The Second Sunday in Lent March 4, 2012
1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
151(1-3,7), 149, 457, 465
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
There is a growing problem in the skies above us. It is space junk. NASA maps and monitors it and at least one time had to divert a Space Shuttle to avoid a piece of the junk. The rather amazing thing about this change of course was that the piece of junk in question was just the size of a ball. That isn’t much compared to the enormous size of the Space Shuttle but with the speed at which the shuttle was traveling and the disaster that would occur had the shuttle been damaged, that little piece of space debris became a big issue.
Dieters know that a piece of rich cheese cake may not be big, but to eat it may have bigger consequences. Computer operators know how many little things go together to make the computer work properly and how one small error in a number or a code can wipe out the whole system; and so it goes example after example which leave us to conclude that SOMETIMES SOMETHING SMALL IS REALLY BIG.
The account of the Canaanite woman and Jesus is the history of a strong trust in Jesus and a passionate prayer for help. In all that took place around Tyre and Sidon that day there are a number of apparent little things which are actually big things. They are I. A little disturbance that was really a great need II. A little delay that was really a great blessing and III. A little crumb that was really a great feast. We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and bless our mediation so that through the Word our own trust in Jesus and our use of prayer will become greater.
The disciples were trying to help when they asked Jesus to send the woman on her way. Jesus had “departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon” [v.21] as a means to escape into seclusion with His disciples for some time to rest. Jesus went into a house and “wanted no one to know it,” but it didn’t work because “He could not be hidden” (Mark 7:24).
So when “a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me’” [v.22] and kept on following Jesus with her pleas, the disciples wanted to get rid of her in order to give at least a little more peace. Whether the disciples wanted Jesus to quickly grant the woman’s request or to just send her away is not indicated. The disciples simply wanted the woman to go!
The woman was a small nuisance—or maybe even a great nuisance—to the disciples and they didn’t want her to keep bothering Jesus. This is not the only time something like this happened. On another occasion, the disciples kept little children from coming to Jesus. In both cases what the disciples saw as an inconvenience was instead a great need.
The woman’s plea told her need, “Have mercy on me O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” [v.22] The demon possession that is described in the Bible was indeed a great need and a serious matter. The woman does not describe how the demon affected her daughter but from other examples we know that demons made people fierce and dangerous (Matthew 8:32), not able to be bound (Mark 5:1-4), mute (Matthew 9:32), they sent their victims into convulsions (Mark 1:26), and at least one lived naked (Luke 8:26). Demon possession in itself was a great need and it was only heightened for this woman because the one possessed was her daughter!
The Canaanite woman came with urgency and cried out for mercy! The woman was helpless to help her daughter and came looking for help in what she herself had no ability to solve. To the woman, her situation was real and much more than a little inconvenience.
When the disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Send her away, for she cries out after us” [v.23] Jesus responded. Jesus did not respond to the disciples, but rather to the woman and her request. Although Jesus did not immediately heal the woman’s daughter, the very fact that Jesus spoke to her told the disciples, “No, I won’t send her away. I won’t ignore her.”
The woman knew her need was great. Jesus understood the need but was also concerned about her soul’s needs which were even greater. The woman who stood before Jesus was not a trivial matter. There was a great need and a great opportunity for the Savior to serve her. To the disciples who saw so many come to Jesus for help, this was just another person and a disturbance they wanted to end; but Jesus is concerned about the needs of every one of His children and He addresses those needs.
Do you feel a need? It is not too small to take to your Lord. We also have big needs like the forgiveness of sins which Jesus has also addressed by suffering and dying for us. But what about the “little” needs? What about those things that seem so small to everyone else but are really big to you? If something affects you in a big way then it is big and Jesus your Savior has open ears and powerful hands to help. If it is big to you it is big to Him and He wants you to come. “The Lord is at hand be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:5b-6).
