Have Great Faith in Your Great Helper

Matthew 15:21–28

21Jesus left that place and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22There a Canaanite woman from that territory came and kept crying out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! A demon is severely tormenting my daughter!”

23But he did not answer her a word.

His disciples came and pleaded, “Send her away, because she keeps crying out after us.”

24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

25But she came and knelt in front of him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

26He answered her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to their little dogs.”

27“Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet their little dogs also eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! It will be done for you, just as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at that very hour.    (EHV)

Dear Friends in Christ,

Can you imagine being mugged or attacked while a police officer is standing two feet away from you, ignoring your pleas for help? Can you imagine hanging out of a second story window of a burning house, while a bunch of firemen just below you stand around having a cup of coffee, ignoring your pleas for help? Of course not! These people are paid to help you and trained to help you. Helping you is their job. That’s what they do.

Can you imagine standing in front of the Almighty God and pleading for help, only to have Him ignore you? Can you imagine falling down on your knees in front of the Savior of the world, begging for help, only to have Him walk away? Of course not! He’s the Savior. That means He saves people! That’s what He came into the world to do. That’s what He died to do. That’s what He rose to do. And that’s what He lives and reigns eternally to do.

It looked, though, like Jesus was going to ignore the pleas of the Canaanite woman in our text. She knew He couldn’t. She had Great Faith in Her Great Helper. We want the same!

Know and Trust Your Helper

If you were the one hanging out the window of the burning building with the firemen drinking coffee below, you most certainly would have kept yelling for help. That’s what God wants us to do with Him. That’s what woman in our text did—and for good reason: She knew who her Helper was.

Matthew calls her a Canaanite. That means she was a descendant of those people the Israelites were supposed to kill or drive out of the land back in the days of Joshua. God didn’t want the Israelites contaminated by the evil forms of idol worship they practiced. God was angry that the Israelites didn’t do as they were told, yet He worked through their disobedience to prepare this Canaanite descendant to meet Jesus. Despite her background, this woman knew to whom to turn in “the hour of utmost need.” Jesus was in northern Galilee, near the border with Syrian Phoenicia. He planned for some secluded time with His disciples for a period of training. Mark informs us, “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; but he could not remain hidden” (7:24). But this desperate, foreign mother left her country—modern day Lebanon, crossed the border seeking Jesus out. Somehow, she knew He was near and she just had to ask Him for help.

She came because she knew who Jesus was. No doubt she had heard rumors in her homeland about the great prophet in the south. But she knew much more than that there was a great healing prophet in Israel. She somehow knew that Jesus was the long-prophesied Messiah, even though she was a Gentile. You can tell that by the names with which she addresses Jesus: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!”  By calling Jesus “Lord” she is calling him “God” the same as we do when we sing “Lord, have mercy” on Sunday. Then she calls Him “Son of David,” which means He’s the promised eternal descendant of King David. She knew of the prophecy God had spoken to David: “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I –will be his father, and he will be my son” (2 Samuel 7:12-14).

She didn’t just know of these prophecies; she understood and believed them! Amazing! Just before Jesus came to Northwest Galilee He had been verbally attacked by a group of Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come all the way from Judea in Southern Israel up to the coast of the sea of Galilee in northern Israel—in Galilee—to hassle Jesus. These people knew the very same prophecies as this Canaanite woman knew. But they didn’t understand them—and they didn’t believe Jesus was the One these prophecies foretold. To them Jesus had said “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’”

How different this believing foreigner was than those guys. The difference was God-given faith—the gift of the Holy Spirit. We want to be like her, not the Pharisees. We want to believe in Jesus and all His powerful promises. Like her we want to worship Jesus. When Jesus didn’t initially answer her, and when He seemingly put her off, Matthew, who was there and saw it all, reports, “she came and knelt in front of him.” The word that is translated “knelt” in our Bibles, really means more than simple kneeling. It signifies the kind of reverent worship that requires recognizing that we’re not worthy to stand in God’s presence and to look Him in the eye as our equal. It’s the same reverence that brings us to bow our heads when we pray, signifying our humility before Him whom we approach only through Jesus our Savior, the One who made us worthy in God’s sight by washing away our sins.

