4 October: “Bruised reeds” – showing faith when rebuffed

Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
4 October 2020

Service available on Youtube, or as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.

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Welcome

Worship

Word

Reading: Matthew 15:21-28

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Matt. 15:28

We are continuing to look at ‘Bruised Reeds and Smouldering Wicks’ (Matthew 12:20) by studying Matthew’s account of this Canaanite woman, a Greek born in Syrian-Phoenicia (Mark 7:26), whose daughter was possessed by a demon and suffered terribly as a result.

Matt 15:21 – Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon

Again Jesus, is being led by the Spirit to continue to do the works of His Father in heaven and is seeking to get away from the threat of the Pharisees (Matt. 12:14), and to get some much needed rest. He had previously attempted to get some rest for Him and His disciples following the death of John the Baptist. But such attempts had been thwarted by large crowds following Him (Matt. 14:12-14; Mark 6:31-34). The same was to happen again here for Jesus entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet He could not keep His presence secret (Mark 7:24). In particular: Matt 15:22 – A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Here are ‘the bruised reeds and the smouldering wicks’. The woman approaches Jesus and intercedes on behalf of her daughter: “Lord Son of David”:

“Her address (“Lord Son of David”) soars up to heaven; her request (“my daughter is terribly possessed by a demon”) goes down to hell. In one great cry the woman pits the Davidide against the demons.”

Bruner

Think of this woman’s life. We are not told how old her daughter is (Mark refers to “little daughter” Mark 7:25) but even to suffer like this for a week is too much, and unbearable for the mother looking on. So both have suffered terribly throughout her daughter’s lifetime. Last week we made the point that the man born blind (John 9:1-41) was God’s chosen instrument, and the same can be said of this woman. Neither of these people had been to Bible College, or even had an education, but they had been prepared by God, especially through “The School of Hardship, Pain and Difficulty” (to name a few!). One is also reminded here of the great man of God, Elijah, lamenting the fact that he was the only one left of God’s people, only for God to reveal to him: “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18; Rom. 11:4).

God will always surprise us by those He has got hidden away, faithful followers with great faith, even in the most remote parts of the world. And here is one of them, the Canaanite woman! Look at how she addresses Jesus: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Lord” being the title which we will all use, Jew and Gentile alike, as we bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is LORD (cf. Phil. 2:9-11).  “Son of David” an Israeli-messianic title. Remember what Jesus said to Peter, not long after this incident, when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God:

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven”.

Matthew 16:16-17

Likewise this Canaanite woman had been blessed with revelation from above. And she was going to use it to the maximum and Jesus knew it.

“Have mercy on me” – she is asking for Jesus to show compassion and kindness to her and her daughter by setting her daughter free from this terrible affliction. Anyone requesting Jesus to be generous and show compassion is on solid ground faith wise, as we have seen in previous weeks. The verses that follow have certainly produced quite an array of interpretations (and speculation) amongst scholars from such comments to describe Jesus’ attitude as “brutal”; “offensive”; “the worst kind of chauvinism”; “incredible insolence”; “atrocious” (F. W. Beare); with even Bruner describing Him as “hopelessly humane” and giving the impression that Jesus was really in a quandary here not knowing whether He could or couldn’t minister to the Gentiles. [One feels like responding with: “Get a grip! Is this really the Jesus we all know and love” – Of course it isn’t!!! What I think is happening is that many are struggling with this passage and at the end of the day not many have the “great faith” of this woman who is at a deeper place in her relationship with Jesus]. I will respond with an interpretation I feel comfortable with, again helped by R. T. France. “Jesus did not answer a word” And so Jesus tests her [Bruner refers to this interpretation as hypocrisy, but Jesus does test His people e.g. John 6:6] to bring to the surface where she is at spiritually and bringing out the best in her. Imagine He had immediately granted her request, daughter delivered, end of story, bye bye Mrs Canaanite woman and we would not have anything different to learn. But look at how Jesus deals with her.

(a) Silence – “Jesus did not answer a word”

Oh isn’t it wonderful when God greets our prayers with total silence? That certainly sorts a few of us out. “That’s it, I prayed God didn’t even listen, what’s the point, I’m never going to pray again” “Wow what faith you’ve got, or rather haven’t got.” Or maybe we go off in a sulk, throw a tantrum, get angry with God, say all sorts, and so on. Surely we’ve all done that one, or am I the only truly wretched one around here? And so we could go on. Silence really sorts out “the men from the boys” as the saying goes. The silence of God can and is often misinterpreted – God doesn’t care; God’s not listening etc… but not with this woman

(b) Then this poor woman has to deal with Jesus’ disciples whom she has annoyed and irritated by her crying out.

