Grace For The Journey
This woman from Syria Phoenicia teaches us three main things. I will take them one at a time and then I will talk about some practical reminders that are important to take home today. Let’s consider . . .
I. Her Problem.
She has a problem, and the problem is that her daughter has a demon, or as Mark puts it in verse 25, her daughter has an unclean spirit. And this woman hears that Jesus is in town and so she goes to Him so that He might fix her problem and heal her daughter of demon possession.
Verse 24 says, “From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon . . .” Mark identifies this woman later as a Syro-Phoenician, which means she is from Phoenicia, a place that included Tyre and Sidon. If you look this up on a map, you will see that Tyre and Sidon is Northeast of Galilee in Gentile territory. This is far away from Jerusalem and Galilee. And what’s happening here in the greater context is that . . .
Our Lord is teaching that while God
Has chosen the Jews as those who
Have initial access to the Gospel,
The Gospel is for all people,
All nations, all ethnicities.
Israel was never meant to
Be the end of salvation,
But the means by which
Salvation came to others.
And Israel largely failed to understand this stewardship of faith, that they were entrusted with the responsibility of sharing about the One True God of the Bible with all peoples.
The Jews had largely regarded those of other races as unclean and unfit for worship of the One True God. In fact, in the more immediate context here in chapter 7, Jesus had just been teaching in Galilee about clean and unclean foods. Then He moves from Galilee, having just taught that all foods are clean, to demonstrate that all peoples are clean through the power of the Gospel. Paul will go on to stress the importance of sharing the Good News with all peoples. Many of us know Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (or the Gentile).”
Israel was never meant to
The end of the Gospel,
But the means for others
To hear and receive the Gospel.
Jesus went first to the Jews, but the new believing Jewish Christians were then entrusted to take the Gospel to all peoples of all nations (Acts 1:8). And that stewardship continues today through all believers. We all are to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth – from our community to the continents.
Verse 24 states, “From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.” Given the continuing pursuit by the scribes and Pharisees, it is almost as if Jesus is trying to retreat for awhile. He goes north to get away from these religious legalists.
But Jesus’ showing up in town with the 12 is not something that stays a secret for very long. Mark says, “He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.” Matthew Henry says, “He could not be hidden because, though candle may be put under a bushel, the sun cannot.”
Verse 25 says, “For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet.” Here we see the woman and her problem. She has a young daughter with an unclean spirit. She comes to Jesus and falls at His feet, bringing her problem to the Lord. She asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. In fact, verse 26 says, “She kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”
We have considered he problem . . . We now consider . . .
II. Her Persistence.
She kept asking Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. She is persistent in prayer. I have got to share with you this quote from JC Ryle. It is kind of long, but it’s good. He writes this about the persistence of this woman for her daughter and how this illustrates the burden many parents have for the spiritual well-being of their children. Hear this and be encouraged. He writes: “Fathers and mothers are especially bound to remember the case of this woman. They cannot give their children new hearts. They can give them Christian education, and show them the way of life; but they cannot give them a will to choose Christ’s service, and a heart to love God. Yet there is one thing they can always do – they can pray for them. They can pray for the conversion of profligate sons, who will have their own way, and run greedily into sin. They can pray for the conversion of worldly daughters, who set their affections on things below, and love pleasure more than God. Such prayers are heard on high. Such prayers will often bring down blessings. Never, never let us forget that the children for whom many prayers have been offered, seldom finally perish. Let us pray more for our sons and daughters. Even when they will not let us speak to them about Christian faith, they cannot prevent us speaking for them to God.”
This woman is persistent in taking her problem to the Lord. You may want to read the parallel account of this encounter as reported by Matthew in his Gospel in chapter 15 verses 21-28. Matthew provides added detail to the encounter that is interesting. Matthew tells us, for example, that the woman cries out to Jesus and says, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” and that Jesus does not answer. Matthew puts it like this in verse 23, “But He answers her not a word.” And Matthew adds the detail that, “His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” So, Jesus is just silent. Now silence is not the same thing as ignoring. The Bible paraphrase, The Message, says, “Jesus ignored her.” I disagree. That is why paraphrases are helpful to us to some extent, but we must take care not to preach from them.
Silence is not necessarily ignoring.
Silence allows a conversation to deepen.
Silence draws out information that
Otherwise may remain hidden.
Silence allows for reflection.
Otherwise, conversation may be only on the surface, superficial conversation, not necessarily bad, but just never getting down to deeper things – like when two people meet each other for the first time on an airplane, sitting next to each other, chatting energetically and rapidly about work, family, favorite sports teams, but largely a superficial conversation.
Contrast that conversation with two people meeting elsewhere where they can sit across from one another and see each other, face to face, where body language can be observed, able to look across the table at one another, reading each other’s facial expressions, listening thoughtfully. And often it is helpful to allow periods of silence in the conversation. I think sometimes we rush to fill the silence when it may have been helpful to allow silence in order to take the conversation to a deeper level.
You ask someone a probing question like, “What do you believe about spiritual things?” Resist the temptation to fill the silence by suggesting answers. Silence allows time to reflect. Matthew tells us that Jesus is silent. And I think it is helpful to us to think of the so-called times of God’s silence as opportunities for us to go deeper in our understanding of the Lord and to grow in Christian maturity.
Joel Beeke has helped us appreciate silence by thinking about the importance of both printed text and white space in a book. For example, think of the Bible you hold in your hands – whether a paper Bible or an electronic Bible; the Bible is not solely words, black letters all jammed up against one another. There is space around the printed Word of God. You have the text there, verses, words, God’s very words – and then you have space, white space, silence, silent space at the top, at the bottom, in the margins, spaces of silence between the words allowing you to pause, to breathe, to reflect. Live life like you thoughtfully read the Bible, allowing God to work through periods of silence, allowing Him to use the silence to mature and deepen your understanding of His word.
