When you find yourself in deep trouble, when the rubber has hit the fan, it really does not matter whose fault it was or what caused it. All you really want is someone to help, someone to understand, someone to get you out of trouble. 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 today, right now, this very minute.
In Matthew 15 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 a bruise or bump 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, pain in the stomach, 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 a doctor. If you have a legal problem, you look for a lawyer. If you’re having family problems, you go to a counsellor. But if your problem is demon-possession, you need supernatural help. I have three questions for you from the story.
Are you desperate enough to seek God’s help?
Are you determined enough to do God’s will?
Are you depending entirely on God’s grace?
1. Are you Desperate Enough to Seek God’s Help?
“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)
This mother eventually found Jesus and began crying out after Him. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Now in the original language the word suggests she cried out and kept on crying out. She didn’t just do it once. She wanted Jesus’ attention, his complete and undivided attention. She is desperate to save her daughter so she pleads, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Have you ever got to that point? That point of desperation? Have you run out of human options yet? Have you realised that you cannot change your behaviour through education? That you cannot rationalise your past through therapy? You cannot atone for your sin through penance? You will not find peace of mind through self-help books? First question? Like this mother, are you desperate enough to seek the help of God? Second question:
2. Are you Determined Enough to do God’s Will?
“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, the text says what? Jesus remains 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 primary focus is 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 God 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 praying? Do you stop asking God for guidance? Do you give up on that person you’ve been praying for? Are you tempted to 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 through a sleepless night and the dawn will come but it’s not going to bring any peace of mind. You may fast for a long time, show up for prayer meeting, get to church early and forward for prayer after the service, but still God is silent. All the things the books on prayer told you will work, don’t work. What do you do then? Do you stop praying then? Verse 23 tells us this Canaanite woman, kept on crying out. She was persistent. She knew that if Jesus didn’t answer, there would be no answer. She knew that if Jesus couldn’t help, no one could. So she kept on.
You and I need to learn this lesson too. The lesson 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 mess. Persistent praying. You see some of us still have the idea that we’ll pray for a while and then try something else. I’ll give God a chance to work but if not then I’m leaving church. Perhaps in the silence, God is trying to let us know that He isn’t just another solution. He isn’t just another helper.
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. “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (I John 5:14). Did you see that? “He hears us” But notice what comes next. He doesn’t just hear us. “And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:15). “We know”. We know. Do you know?
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
God is looking for people who will pray without ceasing. We need to learn to close the blinds, shut the door, turn off the phone, stop trawling the internet or answering emails pray 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 Christian friends. 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 to help your kind. I have more important people to deal with.” It is hard when you feel that God is not only silent, but has rejected you. You can’t find a job. Your kids won’t behave. Your home is a war zone. Your bills are unpaid. 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 is hoping for. She is not giving up. Despite the apparent indifference and rejection, she worships 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, it is not the one you want?
Jesus says, “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 calls her a dog. Now today we say that a dog is “a man’s best friend” but 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 rubbish dumps. They would eat the rotting carcasses of dead animals. They were scavengers. And sometimes they even 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 to 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 I look back on our life, I can remember times when I have acted like a wild dog. Sin will make us act like dogs. We will feed our minds and sometimes our bodies on almost anything. We may have looked at all sorts of detestable things on television and video. We may have listened to politicians telling us to do unto others before they do unto us. We may have looked on the Internet at all sorts of questionable things. But worse than that, even when we confess and God delivers us from sin, we sometimes go crawling back like dogs to our own vomit.
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 change your view of me, 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 God’s Grace?
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? 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 a pet dog has a master who feeds and cares for 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 don’t mind. Because if I am a pet dog then I have a Master and you, Jesus, you are my Master and my daughter’s master too, so please, please help her.” Crumbs are the left overs of a meal. Crumbs are what you wipe from the table or wash from 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, whenever he wanted, to whom he wanted.
“So, if I’m your pet dog then please feed me and my little girl”. The crumbs of Jesus are better than a banquet from anyone else. 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 your crumbs, O Lord will satisfy me.”
No wonder Jesus responds, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is gra
nted.” 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? Restored? “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; to his feet thy tribute bring; ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, evermore his praises sing” Jesus tested this woman’s faith and called her his pet. But because of the cross and resurrection, Jesus does not call us stray dogs or even house dogs but children of God, sons and daughters of the living 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 Rick Warren’s awesome book, God’s Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions, 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