"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 15:21-28 Sermon 
August 14, 2005

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
206 "O Splendor Of God's Glory Bright"
276 "Not Worthy Lord To Gather Up The Crumbs"
395 "O For A Faith That Will Not Shrink"
181 "My God How Wonderful Thou Art"

THE REWARDS OF A PERSISTENT FAITH

TEXT: (vs. 22 & 28) “And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”


I remember hearing the story of a young Jewish boy. His parents were rather devout, practicing Jews. However, this boy also had some rather close Christian friends.

One day, he was going to sleep over at one of his friend’s houses. That evening, his friend invited him to come along to a Luther League meeting. He hadn’t been told he couldn’t go, and so he went.

That night at the meeting, they were discussing the Gospel of John for their Bible study. The boy was absolutely fascinated with it! He heard things about God that he never heard before. Could they be talking about the same Old Testament God that he knew? And so he prayed, “Lord, show me the way. I want to know the truth!”

After the meeting, the pastor told the boy that he could keep the little paperback book of John. The boy then asked the pastor if he could get some more to give to friends; and so the little Jewish boy wound up leaving the meeting with 22 copies of John’s gospel. And that night, he read the whole gospel eagerly; and God the Holy Spirit, working through the Word, brought him to faith.

When he got home, his mother noticed something bulging in his pockets, and wanted to know what he had. He eagerly produced the 22 copies of the gospel of John. Well, his mother quickly took the books and burned them; and then gave him a severe beating which left him with cuts and bruises on his forehead and cheek.

So what do you suppose the outcome of all this is? The next week, he not only showed up at Luther League again, but he brought two of his friends along with him; and when he left, he had 24 copies of John’s gospel in his pocket.

Now that’s what I call a persistent faith, isn’t it? And what’s more, it’s a persistent faith from a rather unlikely source. Let’s face it, who of us would have ever thought that a boy, growing up in a practicing Jewish home, would come to faith in the first place, and then be so adamant and persistent about it? But he did come to faith, and he was persistent. Very persistent. We see a strong faith demonstrated by an unlikely source. And so on the basis of our text today, let’s look at “The Rewards of a Persistent Faith.”

Our text today is the story about a Canaanite woman who had a daughter who was demon-possessed. The daughter was in dire need of Jesus’ healing touch.

When we study our text for today, this is what we see happening. Jesus and his disciples had been in Bethsaida, inland on the Sea of Galilee, where the feeding of the 5,000 took place, and where Jesus walked on the water. They had left that place, and were heading to the territory near Tyre and Sidon, out along the Mediterranean coast, a distance of 40 miles or so. And as they were walking along, this Canaanite woman from that region came up to them, and begged Jesus for help.

It’s interesting to note at this point just how fast news travels. Not long before this time, 5,000 people followed Jesus and the disciples to Bethsaida, because they had heard the news about him and his miracles. And after his miracle with the 5,000, you can just about imagine how the crowd was buzzing with the news about Jesus.

At any rate, it didn’t take too long for the news to travel the 40 some odd miles and reach the ears of this Canaanite woman. And so we find this woman, approaching Jesus and his disciples, where she makes a general nuisance of herself—at least according to the disciples.

“Lord, Son of David!” she cries, “Have mercy on me!” The disciples were rather indignant with all this, and so they begged Jesus to send her away, because as they say, “She is following us and making all this noise.”

The disciples had the tendency to be a little over-zealous at times, and they would behave in a manner not really fitting a Christian—and this was one of those times. In their indignance, they were ignoring one very key aspect to this event. And that was this woman’s strong and persistent faith.

Her faith begins to show itself immediately by the way she addresses Jesus. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now we may not think that this address is too much out of the ordinary; except we must remember that this woman was a Canaanite. Now a Canaanite was not an Israelite, not a Jew, and was therefore unclean as far as the Jews were concerned.

To have understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of David, she would have had to be familiar with the prophecy in II Samuel 7, 13-14 where God promises that the Messiah would be from the lineage of David. We read: “He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” One could hardly expect her to appreciate Messianic prophecy.

But yet, as unlikely as this woman was to approach Jesus as the Son of God, and as unlikely as she would be to have faith in him as true God, she did. She openly and immediately referred to him as the promised Saviour of the Old Testament. And what a strong statement of faith that was!

But the disciples weren’t able to see this. They were after Jesus to send her away, because she was annoying them. It sort of reminds you of an old W. C. Fields movie, with him saying his famous line, “Get out of here kid, you bother me.”

Next, Jesus does something that may seem quite contrary to his ordinary behavior. First he just didn’t say anything to her. He sort of ignored her. And when the disciples pressured him, Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” which is like him saying that he wasn’t there for anybody else; that his ministry was to be only among the Jews. She then falls on her knees, and begs and pleads with him again, “Lord help me!” She is very persistent indeed.

Then the response Jesus gives seems almost more shocking. He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” In effect, this is like him saying that the Israelites were God’s true children, and that the Canaanites were nothing but dogs. It’s like Jesus is telling her that God’s love and God’s power should only be reserved for the chosen people of Israel, and shouldn’t be wasted on a Canaanite dog like her. Now why would Jesus say such a thing?

It’s a well known fact that this is the way the Jews saw the Canaanites. Now Jesus himself didn’t think of her as being a worthless dog, getting the bread that should be given to the chosen children of Israel. But you see, society thought so; and the disciples thought so as well. And the woman herself knew that this is the way the Israelites looked at people like her also. Jesus simply repeats the disciples’ thoughts, and the woman’s thoughts about herself. Jesus says this not only to test this woman’s faith, but to teach his disciples a lesson.

