Thursday, December 11, 2008

MEGA Faith pt. 3

This is part three in a study of these two passages - Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28.

The first characteristic of MEGA faith is particularity, and the woman from Syrian Phoenicia had great faith because it was properly directed in a particular object: the Lord Jesus Christ. This leads us to the second characteristic of MEGA faith.

Persistency

Try to appreciate the barriers that this woman had to hurdle in coming by faith to Jesus. First there was the religious barrier. She had been raised as a pagan, most likely a worshipper of Astarte, a Canaanite goddess of sensual love, maternity, fertility, and war who is known in the Old Testament by the Hebrew name Ashtoreth. This particular false god had been a stumblingblock to the Jews both in the days of the Judges (Judges 2:13; 10:6) and during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13).

Another barrier was her ethnicity. She was a Gentile. Matthew notes her Canaanite descent, and Mark indicates that she was a Hellenist – Greek speaking – Canaanite from Syrian Phoenicia.

A third barrier was her gender. It was considered scandalous for a rabbi to publicly speak with a woman. At his time there was even a Pharisaical sect known as the “Bruised and Bleeding Pharisees.” They were so identified because every time they saw a woman in public they would cover their eyes, causing them to crash into any and everything. Their bruises were the pious marks of their superior sexual ethics, or so they thought. Plus, this woman was begging for intervention on behalf of her daughter, not a son. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “In the ancient Jewish world this was a combination of need beneath the dignity of any true rabbi.”

This woman was well aware of these barriers yet she persisted in coming to Christ. This woman was driven by desperation. By and large the people who come to Jesus are always desperate. In fact, all people are desperate and the people who come to Him are the ones aware of their desperation.

This desperate mother had discovered that Jesus was in town, and whatever she knew about Him and however she had learned it, she knew that He was her last and only hope. Her gods had failed her. Her daughter was afflicted, and only Jesus could help her. So she persistently begged the Lord to heal her daughter. We saw this persistent faith in the paralytic and the four who carried him back in Mark 2. Jesus commended persistent faith in His Luke 18 parable of the widow before the unjust judge, who because of her continual coming was eventually granted justice over her adversary.

The Syrophonecian woman was persistent, not only in the face of religious, cultural, and social barriers, but in spite of the barriers that Christ erected. Does Christ’s response to this woman puzzle you? We know from Matthew 15:22-23 that after this woman reverently approached Jesus, calling Him Lord, even using His messianic title “Son of David” and passionately pleaded with Him to heal her afflicted child, that “he answered her not a word.”

Jesus seemingly ignored this woman. Was Jesus indifferent to this woman? Did He not care?

We’ll get to that in a second, but I want you to notice that Christ’s silence did not silence this woman. Her faith was great, not weak or fickle. She persistently called out to Christ, so much so that the apostles wanted Jesus to send her away; however, when Jesus does answer her, it sounds harsh. He said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel…Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast [it] unto the dogs.”

That language is not exactly seeker-sensitive.

Let it be said that there are some tactics which the Son of God employed that are not advisable for you or I. Here is why. Jesus knew this woman’s heart, and He was not tormenting her. He was testing her faith; for her own benefit and for the benefit of the Twelve. Following the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus had preached the bread of life sermon and that message included hard truths that drove away the fickle-faithed. “Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard [this], said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”

They said that because, John tells us, they believed not, and Jesus knew their faith was fickle; not little but fickle, and there is a difference. As long as the free food and medical benefits were in abundant supply, this large group of “followers” were on board, but when hard doctrinal truth is proclaimed they jump ship. Why? Because theirs was a fleeting and fickle faith, not a persistent faith.

Of course Jesus cared about this woman. He wasn’t about to slam the door on her faith. He just placed a gentle shoulder against the door to test it. During the same sermon when the faithless followers were unmasked Jesus had said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:35, 37) Jesus puts up barriers through which only genuine faith will persist.

Some people are offended at Jesus; offended at His lack of respect for their traditions and self-righteousness and offended at his plain-spoken truth. Some people would have become indignant at being called a dog, a family pet that couldn’t eat until the children were finished. Those people, by their turning away, would demonstrate their lack of saving faith.This woman was the real deal. Her faith was genuine and great, as indicated by her particularity, her persistency, and her humility.

Humility

“And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” Mark has indicated that this woman was prostrated at Jesus’ feet. She was humble. No pride. No arguments. No debate. No presumption. This was just genuine worship which churned up out of a humble, desperate heart.

Do you know what is synonymous with humility? Repentance. Proud people cannot repent. That does not mean that people who are proud cannot become repentant, but it does mean that no proud person will be penitent without first being humbled.

Do you know what is synonymous with repentance? Faith. Charles Spurgeon said, “Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith.” Like the Thessalonians who had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9) this woman had turned from whatever or whomever else she had been trusting, and she turned to the living and true God.

This woman humbled herself before Christ and said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord…Lord, help me… Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs.” (Matthew 15:22, 25; Mark 7:28). This woman came pleading not demanding. She sought the Lord’s mercy, not her fair share of the pie: “You’ve done it for others. Now it’s my turn.” She did not demand to be given what she deserved. She begged for what she didn’t deserve. That’s because humility recognizes that we deserve punishment, and with that recognition we can be truly amazed by grace. Did this woman understand all of the implications of Jesus as Lord? No, nor do I. That is something I learn more and more every day, but she recognized that he wasn’t just the medicine man or the magic man. He was, and is, Lord! Beginning faith, like this woman’s, may be ignorant, but it is not shallow.After publicly affirming what He already privately knew, the Lord honors her: “O woman, great is thy faith…go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.” (Matthew 15:25; Mark 7:29) Because of her great faith; great because it was particular, persistent, and humble, she went home and found her daughter delivered from the demon.

But this is not just an isolated story about faith. This should be seen in its context. The great faith of this woman is juxtaposed with the faithlessness of the Pharisees and the fickleness of the people in general. Having just corrected the false teaching about uncleanness, one is defiled from the inside out not the outside in, He travels to a region considered unclean, and speaks with a “Gentile dog”; a woman who would have been considered unclean. This is powerfully symbolic of the glorious news that Jesus is not just the Savior of the Jews but of the Gentiles as well. We may sing “joy to the world” because the Lord is willing to be the Savior of all who repent Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.

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