The Astonishing Faith of a Gentile Woman (Matthew Sermon 72 of 151)
March 18, 2007 | Andrew Davis
Redemption, Walk by Faith, Jesus Christ
There are many admirable attributes of the human nature that God could have chosen to focus on concerning our salvation. He could have focused in on wisdom. He does praise young King Solomon highly and rewards him highly for asking for wisdom to lead God's people. Wisdom was rewarded and praised and is an admirable trait. He could have focused on courage or boldness, like the courage of Samson facing all those Philistines with the jaw bone of a donkey, or the boldness of Peter and John in front of the Sanhedrin. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they proclaimed the word of God boldly. He could have zeroed in on that character trait for the salvation of our souls. He could have zeroed in on compassion or humility or generosity or kindness. He could have focused on love. Love has an entire chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13. Love is even compared to other admirable attributes; “And now, these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” But it was none of these character traits that God zeroed in on for the salvation of a sinful soul. No, it was faith that God zeroed in on. “The righteous will live by faith,” the scripture says. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why faith?
Faith Comes From God
God hates our boasting. He has very wisely saved us in a way that we cannot boast about the process. How can you boast about faith? What does faith do but receive what God will give. That's all. It's like the eyesight of the soul, it just receives what's there. It doesn't create anything. It just receives what God is willing to give. How do you boast about that? Imagine standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon and you saw all those purples and browns and reds, and you saw the beauty there and somebody said, "Isn't that incredible? Isn't God magnificent to make something like that!" And someone else said, "Yeah, but my eyesight, now, I can see it, okay. I have great eyesight. Let's talk about that for a while." There's nothing to talk about. "Yeah, that's good, that's good. Why don't you go sit over here and think about your eye sight while I look at this grandeur.” “It's out there, it's magnificent, it's glorious and my eyes just happened to bring it into me that I may receive it.”
So how can we boast about our faith? How wise is God! But also, in a perverted way, how wise is Satan to attack faith so that we don't understand it properly. We must have clear teaching about faith, because there's a lot of misunderstanding about faith as well. There are well-publicized movements that focus on faith: The faith healers, the Word of Faith movement, etcetera, that sees faith somewhat like a commodity that you can trade with God based on if you have enough. Like a bag of gold dust hanging at your belt, and God's got His scales, and if you've got enough faith, like a commodity, you can pour your faith on to the scale and it'll trip over, and God is forced to give you what you ask for. It's like a commodity that you can have and you got to go get more if you don't have enough. If you're pulling out your little bag and God looks at you, "I tell you right now, you don't have enough faith. So go get some more faith and then you can have the thing you ask of Me." In the end, faith turns in somewhat of a work of man, that if you have enough of this thing called Faith, then God's got to give you whatever you ask. The dark side of that whole word of faith approach is that, if you have any kind of suffering in your life, if there's a loved one, like the Syrophoenician woman's daughter who is demon-possessed, or you have some illness, or there's some issue and you come to the matter, and you don't get the healing and the person dies, or something, it's because you didn't have enough faith. So now, not only do you have the loss of the loved one, you now are told that was, indirectly told it was your fault, that if you'd had enough faith, this would never have happened. It’s similar to Job's friends basically saying, "Well, I see that you're going through great suffering. Just want you to know it's your fault. And if you would just kind of out with it about your sin, then we could get on with the healing and all that." It's about the same thing. You're left devastated. 1980 Harvest House published a book by Larry Parker entitled We Let Our Son Die. The book tells a tragic story of how Larry and his wife, after being influenced by one of America's numerous Word of Faith or Word-Faith teachers, withheld insulin from their diabetic son, Wesley. Predictably, Wesley fell into a diabetic coma and died. The Parkers, through that whole process, were warned about the impropriety of making a negative confession, saying anything negative about the whole thing. They continued to trust God and to speak words of faith concerning this matter until finally he died. Even after his death, they refused to have a funeral, but instead had a resurrection service for their son, trusting God based on a revelation they'd had that their son would be raised from the dead. It wasn't until a year later that they started to realize that they'd gotten hold of some bad teaching, and it focused on this matter of faith.