She also honored Jesus by being so persistently confident in her prayer. She placed her trust in her Helper. She didn’t travel all the way down across the border simply hoping she’d get lucky. She came because knowing who Jesus really was, she truly trusted in Him. If Jesus really was true God—and she believed He was—then no demon like the one possessing her daughter could stand in His way.

“He is God. God is merciful. Therefore, I know He must and will answer me!” That was her faith. Learn from this humble Canaanite woman! Know who Jesus is, trust in His power to help, and keep asking! Don’t give up. Don’t doubt His promises. Don’t doubt His mercy!

Jesus Our Helper Will Answer

And He will help you in the same way He helped the Syro-Phoenician woman. He first helped her by strengthening her faith. He did that by testing her, and at the same time He was also testing and teaching His disciples about God’s plan of salvation for all—both Jews and gentiles. Jesus began provocatively, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

For 2000 years God’s plan of Salvation had been connected in a special way with His covenant people Israel—not that salvation was only for Israel—but it was through Israel. It was important that this distinction be made clear. When the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 asked Jesus, “Who’s right? The Samaritans or the Jews?” Jesus didn’t hesitate to reply, “Salvation is from the Jews.” In Romans, chapter 3, Paul wrote “What advantage, then, is there in in being a Jew…. Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1,2).

And there’s the crux of the matter—“the very words of God.” When you think of how Paul laments the hard-hearted unbelief of so many of his fellow Jews, it’s crystal clear that God didn’t choose the Jews because they were better than other people. He set them apart because He wanted one people on earth to preserve His Word, so that it would always be there for all people.

But Jesus wants to give this wonderful, believing woman the opportunity herself to proclaim this truth. The disciples needed to hear it—from her Gentile mouth! At His ascension, Jesus would be sending them out to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. In those days, they would remember this woman, her great faith, and her answer to Jesus, when He spoke the words that all the Jews were thinking: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to their little dogs.”  She picked up on the opening Jesus had intentionally left for her and without batting an eye she responds, Yes, Lord, yet their little dogs also eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Yes, the Old Testament is primarily a record of God’s dealing with His special people, Israel. But throughout that same Old Testament, we also see God’s desire that others should come to faith through His Word, which He had made available through Israel. In our Old Testament reading for today, for example, Isaiah says 700+ years before New Testament times, “Then the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, … those who take hold of my covenant— 7 I will bring them to my holy mountain, and I will make them glad in my house of prayer. …For my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples of the world” (Isaiah 56:6,7).

Soon enough that would be all the more clear, when Jesus, having fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament, commissioned His disciples to go to the whole world, preaching the Gospel to Gentiles like you and me. So Jesus strengthened her faith, while letting her teach a major lesson to His apostles.

God doesn’t always answer our prayers immediately either. He wants to strengthen us too. That’s God’s pattern. He made Abraham wait till he was 100 before Isaac was finally born. God led David to the brink so often, that He cried out in the Psalms, “O, my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer….” When Jesus fed the five thousand, He first had His disciples sweat out how they were going to provide food. He let Mary and Martha wait till their brother Lazarus was dead and buried, before He came to help, even though He could have prevented all that by coming and healing Lazarus right away. God strengthens faith by testing it, by stretching our faith sometimes to the limits. Jesus did that with the Canaanite woman. She got much more help from her Helper than she could ever have asked for.

But now it was time to answer her prayer directly, “Woman, your faith is great! It will be done for you, just as you desire. And her daughter was healed at that very hour.” Imagine her joy and relief! Her trust was well placed—and now even stronger!

Have Great Faith in Your Great Helper! Jesus hears your prayers. Jesus urges you to “keep asking, …keep seeking, …and keep knocking” and promises the door will be opened and you shall receive! And when you do, God’s answer is even better than hoped for!

Wouldn’t it be great to have the same level of trust that this woman had? Wouldn’t it be fantastic, if we were as comfortable talking to Jesus, even bantering with Him, as she was? And isn’t it appropriate to truly worship Him in humility and reverence—the way she fell on her knees before Him? May God fill us with such faith, hope and reverence, that we humbly and confidently pour out our requests to Him fully expecting His mercy! Amen.


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