Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Woman of Great Faith

(Marking the Path will continue its series on The Fruit of the Spirit next week. This week we hope you enjoy this special message in honor of Mother’s Day.)

"Then Jesus 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." (Matthew 15:28)

There are many women of the Bible that could have provided a good sermon text for Mother’s Day. There is the mother of Moses … or the mother of Samuel. Certainly, Mary, the mother of Jesus, would make a good subject for a message on a day such as today.

However, this morning we will learn the story of an almost unknown mother. She was a woman of great faith, who received the answer to her prayer after initially receiving the cold shoulder from Jesus.

Have you ever had someone give you the cold shoulder?

You know what I’m talking about. They just totally ignore you, won't return your phone calls, and never answer your e-mails. Even when you're in the same room with them, they act like you aren't even there?

That can be awfully frustrating, can't it? Nobody enjoys getting a cold shoulder, whether that shoulder belongs to your child or your spouse or from someone who you are trying to seek help from. Amen?

And yet, as discouraging as it is to get the cold shoulder from a fellow human being … can you imagine what it would feel like to get the cold shoulder from God?

I mean, its one thing to have your husband act like he doesn't hear you, but for God to treat someone that way??? That's practically unthinkable. Or is it? Maybe there have been times in your life when you felt like you were being totally ignored by God …

• Times you felt like God was oblivious to what you were going through …

• The pain you were feeling …

• The trouble you were enduring.

There may have been times that you desperately wanted to talk to God, but you felt like he was giving you the cold shoulder. And that left you wondering, "Why?"

In this text we are introduced to a woman who found herself in a very similar situation.

Undoubtedly this grieving mother must have felt as if Jesus were giving her the brush off … the cold shoulder … the silent treatment. And yet, through it all, this woman displayed a truly remarkable faith … a faith which Jesus ultimately commends as a "great" faith … a faith which can still serve as a model for each one of us.

This morning let's take a moment to consider the faith of a Canaanite woman … a Canaanite mother.

We'll see that she has a faith which was tested by God, and a faith which trusted in God.

A Time For Rest

In our text, Jesus has traveled north to the region of Tyre and Sidon, on the northwest edge of Galilee. In the last chapter, Jesus had to deal with the death of his cousin John the Baptist. He also fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes, and He walked on water.

By this time Jesus is tired and He seeks peace and quiet outside of the borders of Galilee. It was to be a vacation of sorts … an opportunity for Him and his disciples to meditate and recharge their batteries. But then comes along this Canaanite woman … this Canaanite mother.

If you recall, the Canaanites were the people who lived in the land which God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants.

The Canaanites worshipped all kinds of false gods. In fact, when the Children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, God told his people "Don't associate with the Canaanites. Instead kill them."

In other words, this woman belonged to a nation of people who were enemies of God's people. She grew up with people who were pagans and unbelievers. And yet, for some reason, in spite of her heathen background, this woman is drawn to this man named Jesus.

When she has an opportunity to meet Jesus, she cries out to him, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”

With those few words we learn two things about this woman.

First, we learn that she was a believer. She calls Jesus the Lord, the son of David. That's a term which identified Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Apparently, through her contact with the Jewish people or their Scriptures, she had come to believe in the True God of the Bible.

Secondly, we learn that this woman was enduring a severe hardship in her life. She had a daughter who was possessed by an evil spirit. Although demon possession does not seem to be as common today as it was in Bible times, the fact is, this woman was carrying a real burden.

Can you imagine having a daughter or a son who was physically inhabited by a demon -- literally under the control of an evil spirit?

Of course anyone who has raised a teenager has probably felt at times like their child was possessed. Am I right?

But in all seriousness … Mothers, we know what it is like when there is something wrong with our children.

• Whether they are sick,

• Or hurt,

• Or in trouble.

We desperately want to help them. And, sometimes we will do anything to help them. Is it any wonder that when this woman comes into earshot of Jesus, her number one concern is, "Lord, please heal my daughter."

