determined to do the will of God? And are you depending entirely on the grace of God? Lets pray.
With grateful thanks to Kymone Hinds for a sermon “Who let the dogs in?” and to Donnie De Loney for a sermon “”he Unnamed Mother With Great Faith” both on www.sermoncentral.com