Jesus was not too busy to spend time with the Canaanite woman. Is He ever too busy to hear and help you? No! Nor are your so-called little needs lost in the shuffle of others who have seemingly bigger and more pressing needs. Your needs and pleas for help can never be lost in the shuffle of greater things because Jesus can take care of them all.
At times we may not pray for little things or for help in a “little” crisis. Prayer in the everyday kinds of things is left behind because “They aren’t a big deal. I can get by on my own because this kind of thing always works out.” But who do we suppose is working these things so that they turn out well? Jesus is the One! Remember the urgency of the woman who came to Jesus and with the same urgency take all of your needs and pleas to Jesus—big and small!
This is also a good opportunity to encourage you to make use of your pastor. Pastors are not God, of course, and seeking the pastor’s help is certainly not a replacement for your own prayers. However, is there something troubling you—a loss, a question—but it is something small so that “I don’t want to bother the pastor with it because it’s just a little thing.” Don’t listen to yourself. The pastor is in a Christian congregation for that very purpose. Nothing is too small so that it cannot be taken to God in prayer. Nothing is too small to use God’s Word in the situation, and because the pastor has been called by God to serve you with God’s Word, therefore, nothing is too small to take to him either.
The woman came to Jesus with her plea “But He answered her not a word.” [v.23]. It must have seemed to the woman that Jesus agreed with His disciples and didn’t want to deal with her. She had a problem, she pleaded for mercy, and then…nothing.
The woman kept on pleading with Jesus but He said He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel. Then she fell down and “worshipped him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’” [v.25] Still, Jesus did not grant her request. In the end, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter but it was not until there had been some delay.
Jesus delayed healing the daughter in order to provide a greater blessing for the woman. The delay tested and strengthened her faith. The delay caused the woman to rely all the more on what she believed about Jesus. During the time that Jesus delayed, the woman couldn’t rely on what she was seeing and hearing. She had to put her trust in what she believed to be true about Jesus in spite of what she saw and heard. To do this is faith, and the longer the delay lasted the more her faith was tested.
Once Jesus had healed the daughter the woman had the reassurance that all of her trust was well placed. She then had proof that she was right about Jesus. He did answer her plea. Knowing that Jesus had helped her when she came to Him would strengthen the woman’s resolve to turn to Him again in her next need. The delay tested the woman’s faith greatly but at the same time strengthened her trust and confidence in Jesus.
The delay was an opportunity to also work a blessing for the disciples. The woman’s arrival provided the first lesson. She called Jesus “Lord” and “Son of David,” referring to the Messiah. This woman honored Jesus by calling Him the Messiah, but she was a Gentile! From the very beginning the disciples could see a living faith in a Gentile woman and it provided a lesson that salvation was also for the Gentiles. Later, Jesus would call this woman’s faith “great”—a further testimony that salvation was not limited to Israel.
Jesus’ patient dealing with the woman was another lesson for the disciples. It was a lesson in patience while rebuking them in their impatience.
The delay created the opportunity for the woman to speak and show her trust in Jesus. As the woman talked to Jesus her words combined with His and created a sermon of sorts for the disciples and all who heard. The delay gave the opportunity for the woman to do as Jesus has said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
There are likewise other examples in Scripture of delays that worked to God’s glory and a greater blessing. Abraham and Sarah prayed for the son that God had promised. God delayed and delayed until Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 before He finally gave them Isaac. A delay, yes, but it highlighted God’s glory and power in a dramatic way.
When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was sick, Jesus intentionally waited 2 days before beginning His journey to their home. During that time, Lazarus died. Jesus waited so that instead of healing a sickness He might raise Lazarus from the dead. The delay was “…for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified thereby”“ (John 11:4).
What about you? Have you prayed and asked for help and felt that God was turning a deaf ear and answering nothing? God does sometimes delay in granting our requests so that He might give even greater blessings to us. Martin Luther used Joseph as an example. Joseph certainly prayed for his freedom while he sat in prison. God delayed that freedom so that when it finally did come Joseph was not only a free man but was made into the second most powerful man in Egypt. God delays a little to give more than you had ever asked or ever dared dream.
Sometimes God does delay but remember that when He does, the little delay is really a great blessing.
Jesus called the woman’s faith “great” and nowhere does the greatness of her faith shine more clearly than in her conversation with Jesus.
Jesus first tested her faith by saying, “I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [v.24] Jesus was sent to the Jews and it was primarily among them that He ministered. When Jesus first sent out the twelve disciples He said, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, rather to the lost sheep of the Israel” (Matthew 10:4-6).
Even though Jesus was sent to the Jews and ministered among them, He was never a “Jews-only” Savior. Jesus described His work by saying that He had come to seek and to save those who were lost (Luke 19:10). The Gentiles were just as much lost as the Jews. Jesus also said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold [Israel], them also I must bring and they will hear My voice and there shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10:16). We see Jesus gathering Gentiles such as the centurion in the Gospel lesson, the Samaritan woman by the well, this Canaanite woman, and others. Likewise, when Paul was converted and called to be an apostle, the Lord called him, “a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My name to the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15).
Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel but His salvation is for all. He spoke as He did to test the woman’s faith. From what the woman knew about Jesus she believed—and rightly so—that He would help her even though she was a Gentile. So “she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.” [v.25]
Jesus gave her another test. “But He answered and said, It is not good to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs.” [v.26] As harsh as these words may sound, Jesus gave the woman’s faith an open window and a ray of hope. Jesus did not use a word that refers to the big dogs that run wild and would never receive anything from the children’s table. Instead, Jesus used the word for “little dogs,” in other words, the house dogs that live with the family and would have the possibility of getting food from the table. The woman’s faith saw the opportunity and said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” [v.27]
The woman’s humility did not object to being called a dog in Jesus’ words, it simply rejoiced that the dogs do get leftovers and scraps from the table. It did not matter to the woman how much she got or whether she could sit at the table like a child just so long as she would get a few crumbs. The crumbs and crust of the bread were just as much bread to the woman as a big slice.
If a child refuses to eat the food set before him or he cannot finish it all, the food is often given to the dogs below the table. The people of Israel were the children gathered around the table. Many in Israel rejected the Bread of Life which Jesus offered. Even if they had all received it in faith there would still be plenty to feed to the “dogs” around the table—the Gentiles. The woman was content and happy as long as she had these crumbs. She was content so long as she had a piece of her Savior and could cling to Him—the Bread of Life. She only needed her Savior, the greatness and amount of anything else mattered not.
There is a great lesson to be learned from this woman’s faith. Her ultimate concern was to possess her Savior and all that He gave her. She clung to that “crumb” of great value. The woman was like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable who, after he had come to his senses, did not care if he was a slave in his father’s house just so that he was in the house. Or as the Psalmist says, “A day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a door keeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). It is indeed better to have a crumb, to be a slave, and still have the Word of God, the forgiveness of God, the blessing and help of God than to have everything else and be without him.
The woman confessed that she was happy with just the crumbs but in reality she was already eating from a great feast. “Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is your faith: let it be to you as you desire. And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” [v.28] Through her God-given faith, the woman was feasting on the salvation which Jesus would accomplish on the cross and in the empty Easter tomb. It is a feast on the Bread of Life which gives forgiveness of sins and leads to the everlasting feast in Heaven.
Jesus called the woman’s faith “great.” It was a great faith that rested upon little things. Her faith was in a Man who began life as a little baby, born in a little town in a little country in a little region of the world. The work and words of this Man were at first little known outside of the immediate area. His followers, at first, made up a little group and many of them were people whom society said had little value. Later this same man would be crucified on a little hill outside the city of Jerusalem. In a Roman world that often saw criminals crucified, this crucifixion would receive little notice. So many of the things to which this great faith attached itself were little! But let it never be said that these little things are of small value or significance because you know that sometimes something small is really big. Amen.
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