A Lesson On Faith
As we continue our series, “Learning from the Lessons of our Lord,” we come to a lesson on faith from Matthew 15:21–31. This particular incident occurred at a very significant moment in the ministry of our Lord. It had become perfectly clear that as the Messiah of the Jewish people, He was being rejected, His ministry was being refused; and putting together the account of this incident given to us by Matthew and by Mark, we find that He departed, seeking out a house for rest, and went into the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
That departure seems to have marked a definite crisis in His ministry. It brought this question of Jewish reaction right into bold outline, and it introduces to us the first Gentile convert in our Lord’s ministry—a Canaanite woman, as the 22nd verse tells us.
Mark, in his account in the 7th chapter, says that she was a Greek, a Syrophoenician woman by nation and therefore a descendant of those who were outcasts; people who had been swept away in the divine economy because of past sin and in order to make way for Israel, through whom the Lord was going to speak and bring life and light to the world.
This woman was outside the covenant of Israel altogether—a worshipper of pagan gods—and yet Mark tells us that Jesus could not be hid from this woman. He went into a house for quietness, but there came to the door this woman with a desperate need, and from such a need the Lord Jesus is never hidden.
How careful we have to be in coming to Him. Where there is hunger in a heart and where there is urgent need, He never hides Himself, and yet He never reveals Himself in the same way to two people. He never healed more than one blind man in the same way; He never cast the demon out of two people in the same way. His approach was always different. He knew the variety of need and He was adequate and able to meet it. What a comfort to know that the grace of the Lord Jesus is adequate and able to adapt itself to supply resources along the line of your personal need. Yet, our approach to Him is always the same; His to us always different. The approach of men to Christ, if it is to establish a vital, living relationship, must always be upon the principle of faith and trust.
This story is a tremendous revelation of the triumph of faith against adversity. It is the record of faith holding onto the Lord in desperation, of a woman who recognized that there was no help except in the Lord Jesus. None but He could save her child, who she said, “is grievously vexed with a devil.” It is a record of a faith that overcomes obstacles which our Lord Himself seems to have put in the way. How impossible it was for her to understand His dealings with her and yet she held on until He had met her need. Like Jacob she said, “Lord, I won’t let you go until you bless me.”
Sometimes you and I are perplexed and bewildered by our Lord’s dealings with us. Beloved, it is a good thing to look at the outcome, and as we do we will see the process by which He has blessed us. I suppose that is going to be supremely true when we get to heaven, for we shall understand then. Meanwhile, if you will glance prayerfully at this story, I think as you see His dealings with this woman, you will be able to understand a bit more His dealings with you.
Notice that in Matthew’s record our Lord answered her on four different occasions. Verse 23, “He answered her not a word,” the answer of denial; verse 24, “He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” the answer of discouragement; verse 26, “He answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs,” the answer of disillusionment; verse 28, “He answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour,” the answer of deliverance.
Here, in circumstances that were most unlikely, the Lord Jesus found living faith. In surroundings from which the orthodox religion of His day had withdrawn in judgment and condemnation, Jesus found a faith the like of which He had never found in Israel.
How true it is that the Lord is able to make a living faith exist when there is little knowledge and little to encourage; when the soil is barren; when the circumstances are difficult. I have always found in my life that great saints appear in the most unlikely places. Our Father has His children everywhere, and we see from this story how He trains His children to make them men and women after His own heart.
Let us therefore look in the first place at this answer that seemed to be denial. “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But He answered not a word.” Silence, Christ silent to a cry like that. Why, that seems to contradict the whole message of the Gospel! This woman had just thrown herself at His feet. The need was urgent and her heart was tender, and her little daughter was in grave danger and seriously tormented. Yet Jesus passed her by.
But was that silence a denial? How often we have assumed that when God is silent to our prayers He is denying them. We have come to Him with some urgent need day after day, and it is all just a complete failure. What is the good of prayers anyhow? Ah, but wait a moment.
How had this woman come to Jesus—what did she say to Him? “Lord, thou son of David, have mercy.” She had appealed to Him as the great Messiah of the Jews. As a Gentile she had no claim on Him in that aspect. Is that why Jesus was silent to her? Or was it simply that He delighted in her faith—loved to see her come so openly, so simply, like a little child and plead like that—and merely wanted to develop and strengthen and mature and test it? Was that the answer to His silence? Possibly the truth will lie in both these suggestions. This much, however, I do know, that when God is silent, He is not denying our prayer. It is often His way of discipline and often His way of testing. Perhaps it is because we have come to Him on the wrong ground in the wrong way.
I would remind you that there is only one ground of approach to God, and that is through the shed blood of Christ, the Cross, the Atonement, and I remind you of that tremendous word in Hebrews 10, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” That is the way of our approach to God. There is only one way, and if I come upon the ground of blood that has been shed for me at the Cross, He cannot deny Himself and He cannot refuse to listen to my prayer.
Sometimes His silence may be a delay to test, to prove, to sift, but it is never a denial unless you come upon some other merit than the blood of the Atonement that has opened the way into the presence of the Holy God. The answer of denial.
