Pentecost 17 October 27, 2020
777, 778, 784, 783
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
May the love of God fill you with wonder, may the sacrifice of God the Son fill you with gratitude, and may the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit fill you with faith, comfort, and confidence. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
“The silent treatment.” I would be surprised if there is even one child here today, let alone an adult, who isn’t familiar with exactly what “this silent treatment” is. Kids may not be able to put a name to it, but virtually all have used it at one time or another—on siblings, friends, or parents—whenever and wherever the need arises. Somehow, we come to imagine that the very worst that we can do to someone who has earned our profound displeasure is to deprive them from hearing our voices. The unspoken message is, “At this particular moment you are not worth even the breath or effort it would take to speak to you. I will deprive you of all communication until such time as you correct the terrible wrong that you have brought upon me, or until I can magnanimously bring myself to forgive you for it.” Clearly the silent treatment is most often not a particularly mature way of handling adversity.
Does God ever give his children the silent treatment? Did Jesus, while he walked this earth? At times it seems so, but did he really? We find such a case in our text for this morning, where we find the Savior himself seemingly employing the silent treatment. Since our Lord, in living a perfect life, also left us with the perfect example, it is both wise and profitable to examine every single thing he did and to understand why he did it. That is our goal this morning, and the text that will guide and instruct us is found in Matthew’s Gospel, the 15th Chapter:
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (ESV)
This is the Word of God. Surely God’s words are worthy of our careful study and meditation. Clearly there is great benefit for each of us to listen and to learn whenever God himself speaks to us. Desiring those very blessings this morning, so we pray, “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
Does it ever bother you that God, for all practical purposes, seems to be giving “the silent treatment” to mankind when it comes to proving the Christian faith? Ask yourself: How many foundational elements of the Christian faith can you list that can actually be verified by outside evidence? The answer is none. Not one. We cannot prove that God created the earth in six natural and consecutive days about 6000 years ago. We cannot prove that this same God then destroyed all but 8 human beings in the Genesis flood, or that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, or that he rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion. We can’t prove that God has declared the debt for all sin to have been paid by his Son, or that eternity will be God’s gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ. We can’t even prove that there is a heaven or a hell. And yet we’d like to. We’d love nothing better than to find the ark, or to turn up decisive evidence proving divine creation and a young earth. Better yet, who hasn’t longed for the skies to open and for the Creator God himself to declare from the heavens: “Only the Christian religion is true!”
Why do we yearn so for some sort of physical proof? We want clear and irrefutable evidence that Christianity is true, not just to convince the world, but to bolster our own convictions. And yet trying to shore up our faith with material proofs is as fruitful as trying to catch the devil with a butterfly net. That which is spiritual can only be created and strengthened by the spiritual. Only the Word of God can accomplish such things. God hasn’t given us the silent treatment as to what is and is not true. He’s told us everything we need to know in his Word. The Bible is God’s promise, God’s proof. It is a product of sinful weakness that we want—even demand— more.
How many elements of Christianity did we say earlier could be proved? None. Our only verification comes in acknowledging the Bible to be the authoritative source that God says it is. That requires faith, and faith is not a matter of external verification and proof. It is trusting in that which we can in no way verify, in no way see or prove. You all know the defining passage from Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That is also why some have referred to faith— blind trust in God’s Word—as the highest form of worship we human beings could offer to our God. It is also why Jesus reserved his earthly praise for those who demonstrated true saving faith.
All of these truths are borne out in a very practical way in our text for this morning. Here Jesus praised the faith of a human being. We should therefore be intensely interested.
First the setting. A woman—a descendant of the heathen Canaanites—came to Jesus in our text crying out for help. Her daughter who was demon-possessed, was suffering terribly. As a result, the mother too was suffering terribly. What mother, after all, does not suffer twice over whatever afflicts her child? She cried out for relief from the Savior, both for herself and for her child. Notice that she falls at the feet of the Savior and cries not “Help my daughter” but “Help me!”
But now what about the apparent silent treatment that Jesus gives her? Do you suppose that Jesus is toying with this woman, tormenting her while all the while intending to grant her request? Hardly. Jesus never pretended to be what he was not. Some believe the harsh words of the Savior were tests for the woman to pass before her requests would be granted. They see perseverance in prayer as the greatest lesson in this text. There is much more here.
The woman cries after Jesus. Her belief that Jesus is more than just a healer is shown by her words, “Lord, Son of David.” This was a term for the Messiah, yet Jesus does not answer. She keeps up her fervent appeal for help, to the point where the disciples felt compelled to beg Jesus to “send her away.” Their intention was undoubtedly for Jesus to grant her request and then to be rid of her. Or at least to shut her up. They had, after all, seen enough of Jesus’ power by this time to know that he could grant her request with a word. That they wanted him to grant the woman’s request is shown by Jesus’ answer to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” If the disciples had not indicated that they wanted Jesus to give her what she asked for before sending her away, this statement would have made no sense.
Note that Jesus wasn’t silent here. He was here making a very important point to his disciples, and therefore also to us. The point was this: Not just any old faith-system would do. There are not many paths to heaven—there is only one. Salvation can be found only in Jesus Christ, and God’s whole purpose for raising up and preserving the Jewish nation was to thereby bring his Son into the world to do what needed to be done to earn our salvation for us.
In utter humility, the woman falls at Jesus’ feet and begs, “Lord, help me!” Jesus answers, but our text does not tell us that he is yet speaking directly to the woman but to his disciples. He still appears to be giving her the silent treatment, although in reality he is not.
Picture in your minds the drama as it here unfolds. The text seems to indicate that Jesus speaks only to the disciples until the very end. So also to the disciples (literally translated) he says: “It is not a good thing to take the children’s bread and toss it to their little pet dogs.” The woman hears Jesus’ words, and here is where her faith truly shines. It shines not simply because of her persistence (for the godless can also be impressively persistent) and not simply because she displayed humility (for the godless will gladly debase themselves to get what they want). What sets this woman apart is her complete confidence in Jesus’ power or ability, along with her complete acceptance of all that Jesus says as true and right. She did not debate with Jesus. She did not whine or demand her “rights” or complain of unfairness. She did not demand some tangible proof before she would acknowledge that Jesus even had the power to help her. Instead, accepting Jesus’ power as a given, she also readily accepted his words as altogether good, true, and right.
Here is true faith in all its lowly beauty! In essence, she is saying, “Yes, ‘salvation is of the Jews.’ Yes, I am but a ‘little pet dog’ compared to the chosen Children of Israel. Yes, it is wrong to give me that which was intended for your own children. Your words and mission to the Jews I understand and accept, but are not the pet dogs allowed the crumbs which fall from the feast prepared for the masters? Though I am not a Jew, would you grant me still a tiny morsel of your divine power and compassion?” That she believed, would be more than enough. And clearly it was.
Jesus was neither silent nor playacting here. He was teaching— teaching the woman, teaching his disciples, and teaching us. This is the kind of faith he wants for us—a faith that simply, humbly and confidently trusts everything and only what he has told us in the Bible. In the Bible Jesus is never silent. In the Bible he communicates with us with both clarity and perfection. Our Savior’s desire for each of us is, therefore, a faith that does not question or rationalize about the facts he has revealed to us, but humbly clings to them and there takes its comfort and security. God desires a faith that sees the Bible as his Word and trusts him to keep his Word though all the world prove false and unreliable. He seeks a faith devoid of any sense of entitlement, trusting only that crumbs from God is more than enough.
Can you recall any other occasion when Jesus appeared to give someone the silent treatment? You know the account well: But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. (Matthew 27:12-14) Why did Jesus there give no answer? Because there was nothing to be said. Their accusations were, at the same time, both true and false. Though he himself was innocent of the accusations they brought against him, he was nonetheless guilty of all, for God the Father was at that moment making him guilty in our place. God the Father was “laying upon him the iniquity of us all.” The Father was declaring the only one who had no sin of his own to be guilty of all sin.
Jesus’ silence before Pilate and the Jewish rulers in fact therefore gave powerful testimony to the single greatest truth of the Christian faith: the debt for our sins, which we could never pay, was accepted, and then paid in full, by God’s own Son. Jesus was punished; we are forgiven. God grant to each of us a faith that simply takes God at his Word—the kind of faith that we see in that Canaanite woman in our text. A faith that humbly accepts the Word of God as true and right in the absence of any additional proof. A faith that simply trusts, without doubt, that though utterly unworthy and undeserving, Jesus’ life and death have in fact removed our sin and guilt forever. Grant us such a faith, Lord, and we truly need nothing more. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.