If it were just limited to the seriousness of that situation, physical death for a loved one, that would be bad enough, but instead it's going to the heart of the way that God saves our sinful souls. We are justified by faith. We must understand it, therefore. We don't go to the Word-Faith teachers, we don't go to these fad, weird movements to find out what faith is. We must go to the Scriptures. The verses today are one of the accounts that I would bring someone to who wanted to understand what is the nature of true faith. Why? Because Jesus commends this Syrophoenician woman for her faith. He focuses on it. In verse 28 it says, "Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour."
The Context of Jesus’ Interaction with the Canaanite Woman
It's good for us to learn from the Syrophoenician woman, to find out from her example what is great faith, faith that Jesus will commend. As we come to this encounter, we're coming to, I think, one of Jesus's most puzzling interactions. Admit it, haven't you wondered about this one before? It's a little bit strange. Robert Stein in his book, Difficult Passages in the Gospels, chooses this as one of the passages he deals with. Why is it difficult? Stein says this, "The problem is obvious. Jesus' words appear harsh, austere, insensitive. They seem atypical of Jesus. In the Gospels, He is portrayed as a kind, loving and compassionate savior. The words of this account would cause little difficulty coming from a mean, harsh, unloving individual. The Jesus of the gospels, however, is a loving and kind Jesus with a special compassion for the outcasts of society, and this woman is an outcast in the Jewish mind." That's why this passage is difficult. It seems strange that Jesus would answer like this.
Let's understand the context, first of all. It begins, verse 21, "Jesus left that place or leaving that place, He withdrew." Now the Greek word “there” just means, it means more than just went away. He's in effect bringing about a strategic withdrawal in His ministries, retreating strategically at this point. Why? I think to escape the building pressure. The pressure was building around His ministry. Pressure from the huge multitudes who are crushing in on Him on every side, demanding, yearning for Him to meet their physical needs. In Mark 6:31 it says, "Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, 'Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' So, they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place." That's the retreat approach.
Or again, this crowd, after Jesus had fed the 5,000 in John's account, are pressing in on Him and want to seize him and take Him by force and make Him king. Jesus's response here is the same. John 6:15, "Jesus knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by a force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself." So again, He's withdrawing. Strategic withdrawal. There's a pressure from the crowd, the adoring and needy crowd. Secondly, there's pressure from the secular authorities. The king, for example, Herod Antipas, who thinks that Jesus may be John the Baptist risen from the dead and that's why miraculous powers are at work in Him. He killed John and so Herod may be pushing matters to accelerate Jesus's death. That may be some of the pressure that Jesus is feeling.
I think in the immediate preceding account, however, is pressure from the Jewish religious authorities. The Scribes and Pharisees who had already decided, in Matthew 12:14, that Jesus had to die. They already decided that, and now they are basically amassing evidence or pushing a case so that they can have Him executed. The previous encounter was about hand-washing, and the ceremonial law, the ritual washing and all that. In that account, Jesus offended them and the disciples told Him about it. In Matthew 15:12, the disciples came to Him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" So for all of these pressures, I think Jesus desires a strategic withdrawal to let things cool off a bit. It's like it's boiling over and it's going too fast, it's time to cool it off a bit because everything's been timed out. There's an exact time for Jesus to die, it's not yet.
There's another aspect, I think, and that's so that Jesus could focus on His apostles and just work with them for a while and just pour Himself into them and build them up. But it didn't work, because it says in Mark's gospel in this parallel account, Mark 7:24-25, "Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it, yet He could not keep His presence a secret." No way to keep the presence of Jesus, the Son of God, a secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about Him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at His feet. That's how the encounter begins. So Jesus is trying to find a quiet place to work with His disciples, but it's no good. The woman finds Him and presses her need forward at this moment.
