Mark 7:24-30 “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 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. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter, ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”
This incident deals with a woman who had a tremendous problem which she brought to Jesus. Every woman here today whatever her age, whether she is in school or is an old age pensioner, also has problems. I don’t have to say to you, “Let’s imagine what Jesus would do if he were here today. How would he handle your problem?” We don’t say imagine Jesus is here. ‘Imagine’ is John Lennon’s delusion. It is his nightmare, of which a Scottish Labour MP, expelled from that party this past week, said he believed every word of the song, and that it was ‘the anthem of socialism’. But we don’t have to play games with divinity and pretend God’s Son is here. The Lord Jesus Christ has said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst.” So we know that the Saviour is here; God’s prophet, priest and king in the glory of his person as God and man is within these four walls now. The question is this, are you totally here. Are you with us? Or is your mind wandering and your imagination taking you far away? Jesus Christ is here – “unseen yet for ever at hand,” and “unchangeably faithful to save.” This very same One whose life we are studying week by week, the Lord Jesus who helped this woman with her gigantic grief – he is with us as we gather around his word. He is closer to you than the person sitting next to you. He has in fact brought you here for your good. The question is not where’s Jesus, but where are you, and have you come here to meet with him.
So won’t you come close now, in other words, pay attention and listen to the Lord Jesus? Won’t you take advantage of this tremendous privilege? Won’t you tell him what your problem is and ask him to help you, and then do what he tells you? You won’t see him with your eyes, and you won’t hear his actual voice speaking to you. Nobody hears Jesus’ voice speaking. What happens is that he is saying to us all, “See! This is what a women did who had a great problem just as you do, and this is how I responded to her. I’m not fickle or capricious. This is exactly how I am today, and the way I helped her is the way I’m helping people now . If you treat me as this women treated me. I will respond to you just as I treated her.”
1. THE PLACE IN WHICH THIS WOMAN LIVED.
This incident took place when the Lord went to the vicinity of Tyre, that is, a place in modern day Lebanon. Tyre was a Gentile area with lots of cynicism and hatred towards the Jews. Tyre was the place from which Queen Jezebel came. During the Maccabean revolt Tyre had fought against the Jews, and Josephus (the Jewish historian who lived just after Jesus) said that the people who lived in Tyre were the Jews’ bitterest enemies. Tyre was full of paganism. It was the centre in the first century for the equivalent of New Age religion. A Jew would find more hostility to his faith there than anywhere else. That was the lion’s den and the Lord Jesus chose to enter it. It was the wrong place geographically, and ethnically, and religiously, and yet it was there he met a down-trodden woman and changed her life. So this was uncharted territory for Jesus and his disciples. They had never been in such a hostile environment before.
What revolutionary declarations has Jesus been making – at some length? What have we been studying during these past weeks? It started with a simple question presented to him about ceremonial washing before eating. Christ hadn’t taught his disciples that they must always wash correctly before tucking into their food, in fact the Lord has made this staggering declaration that the distinction between clean foods and unclean food no longer applies. “Nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean'” (Mk. 7:18). Jesus has told them that from now on we can eat any kind of food. It is not what goes into your stomach that defiles you but what comes out of your hearts. He has wiped out the difference between clean food and unclean foods, and now, do you see what he is doing? He is going on to wipe out the difference between clean people and unclean people. The Jews hitherto had never soiled their lives by mixing with unclean Gentiles. All that was going to go. The promised Lamb of God has finally come and he is here to take away the sin of the world – not just Israel’s sin.