But look with me in the second place to the answer of discouragement. “And his disciples came and besought him, saying, ‘Send her away; for she crieth after us.’ But he answered and said, ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’”
You know, those disciples present a picture which comes uncomfortably close to us. I have no doubt that Peter scowled at her, that John became impatient, and the rest of them thought her just a perfect nuisance and presumptuous. “Send her away, she crieth after us.”
Now wait a minute, Peter, before you think you are too important. She is not crying after you at all. She does not want you, she wants Jesus. Who do you think you are?
It is a sad thing when the disciple begins to think that people are crying after him, and it is a great pity when the preacher begins to think people come to hear him. It is Jesus they want. How often we have repelled other people: God forgive us. We have repelled them by our cold words and unkind behaviour and unsympathetic treatment.
But she did not let any of that keep her from pressing her claim upon the Lord Jesus, and my friend, follow her example and do not let the treatment that you have received at the hands of Christian people keep you back from Jesus Christ.
But even His answers seemed to be so discouraging, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That seemed to cut her off from all hope. She was not of the house of Israel, but there were two words that in her desperation she clung to. “Lord, I am not of the house of Israel, but Lord, I am a lost sheep.” And there is a word in the Book that says, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold. Them also must I bring.”
Upon those two words and that little sentence she clung with a desperate faith that was hers on behalf of her little child, and she said, “Lord Jesus, you Great Shepherd of the sheep, just come outside the fold and bless one of your lost sheep.” Though our Lord was only sent to the house of Israel, there is a house of Israel not after the flesh but after the spirit, and therefore this woman was included where she thought herself to be shut out.
One precious doctrine in the Word of God that seems to stand out in the teaching of this parable is the doctrine of election—one of the greatest truths of Scripture, but to some people a great stumbling block and they say to themselves over and over again, “Of course, I am not one of His chosen ones. Salvation is not for me. I am not one of the elect, therefore my praying is no use. I am condemned for time and eternity.”
Now listen, let me say to you my friend, your election is in Jesus Christ and there is not a soul through all history who has come to Jesus in repentance and faith in His precious blood but at that moment has moved from the non-elect to the elect. Our God does not predestine a group of people to a lost eternity, nor does He predestinate a select few to heaven. The way is open for us all.
But when we come and know that the language is whosoever will, we get inside the kingdom and see written inside the wall, “Ye were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Do not let a precious doctrine like that keep you back from the kingdom, and make you say, “I am not one of God’s chosen ones.” Wherever there is a cry of repentance and faith, the Lord Jesus hears. The answer of discouragement.
But in the third place would you look at what I would call the answer of disillusionment. Verse 25 and 27, “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
“It is not meet,” He said, “to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” Lord, that is almost worse than silence. It sounds almost more dreadful than if heaven had never uttered a word.
To the Jew, a Gentile was simply a dog, and that statement of our Lord not only put her outside any covenant relationship with Christ, but made absolutely clear to her she was utterly unworthy in herself of receiving anything from Him. Only a dog, and mark it carefully, she never disputed what He said about her. “Truth, Lord: I have no merit,” she said, “and I have no right to come, none at all. The only thing that brings me to you is desperate need. It would not be fitting for one of your children to be deprived of anything for my sake. I know it and yet though you call me nothing but a dog, you are my master for all that.”
Not only does she not dispute Him, but she falls before Him and worships Him: worships the hand that seems to chasten her, bows before what seems to be a scathing commentary about her condition.
My friend, though you may feel as unworthy as she, utterly disillusioned concerning any goodness in yourself, remember that your salvation does not depend on anything you are or are not. You need to be saved from yourself, not by yourself. If I were to tell you how you may know Jesus Christ, I would say to you that it is for you to empty yourself that He might fill you; it is for you to confess your filthiness that He might wash and cleanse you; it is for you to be absolutely nothing that He might become everything to you.
Never allow the number or the frequency or the awfulness of your sin to keep you from believing prayer and from going to Jesus as this woman did. All His dealings with everyone of us are designed to show us that in the flesh dwelleth no good thing, and triumphant faith begins by accepting the verdict of the Word of God upon self and upon character, and looking up to Him and saying in the words of the Book, “Yes, Lord, from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot, wounds, putrefying sores, utter corruption.”
But she did not dispute what Jesus said, but began to argue and press home her claim. Faith will always do that, for it will never dispute the verdict of heaven, but upon the basis of that verdict will begin to press home its claim upon His sovereign grace and mercy. Even in that word that Jesus spoke to her she saw another gleam of light.
First she had listened to Him say “lost sheep,” and had clung to that. Now she heard Him say, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs,” and in one word she saw a ray of hope.
In the New Testament there are two words translated in our English version for the English word “dog.” The first is the scavenger dog, the ferocious beast that runs about the streets in the Middle East; the thing that is no pet; the thing that is not allowed inside a house; the thing that is vicious and dangerous; that kind of dog. But there is another word and it is the word that is “little dog,” the dog that is admitted to the household, the little pet dog, that sits by the feet of the children under the table. This was the word that Jesus used, and in that one little word this poor soul in such desperate need saw just a ray of hope, and so she flung herself again upon the mercy of Christ and began to argue upon the basis of one word.
What an argument she used. “You call me a little dog. All right, Lord Jesus, if you call me a little dog, then I am under the table. You have come very near to me in coming to this district, this area, right alongside. I cannot call you my Father yet, but I can call you my Master, and I will take the relationship of a dog and you are my master. If I am not your child, you have made me and I look up to you. Lord, to whom else can I go in this desperate need, and Lord Jesus, there is not a child of yours that will suffer if I get only the crumbs from the table. They will not be deprived of a mouthful. Lord, I do not ask you to stop giving them the children’s bread, but oh Lord, even while they are eating, just let me have some crumbs.”
You see how she argued with Jesus. My friend, do you know that you and I can come to Him and produce every one of those arguments in faith? Are you prepared to come to Christ like that and to say to Him, “Lord, I accept your verdict. There is no good thing in me at all. I have no plea to make. As you would say of that woman, I am just a dog, unworthy. I am outside covenant relationship, and I know I am a sinner. I do not have a plea to make; I agree with you completely, but Lord, I am under the sound of the Gospel. I am not a long way off, I have gotten under the table, I have come very near and you have come to me. Your children are having bread. Lord, I do not ask for anything that will take anything from anybody, but Lord Jesus, please, out of this message just a crumb to meet my need. I do not ask you to deprive anybody, but oh God, just a crumb of your grace. I am a hearer of the truth, cannot I just be a receiver of Christ. I am your property, Lord, you made me. There is enough grace just overflowing to everybody, surely, that I can be spared a little bit. You will be no poorer, Lord Jesus, if you meet the need of heart today. You will still have oceans of fulness to give to everybody else. There will still be cleansing, there will still be forgiveness, there will still be deliverance, but oh God, for Jesus’ sake as I come on the ground of the blood, just give me a crumb.
Yes, that is the way to plead with God. That is the way faith triumphs and you see, it is asking God to do something in the way He has always appointed to do it. He was going to bless the world through His appointed chosen people. He blesses the outsider through the child of God. He blesses the man who is unsaved through the man who is saved. It is the same divine appointed pattern all the time, and so if she comes on that basis, so can I.
In a word in conclusion, notice the answer of deliverance in verse 28: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
It just seemed as though the Lord of Glory surrendered (if I may dare to use that word), surrendered to this woman’s constant appeal, her pleading and her argument. She gained her desire and her prayer was answered. The Lord Jesus had tried her, tested her, proved her, and her faith had come forth as pure gold.
Oh, what comfort there is in this story today. My friend, do you think there is no hope for you? You come to Christ and you somehow feel there is no hope? Listen, would you press your claim before the throne of grace? Have you prayed and then given up praying about something? Have you attempted reformation and failed? Have you done all that and somehow think it is no good? I beg of you in Jesus’ name, cling to the Cross. Come heaven’s appointed way, and though everything seems to collapse around you, if you cling to Calvary you will never be lost. Will you come His appointed way? You cannot perish there.
But what a challenge this story is to our prayer for other people. “She prayed for her little daughter.” How do we pray for others? Is it cold-hearted praying, or is there a passion in it? Lord, for that need today, give us a crumb; that is all we need.
But what a lesson this is on the effect of faith in blessing to other people. Just glance at verses 30 and 31. Jesus has departed, and Mark tells us He has taken a circuitous route and has returned via Decapolis, still outside Jewish territory, and the multitudes come to Him and He heals them. Is not the contrast amazing? The same grace for which this woman pleaded so hard seems to flow almost unasked to them. She had wrung out just a little crumb, with much pleading, but these people got bread with so little asking.
May I make a conjecture? I do not know, but do you think this woman’s faith has proved infectious? Oh, not necessarily that they had heard about it, but somehow this thing had happened in her life, and somehow she had believed, pressed home her claim, pressed in against all discouragement and refused to turn away, and just clung to the Lord until He answered her need. Do you think sometimes when God sees one person doing that He is so glad and so thankful and so ready to bless, that blessing is just poured out upon a multitude? I believe it just needs a few people to press their claim before the Lord for victory, for blessing, for deliverance, for salvation, and God could work a miracle.
Will you come to Jesus today like that? Tell me, will you come His appointed way—the way of the Cross? There are not two ways; there is only one way. Will you stop your fighting and your struggling against the merit of Calvary as an all sufficient method of your salvation, and will you come to God His way by blood? Will you call to Him from outside the fold and say, “Lord, just come and help me?” Will you accept His verdict upon your character—no good thing, utterly useless, utterly helpless, altogether corrupt? Will you accept that verdict and come like that and press your claim, for He is the friend of sinners and the Saviour of those who are helpless to help themselves. “Him that cometh to me,” said Jesus, “I will in no wise cast out.”