Sunday, February 24, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “Great Faith in a Great God”

“Great Faith in a Great God”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
February 24, 2019 :: Matthew 15:21-39

We’re in the second half of the book, and things are beginning to get dicey.

Jesus has withdrawn once already after He got some bad news. But the crowds had followed Him, and He did many compassionate miracles including feeding a crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children, walking on water, and all kinds of healings.

And He’s gotten into some spats with the Jewish Religious Authorities.

Last time, they accused Him of not following the traditions.

He accused them of not following God’s law!

He accused them of missing the whole point.

He accused them of being blind guides and weeds that need pulled up.

He accused them of needing transformation at the heart level.

And, of course, He was right.

But it was winning Him some enemies.

So, in today’s passage, Jesus takes another strategic withdrawal.

And this time He actually goes into the borderland near the outside of Israel.

And He goes into some territory that is primarily occupied, not by Jews or even Samaritans, but just by plain old Gentiles.

In many ways, it’s like a cross-cultural missions trip for Jesus.

One commentator I read this week said that Jesus went into “Paganland” or “Gentileville” in this part of chapter 15.

And guess who He encounters there?


Bona-fide Gentiles, non-Jews.

It’s interesting because Matthew is the Gospel that is the most focused on Jesus as a Jew. Jesus and the Old Testament. Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. That’s Matthew’s favorite word, right? “Fulfilled.”

But Matthew is also focused on how this Jewish Messiah is also the Messiah of the Gentiles. We’ve seen it already with the Magi and the Centurion, and we know how this book ends. Jesus gives the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

So, it looks like Jesus might be doing a little bit of that already.

But He goes about it in a funny way. He starts by arguing the opposite with a Gentile woman.

The title for today’s message is not very clever, but I think it captures the picture that emerges from today’s story.

“Great Faith in a Great God.”

I had some really clever titles for today’s message, that I’ll share with you as we go through it, but what is central to the story is a picture of truly great faith in a truly great God. So that’s what we’ll focus on today.

It starts with Jesus’ strategic withdrawl. Matthew chapter 15, verse 21.

“Leaving that place [where He was arguing with the Pharisees], Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”

Now, when you hear “Tyre and Sidon,” what do you think?

What comes to mind?

You should think “wicked Gentile territory.”

In the Old Testament, those two port cities were denounced by the prophets. Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 28 and Amos 1 give those towns the beat-down for their wicked behavior.

They had some good parts to their story, too, especially Tyre because their king Hiram sent a bunch of lumber to Solomon for his building projects.

But they went downhill from there.

This is the “wrong side of the tracks” for faithful Israelites.

In Matthew chapter 11, Jesus had already named them as examples of cities that will be judged by the Lord.

But now Jesus is walking their streets.

And He comes upon a woman. V.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.’”

Okay, now.

Think about who this woman is for a second.

First, she’s a Canaanite.

You know what? Nobody would be called that during this day.

Canaanite is an Old Testament word for the people who lived in the land before the Conquest in Joshua.

Mark tells us that she is a Syro-Phoenician woman.

Matthew says that she’s from around this vicinity.

Matthew says she’s a Canaanite so that all of his Jewish readers would immediately go, “Yuck.”

She’s not Jewish.
She’s not one of us.
She’s not one of the chosen people.

And she’s a...she.

Canaanite. Woman. From that Vicinity. Three strikes, you’re out.

Let’s get out of here!

What’s Jesus going to do?

Well, this is not just any Canaanite woman from that vicinity.

Look what she says. Look what she calls Jesus.

Remember, keep your eye on the ball in the Gospel of Matthew! It’s always about “Who Is This Jesus?” v.22 again.

“A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

She knows a lot about Jesus.

She knows MORE than the Pharisees do, right?

And she’s a Gentile.

And she’s one of the fiercest things on God's green earth. She's a MOM.

And her daughter is hurting: “My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’”

“Have mercy on me!”

What a great prayer that is.

If you don’t know what else to pray in any situation, that’s a good one.

In Greek it is “Kyrie Eleison.” Some of you have sung that before. “Kyrie Eleison.” Lord, have mercy.

What do you think Jesus is going to do?

He doesn’t do anything.

V.23  “Jesus did not answer a word.”

That is so hard.

Oh man. That is so hard.

Have you ever been there? You are asking for mercy, and you don’t hear anything back from the Lord?

It’s important in those moments to not make the wrong assumptions about Jesus.

Don’t assume He doesn’t care.

When the Lord is silent, don’t despair or think that He is uninterested in your plight.