Tyre was once part of the land that God had promised to give to his old people, but they had never been able to conquer it. The people of Tyre had hated them and resisted them for centuries. The Pharisee-dominated nation of Israel for three hundred years had made no headway against Tyre. Then, on this day, God’s Messiah Jesus went to the vicinity of Tyre and by his grace and love he conquered hearts there. The loving power of Christ achieved what three hundred years of Pharisaic rules and regulations failed to do. He came to bring light to the Gentiles. The people that dwelt in darkness see a great light. It was not long before Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles is telling us of a church in that place, and Mark is now going to introduce us to one of the founding members,
Do you notice that Mark tells us that the Lord would have wished that no one knew that he was there. He had been meeting more opposition, and ministering by his unaided voice to crowds of people – we are told of one occasion when the number of men alone listening to him was 5,000. It was very demanding, and more than that, the disciples were learning so slowly that Christ needed a quiet period away from the Pharisees’ disputations to talk to the twelve. But however clandestine he was about slipping into Tyre, he couldn’t keep his presence a secret. Quite soon many people knew he was there and started to come to him. They couldn’t stay away from Christ. Today there is just one thing that we in this church have to offer to Aberystwyth, and that is Jesus Christ. We are not particularly clever or beautiful or musical people. We know some people who are. We don’t have money or power or influence, but we’re not aware of many people who do. We haven’t got jobs to offer the unemployed, and there are no healers here who can heal the sick. We are not a marriage bureau, and we have no political agenda. All we have is Jesus Christ the Son of God. We tell anyone who will hear us that Christ’s teaching can inform you about the most important issues in life, how you should live, and who God is, and what you must do to be saved, and what lies after death, and how you can be prepared for heaven, and be rescued from hell. We tell men and women that Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God who can take away your guilt and sin. All we have to offer men is this Good Shepherd who will protect and keep you, and work all things for your good. He will never leave you nor forsake you. We have nothing else to offer to you or to the world than Christ, and we must all be absolutely single-minded about this. Le there be total agreement between pulpit and pew about this conviction. If you don’t want our Jesus then there are no alternatives on offer from this whole congregation. We don’t have a Plan B. In the Authorised Version it says in one place that “it was noised that he was in the house” (Mk. 2:1). That is the only publicity we want Aberystwyth to have about our meeting house, that when we gather together in Christ’s name he himself joins us.
We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the most fascinating personality in the world, the most helpful Counsellor, with a transforming influence, and the only hope for the future of Aberystwyth is that he would make himself known to its population, helping, reviving, saving, renewing them. Jesus Christ can forgive your sins. He can take the sting from your death. To Tyre the Lord quietly came, wanting some time to himself and his disciples, but once people knew he was there they came flocking to meet him. Now that is a great picture of a spiritual awakening. That is what happens in times of revival. A great conviction of need for Jesus Christ falls upon many people, and they crowd to the places where they will hear about him to meet with him; they stay there for many hours. They must have dealings with Christ himself. This is what happened a hundred years ago in Wales. Mark tells us that he will give us an example of one person who heard that Jesus had come to her town and she went immediately to tell him her problem.
2. THE NEED WHICH THIS WOMEN HAD.
What do we know about this woman? She was a Greek, though born in Syrian Phoenicia. The Greek culture and language was the most enviable and powerful in the world and she had been raised to speak Greek and to think in Greek ways. Mark is asking us to see carefully what is happening, that here is the Messiah who says, “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22), but he has deliberately gone to Tyre, and there he has received into his presence a pagan Gentile woman (as later he will go to Samaria and talk salvation to a Samaritan woman at a well). There was a strict sect of the Pharisees who covered their eyes whenever they saw a woman. How little things change; three months ago a pastor’s wife tried to engage in conversation two Orthodox Jewish men walking up Penglais Hill during their summer vacation here. They averted their eyes and turned their heads away from Beryl and they cried to her, “No communication. No statements made.” She was a Gentile woman and they would say no more to her than that. How different was the Jewish Messiah. He received this woman; he listened to her tale of need, testing and helping her.
This woman was Greek, but all the Greek philosophers and dramatists and poets and scientists and lawyers put together couldn’t help this woman at all. She was abandoning the gods of Greece when she heard that the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, had come to town and she came to him. I don’t know where you come from, what heroes and philosophies you’ve followed until now. Can they heal a broken heart? Do you say that they are your reason for living – as I make the claim, “For to me to live is Christ”? Do you want to lie in their bosom for ever? When you pray to them do they answer you? Do they give you forgiveness for your sins, and are they with you to strengthen and keep you every day? The Lord Jesus is all of that, plus some, and this woman came to him.
What was her problem? “Her little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit” (v.25). I have told you that during the earthly ministry of our Lord that the devil and his kingdom of darkness was particularly threatening in a very public way. It was organised and relentless so that evil spirits seem to have possessed many men and women. Here was a pretty little girl and the gates of hell were trying to destroy her. What happens when a demonic spirit possesses a person? It would be multifarious I am sure. If the devil is able to appear as an angel of light so his workings in people would vary from one person to another. But if you turn on two chapters to Mark chapter 9 you will get some idea because there we are told about a young boy who was in the same state. We are given this information about what happened to that lad: “A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid . . .” (Mk. 9:17&18). That was one effect of an evil spirit on this boy, but then the Lord asks the man how long the lad had been in that condition and this is what the man says: “‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into the fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us”” (Mk. 9:21&22).