Jesus’ Response

But, how did Jesus respond to her request? Matthew tells us that, "Jesus did not answer her a word." Ouch! … That must have hurt …

Can you imagine, pleading your case before the one whom you had hoped with all your heart could heal your daughter … the one whom you believed to be the Son of God … and he gives you the brush off? Who wouldn't be discouraged by that?

And yet, this woman … this mother … doesn't give up, does she?

The book of Mark records this same event. In it we read that the woman "begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter."

What do you do with a pushy Canaanite woman who won’t shut up? What do you do when a loud, screaming, crying woman is following you and calling out your name? This woman is so persistent that finally Jesus' own disciples can’t take it any longer.

Remember now that these are the men who just in the last chapter were with Jesus helping him with the feeding of five thousand people. They knew a little about crowd control. Certainly they had dealt with some rowdy people at times.

However, this woman’s cries of desperation proved to be too much for them. So the disciples come to Jesus and urge him to "Send her away for she keeps crying out after us."

It’s difficult to know exactly what the disciples meant by that statement. Some Bible scholars believe that the disciples were disgusted by her constant outcries and just wanted her to go away. After all, they had come to this place with Jesus to get away from the crowds and the noise and have some quiet time. But this woman was disturbing their peace.

Other scholars believe that the disciples probably didn't mean, "Send her away empty-handed." Instead they may have meant, "Please, Lord, answer her prayer so that she can go in peace … and so can we."

So, how does Jesus respond to the disciples' request? He tells them simply, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Now what does Jesus mean by that? He means that he was sent by God to primarily work among the Jews. Even though Jesus is the Savior of all mankind, the fact is, Jesus spent the majority of his earthly ministry working among people of Jewish descent.

The Mother's Response

Can you imagine how Jesus' words must have affected this Canaanite mother?

I mean, first Jesus ignores you. And then when he does speak, he basically says, "I didn't come for your kind, lady." But notice that this woman is still undaunted. She persists in her prayer. Matthew tells us that "the woman came and knelt before Jesus and begged Him. “Lord, help me."

Mothers, we know how to beg when we have to, don’t we?

• Sometimes we have to beg to get our child back into school after they have messed up.

• Sometimes we have to beg our child’s absentee father to give us some support when times get rough.

• And, sometimes we have to beg the government to give us some food stamps so we can feed our children.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We can pretty much handle it when we get sick, but when our child gets sick, or hurt, or in trouble … we do what we have to do. Don’t we ladies?

It is at that point that Jesus for the first time speaks directly to this mother. He says, "It is not meet (or right) to take the children's bread, and cast (or toss) it to dogs."

Wow! Do you hear what Jesus has just said to this woman? He's basically just called her a dog. Jesus is telling her that the Old Testament children of Israel in effect are the children of God and anyone else, including this Canaanite woman are just dogs. And, since it would be wrong for the head of the house to feed the dog at the expense of his own children, Jesus says that it would be wrong for Him to take care of her over the needs of his fellow Jews.

Now, I don't know about you, but I look at this whole scene and I'm thinking, "Man, why would Jesus treat this woman like this? Why does it seem like he's repeatedly giving her the cold shoulder?"

A Test of Faith

Of course Jesus isn’t really trying to hurt this woman. Rather, Jesus is simply testing her faith. Now, when I say that her faith was being tested, I don't mean that Jesus was trying to figure out whether she had faith or not. Jesus knew that she was a believer. After all, she had called him the “son of David,” or in other words the Messiah.

No, Jesus' actions were not designed to determine whether she had faith, but rather to give her the opportunity to put her faith into action. Jesus was trying to lead this woman to trust him more completely. Jesus was attempting to remove any selfish motives she may have or any self-righteousness she may be harboring. He was forcing her to take a good hard look at who she was and what she deserved from God.

God often tests us the same way. God doesn't always give us what we want. He often doesn't give things when we want them. In fact, sometimes it seems God is ignoring us all together … giving us the brush off … just as Jesus seemed to be doing with this Canaanite woman.

The question is: Why? Why would God do such a thing?

Well, there are a number of possible reasons that God might ignore our requests. Sometimes God ignores our requests because what we're asking for is just plain no good for us.

