Matthew 15:21-28 – This is ONLY a Test
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying,
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” -- But -- he did not answer her a word.
And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and knelt before him, saying,
“Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is ONLY a Test
I don’t know about you… but I hate tests. The stress… the fear of failure… maybe I'm weird but the slightest noise blocks my ability to concentrate. That’s why I LOVE this story:
The setting is Ohio State University about six or seven years ago in a lecture hall filled with approximately 1000 students taking their Calculus final.
Apparently this particular professor wasn't very well liked. He was one of those guys who would stand at the front of the class and yell out how much time was remaining before the end of the test, a real charmer. Since he was so busy making sure that everyone was aware of how much time they had left, he had the students stack their completed exams on the huge podium at the front of the room.
One particular student entered the test needing a decent grade to pass the class. His only problem with Calculus was that he did poorly when rushed, and this teacher barking out how much time was left didn't help him at all. To assure himself a good grade, he completely ignored the professor... EVEN when he said "Time’s up!”
Five minutes turned into ten, ten into twenty, twenty into forty… almost an hour after the test was "officially over," our friend finally put down his pencil, gathered up his work, and headed to the front of the hall to submit his final.
"What do you think you're doing?" the professor asked the young man. It was clear that the professor had waited simply to give him a hard time.
"Turning in my exam, sir" answered the student. "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you," the professor gloated, "Your exam is an hour late. Therefore, you've failed and, consequently, I'll see you next term when you repeat my class."
The student smiled slyly and asked the professor "Do you know who I am?"
"What?" replied the professor gruffly, annoyed that the student showed no sign of emotion.
The student rephrased the question, "Do you know what my name is?"
"No", snarled the professor.
The student grinned and said slowly, "I didn't think so," as he lifted up half the stack of exams, shoved his test neatly into the center, turned around, and walked casually out of the huge lecture hall.
That’s ONE way to beat a test – Amen??
Problem is, most tests aren’t so easy to navigate… like the one in our text. Allow me to set the context:
After His collision with the Pharisees, the Lord set his sites on the people across the sea, Northward, to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These two Phoenician cities had a history of seafaring and sin – of commerce and corruption. THERE, the Lord met a pagan woman, noted by Matthew for her persistence.
Keep in mind, Matthew wrote His Gospel for a Jewish audience – and HERE marks a stunning shift in our Lord’s ministry – Jesus is moving AWAY from his ministry to the Jews (for those in authority were actively rejecting and opposing Him,) and now shifts His focus to the Gentiles. The interaction between Christ and this pagan woman makes her the first among the hundreds of millions of Gentiles who now make up the Church.
He had looked for faith in Israel, and upon finding none, turned to a land He knew would be filled with brokenness and sin.
The pagan woman in our text, wasn't just a Gentile – she was a Canaanite – a member of that accursed race whom God had commanded Joshua many years before to exterminate. Why would God pass such a harsh indictment against a nation? In a word: wickedness. After Joshua’s invasion, the Canaanite culture virtually died – leaving only a small, scattered remnant.
So HERE we find a woman whose people fell under the horrific judgment of God… yet - a woman who had enough spiritual insight to seek out the Lord Jesus. God, in His infinite wisdom, included this story in the Bible to show us in the clearest of terms that regardless our background or failures, God’s grace is GREATER than ALL our sin.
I want to spend just a few minutes exploring the high points of this passage – and then I will suggest three practical applications of this text in the hopes that it might help someone here today.
1. First, as we consider this woman, I want you to notice how Desperate She was.
Her daughter was in the clutches of the devil. While possession seems common in the gospels, it was nonetheless devastating to everyone who loved them. Maybe it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the gravity of having a child in Satan’s clutches… maybe not – maybe it hits close to home.
But understand, this was not an overly emotional woman. She so loved her little girl that she would give anything she had to buy her freedom.
Word of a wonder-working man of God from Nazareth had reached this mother. No doubt she had heard of His great heart of love… perhaps she had even heard the rumors circulating that He was the promised Messiah of the Jews – after all, she appealed to Him as the “son of David.”
But what we see next seems out of character for Jesus. After her passionate and agonizing plea for help, the Bible says ⇒ he refused to answer. He said nothing, though before Him stood the most desperate of women.
2. Secondly, we see how Determined she was in the rest of verse 23 through verse 27.
She was a persistent woman, and the disciples soon grew tired of it, “Send her away,” they said. “She’s wearing us out!”
I find it noteworthy how often the disciples resorted to “sending people away” when they were faced with problems. It’s in our nature, it seems, to give up on people too quickly, or at least, quicker than the LORD would have us too. But the very fact that Jesus DIDN’T send her away, speaks volumes about His compassion for this poor soul.
And when He didn’t, she just kept on with her persistent pleas.
Though Jesus WAS too kind to send her away, notice His odd response: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
His point??? She had no right to God’s grace. She didn’t have a copy of the scriptures… she had no familial ties to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. She was not a member of a Jewish Synagogue. The only thing on her resume was that she was a lost pagan who had heard of Jesus and had no hope apart from Him.
