The Book of Matthew

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman, Day 4

Matthew 15:21-28 In this week’s lessons we come to a story where Jesus at first behaves in ways that are not his usual approach with people, but which is intentional to show the expansiveness of the grace of God, and the need for saving faith.
The Need for Faith

The second thing is that in her faith she acknowledged her need. That is, she had her faith in Jesus and she knew that there wasn’t any use putting faith in herself, even to the point of being able to appeal to Jesus on the basis of something that she may have been. She uses that powerful word “mercy” in her first approach. “Lord, Son of David,” she says, “have mercy upon me!” Now mercy is favor upon people who don’t deserve it. As a matter of fact, it’s favor upon those who deserve the exact opposite. And when that woman came saying, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy upon me!” she’s not saying, “Now I want you to listen to my request because I’ve got a few good things I’ve done that I can commend to you. And then on the basis of that maybe you’ll heal my daughter.” She wasn’t doing that at all. She was saying, “I have no grounds of appealing whatsoever. My only hope is that you’ll be merciful to me a sinner.”

Like this Canaanite woman, that’s the way you and I have to come, too. If we come to Jesus saying, “Well you owe it to us,” we’re going to get nothing at all, because he doesn’t owe us anything. But if we come acknowledging what we are, sinners in our need of grace and mercy, that is the prayer and approach to which Jesus gives an ear.

There’s a third thing I want you to see about her faith, and that is that it was persistent. I think Jesus was drawing that out. The woman not only came and asked once; she kept on coming and crying for mercy. You know that’s important because that’s the nature of true faith. True faith persists. Just a few chapters before this, in chapter 13, where Jesus is giving what we call those parables of the kingdom, he concludes by giving two short parables—the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl. His point as he tells those stories is that those who are children of the kingdom will not rest until they possess the great treasure. That is why he said on another occasion “Those who persevere to the end will be saved.” It’s not their perseverance that saves them, but true faith in him is a faith which perseveres. People who are really pursuing the kingdom won’t let the kingdom get away but seize it and hang onto it because they recognize that it’s valuable and they will not let it escape from them. They know this treasure is what they need, and so true faith perseveres.

If we are to learn from this woman we have to put into practice what she did. Her faith was in Jesus, she acknowledged her need, she cried for mercy, and she was persistent in her request. And of course Jesus heard her. Jesus answered her prayer and healed her daughter.

Now I’d like to make a few points of application and do it in a variety of ways, speaking to different kinds of people. First of all, this is obviously a lesson for us in prayer. We’re to persevere in prayer. Here is a woman persevering for her daughter, and to apply that in the simplest way, if it means nothing else, it means that in our prayer we should not despair for our children. You may have a child that has seemed to have gone astray, a child that has turned a deaf ear to spiritual things, a child which at one point though you raised him or raised her in the church and was able to recite Bible verses now says, “Oh, I just don’t believe that anymore.” Or maybe your child was not raised that way because you became a Christian later. As a result the child has never been exposed to those things and doesn’t seem to have an interest. Well, this woman prayed and prayed and came to Jesus again and again and again. There are many prayers in the Bible that God doesn’t answer immediately but does answer in his own time. You see, if this story means anything on that level it at least means that we should persevere in prayer for our children and for whatever other requests and concerns that lay upon our hearts. Don’t give up just because the answer seems delayed. God is not insensitive to what you’re saying.

Then there’s a second lesson here for evangelists, which we should all be. We should be ready to speak about Jesus Christ to anybody. And as you do that, you find faith in the most unlikely places. Who would have thought, thinking now as a Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah, that Jesus was going to find such faith in Tyre? Tyre was one of those cities that had been condemned by God. The Old Testament has prophecies against Tyre. Tyre was going to be destroyed, and it was. Sidon was going to be wiped out, and it was. Yet here in this very foreign, sinful, Gentile place there was this woman who came to faith. And more than that, she was a Canaanite. That’s the only time in all of the New Testament that that word “Canaanite” occurs.

It’s an old word. It refers to the inhabitants of the land before the Jewish people conquered it. They were the people, you may recall, that Israel was to destroy utterly, wiping them off the face of the earth. But they did not obey the Lord’s command, and trouble came upon them later because of it. That’s what a Canaanite was. But with all this against her, spiritually speaking, nevertheless this was the woman who came to faith.

Now if that’s true, and it is, you mustn’t despair of anybody. You say to yourself, “Well, I keep witnessing to somebody who is so close, they really ought to believe.” That’s good that they’re close, but don’t get impatient because they have not yet gotten to the point where they make a commitment to Christ. Nor should you give up on somebody who it seems to you is far from the faith and who will never believe, because God has marvelous ways of reaching people, since he obviously reached this woman.

Study Questions
  1. What is the second thing the woman does?  How does she demonstrate this?
  2. What is the third thing we see about this woman’s faith?  What other examples of this do you find in Scripture?

Reflections: How can the story of this woman help you in your prayers and evangelism?

For Further Study: To learn more about God’s intention to bring salvation to the Gentiles, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from Romans 11, “Riches for the Gentiles.”  (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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