“Faith Clings to Christ’s Mercy”
(Matthew 15:21-28 – Pentecost 13 – August 30, 2020)
Matthew 15:21-28 – 21Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22And 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.” 23But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” 24But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” 27And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then 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.
Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus:
How many times have you found yourself in the position of this woman, crying out for mercy? It takes some pretty humbling circumstances to admit that we cannot get ourselves out of a desperate situation; and that our only hope is to throw ourselves on the kindness and pity of another who is able and willing to help us.
Here, Jesus says: “O woman, great is your faith!” (vs. 28). As we will see, the greatness of her faith consisted in that, in the midst of her most desperate situation, her faith clung to the mercy of Christ. Even when appearances suggested that all hope was lost for her, yet her faith clung in hope to God’s promises in Christ as her Savior.
As believers in Christ, just like this woman, we cry out to the Lord for mercy. We confess that we cannot save ourselves from our most desperate condition as sinners; we cannot save ourselves from the power of sin, death, and Satan. We throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ, who alone is able to help us. We cling to Him who went to the cross to win our forgiveness and give us His gift of eternal life. So like this woman, our “Faith Clings to Christ’s Mercy.”
First, by the grace of God, this woman recognized Jesus for who He was, as her Savior. By birth, she was not even part of God’s chosen nation Israel. She was not a blood descendant of Abraham. She was a Gentile, living in a pagan land among those described in Ephesians 2:12: “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Yet, when Jesus came to where this woman lived, by a God given faith she “cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed'” (vs. 22).
Here, she used His messianic title as the “Lord, Son of David.” Somehow, she had been exposed to the Word of prophecy concerning Christ. That prophecy spoke of one who would be born a descendant of David according to the flesh; yet who would be the Son of God according to His divine nature (2 Samuel 7:12-14; Romans 9:5). As such, His Kingdom would endure forever. And not only would it include Jews, among whom He would be born, but also Gentiles – all who would be gathered to Christ, by the grace of God, through faith in His salvation.
Here, this Gentile woman expressed her God-given faith in the Lord who had come in the flesh to save a fallen world from the power of sin, death, and Satan. Jesus’ reputation as the Messiah had preceded Him, not only throughout Israel but even into Gentile lands, as He demonstrated His power to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons (Matthew 4:24). Now, as this woman’s own daughter had become severely demon-possessed, controlled in body and mind by an evil spirit sent from Satan, who can imagine her grief? In desperation, this loving mother threw herself completely on the mercy of Christ, who alone could help.
Is this not just what the Lord invites us to do? When we face griefs and trials, however severe, we remember our Lord’s gracious Word of invitation in Psalm 50:15: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” We call upon Him, knowing that He came to win our salvation from sin, death, and Satan; and therefore, He will surely also answer our cries for mercy in our desperate need, and bring deliverance the way He knows best.
But now we see that this woman’s faith was great, not only in that she recognized Jesus for who He was, and called on Him in the day of trouble; but also in that she persistently trusted Him to help her, despite all appearances to the contrary.
For how did Jesus respond? After her desperate cries for mercy, it says: “But He answered her not a word” (vs. 23). It was not the expected answer. Jesus was completely silent at first, as if He did not even hear her cries or care about the desperate condition of her daughter. However, despite appearances, her loving Savior really did care for her; and He already knew how He would answer her prayer and deliver her daughter in but a few moments. But at this point, her faith was being tested.
Are there times when we cry out to the Lord for His mercy, and we hear silence? Maybe we pray for deliverance from some vexing trouble, but it seems He does not hear. Why doesn’t the Lord save us from our sickness, our pain, our frustration, our loss, our grief? Why doesn’t He seem to answer our prayer for those things we so desperately feel a need? In such times, we are tempted to think God is ignoring us. In our weakness of faith, how often we become impatient and give up calling upon Him. This is where sin begins, when we turn to our own resources instead of entrusting our lives to the Lord, and His way and His timing in answering our need.
But here, we see the greatness of this woman’s faith. Even when it seemed like the Lord was ignoring her, she did not give up; she persisted in clinging to His mercy and calling on Him in her trouble. So much so that it says: “His disciples came and urged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she cries out after us'” (vs. 23). They seem to suggest that Jesus just heal her daughter and send her away, if only to relieve them of her annoying cries! Yet again, Jesus seems to reject this woman as He responded: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vs. 24). Now, it sounded as if He had not even come for the likes of this Gentile woman; as if she did not belong to His chosen people, and was therefore beyond help.
