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Matthew 15:21-31

Persistence of Faith

  • Rich Jones
  • Weekend Messages
  • February 27, 2011

This story is centered around a woman. We don't have her name; we only know she is a descendant of the Canaanites, the former enemies of Israel and that she came from that region in order to plead for help from Jesus. She is a mother and like any good mother she is deeply burdened because her daughter is greatly troubled. She had heard of Jesus’ fame and knows where her help will come from. And she will persist until her daughter receives the help she needs from God. We can learn much from this woman of faith.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

Persistence of Faith

Matthew 15:21-31 

Matthew 15 continues in this way, after Jesus fed the great crowd of 10 to 15,000 with five loaves and two fish, He went over to the west side of the Sea of Galilee, that was the night when the disciples encountered their second great storm, when Jesus came out to them walking on the sea.

Having then come to the other side, He encountered some representatives of the Jewish leaders who had come from Jerusalem. They were hoping to find some fault in order to accuse him and perhaps embarrass Him in front of the multitude. What they received instead was a sharp rebuke for holding the tradition of the elders in a higher place than the Word of God.

The fame of Jesus was spreading throughout all Israel and His popularity was gaining such momentum that the people were proclaiming Him to be a great prophet and there was even talk of finding a way to make Him their king.

But Jesus withdrew from there toward the west and north along the Mediterranean Sea in the district of Tyre and Sidon. This is the area which we today call southern Lebanon. This is the first and only time Jesus actually leaves the country of Israel and as we will see, something amazing will unfold that relates even to our lives and our relationship to God.

The story is centered around a woman. We don't have her name; we only know she is a descendant of the Canaanites, the former enemies of Israel and that she came from that region in order to plead for help from Jesus. She is a mother and like any good mother she is deeply burdened because her daughter is greatly troubled. She had heard of Jesus’ fame and knows where her help will come from. And she will persist until her daughter receives the help she needs from God.

I. God Wants Us to Persist in Seeking

  • The woman comes to Jesus appealing to Him in behalf of her daughter who was being cruelly demon possessed.
  • Immediately we understand she has the heart of a mother who is deeply burdened because of the troubles in her daughter's life.
  • She knows her daughter's troubles are spiritual in nature and therefore knows that only a greater spiritual authority can give the help she needs.
  • She heard the stories of all that Jesus had done, which helps us see that His fame was spreading even far beyond Israel.
  • But when she addressed Him to plead in behalf of her daughter, she approached him as a Jew would do by calling him "Son of David."
  • But Jesus did not answer her a word. Then from the rest of verse 23 we understand that she simply would not give up.
  • There are many great lessons for us in this story that apply to us directly; this woman's example of persistence of faith is something we all need.

A. Silence is not the same as “no”

  • One of the most important things I've learned when it comes to faith is that "it's not over till it's over." In other words, silence from heaven is not the same as God saying, "No."
  • Jesus did not turn the woman away, He did not rebuke her for asking, and He did not say, "No." Rather, it seems to me, He is drawing out her faith because it is actually quite unusual and therefore very inspiring for all of us. 
  • And then, if Jesus’s silence was not enough, His disciples came and asked Him to send her away because of her persistence.
  • But there is faithfulness in persistence that God encourages us to have even if others are discouraging us.
  • There are several examples of that in the scriptures; Job’s persistence is one we read recently, and there are others.

Job 2:9-10, Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" But he said to her “… Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

  • The blind man named Bartimaeus is another example. He was sitting alongside the road when he heard that Jesus was coming by and he cried out saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" The crowd told him to be quiet, but he refused to give up.

Mark 10:48, Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

  • God does want us to learn to be persistent in faith.

Illus – When we were in Russia adopting our two boys, the whole thing was almost derailed because someone forgot to get a signature, but that office was three hours away in the snow…

  • At one point when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He responded…

Luke 11:5-10 Ask, seek, and knock…

B. Be an intercessor

  • Another thing we can learn from this woman is the significance of being an intercessor in prayer.
  • An intercessor is someone who prays in behalf of someone else. This woman loved her daughter and knew that the troubles in her life were spiritual in nature and therefore she sought the One who would have the spiritual authority and power to answer her daughter’s greatest need.
  • It's very easy to criticize people who have troubles in their lives; everyone has imperfections of one kind or another, but how much more powerful it is to pray for them.
  • Will you pray for your husband? Will you pray for your wife? Will you intercede in behalf of your children that you think are going in the wrong direction and have troubles?

Illus - Moses is one of the best examples of interceding for others because he prayed for the people of Israel even though he knew there was much sin in their lives.

Exodus 32:31-32, Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin… But now, if You will, forgive their sin - and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!"

  • Moses was offering to take the consequences of their sin upon himself, and if you love someone, you understand that, but there are some things only God can do.

Illus – When our oldest daughter was in the hospital with great pain, I would have traded places with her, but this is something only God can do through Christ.

1 Peter 2:24, and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

II. Take Hold of God’s Purpose

  • When the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Send her away," it seems by Jesus's response that they were saying, "Give the woman what she wants because she's bothering us."
  • Jesus responded by telling them the purpose that God was accomplishing when He said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

A. Jews first, but also the Gentiles

  • What Jesus said to the disciples is seen in several places in the scriptures.
  • God chose Israel, not because they deserved it, no, it was exactly the opposite, they were small and insignificant, but it is because of His great love for them and because He gave His word to their forefathers; He keeps His covenant.

Deuteronomy 7:7-9, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples…”

  • But there are several scriptures that help us understand that His love extends to the whole world.

John 4:22, "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews."

Romans 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

John 10:16, "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd."

  • But we also know that God has a purpose for the Gentiles in bringing the Jews back to God, after they have rejected their Messiah.

Romans 11:11, I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

  • What's interesting is that we see that happening even while Jesus was ministering in Israel. There were only two people Jesus commended for their faith, and both were Gentiles. One was the Roman centurion who understood Christ's authority, and the second is this woman.
  • But Jesus even reached back into Israel's history and gave them other examples as well.

Luke 4:24-30 The widow of Zaraphath and Naaman the Syrian.

B. “That is true, Lord, but even so…”

  • After Jesus said that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, she bowed down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"
  • One of the themes that we see in the scripture is that prayers don't have to be complicated to be effective; here is another three word prayer.

Matthew 6:7, "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words."

  • When she said, "Lord, help me," Jesus answered that it is “not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”
  • Now at first this may seem rude or coldhearted, but there is something wonderful happening here. First of all, Jesus uses a word for dog which means "a little puppy,” in other words, He's talking about the dog that is part of the family.

Illus - Many people can relate to how significant that word really is; after Hurricane Katrina as they were rescuing people from the floodwaters, many people refused to leave without their dog, saying they would rather die with them.

Illus - When our girls were young we had a floppy eared Cocka-poo dog that the girls love to dress up and put bows in her hair. In contrast, we had a white cat named “Angel” that was more like a little demon.

  • From the book of Mark we understand the way Jesus said it was, "Let the children be satisfied first, it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Illus - Speaking of our dog, Cocoa, we were out of town once and asked our neighbors, the Huggins, to watch her and one day after they had prepared a plate of roasted chicken for dinner, the doorbell rang…

  • Back to Matthew 15, I absolutely love this woman's response to Jesus.
  • What we see is that she takes hold of God's purpose, she agrees with it; she doesn't argue with God, she doesn't have contention in her heart about His answer.
  • That is an absolutely important key to her faith as Jesus will soon point out.
  • Instead, she takes hold of Jesus's answer, "Truth, Lord, truth, but even so, even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table."
  • You can almost see a smile coming across the Master’s face; Jesus then commended her for her great faith and granted her request.
  • She acknowledged the purposes of God and would not contend with that, but still she had to ask because she loved her daughter.

Illus – No mother would pray for Joseph to go through the troubles, trials, and tribulations that he endured in his life, but those are the very things that God used to fulfill his purpose.

  • Even Jesus came to the place where he had to acknowledge the purposes of God are great, still He asked.

Luke 22:41-42, And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done."

Matthew 5:21-31    NASB

21 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." 24 But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" 26 And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27 But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.
29 Departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there. 30 And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them. 31 So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.

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