The woman’s response indeed confirms the faith she has. She says, “Yes Lord.” She agrees with his statement. But then she says, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She wasn’t asking for something that belonged to somebody else or something that she didn’t deserve. All she was after was a mere crumb of that love and power of God. That would be enough. That would be all that was needed to heal her daughter.

That was a persistent faith. This woman wasn’t about to give up without getting at least a crumb from God. And this is what Jesus was looking for. This is the lesson the disciples needed to learn. Seeing this faith, and the woman’s persistence, Jesus says, “Woman, you have great faith” and then he grants her request. Her daughter was healed.

A persistent faith is important, isn’t it? Hebrews 11, 6 says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Faith is the key. Ephesians 2, 8-9 reminds us, “For it is by grace are ye saved, through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast.”

This Canaanite woman serves to give us a good example, doesn’t she? If we look at ourselves, we frequently find it difficult to place a complete and total confidence in God. Having faith in God can often be a difficult venture for us. It is all too easy for us to give up and abandon a faith that is put to the test. And how often we feel like throwing in the towel, giving up, and saying, “It’s just not worth it.”

But what do we have left if we don’t have faith? Remember that Hebrews passage which says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” So if we don’t have faith, and a faith that is persistent, then we in no way can please God, nor can we find salvation. For we are saved by grace through faith.

I don’t know what has tested or will test your faith, but I know that our faith is tested all the time, and we must have a faith that persists. This Canaanite woman was put through quite a test. This woman’s persistent faith was based upon her unquestioning and absolute reliance on the ability of Jesus to cure her daughter. And so she is subjected to quite an ordeal of endurance tests. This woman believed that even just a crumb of God’s power was enough to overcome all obstacles of her race, her daughter’s disease, as well as any other obstacles there might have been.

As we look at ourselves, we should see ourselves in much the same way as this Canaanite woman. An illness brought her to Jesus. She knew that only Jesus could cure that illness. She had a steadfast and a persistent faith in that fact. And so she begged. She got down on her knees and simply said, “Lord help me.” That’s all she could do.

Faith brings us to Jesus. We come to Jesus with the sickness of sin in our lives. Because of sin, we are no better than dogs, begging for crumbs from the master’s table. Just as the woman’s daughter was demon-possessed, so too Satan has taken over in our lives. That sickness of sin and Satan is something that can only be cured by Jesus. All of the wishing, all of the hoping, all of the positive thinking, or all of the new-age holistic philosophy is absolutely worthless. We might as well be dogs chasing our tails.

But the key here is faith. We’re saved by grace through that faith. God gives us that faith. And that is a faith that looks only to Jesus Christ as our Saviour from that sickness of sin. We can do nothing else except fall at our Saviour’s feet, and ask him for mercy.

We can think of ourselves as being strong, or immovable, or the absolute pinnacle of independence. We can see ourselves as being so good sometimes, that we tend to forget the necessity of that persistent faith. But when all is said and done, and when all those other things prove futile, that faith is the only thing that will bring us to our knees, in tears, at the feet of Jesus, where the only ting we can exclaim is, “Lord, help me!” just like that Canaanite woman.

That persistent faith is what we have when we are at the feet of Jesus, holding on to nothing else. And to continue in that persistent faith, that’s where we constantly need to be. We can’t be holding on to pride, or self-pity, or anything else for that matter. Our Saviour is the only person we can grasp, and nothing else. And it is there where we will always find the healing touch of forgiveness.

That persistent faith is what we have when we are at the feet of Jesus, holding on to nothing else. And to continue in that persistent faith, that’s where we constantly need to be. We can’t be holding on to pride, or self-pity, or anything else for that matter. Our Saviour is the only person we can grasp, and nothing else. And it is there where we will always find the healing touch of forgiveness.

One of the great comforts we have is that God will continue to build that persistent faith within us. God gives us his Word which builds it up. And Jesus gives us more than mere scraps from his table. Rather, we gather at his table to partake of his true Body and Blood to give us forgiveness and build up our faith even more.

You see, this persistent faith that we are to have must be firmly grounded in God’s abundance and power. The Canaanite woman asked Jesus for mere crumbs, because she knew that in Christ dwelt all of God’s plenty. We know too, that the power and love and forgiveness of God can never be exhausted, or can never run out; because the power of God does not have its foundation in our good intentions or our human resources, but in Jesus Christ, who the Canaanite woman recognized as her Lord and Saviour.

So what’s going to come along to test our faith? We may know instances where it has been tested, or we may not. We have no idea what kind of tests lie ahead of us in the future. I’m sure that the little Jewish boy whose mother punished him for his faith had absolutely no idea of what was ahead of him.

But yet, he persisted. He knew who was the source of his faith. He knew how to get his faith strengthened. And since his first contact with Christianity was John’s gospel, I’m sure the words of Jesus in John 14 really must have meant something to him: “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me….If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

This boy indeed had a persistent faith, just like the Canaanite woman. And he lived it. He couldn’t keep it to himself. He had to share it.

We need to be reminded that our persistent faith is something we also persistently live. Our lies are to always bear witness to that faith that is in us by our actions.

But all the actions in the world cannot make a persistent faith. Only God can give that. And that only comes when we come to the Lord Jesus, and falling down before him, we exclaim, “Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” The Canaanite woman knew that Jesus was the only one that could help her. Her faith was persistent. We know that god will also give us such a persistent faith when we come to him. And with that persistent faith, trusting only in Jesus, we can confidently pray with the hymnwriter:

Lord give me such a faith as this,
And then, what e’er may come,
I taste e’en now the hallowed bliss,
Of an eternal home.

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