After some time, Jesus speaks to the woman and He says something we never could have imagined! Verse 27 states, “But Jesus said to her, ‘Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’” And the first time we read that we may be like, “Wait – What?! Did Jesus just refer to this woman as a dog?!” And in some sense, He does. I mean, we have got to allow for tensions in the biblical texts. We have got to allow them to breathe and stand on their own.
Yes, Jesus says, “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And He says that in response to the woman’s asking Him for help. He says, “Let the children be filled first,” which means “let the Jews receive bread first. They are My children. They get first place at the table.” The Bible says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (or the Gentile).” So when Jesus speaks of children here He is speaking about the Jews. In God’s economy of the Gospel, they get first place at the table.
You have got to love the woman’s witty reply in verse 28, “And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” She is saying, “Yes, I know I have no place at the table. Just give me some table scraps, scraps that the little dogs might get under the table.” Remember that in the ancient near east that dogs weren’t the cute, furry, little pets that we think of in the western hemisphere.
I read a statistic last week that said Christians are giving close to 90% of mission’s dollars to go to people groups who already have access to the gospel while only 1% of total mission dollars goes to the unreached peoples of the world. To drive the point home, the statistic said that Americans spend the same amount of money each year on halloween costumes . . . for their pets. But dogs in the ancient near east are like dogs in many parts of the undeveloped world today. They were mangy and ugly – and calling someone a dog was an insult. Greeks, Gentiles, non-Jews, were often called dogs as a term of contempt.
It helps to understand the proverbial nature of Jesus’ statement and the way He spoke. Without a doubt his tone of voice made all the difference. The same word can be a deadly insult and an affectionate address, according to the tone of voice. We can call a man “an old rascal” in a voice of contempt or a voice of affection. Jesus’ tone took all the poison out of the word.
This woman understood what Jesus was saying and the way He was saying it. She recognizes that Jesus is not making a racial statement but a theological statement. In those days people did not have either knives or forks or table-napkins. They ate with their hands; they wiped the hands on chunks of bread and then tossed the bread away and the house-dogs ate it. The woman responded to what Jesus said, “I know the children are fed first, but can’t I even get the scraps the children throw away?” And Jesus loved it. Here was a solid faith that would not take no for an answer, here was a woman with the tragedy of an ill daughter at home, and there was still light enough in her heart to reply with faith and understanding. Her faith was tested and her faith was real, and her prayer was answered. Symbolically she stands for the Gentile world which so eagerly seized on the bread of heaven which the Jews rejected and threw away.
Verse 28 says, “And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” She is persistent! She is like a New Testament Jacob who wrestled with God and said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
This leads to her consider . . .
III. Her Provision.
Verses 29-30 declare, “Then He said to her, ‘For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter. And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.” She would settle for the children’s crumbs under the table, but in healing her daughter, Jesus has given her a whole loaf.
Let me leave conclude with . . . Three Thoughts To Apply To Your Heart . . .
1) Learn Your Place.
Like the Syro-Phoenican woman . . .
Humble yourself before the Lord.
She knew her place before Christ, nothing to offer Him but her pleas. That is it. No boastings, no rights to claim, no merit to bring, just her humble cries.
Modern readers are offended by Jesus’ reply to the woman, but she is not! Why do you think that is? Why do you suppose this woman is not offended by what Jesus said? It is because she knows her place before the Lord. She knows she has no rights to claim.
I mentioned Thomas Cranmer earlier. Another great name in the Protestant Reformation, if not the most popular is Martin Luther. He was also stirred by this passage and saw the gospel in it. Luther writes, “Very well, she says, if I am a dog, I ask no more than a dog’s rights. I am not a child nor am I of Abraham’s seed, but you are a rich Lord and set a lavish table. Give your children the bread and a place at the table; I do not wish that. Let me, merely like a dog, pick up the crumbs under the table, allowing me that which the children don’t need or even miss, the crumbs, and I will be content therewith.” Isn’t that great?!
The gospel is here in
This woman’s actions.
We have to understand that we have NO RIGHT to sit at the table. Only then can we sit at the table. We do not deserve a place at the table. We are under the table. We have to say with this woman, “Yes, Lord.” We too must learn our place. This action is tied closely to the second action . . .
2) Live by Grace.
The Syro-Phoenician woman comes to Christ
Not on the basis of her goodness
But on the basis of His goodness.
Remember that Jesus became the outcast for us so that we who are dogs could receive the bread of life. He became a dog so we could become a son or a daughter. This is grace. This is God’s giving us what we don’t deserve – God’s giving of His unlimited, unmerited favor when all we deserve is His wrath.
We are not only saved by grace, we are to live by faith. How do we do that? The same way we are saved. To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my relationship with Christ . . . that is Transforming Grace
And . . .
3) Love Each Race.
God’s love for the Syro-Phoenican woman reminds us that God loves all people and He is building a kingdom of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. Derek Thomas provides us with a thoughtful reflection here. He writes, “This passage” . . . “Is a rebuke to those of us who are Christians. It’s a rebuke for what is often our prejudice about people who are not like us, and not of us” . . . “From a different race, who smell, whose clothes are funny, who speak with a funny accent and we dismiss them. And tell me if this is not so: tell me that we don’t say with the disciples from time to time, ‘Lord, send them away. Send them away, because they’re just a nuisance.’”
May we never look at others this way. As we look at other people – no matter their race, no matter their ethnicity – may we see God’s love for them, His love for all people. We are just as they. None of us deserves a place at the table. We are all under that table.
And it is Jesus who exchanges places with us. He becomes the outcast; He becomes the dog so that we can become a son or a daughter.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”