Here was a little girl, her own daughter and for a long time, maybe since her childhood, this mother had had to spectate this frightening condition, cradling her little girl in her arms after the attacks were over, soothing her until she slept. What havoc the demon might work on the girl’s body. What scars and wounds and bruises and sores. What a traumatised girl! This woman knew of no one to help her. There must have been many attempts to heal her child, the visits of exorcists and doctors, but none had succeeded. Then this Greek woman began to hear of the wonderful works of Jesus of Nazareth. But he was a Jew and they hated the people of Tyre, and how could she, a woman with a daughter like this, walk those Jewish roads through Galilee looking for healing from their Messiah. So she ventured nowhere and wrung her hands in helplessness until this wonderful day dawned, a never to be forgotten day when she heard that Jesus was in town. The Lord had come to the vicinity of Tyre. He had come where she was, and immediately she dropped everything and set out to see him.
3. WHAT THIS WOMAN DID AND SAID.
We are told this plainly: “In fact, as soon as she heard about him” (v.25) she came to him. There was no delay. The need was too great for any delay. She found Jesus and she fell at his feet kneeling before him, or maybe she actually lay in the dust at his feet. Remember the last person to do this? It was Jairus the synagogue president who came to Jesus for his daughter. Yet what a contrast between the two. One a woman and the other a man; a Gentile and a Jew; a synagogue president and a Greek pagan. But in the eyes of Jesus Jairus had no advantages over this woman. They have both come to him and Christ doesn’t see the status of one above the other. He is no respecter of persons. The Lord looks at their exceeding need. They have both fallen before him and they have both sought his mercy and help. Neither can find an answer in anything else, neither in all of Greek culture nor in all the world of synagogue religion, only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you gone to him and humbled yourself before him? People went to Christ to argue with him, and score points over him, and trick him, and even to spit in his face and pluck the hairs from his beard. Those men all went away from him as they came, ignorant and hard people. But to those who humbled themselves, who knelt before him, who poured out their need and asked for his mercy all of them were transformed. They were never the same again. Jesus gave them life more abundant and free. They found that his yoke was easy and his burden was light.
Then we are told what she was saying to him from the dust: “The woman begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter” (Mk. 7:26). Despite having all the wrong credentials she doesn’t apologise for gate-crashing, neither does she quiver silently in some obsequious pose of servitude. She tells him exactly what’s wrong and she begs him to deliver her daughter. The tense of the verb here means that she didn’t say it once, tersely, but she kept on begging. Matthew recounts this famous dialogue and he says, “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”” (Matt. 15:22). She was persistent and she wasn’t quiet! She kept up this refrain in her anxiety; this was probably her one opportunity to press the claims of her daughter upon the Lord, and she might plead in vain. She wanted to show him how desperate was her state and that the need was enormous. Please! Please! Please! She begged Jesus to help. She called him ‘Lord’ (v.28). What a title! It was the name given to the Emperor of Rome. The Jews address their God with this title – “Jehovah, great I am, by earth and heaven confessed.” She didn’t have all the Old Testament knowledge of Jehovah that the Pharisees had, but what were they doing with all the knowledge they had? Opposing Christ. She had only a little bit of knowledge, but she used it all, and she brought it all to Jesus to cry to him for help. How often I have said to you that it is not great faith that saves but real faith in Christ who is a great Saviour. Don’t worry that your faith is not strong. Keep coming and listening to the word of God and asking the Lord to help you, but don’t wait for great faith before you cry to God. Don’t tarry till you’re better. Don’t wait till all your questions are answered. Go to him with the faith you have. Go to him with mustard seed faith and beseech him to help you. This is what this woman did.
She called him ‘Son of David’; she gave him this royal title. Who could deal with the prince of darkness destroying her daughter? Only a greater King, and she knew what a great king the Jews had had in David, but here was his son. He was in the royal line; he had Davidic blood in his veins. He was in that special covenantal line and one day he would reign from Salem’s towers and command all the world! “Son of David!” she cried. “Lord!” she cried persistently. In fact the disciples were so annoyed at her shouting that they came up to Jesus and urged him, “‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us'” (Matt. 15:23). How she used her mind and her knowledge and her passions and her voice and her eloquence and her whole body lying in the dust to ask Jesus for his help. In other words, she brought her whole self to the whole Saviour. Haven’t you done that? Then there’s little wonder you’re on your way to hell! How did Jesus answer her? “All right,” he said wearily, “the kid’s cured,” and with a lordly wave he dismissed her, and when she got home her daughter was better? No! That is not at all what happened. “Get out, Gentile dog and don’t bother me. I have come to the Jews.” No! That also not at all how the Lord Jesus replied. Then what actually happened?
4. HOW THE LORD JESUS CHRIST RESPONDED TO HER.
i] Christ tested her faith by silence.
That is not so obvious in Mark’s account, but in Matthew 15:23 we are told that “Jesus did not answer a word.” He watched her quietly while out poured all her pent-up frustration, pain, longing and passion. He didn’t bat an eyelid. You would expect that in such a needy case, a little girl being destroyed by the devil, there’d be an immediate response from Christ. We would, but you are dealing here with God incarnate, and he knows the whole situation and the whole future of this woman and her family. So here we have a crying woman and a silent Jesus. A minute is a age of silence, but this went on. How long did he keep her waiting? After a while did she begin to doubt? Did she start to think, “Then he’s not all that he’s cracked up to be. He is just like all the other exorcists who promised so much but did nothing.” She could see herself returning home, hopes dashed, her head bowed, to the shrieks of pain from her daughter and the demon who was destroying her dancing a jig of triumph.
The woman didn’t get off the floor, and she didn’t return home unanswered. She couldn’t leave the Lord Jesus. True saving faith won’t turn back from God. Though the Lord is silent; though the heavens are as brass, yet I’ll trust him. It’s quite a burden to bear. Her daughter under such attack, and the one who could help her saying nothing – what a weight bearing down on this woman. When we are walking through the valley of the shadow then it’s the silence that’s the worst thing. Have you known anything of that? Longing for something, praying for years about it, checking your motives and believing that they are honourable. Checking the prayer itself – is it right for me to pray for this? Yes it is. But no answer from God received. No conversion; no revival; no growth; no change. Silence. Let me always remind myself that the opposite of love is not silence, but indifference. Indifference says that he doesn’t care what happens to us. God always cares for us.
Martin Luther went through a period when he was tempted to think that God wasn’t interested in him and he told his wife Katie that God was being so silent the Lord might as well be dead. When Luther went out, Katie thought about that expression of unbelief and thought she would teach her husband a lesson. She dressed in black from head to toe, as a woman in mourning would in the 16th century, and she pulled all the curtains closed and plunged the house into darkness. So when Luther returned he spotted all the signs of a death having taken place. He called for his wife: “Katie! Who’s died?” “God,” she said. “You told me that God was dead to you.” Luther was humbled and chastened by his wife. Whatever the reason for the Lord’s silence it is not that the angels in heaven are holding a funeral service and are burying God. Let me give two counsels from notes I took of an address of Dr Joel Beeke when he was speaking here at the Aberystwyth Conference this August on this incident.
There are two great reasons as to why God is sometimes so strangely quiet in our lives. The first incident casting some light on this is found in John 11 and it describes the serious illness of Lazarus. His two sisters send an urgent request to the Lord Jesus to come immediately to the house to help their brother. But we are told that the Lord stayed two days where he was. He didn’t drop everything and go there, and by the time Jesus had reached Bethany Lazarus had breathed his last and had been buried. Why was the Lord silent? The delay was for the glory of God. You are not immediately persuaded or comforted by that. You are too familiar with the phrase. You have been told by the pulpit too often that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. You know that our goal in life is to bring him glory in everything, and so when I say that Jesus’ non-healing of Lazarus was for God’s glory you agree but are not impressed. Then hear me! That is not my theological imposition on this passage. We find the Lord Jesus himself saying about Lazarus’ terminal sickness, “It is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (Jn. 11:4). Later on Jesus says to Martha the brother of Lazarus, “‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?'” (Jn. 11:40). She indeed saw the glory of the resurrection power of Christ as he raised Lazarus, and we see it here too, that Jesus is mightier than death. We see it in this living Word, and the whole church has been seeing it in the same place for 2,000 years and will go on seeing it there until what it signifies becomes the greatest of all realities – the General Resurrection in the day of Christ. You say, if someone rose from the dead then you’d believe? Someone has risen from the dead. How many resurrections will satisfy an unbelieving heart? A hundred wouldn’t satisfy it, because an unbelieving heart that always demands signs is a heart of stone. What is our chief end in life? It is to glorify God, not to have our questions answered, not to be healed or to heal others but in every circumstance to glorify God. The silence of the Lord led to the glory of God. It always does. Let me be still and glorify God when he is silent even as when he comes with the sound of a rushing mighty wind.