Now, Tyre and Sidon are an interesting place in Biblical history. They are notorious to some degree in Jewish history. The region of Tyre and Sidon had a good beginning in scripture, as the wise king Hiram was a good friend to King David, and once David had established himself in Jerusalem, sent him timber and different materials to build his palace. In the time when Solomon, David's son, was building the palace, he again supplied him with building materials. They had a good relationship. But it went south from there, after King Hiram. Tyre was a gentile trading area where goods would be sent out all over that region of the Mediterranean. They became very wealthy, plying that commercial trade. With it came all of the corruption of being a nautical seaport. All kinds of evil, as a matter of fact, Isaiah likened the region of Tyre and Sidon to a prostitute plying her trade. It's somewhat of a defiled area, defiled by their wealth and their prosperity. Worse, they involve themselves in buying and selling human slaves from the ancient Near East, from Edom, and even including the Jews, buying and selling them. This is talked about in the book of Amos. But worse still, when Jerusalem fell, the people of Tyre and Sidon mocked and celebrated the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel talks about this. In Ezekiel 26, "Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, 'Aha, the gate to the nations is broken and its doors swing open to me now that she lies in ruin, I will prosper.'" Judgement comes on Tyre and Sidon. In Ezekiel 28, the oracle to the King of Tyre is couched in such language that you're not sure if it's talking about the human king of Tyre or Satan himself, implying that, it's like demonic forces are behind Tyre and Sidon.
Several prophets, therefore, predicted the total devastation of Tyre and Sidon, including Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah. However, Jesus knew the people of Tyre and Sidon even a little bit better. He made some remarkable statements about them. First of all, He knew that hundreds of Gentiles had been coming to see Him and to listen to Him preach and to have their illnesses cured. In Luke 6:17-19 it says, "A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases, those troubled by evil spirits, all of them were cured and the people tried to touch Him because power was coming out from Him and healing them all." This whole region is coming to listen to Jesus preach, and He's healing them. One of Jesus's most amazing statements though, He made earlier in Matthew's Gospel, when He denounces the Jewish cities in which most of His miracles had been performed because they didn't repent. He said, "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sack cloth and ashes. But I tell you, it'll be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you."
Now, who was this woman that Jesus deals with? Matthew describes her as a Canaanite, the very people that God had commanded Joshua to destroy completely when the Jews conquered the Promised Land. Canaanite women, in particular, were the focus of a warning in Deuteronomy 7:1-6 in which God warned the men of his people, “Do not intermarry with Canaanite women because they will turn your heart away from worship of the true God.” But Mark goes into even more detail about this Canaanite woman. In Mark 7:26, it says the woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia, so she's frequently called the Syrophoenician woman. This woman would have been a complete outcast as far as the Jews were concerned. They would have had nothing to do with her. Nothing at all. But yet, she has a tremendous faith in Christ and for all times she's memorialized here in the text of scripture, as an example of great conquering faith. How beautiful is that? Now what was her plight, what was her problem? Her little daughter was demon-possessed, verse 22, "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."
Mark's gospel heightens the fact that she's young, she's a little daughter, using an extra Greek word, so there's a sense of a little helpless girl being tormented by a demon. Demon possession is a very serious spiritual affliction. A demon, a fallen angel, a spiritual being takes over the mind and personality and even the body of a human being. The demon and demons do bodily harm to the individual and they cause somewhat of a living hell for those around that care about that individual because there's nothing they can do. There's no power that can deal with this demonic force. This seems to have been, if you can imagine, an especially bad case. There's extra words that give a sense of, she's suffering terribly from demon possession.