Have you ever judged someone who is say, crying, only to find out why they are crying and then felt totally ashamed at the hardness of your heart at having judged them? So his disciples came to Him and urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” An indication of how stressed the disciples are is the way they addressed Jesus, which is nothing like the respectful way the woman who addresses Him as Lord (Matt 15:22, 25).

(c) Jesus still seems to rebuff her

Matt 15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”Jesus had recently sent out the twelve disciples with this command: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6). And yes Jesus was primarily sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but already we have seen Him moving towards the ultimate vision of God that “all people’s on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3):

“A future insight into a sharing of the children’s bread rather than a continuation of Jewish exclusivism”

R. T. France.

We have seen it in Him already setting free a Gentile demoniac with an even more severe case of demon-possession (Mark 5:1-20) and marvelling at the faith of the Gentile centurion (Matt. 8:5-13) which again strengthens the case for Him testing this woman’s faith to see what she was made of so to speak.

What are we like in the test? Matt 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said – Praise the Lord for this woman and praise the Lord for the lessons we can learn from her. She was not going to be put off; she had a deep belief in her merciful and compassionate Lord and His power and authority to heal and nothing was going to put her off getting her daughter healed by the only person who could do so.

(d) Another rebuff

Matt 15:26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” This is where there is a great parting of ways amongst scholars from those who are truly upset by Jesus’ response to those who try and water it down, as if to say well he didn’t mean those scavenger type dogs outside the house but those in the house and puppies at that. He was in effect saying, it’s not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the little puppies. But Jesus was dealing with this woman as a Jewish person would who regarded Gentiles as dogs – they had a lot to learn going forward!  Surely this would put her off, but as we will shortly see, it surely didn’t! I especially like the explanation given by J. Camery-Hoggatt of how Jesus was dealing with this woman:

“To read what lies ‘on the surface of it’ is to misread it. It is instead to be read as a bit of tongue-in-cheek … it is peirastic irony … a form of verbal challenge intended to test the other’s response. It may in fact declare the opposite of the speaker’s actual intention. An excellent example is to be found in Genesis 19:2, in which the angels of the Lord test the seriousness of Lot’s offer of hospitality by declaring the opposite of their true intentions: “No we will spend the night in the streets” …. [Here] the woman’s answer is brilliant. It extends the metaphor by adding the element of crumbs, and by placing the dogs under the table. In the process, it overturns the implication of the first part of Matt 15:27 [“First let the children eat all they want ”]. Crumbs fall to the dogs, and  do so intentionally … they are fed at the same time as the children”

J. Camery-Hoggatt

(e) True faith soars above all obstacles and blockages

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”

Matt 15:27

Again it is very interesting to note the woman’s response. Whereas some versions give the impression that she meekly agrees with Jesus the true rendering sees her disagreeing. Jesus has said that it wasn’t right to give the children’s bread to the dogs and she has responded “Yes it is Lord” in other words “Yes it is right to give the children’s bread to the dogs.” Now this is great faith. Was Jesus offended? Do you remember last week how the religious leaders were highly offended at the audacity of the Blind man:

The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

John 9:30-34

Compare this to the reply of our beautiful Lord:

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Matt 15:28

Amen!

Quote of the Week

“The Lord looked down from heaven upon the earth and said, ‘Where can I find the weakest, the littlest, the meanest man on the face of the earth?’ Then He saw me and said, ‘ Now I’ve found him, and I will work through him. He won’t be proud of it. He’ll see that I’m only using him because of his littleness and insignificance.’”

(St. Francis of Assisi when asked why God used him so).

Verses of the Week

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord”.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Let’s Pray

Heavenly Father, we worship, praise and thank You for You alone are worthy. We praise You for Your compassionate and loving kindness, that You humble the proud and exalt the humble. We thank you that You lifted us up out of the mess we were in and seated us in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We praise You that Your heart reaches out to the bruised reeds and smouldering wicks of this world and You bless them with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Lord we pray for all Your people in this world who are being persecuted and are suffering for the name of Jesus Christ. Lord strengthen them, uphold them, amaze those who oppose them by the resilience You give them and by the radiance of Your glory.

“Shine Jesus shine, fill this land and the nations of the world with Your Father’s glory; Blaze Spirit blaze set our hearts on fire. Flow river flow flood the nations with grace and mercy; send forth Your word, Lord and let there be light.”

More of You Holy Spirit, in Jesus Christ’s Name, Amen!