11th April 2023
Read (Matthew 15v21-31)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Where would you go to in order to rest from the constant attacks of your enemy? Amazingly, Christ withdrew from the Pharisees and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon (v21). We might skip over this detail but we should remind ourselves that Jesus was entering into hostile pagan territory. The Jewish historian Josephus described the people of Tyre as "notoriously our bitterest enemies." and throughout the Old Testament both Tyre and Sidon receive harsh judgement from the Lord (Isaiah 23v1-17 & Exodus 26-28). Nevertheless, Jesus did not find opposition in Tyre and Sidon but faith.
The Lord was approached by a Canaanite woman whose daughter was oppressed by a demon (v22). Who were the demons? Satan is an angel and when he rebelled against the Lord it is thought that a third of the angels followed him. The demons are the fallen angels who were cast out of heaven along with their leader the devil. The Canaanite woman had somehow heard about Christ and she cried for mercy to Jesus who she called "Lord, Son of David" (v22). Whoever this woman was, it would appear that she understood Christ's true identity.
But the Lord's response was silence (v23) and despite his the pleas of His disciples, Jesus was clear “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (v24). What did Christ mean? Quite simply the Lord's ministry was primarily to the Jews. In John's Gospel we are told "Jesus came to his own, and his own people did not receive him." (John 1v11). Jesus told the Samaritan woman "salvation is from the Jews." (John 4v22) and later Paul would say that the Gospel was "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1v16). There were Gentiles saved in the Old Testament and we have already witnessed Christ's ministry extending to the Gentiles living in Israel (Matthew 4v24-25 & 8v5-13) but the Lord's ministry was first and foremost to the lost of Israel and only then would the Gospel be taken to the rest of the world.
Such a response might cause most of us to leave with harsh words pouring from our mouth but this remarkable woman knelt before Jesus and said “Lord, help me.” (v25). This time Christ spoke and said “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (v26). Once more this seems like a ridiculously harsh response. Jesus underlined that His ministry was to the children (the Jews) and therefore it wasn't right to give their bread to the dogs (the Gentiles). But again the Canaanite woman displayed her glorious faith.
She took no offence at the Lord's description of her as a dog and stated “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” (v27). This woman knew that she was not a Jew. She understood Christ's mission. She made no demands for a seat at the table. She didn't scream that God was unfair. Instead she willingly and humbly accepted her lowly position and asked for a mere crumb from the Masters' table.
Her faith was commended by Jesus who told her “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” (v28). It would not be long before the Apostles would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth but in this tremendous story a Gentile woman received a crumb from the Lord and it was more than enough. The Lord continued to travel in Gentile territory and He healed many (v30) causing wonder among the Gentiles (v31) and bringing them to a place where they glorified the God of Israel (v31).
Christ came to declare His kingdom to the Jews and to lay down His life as a ransom for many. Yet as He ministered in hostile territory, slowly but surely the light of the Gospel was beginning to rise upon the Gentile nations. Today it continues to shine and both Jew and Gentile have been brought into the one church by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2v11-22). Even so a partial hardening has come over the Jews until the full number of the Gentiles are saved (Romans 11v25) but before Christ's return we can and should expect many of the Jewish people to turn in faith to Christ (Romans 11v26-27).
We may wonder about God's plan but we can be sure that it will not fail. The cross will save all for whom it was intended, both Jew and Gentile, the true Israel of God, will be saved!
Q17 Into what estate did the fall bring mankind? The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.