The second reason for the silence of God is to refine our faith. Joel Beeke used the illustration of the white space on a printed page, on the margins and tops and bottoms of each page, and between the lines, and between the words, and between the letters or even within some letters. Thank God for white space or everything would be black. Music needs pauses. An art gallery needs blank walls on which to set the paintings. Our lives are better with some white space. Which is the happier home, one in which the television is always on every evening for five or six hours, or a home where there are pools of peace? Our sermons are better with some white space – the pause when questions are being asked and challenges have to be considered. The Lord’s Supper is better with white space where we can confess our sins and examine our hearts and thank God afresh for Jesus’ love for us all. There are many Christian activities that I don’t want to do to music, and which shouldn’t be done to a backing group. They are merely cushioning me from opening myself to the living God. Blessed silence.
Dr Beeke says, “God takes us into dark tunnels and pauses, drawing us tenderly to himself. I believe I have learned more about God in times of silence than when he has not been silent. I have learned, for example, the wonder that I am not destroyed.” This incident does not say that Jesus did not hear the women. It says that he did not answer her. The Lord often waits to be gracious. He is matching his silence to our maturing. So when he said nothing he was teaching this woman, just as much as when he decreed the demon to be removed from her daughter. So often the Lord deals with the
parents of needy children in instruction and in silence. What parents are able to deal with raising the children God has given them? The only ones who think they can are those who have never had children.
ii] Christ matured her faith through apparent rejection.
When Christ spoke it was not to say, “Your daughter is healed.” After silence came apparent rejection. The Lord broke the long silence with these words, “‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs'” (v.27).
If Jesus’ silence surprises us then the actual words he speaks will trouble us more. We live in a world of prejudice, where there is much hatred and suspicion to be overcome. These words of Jesus look as though he is refusing to help a woman because she is from the wrong race. What would we think of a doctor or nurse in our local hospital who wouldn’t help someone’s daughter because the mother didn’t belong to the right race? We’d be outraged. What’s going on here? Hasn’t Jesus said that there is to be no difference any longer between clean and unclean foods, and isn’t that revolution going to lead to the ending of first class and second class people in the city of God? Of course it is. So what do these words mean?
Tom Wright says some helpful things: “We are here, once again, at a point where Jesus’ fundamental mission was being defined. He wasn’t simply a travelling doctor whose task was to heal every sick person he met. He had a very specific calling. God’s people, Israel, needed to know that their God was now at last fulfilling his promises. The kingdom for which they had longed for was beginning to appear. Jesus was its herald – and, as the disciples were starting to realize, he was himself God’s anointed king. But this message was always aimed at Israel itself. Not to maintain this would be to imply that God had made a mistake in choosing and calling Israel to be his special people, the promise-bearers through whom his word, and his new life, would be brought to the rest of the world” (Tom Wright, “Matthew For Everyone,” SPCK, London, 2002, p.199).
Jesus had come to fulfil the law and the prophecies and the types that all pointed to him. Christ had come to fulfil the purpose of this people’s very existence. If new life was going to the world it would come through Israel’s promised Messiah, and so Israel must hear the message first. They mustn’t forget the promises because the prophecies were being fulfilled before their very eyes. “This is that,” says Peter on the day of Pentecost to the people of Jerusalem about the fulfilment of Joel’s words. They were on the spot when God was keeping his word. So Jesus didn’t come and start an indiscriminate mission to the whole world because that wasn’t God’s plan and Jesus had come to work by that plan. The plan was chronological, first in time Israel, and then Samaria and the rest of the world followed. Jesus is saying, “Let me first tell my fellow-countrymen that their deliverance is at hand, as God had promised their fathers. The serpent’s head is going to be bruised. The suffering Messiah is going to be bruised by God. It is after redemption has been accomplished in Jerusalem, and the gospel is preached in the power of the poured out Spirit to Jerusalem, that then the Gentile nations everywhere must hear.” That was the divine order and it was vital that Jesus be not turned away from this task in that divine order. His calling was not to go around being simply helpful to everyone. Jesus Christ is not a cosy universal problem-solver. He is God’s anointed one, the Messiah, and that vocation has to take him to Jerusalem and the prophesied death of the cross. Every appointed prophet has to die in Jerusalem. That is the climax of his mission and that has to come first of all before the Gentiles have the gospel preached to them. Let first the children of Israel eat all they desire of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Bread of Life that has come from heaven. This is Christ’s current mission. It is temporary, and urgent, and short-term but there is no way it can be avoided or considered insignificant.
So Christ is absolutely clear about this priority, and needs and opportunities are not going to deflect him from it: “First let the children eat all they want . . .” (that must come first) ” for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (v. 27). What do we have here? Is Jesus calling this woman and her daughter ‘dogs’? Certainly that is how devout Israelites viewed their Gentiles neighbours, with that degree of loathing. Dogs ate garbage, carrion, corpses and they were unclean animals. “Don’t give sacred things to dogs,” said Jesus on another occasion. “Beware of the dogs,” Paul warned the Philippians about false teachers. The Jews’ pagan neighbours were ignorant and godless, so was Jesus saying to this woman that she and her family were dogs? I don’t think so. Hasn’t he already said that the difference between things that are clean and unclean is on its way out? Also Jesus uses the diminutive form of the word for ‘dog’, the word you would never use for the packs of wild dogs that roamed the streets after dark and lived on filth. This is the word used for family pets who sat under the table at meal times, so he is not using the word ‘dog’ in a contemptuous sense. Jesus is using the populist term for a Gentile, like an inhabitant of Llanelli would be referred to as a ‘sospan’ in a teasing and mocking way and yet basically a friendly way. I worked with a black man in Philadelphia and he told me in terms of admiration about his girlfriend that “she was a fox.”
So Jesus says to this woman, that first in time, the children have to be fed the words from God, and sometimes he must have felt he was like a father spoon-feeding these Jews. Even his own disciples needed to be told simple things over and over again. His mission was so brief. He couldn’t leave Israel and go to the nations of the world. That was afterwards. That was the Great Commission, but now it was giving the divine word to the Jews.
Jesus is telling this woman in effect, “Don’t creep downstairs from the guest bedroom and raid our refrigerator in the middle of the night. The food is not yours to take.” There had been Rahab the harlot who was left outside the camp of Israel, but later was brought in. A conviction of unworthiness to be included in the privileges of the people of God was her first lesson in grace. So it was with this woman. She was a stranger to the covenants and promises. She was unworthy of the help of Israel’s Messiah. Did she know this? Was she taking his powerful help for granted?
What is her response to Jesus’ words? “‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied” (v.28). She acknowledges his mission, and his priority and that she hadn’t had the privileges that the Jews with their covenants and promises and sacrifices and preaching had had. She wasn’t offended, because it was God who’d said to Israel, “You only have I known of all the nations of the world.” She bowed before that divine choice. Even so Almighty God, for so it seemed good in his sight. How pleased was Jesus to see her submission. but what followed was much more wonderful. What faith this woman had.
iii] Christ responded to her faith with all she desired.
The woman was not finished. “Yes Lord,” she had nodded her head in agreement. She had no rights before God, and the Saviour’s words confirmed that to her. He claims, “I am meek and lowly of heart.” Jesus was so kind, and humble, and holy. If he used the word ‘dogs’ when talking to her then she wouldn’t bluster and be offended like Abner: “Am I a dog?” But she won’t only say the words, “Yes Lord.” Her daughter is still possessed by a demon, and must be delivered or she will die. “But,” she says to the Lord. This is a day of grace and we can argue and plead with God in such a day. A time will come when every mouth will be stopped. No ‘buts’ in that day, but today you may cry mightily to him. “Yes, I am a Gentile dog, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (v.28).
This is only a crumb, she says. “Move your little finger and my daughter will be healed. Just will it, and the demon will be driven out. You don’t need to come to her. No need for you to place your hands on her, just a thought, just a flash of the will that can and devils fear and fly. That’s all I want. We dogs don’t expect the roast beef and potatoes and gravy and parsnips and succulent peas and turnip greens and buttery carrots and corn and stuffing and Yorkshire pudding and cauliflower. I’m not asking for that. I just want a crumb, the bits that fall from the table that nobody notices but which we dogs lick up. Give me that,” she prays to him. What a beautiful demonstration of faith this is in her humble argumentation with the Saviour. I remember talking to an Irish lady missionary who had been working for forty years with her husband in South Africa, and she had gone to a prayer meeting the previous month and she’d heard a woman saying to God as she prayed, “We command you to do this!” She was still shocked at the language a month later and wondered, shaking her head as she told me about it. How different is this woman. A dog? “Yes Lord,” she says, “but dogs are your creatures. We live and move and have our being in you. A crumb is a fitting gift for a dog, and so for me and my little girl.” None of this “We command you . . .” nonsense. Who are you dealing with?
Joel Beeke told the story that his father had told him. When his father was nine years old in Holland someone knocked the door and when he had opened it he found a man standing there. “I am a beggar,” the man said, “and I would like you to make me a sandwich.” So the boy walked to the kitchen and told his mother that there was a beggar at the door asking for a sandwich. “Tell him we are poor people too and can’t afford it,” said his mother. So he walked back to the front door and told the beggar his mother’s reply. The man wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Will she then cut me a slice of bread?” he asked, and so the little boy went back to the kitchen with this request. Now his father butted in: “He’s a real beggar,” he said. “Make him a sandwich.” Men and women let’s be fresh and thoughtful and importunate in our praying without being studied and clever. Let us marshal our arguments why we believe God should come and bless us. If everyone of you brought your reasons to the Lord why he should move in quickening power on this congregation then what blessings might come upon us
God used a terrible thing, a demon possessing a little girl to cause this woman to flourish in grace. The Lord uses every such heart ache and tear to that end. Whatever he brings into our lives he will use the bitterest and most frustrating providence to bring you nearer to Christ. This woman was not from Israel, was not a man, was not a Jew and had nothing to bring to Jesus except her own great need, yet she persevered in trust and gained such blessings.
“O Saviour, I have nought to plead
In earth beneath or heaven above,
But just my own exceeding need
And Thy exceeding love.
The need will soon be past and gone,
Exceeding great, but quickly o’er;
The love unbought is all Thine own,
And lasts for evermore.” (Jane Crewdson, 1809 – 1863).
O woman, great is thy faith! Of course God had given that faith, but what the Lord gives he actually gives away so that it becomes our faith. It is like the money we give to our wives who give it to our children to buy a gift for us on our birthdays. Then we say to our children, “Thank you for your gift to me.”
It was not crumbs he gave that woman, it was a great fresh warm loaf of bread. It was not a little something, it was the greatest and most precious gift she could ever get. When she got home there was the girl smiling back at her, strong again. What a Lord we serve. This really happened, and this Lord really is here this morning and he is dealing with us in this word. It is the only worthwhile life to serve him. There is nothing else to which you may give your life. Don’t follow the empty world. Follow the living Son of God. Richard Cecil saw a herd of pigs following the farmer to the slaughter house. The were all going along snuffling and sniffing the air, the tails prettily curled, and all of them were going to have their throats cut. “How do you get them to follow you?” Richard asked the farmer. He smiled and pulled his hand out of a big pocket. It was full of acorns and tasty pieces that the pigs loved. He was dropping some of it every few paces and the pigs kept going happily on to their death. That is so like many of you, on you go happily to the grave, every day nearer and nearer. Just one step along the road ahead – what if it’s the broad road? Will you destroy your life for a few crumbs? Won’t you turn from your evil ways and repent and believe the gospel? What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
She was an unworthy and unclean girl. How could Jesus lavish his love on her? Because he is the Christ who was to face the real silence, who was to cry, “My God, my God, Why?” and to that there was no response from heaven. All alone he had to stand in the anathema of God. Hour after hour he had to endure the majestic rectitude of a sin-hating God. Jesus did it for her, and many like her, that we might never face anything more than a shadow of silence. Christ was thrust away and rejected that sinners like us who argue and plead and humble ourselves before him may not be forsake and thrust away. Make him your blessed Saviour today. That is a moving of your heart and will as the Spirit of God takes the word and applies it to your life and turns you around from following on the way of death to taking the narrow path to life.
26th October 2003 GEOFF THOMAS