If one of my sons had come to me and told me that they wanted to drop out of high school to move to Hollywood to become a famous actor, I would have simply ignored his request. After all, I love my sons too much to allow one of them to ruin their chance for an education and a future over a silly pipe dream. The chance for him to become a famous actor is about one out of a couple thousand, but the odds of him having a successful career, if he has a good education, are much better.

So it is with God. Sometimes the requests we bring to God, the plans we make, the desires we have, may seem perfectly logical to us, or perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the world, but God judges them as harmful, or not in keeping with his good will for our lives. And therefore, in love for us, he denies our requests or makes sure that our plans don't work out the way we had hoped.

Remember that the next time you feel like God is ignoring you. Maybe what you are asking God to do for you isn't good for you or your fellow man. In fact, isn't that why Jesus teaches us to pray, "Not my will, Father, but your will be done"?

But now, maybe there are times when it seems that we bring a legitimate request to God, something that wouldn't be harmful to us, times when we bring a request like … well …like the woman's request to heal her daughter from demon possession.

What's wrong with this request? Why didn't Jesus immediately grant her request? Why doesn't God grant our requests which aren't harmful to us?

Well, sometimes we ask for the right things. But still have the wrong attitude.

In other words, sometimes we come to God with an attitude that says, "God, you owe me this one. I've been a good Christian all my life. I've paid my dues. There's no reason for you not to answer my prayer."

Do you hear what's wrong with that kind of thinking?

Even if we are asking God for something good, something that He wants to give us, still if we come with the attitude that says, "I deserve this, I've earned it. God, you owe it to me, well, that's pure self-righteousness on our part. We all need to remember that we do not deserve anything from God. And, sometimes God delays his answer to our prayers to remind us exactly that. Sometimes God wants to give us the opportunity to realize that we are nothing but beggars, who are asking for scraps from the master's table.

In fact, that is the attitude that the Canaanite woman displayed here in our text.

When Jesus tells her that it's not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs, what is her response? She says, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table."

What a beautiful expression of humility on the part of this woman? She is basically saying, "Lord … I know that I don't deserve anything good from your table … but I humbly ask that you allow me just a crumb or two. And I trust that in your mercy, you will grant my request."

A Faith That Trusted God

You see, that's the faith of this Canaanite woman … this Canaanite mother. A faith that was not only tested by God, but more importantly, a faith that trusted in God. Isn't that the bottom line here?

This woman trusted that Jesus had both the desire and ability to heal her daughter. She trusted that Jesus could and would heal her daughter not because of who she was, but because of who Jesus was. And isn't that what made this woman's faith "great"?

In spite of all the obstacles that appeared to be in her way, she continued to firmly cling to the hope that God would have mercy on her and her daughter. And in the end, her hope was not in vain, was it?

Jesus final words to her are these: "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt." And as Matthew informs us, "her daughter was made whole (or healed) from that very hour."

The question that we have to ask for our lives is, "How could this woman do it? How could she keep the faith in spite of what seemed like insurmountable obstacles?

The answer is … this woman put her trust in the Lord Jesus.

Somehow through her contact with the people of Israel, she had come to know the promises God had made to send a Savior to rescue her from her sins; promises which were now being fulfilled in the person of this Jesus in whose presence she stood.

Because this woman knew what God had done for her in the past, and because this woman knew what God promised to do for her in the future, she could trust that God would also take care of her needs in the present. Isn't the same thing still true for you and me today?

Let's face it, there are going to be times when we feel like God is ignoring us. Times when we feel like the trials are more than we can bear. It's at times like these that we need to go back to what we know about our God.

Jesus loved you and me enough to die for us. He's already made the ultimate sacrifice. He wants nothing but good things for us. And he promises that even the trials that he allows into our lives, he will use for our eternal good.

I’m getting ready to close now, but I want you to know that when you and I, by the power of the Holy Spirit, keep our eyes and our hearts focused on God, then what Jesus said to that Canaanite woman … that Canaanite mother … He will also say to you and me … "Christian, you have great faith."

May God bless all of you, and may all of you mothers out there have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy reading your blog. May God Bless you.