False Options behind Jesus’ Strange Interaction with the Canaanite Woman
Then Jesus begins a series of strange actions at this particular moment. The first thing, is He doesn't answer her at all. Look at verse 23, "Jesus did not answer a word." Secondly, his disciples come to Him and urge Him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." Jesus seems to focus His ministry only on the Jews, and He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." He says this in her hearing. He doesn't even address her directly, He just says it to His disciples. Third, in finally dealing with her directly, He seems to insult her and call her a dog. "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.'" This is a series of strange actions on Jesus's part.
There's some mitigating factors. We don't have facial expression or body language or tone of voice, we don't have any of that. We just have His words and you know, there's a way to say something that doesn't sound as harsh. It could be playful, like a riddle. He could be saying it like that. We don't know. We weren't there, so we don't know the non-verbals that went along with this statement. Secondly, the Greek implies that Jesus had a longer conversation with her than is recorded here. Jesus was saying to her, "It's not right to take the children's bread." It's not just one simple proverb, and then He's done. It seems like He's having a conversation with her, but you only get part of it here. Then also this word dogs, it's not the harsh word for dog, like a rabid beast that roams the streets picking through garbage and is a threat to the populace, that kind of a dog, like a roaming wolf. But rather, the word used here is more like a household pet, like a puppy. So it would be like, "It's not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their puppies."
There's some mitigating factors but all of that said, it's still a strange interaction on Jesus's part. What is going on here? What were Christ's motives? That's what we have to ask. Why did He treat her like this? Let's rule out some things that cannot be. Let's rule out false options. It's not because Jesus didn't care about Gentiles. Let's start right there. He knew very well that Abraham had been promised 2,000 years before in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you, I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Jesus knew that very well because Jesus's Heavenly Father, said in the words of Isaiah the prophet[Isaiah 49:6], “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant. To restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.” That's too small a commission for Jesus just to save the Jews. “Ask of me, and I'll give the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the Earth as your possession.”
After Jesus was born, Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God saying, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel.” If Simeon knew that, Jesus knew it; can we concede that? Jesus knew very well that He was to be the light for the Gentiles, and in His ministry, Jesus had already dealt many times very positively with Gentiles — the Roman centurion He deals very graciously with and very lovingly with. Then there's the Samaritan woman, the half-breed, half Jewish, half Gentile, but He is so loving and gracious to her, He doesn't hesitate at all.
After Christ's resurrection, He would send His disciples to the ends of the earth, and one of the places they would go would be this very region of Tyre and Sidon. He had a saving plan for them, and soon, in the Book of Acts, there's a church in this area beautifully growing. Paul, on his journey to Jerusalem back to Jerusalem, lands at Phoenicia. He goes and visits the disciples in Tyre and they welcome Paul warmly. Through the spirit, they warn him not to go to Jerusalem and after that they take him out with his entourage, and they kneel on the beach together, and pray. There's such a loving encounter there in a church made up of people from Tyre and Sidon. Jesus knew all of this would come. Clearly Jesus had a saving intention for the entire world, including the people of Tyre and Sidon.
Secondly, it's not because He lacked power to do miracles in Gentile territory. Jesus is God omnipotent, there is nothing He cannot do. He's not more God in Israel than He was in the gentile areas. There's nothing He cannot do, and He's going to prove this directly by giving her her request. There's no lack of power to do miracles, not at all.
Thirdly, it's not because He lacked mercy or compassion for her plight or her daughter. Jesus was infinitely filled with mercy and compassion; the most perfectly compassionate man in history. Four separate times in Matthew's gospel, it links one of Jesus's miraculous healings to his compassion, his heart is moved with compassion and He heals. Basically anybody who comes to Jesus as a beggar, humbly asking for a healing like this, they get it. It doesn't matter who they are, so it can't be that He lacked compassion.
And it can't be that He was weary and annoyed and irritable after a long hard day. You may be like that from time to time, maybe not, getting irritable and saying something you wish you hadn't said. Has that ever happened to you? You wish you could have the words back. James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways.” Isn't it true? We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, what is he? He's a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. Is there a perfect man? Was there a perfect man who was able to keep his whole body in check? Yes, His name is Jesus. He never stumbled in what He said. Never. So it's not that He was weary and irritable after a long, hard day. I'm not saying Jesus didn't get weary, I'm not saying He didn't get tired, I'm not saying that there aren't temptations, I'm just saying He never yielded to any temptation and everything He said was perfect. Jesus spoke the words of life. He says in John 6:63, “My words are spirit and they are life.” Jesus is the Word of God; He doesn't throw words aside like you and I do. When He speaks there's a reason.
Fifth, it's not because He's taking a break from ministry and doesn't want to care for her needs at this point. “I’m on vacation.” That's not it. Jesus could both take a strategic retreat, and care for her needs as He does. He's not shocked or dismayed when there's a huge crowd in Tyre and Sidon that hears of his being there. He's not surprised at all, He knew full well that this was going to be part of his ministry.
Six, it's not because there's only so much bread for the children and once it's been given out, there's none extra. Do you think Jesus would have been more taxed to feed 6,000 than He was to feed 5,000? What do you think? There’s a little extra miracle-working power, a little more sweat on Jesus's part, it's impossible. 60,000, 600,000. He fed 2 million Jews in the desert for 40 years. Is the arm of the Lord too short? He can do anything. It's not because there's only so much bread for the children and once that's gone, then the dogs eat or the children are going to starve, that's not it, at all. It's not because the woman didn't ask properly or with enough humility or enough faith or any of that, none of that.
The Redemption Plan of God for the Jew & the Gentile
Why then? First let's look at redemption, the redemption plan of God to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. This principal is stated again and again in Scripture. After Jesus was raised from the dead, the apostle Peter spoke about this to the Jews in the temple, [Acts 3:26], “For you first, you Jews God raised up his servant, and sent him to bless you, by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” The apostle Paul taught this, and lived this out again and again in His ministry. He was the apostle to the Gentiles, but every city he went to, he went first to the synagogue, didn't he? That's where he started.
To the Jew first, he says in Pisidia in Antioch. He and Barnabas had preached there. The Jews become hostile, they begin to reject the message. This is what Paul says in Acts 13:46, “Then Paul and Barnabas answered the Jews boldly. ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first; since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life. We now turn to the Gentiles.’” Do you see that ordering? Now, “you Gentiles.” I'm a Gentile, too. We should not feel offended by this. This was just God's strategic ordering, this is what He chose to do, and He says it again, and again. He wrote about it in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile.” This was God's strategy. That Jesus, the Son of God, would go to his own people, and they would reject Him, and that they would turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified and then on the third day, He would be raised to life. That was part of God's strategy. It's spelled out very plainly in John 1:11, “He came to his own, but his own people did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, To those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Children, not born of the flesh, or of blood, or of water, but of the Spirit of God.” Jesus says in verse 24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Christ hadn't died on the cross yet, so the barrier to the Gentiles was still up. There was still a barrier separating Jew from Gentile which was spoken of in Ephesians 2 where Paul said, "Therefore remember, that formerly you who are Gentiles, by birth and called uncircumcised, by those who call themselves a circumcision that done in the body by the hands of men. Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. That's what you were, but now he has destroyed in his body the barrier between the two, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and in this one body, to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which He put to death their hostility.” This hadn't happened yet. The curtain in the temple, hadn't been torn in two from top to bottom, so there were still a focus on the Jews. Also, there's a strategy here. Jesus is focusing on the children of Israel, but within them, his disciples, and within them, the 12 apostles. He's got a strategy to pour Himself out. It could be that He's saying, “Look, I'm here to focus on the apostles, it's not right for me to be doing a wide ministry of the Gentiles, right now. I've got to spend time with these men and pour myself into them.” That's all possible.
One of the most common answers to this is that Jesus was doing it to test her faith. More specifically, He's humbling her, and seeing if she would overcome the obstacles. Perhaps this is true, but I don't think it goes far enough. I think Jesus knew her heart very well. He wasn't merely testing her faith, I think he was actually developing and strengthening her faith and then putting it on display for us. Like a physical therapist will develop a weak or injured muscle by opposing motion so that the person is forced through some pain to strengthen that weakened muscle and develop it. The therapist in a very wise way will oppose the motion and strengthen and build up that damaged muscle. So Jesus seems to oppose her and fight against her despite the fact that He really does desire to give her what she wants. Ultimately, He means to put this woman's faith on display for all time.
The Focus of Faith
So, what is the nature of true faith, what then is true faith? Well, first, it has a basis in something. We don't have faith in faith itself. There are a lot people like that — True faith is a leap into the black darkness. You imagine some pitch black night and you're on top of a skyscraper and you're running off screaming into the dark hoping something's going to catch you, and that's faith. That is not faith. It's not essentially our optimistic outlook- “I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows. I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows.” John McArthur said this sort of faith is essentially faith in faith, which is to say no faith at all. “To jump out of an airplane with a parachute is an act of faith. To jump without a parachute, while exclaiming I believe, is an act of stupidity. To say no more than I believe in love, or I believe in believing or I believe it will all work out is contentless faith, and therefore, pointless and powerless.”
Faith focuses on something. It focuses on God — His nature, His promises, His work in the past as revealed in Scripture. That's what faith focuses on. This Canaanite woman clearly had heard of Jesus's miracles, she knew of the Jewish prophecies concerning the Messiah. Look at the title she uses and the expectation she has that Jesus will heal her daughter. Lord, son of David, she calls him. How does a Gentile woman know Son of David? Faith comes from hearing the message about Christ; that's where her faith has come from.
The Reverence of Faith
We see also the reverence of faith. She calls him Lord. Later on she bows down before him and worships him. She is submissive, she is reverent, she doesn't presume on him, she doesn't demand from him. How different is that from the “name it and claim it” crowd that bosses God around like he's some kind of a house boy as though God somehow loves to be bossed around like he's a house boy. He doesn't. He is a sovereign king and it says in Ecclesiastes 5:2, it says, “Do not be quick with your mouth, and do not be hasty in your heart to bring up anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on Earth, so let your words be few.” Stand in awe of God. The more you believe, the more reverence and awe you'll have for God. You're not going to boss him around. I hate that aspect of that Word of Faith movement, it forgets reverence. Remember what Abraham said, when carrying on intercessory prayer over Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18? Abraham spoke up and said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord though I am nothing but dust and ashes. . .” So also the Syrophoenician woman, she had a submissive humility to her.
The Confidence of Faith
We see also the confidence of faith. She was absolutely certain that Jesus could do this, wasn't she? That's why she kept coming. She's so persistent, she calls him Lord, so she knows he can do all things. The essence of great faith is great confidence that God has the power to do what you ask him to do. Abraham had it in Romans 4:21, “Abraham being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.” That's our God; that's the confidence of faith. He can do anything, infinitely more than you could ask or imagine.
The Repentance of Faith
We see also the repentance of faith. “Have mercy on me,” she calls. She recognizes that she doesn't deserve anything from the Lord; she's a sinner. She may not know the verse because it hadn't been written yet, but she understood the concept, that Paul wrote in Romans 9:15, “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” God has the power sovereignly to decide who He's going to have mercy on and who He won't. So you come asking for mercy, you come with repentance, humility, knowing that you don't deserve a favorable outcome. Once we acknowledge that we are sinners, all we can do is cry out for mercy and humbly accept what God chooses to give. Anything we get is more than we deserve. Repentance and faith, I think are two sides of the same coin. Genuine saving faith involves turning away from wickedness and sin and turning to the Lord who can save you from it.It's both.
The Persistence of Faith
We also see the persistence of faith. Jesus puts up one road block after another and she overcomes every one of them. True belief is persistent. Notice also with intercession here, she has linked herself to the plight of her daughter. That is true intercession. You want to know what intercessory prayer. It is when you really care about the person and what you're praying for as though it were happening to you. Look what Jesus says in verse 22. “ Have mercy on me,” she says. In verse 24, “Lord help me.” I think God sometimes tests our prayer because we don't care about people enough. Let me just speak about myself. I think that God tests me in prayer because I don't care about people like I should and so sometimes he wants me to come on more strongly, and care more about what I'm praying for. He doesn't give it to us right away. So faith overcomes all obstacles through persistence.
The Humility of Faith
We see the humility of faith. Jesus said, “You know it's not right to take the children's bread and throw it to their dogs.” What came out of her mouth next, just moved me this morning as I was thinking about this text. It's not right to take the children's bread and throw it to their dogs. “True Lord,” she said. Wow. Where's the pride at that point? Where is the bridling up? “I’ve got some things that... I'm pretty good here. I'm not a dog at least.” There is an incredible humility here in this woman. “True Lord,” she says. “I’m closer to a dog than I am to you.” John the Baptist put it this way, “After me will come one who's more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Is that true? The angels hide their faces in front of Jesus. She accepts it. “Yes, I'm a dog, less than a dog, but please heal my daughter anyway.” Here's the miracle of grace, that God can take a dog and make her one of his children. It's not right to take the children's bread and throw it to their dogs. How about if he makes her one of the children, how about then? Does He have that kind of power to take a wretch and make us His treasure? We're worse than dogs when we rebel against the king, but God's grace is sufficient to take us out of that rebellion and save us entirely. This is the reward of faith. Look at verse 28, "Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” You know, I've heard this expression, “We need to storm the gates of heaven.” I don't like it. It implies that heaven is like a walled fortress against us, somewhat our enemy, and we have the power to overcome that adversary and make him give us what we demand which He doesn't want to give.. It's wrong. It forgets how powerful He is. It forgets how loving He is, how much readier to give us blessing than we are to ask for it. Forget storming the gates of heaven. Go like a child to your father and ask. “Which of you fathers, if a son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” That's the way to think, and if He doesn't give it right away, He's strengthening you and helping you. He's got a plan and the reward of faith is that your request is granted, dear woman, and her daughter was healed from that very hour.
This is an incredible miracle, really, it is but I think there's a greater one, far greater, and it has to do with the greatness of the blessing and the greatness of the cost. What did she get for all of that? She got a healed daughter. You may be sitting here today listening to me in an unregenerate state. You may never have a demon-possessed daughter. Does this passage have anything to say to you? Yes, it does. Jesus has something far greater to give you then the healing of a demon-possessed daughter. He has eternity in Heaven at His right hand where there are pleasures forevermore. He has full forgiveness of sins available for you. You may not have a demon-possessed daughter, but you have a sin-saturated soul. If you're sitting here listening to me, in an unregenerate state you are not ready to die. There is a record against you of all that you have ever said or done and you're not ready to face that record.
If you're here today in a graceless state, if you don't know Christ as your savior, you're not ready to die. All you have to do is believe in Him. Jesus shed His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, just like yours, and He is eminently capable to cover all of your sins through simple faith. That's all it is. Just receive what He has promised to give. “If anyone comes to me, I will in no wise cast them out.” Trust in Him. You may be listening to me and you've already trusted in Christ. Are you done coming to Jesus? No. That was just the first time you came. You know you've come again and again and again. He is still more ready to give you what you're asking for, than you are to receive it. It will always be that way.
Pray then like this woman and care about somebody else the way she cared about her daughter. Take up their case and press it in as this woman did, not storming the gates of heaven as though heaven's your enemy. Heaven's your eternal home; you're going to live there forever. It's not an enemy, but with persistence and with humility go and ask for what God has laid on your heart and ask until He gives it to you, and let his wisdom decide when that will be.