She fell on her face and begged, “Lord, HELP me.” The word “help” here means - “rescue” - “Lord, rescue me!” And yes, it is an exclamation.
But notice our Lord’s off-putting response, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Her quick answer? “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”
See how determined she was? It says a lot about her, don’t you think, to love her little girl to the point of enduring public humiliation? To SO believe that if ANYBODY could make a difference, it was Jesus.
For a pagan, she demonstrated a lot of things that the Lord hadn’t seen in Israel – a people offered everything - believed nothing…and here you have a woman offered nothing yet believed everything.
How desperate… how determined,
3. And third, notice how Distinguished she was… verse 28, Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
What you see is a woman who didn’t doubt Christ for one minute; one word from Jesus was enough to satisfy her, and she believed that the pandemonium that had become the norm in her family - would instantly give way to peace.
And for the very first time – God’s grace had been bestowed upon a Gentile family. A family with nothing to offer in return. A family very much like our own.
A heart-warming story, don’t you think? But don’t make the mistake of saying, “Yeah but preacher, that was in another time and another place,” for you need to know that there are some practical truths that we can apply to OUR lives today:
1. Here’s the first great truth in this text:
More than anything else, greater than my need for food, shelter, family, success, and money, I - need - Jesus in my heart and home.
- I don’t mean the token ‘tip of the hat on the occasional Sunday’ commitment that is so common among “Christians” today.
- Not the kind of “I’ll trust Him when I need something” kind of commitment – where, when all returns to normal, they forget all their promises.
No, I need this One Who is called “The King of Kings” to be King of my life and my family.
And if THAT is ever going to happen, I must understand that I cannot strut my way into heaven impressing the angels socks off with my self-perceived, self-deceived “greatness” – no, I must reach a place of utter desperation, a place of humility (just like this woman) recognizing that I have no right to claim the grace of God, that I have done NOTHING and CAN DO NOTHING to DESERVE His forgiveness and kindness. I have got to fall on my face before Him, like this woman, a sinner, crying, “LORD, RESCUE ME!”
I am afraid, folks, that what passes for ‘faith’ these days, is in for a rude awakening come Judgment Day. Those who want the blessings of God on THEIR terms, will soon discover that the terms of salvation belong to God alone.
What a difference Jesus makes in the home. It doesn’t matter how much money I make, or how much stuff I own – money may buy a lot of things, but two things it cannot: it will never buy me happiness and it will never buy me heaven.
Where would I be, right now, if my children were lost? Where would I be right now if Satan had them in his clutches as he did this little girl? I would give everything I have if it would mean my children and grandchildren would make it to heaven!! Where would I be right now without the joy, TRUE joy, meaning, and purpose that can only be found in Jesus?
We NEED Him!
2. The second principle in this passage is this: Times of spiritual silence and drought, are often those times when Jesus is testing my faith. HOW will I respond when the heavens remain silent and my pleas don’t seem to make any difference? Do I trust Him or Will I only serve Him if EVERYTHING goes my way?
We incorrectly think that FAITH is best seen when the end results go our way. But that isn't the case at all. Real faith is seen when we keep trusting God when NOTHING goes our way.
If I know that Jesus IS the only answer, if I truly believe that He IS WHO HE CLAIMED TO BE, and if I know in my heart that no one can make a difference in my life or my situation but Him, then I must continue to push through this time of drought, persisting in prayer and faith until He answers in the way He deems best. Like Jacob of old, who wrestled with God and cried “I will not let you go, until you bless me!” I must be relentless - undaunted in my pursuit of God.
This woman didn’t give up.
This story brings me under conviction
- for all those times I have given up and given in to my circumstances so quickly…
- all those times I went forward in my own strength because God didn’t respond when I wanted Him too.
It challenges me to keep pressing on, persisting in prayer, even when my situation seems hopeless and the heavens remain unmoved. It reminds me that, SOMETIMES I need His silence even more than I need an answer.
3. Oh, and there’s one more thing I see here that ministers to me. And it is,
when God does His perfect, gracious work in me, my need will be met like I never imagined possible. The peace of God that came over that lady... comes over me, and the chaos and storms of my life, subside.
Can you imagine how life had changed for this woman and her family?!?!
I hate to disappoint you, but storms come to all of us – yes, even preachers. I am no stranger to pain… no exception to the problems of life. But thank God, I have a helper in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Maybe YOU are like this woman – and you recognize that you have a need that no one can meet but Jesus. I’ve got good news for you, He is touched by your need, and wants to bless your life. Bring HIM your brokenness… because David testified, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Maybe you are here and you recognize the difference that Jesus makes in a family – and you want to come pray for a child that has gone astray, or for those children that yet remain under your care. You are concerned about the influences in their lives – concerned for their salvation and future. Why not humble yourself before God and pray about it?
Or maybe you are going through a prolonged spiritual drought, and you have found yourself impatient with God’s timing, feeling that prayer is a waste of time – but this woman has challenged you again – to keep pushing forward, following the Lord even when the way is unclear, even when it appears that He is not going to answer – submitting to His timing, trusting His heart.