Don’t forget Who you know He is when He is silent.

Which He was right then. “Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’”

This lady was a pest.

The disciples interpreted Jesus’ silence as a desire to be rid of her. That was definitely their desire. She kept bothering them about her daughter. This Gentile Canaanite woman from that vicinity.

What do you think Jesus is going to do?

I’ll bet what He does is not what you thought He would.

He basically tells her that He is not there for her. V.24

“He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’”

This is the strangest exchange in the whole Gospel of Matthew!

I would have never come up with it in a thousand years on my own.

Jesus says, “I am on a mission right now. But that mission is to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Remember chapter 10? When Jesus felt compassion for the people who were like sheep without a shepherd so He sent His disciples on a short term missions trip to find what? The lost sheep of Israel. Same phrase.

So that’s what Jesus is up to right now, too. That’ll change by the end of Matthew, but that’s His central mission right now. Be the Promised Messiah for the Jews.

But! But! But!

Where is He?!

He’s in Tyre and Sidon!!!!

If He’s supposed to just be reaching the Jews, He’s got a funny way of doing it!

Here’s what I think.

I can’t prove it, but this is how I read this story.

I think Jesus keeps on looking at this woman to see what she is going to do next.

I think Jesus keeps on looking at this woman to hear what she’s going to say next.

And I think He’s smiling.

I first learned this story from Max Lucado in his book In the Eye of the Storm, and Lucado suggests that Jesus is smiling the whole time and even has his tongue poking in His cheek as he interacts with this lady.

I think that He’s fascinated with her faith and He’s drawing it out of her.

He didn’t send her away like the disciples wanted.

He argues with her. He says something and then sees what she’s going to say.

By the way, when you read the Gospels, watch how Jesus talks to women.

He sees women. He knows them. He talks to them even when other men of that day would not. He touches them. He cares about them. He treats women with dignity.

I know you’re going to laugh that I said that when we reach verse 26, but I mean it. I think He’s treating her with dignity even then.

He’s not going anywhere. He’s interacting with this woman in this moment fully.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

She doesn’t take no for an answer. V.25

“The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.”

She calls Him, “Lord”

The Pharisees won’t do that.

They should have.

But this woman gets it. She knows that she has nowhere else to turn.

And that He has the power and authority to do what no one else could.

She’s kneeling before Him. “Lord, help me!”

And still He doesn’t. V.26

“He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.’”

That seems like one of the harshest things that Jesus ever said.

He seems to be declining the desperate request of a desperate mom and calling her a dog in the process!

But I think He’s smiling at her.

I think there is a twinkle in His eye.

I think that there is a tear in His eye.

And I don’t think He’s taking His eye off of this woman for one second.

And I think she sees it and knows exactly how to respond.

He isn’t calling her a mangy mutt scavenger dog like the Jews thought of them. This isn’t a racial slur.

He’s using the diminutive word for “dog” that the Gentiles used for housepets.

“I’m supposed to be focusing on the children (of Israel), not the Gentile lapdogs.”

And He keeps looking at her. Eyebrows up. Head titled forward. How will she respond to that?

And listen to what she says! V.27

“‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.’”

She gets it!

She says, “Oh, yeah. I know that you’re Israel’s promised Messiah. And that the Jews are getting first dibs....But there’s always leftovers, right?”

“You’ve got enough for us, too, don’t you?”

“It doesn’t have to be either/or, right? It can be both/and, right?”

“You’re great enough and big enough and glorious enough and powerful enough to give the Jews the bread but also to give us the crumbs, right? That’s all we need! Just the crumbs.”

I love verse 28!

“Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith [megalay pistis, great faith!]! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

Great faith!

She had:


I think Jesus knew it the whole time. And He was drawing it out of her.

This was a wise and wonderful woman.

And she had great faith.

Isn’t that interesting? To juxtapose her with the Pharisees who had no faith.

And the disciples who were called (just last chapter!) “oligopistoi.” “O you of little faith.”

This Canaanite woman from that vicinity had truly great faith.

What was so great about it?

What can we learn from her great faith?

I see at least three things:

- Her faith was persistent.

She really kept at it, didn’t she?

She kept asking, seeking, knocking the way Jesus tells us to pray:

V. 22, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
V. 23, “She keeps crying out after us.”
V. 25, “Lord, help me!”
V. 27, “Yes, Lord, but!”

This is one of those times when it’s okay to say, “Yes, Lord, but” to the Lord!

When you are telling Him how awesome He is.

When you are reminding Him how gracious He is.

When you are recalling for Him how magnificently generous He is.