Are there times when we are tempted to feel this way? Satan loves to single us out and make us feel like outsiders, as those whom Jesus did not come to save. Perhaps we are tempted to think He does not hear our prayer because our sin is too great. We are tempted to think that He has rejected us and we are beyond help. We may see others whose lives seem so much more blessed by the Lord, whose prayers seem to be answered, whose lives appear much more holy. Like this woman, we may be tempted to believe that Jesus came as the Savior for those kinds of people – the chosen ones, the sheep of Israel – but not for us.
But is this ever the message of our loving Savior? No! He was not excluding this woman, and He will not exclude us. When Jesus said He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, He was not saying that His work of salvation was limited only to some. True, as Scripture had prophesied, He had come to the people of Israel to fulfill His work among them as the Messiah. It was there primarily that Jesus preached and performed miracles. It was there that He lived under the Law God gave Israel, as He worked out all righteousness in the place of sinners; and it was there that He would give His life on the cross, to take away the sins of the world. Jesus carried out His work of redemption in Israel, where God’s covenant of grace had been revealed. But His work of redemption was for every sinner. When it was finished, it would be carried to all the world through the Gospel that declares sinners forgiven; the Gospel which is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Even as Jesus carried out His ministry in Israel, did He ever turn away anyone who came to Him, whether Jew or Gentile? Did He ever turn anyone away because their sins were too great? No! He had come to seek and to save lost sinners. As the Good Shepherd, whom does He gather into His flock? It has nothing to do with blood relationships, worldly status, or how well we have lived. As Scripture teaches, the true children of Israel are spiritual children – all who by the grace of God are drawn to Christ through faith in His salvation promises (John 1:12-13; Romans 4:16-17; 9:6-8). So Jesus was not excluding this gentile woman; she too was a lost sheep, whom the Good Shepherd had come to seek and save, and bring into His flock by faith.
No matter how much we are tempted to feel we do not belong, or that we cannot be saved, let us cling to the mercy of Christ and His unfailing promises as the Savior of sinners, as our own Savior. Know that the Good Shepherd came to seek and to save you, and He has laid down His life for you. Cling to His cross, where His blood has paid in full for all your sins. Cling to His resurrection, as the living Savior who hears your cries for mercy and delivers you from the power of sin, death, and Satan.
This was the faith of this Gentile woman. By the grace of God, by His unfailing promises, she knew her Savior would not possibly send her away empty. Therefore in persistent faith, she would not give up. Instead it says: “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'” (vs. 25-27).
On the surface, it may have sounded like the worst insult, to be compared to a little dog begging scraps at the table. A proud heart of unbelief might storm off in anger. But even now, this woman’s humble heart of faith clung to Christ. She would be grateful to receive His mercy any way He chose to give it. As a sinner by nature, she knew she did not deserve to be called a child of God. Her rightful place was under the table. But that did not prevent her from getting the crumbs that fell from the Lord’s rich table of salvation. She knew her Savior had plenty of blessings to give her without depriving any of His children. She was happy to receive God’s grace as a poor beggar. Indeed, this is the only way any of us sinners receive His grace and salvation, as a gift of His mercy in Christ.
This woman was like Jacob wrestling with the Lord, refusing to let Him go until He gave His blessing (Genesis 32). By faith, she sees beyond the Lord’s apparent “no” to His heartfelt “yes.” She clings to Christ’s mercy, as her Savior who will not turn her away. Did He rebuke her for being so persistent? No, He was very pleased. “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” (vs. 28).
Like this woman, let us cling in faith to Christ’s mercy; let us cling to His unfailing Word of promise. And with the eyes of faith, we too can see Him for who He is, as our Lord and Savior; we too can see His “yes” hidden under the apparent “no.” If ever we feel like lost sinners for whom there is no help, let us flee to our Savior who promises: “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). How could He, when He loves us so much that He gave His life to save us? In our desperate need, let us cry out to Him who died and rose again to deliver us from the power of sin, death, and Satan. He has brought us His forgiveness and healing. Through baptism and faith He has made us children of God, partakers of all His rich blessings of salvation and eternal life. At His invitation, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.