You can repeat that all day every day.

And we should.

How persistent are you in your prayers for the things that you know would bring glory to the Lord?

I was at the Harvest Prayer Time yesterday morning, and I was struck by the persistent prayers of that bunch of godly saints. Some of the people prayed for by name are people I’ve heard prayed for by name by those same people for the last 21 years in prayer meetings.

Amen for persistence when you know it would bring glory to the Lord.

That shows great faith.

- This woman’s faith was also perceptive.

She knew to whom she was appealing.

She had her eye on the ball.

She knew that Jesus was the Son of David, the Lord.

And she knew that Jesus had more than enough grace to meet her family’s need.

She saw that with the eyes of faith.

Are we perceptive in our prayers?

Do we truly recognize to Whom we are talking when we pray?

Did you ever change your tone of voice when you realized you were talking to someone important?

Did every stand up straighter when you realized who you had on the line?

Did you speak more respectfully?

Did you speak more confidently? More expectantly?

This woman was asking for something BIG.

Can you imagine? “My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession. Please, do something about it!”

This woman was asking for something BIG.

But she knows that she’s asking it FROM Someone big.

And that Someone Big says that her faith is big.

“Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

- Her faith was praised.

I don’t know about you, but I would love for someday, the Lord to say to me, “Matt, you have great faith.”

I’m pretty sure He couldn’t do that now.

So, I need repent and open my eyes and heart even further.

But it’s my desire. For my faith to be praised by the Savior.

By the way, I almost titled this message, “Jesus is really going to the dogs.”

And I also almost titled this message, “Great Faith,” but I didn’t think that was enough.

Because the point of the Gospel of Matthew is not the faith of this woman as great as it was.

The point of the Gospel of Matthew is the identity of Jesus.

It’s about Whom the great faith is placed in.

It’s Great Faith in a Great God.

So, let’s go on just little bit further. After the daughter’s healing. V.29

“Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. [This is still in heavily Gentile territory. Mark tells us it was near the cities of the Decapolis, the 10 Gentile Cities on the east side of Galilee.] Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.”


Now, this does any of this sound familiar?

He sits on mountainside?

Like the sermon on the mount. He’s teaching.

And then He’s healing. And Who is He healing?

“...the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others..”

Reminiscent again of Isaiah 35.

And the people are amazed.

But look whom they praised! “And they praised the God of Israel.”

These are Gentiles!!

Jesus didn’t just heal one Canaanite woman’s daughter.

He’s throwing healing all over the place!

There’s “crumbs” landing left and right.

He’s not just the Messiah for Israel!

And then He puts on the cap on it. You thought it sounded familiar before. Listen to this. V.32

“Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people [“Ugh. I feel it right here in my gut. I have compassion for these Gentiles”]; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat [they have run out]. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.’ [This sound familiar? It’s supposed to!]

His disciples answered, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?’ [I almost titled this message, “enough bread.” These guys are oligopistoi aren’t they? Very little faith. Ever after all of what they have seen!]

‘How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied, ‘and a few small fish.’ He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. [This is starting to sound really familiar!] Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. [It’s not the same event, just told twice.] After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.”

Why did He do this whole miracle thing a second time?

I think it was because He did it in the region populated by the Gentiles.

He did it to show that He loves the non-Jews, too.

He did it to show that He is more than enough for the Gentiles, as well.

He has more than enough compassion.

Not just for the Jews but also for ... us, right? I mean we are Gentiles here, right?

Often when we read a Bible story, we think of the Jews as being us. But we’re not the Jews, not most of us.

We’re the Gentiles.

And Jesus has more than enough compassion for us.

And Jesus has more than enough provision for us.

And Jesus has more than enough power for us.

And Jesus has more than enough satisfaction for us.

This story is in here to show just how great a God Jesus is.

He isn’t just more than enough for the Jews.

He is that!

He came for them.

But He’s got plenty of leftovers for us, too.

I almost titled this message, “leftovers,” but I didn’t want you think it was about stale pizza.

How many baskets were left over for Israel in chapter 14?

12. How many tribes of Israel? 12.

How many baskets left over in this region in chapter 15?

7. What is the number of perfection or completion?  It’s 7.

Everybody is satisfied, a foretaste the great Messianic banquet in the kingdom to come.

Everybody in Israel who trusts in Jesus Christ and everybody outside of Israel who trusts in King Jesus.

Jesus is enough for all.

He is great enough for all.

With lots left over!

Jesus is overflowing and superabounding with grace.

Oh, to have great faith in this great God!


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship