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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Jesus Gives Bread to the Children *and* the Dogs
Text:Mark 7:24-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2009
Added:2009-07-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 150
Hymn 21:3,4
Psalm 87
Psalm 72:1,2,5,10
Hymn 36:4 (after offering)
Psalm 47

Reading: 1 Kings 17
Text:  Mark 7:24-30
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

 

Are native Americans human beings or not?  Sounds like a strange question to us today, but to many people in the sixteenth century it wasn’t so clear.  In fact, in 1550, a debate was held in the Spanish city of Valladolid on that very question.  On the one side was Bartholomew de las Casas, a Roman Catholic bishop.  Las Casas argued that native Americans are fully human just as Spaniards and therefore every effort should be made to bring them into the Roman Catholic Church.  On the other side was Juan de Sepulveda, a Dominican friar.  Sepulveda argued that native Americans may appear human, but they are not capable of becoming Christians and that they should therefore be enslaved.  It’s not clear who won the debate, but both attitudes have been found throughout history.

 

There have been always been those who say that the gospel is only for some people and not for others.  In the days before, during and after the ministry of Christ on earth, there were many who believed that the message of the Bible was only for Jews.  God wouldn’t want anything to do with the dirty Gentiles. 

 

But what about us?  Where do we stand on the question of who the gospel is for?  In principle, we can easily agree that the gospel should go around the world to people from different cultures and nations.  It’s easy when we’re talking about people far away.  But what about closer to home?  How would we react if, say the Lord were to begin gathering homeless people to our church every Sunday?  Would we eagerly welcome them or would we rather that they worship with their own kind in their own church just for homeless people? 

 

Those are the sorts of questions that our text forces us to ask.  Our text helps us to see that the gospel is not just for one sort of people.  Whether close to home or far away, the gospel is for everyone.  I preach to you God’s Word:

 

Jesus gives bread to the children and the dogs

 

We see a:

 

1.      Desperate plea

2.      Disturbing response

3.      Daring retort

4.      Desired outcome

 

The Lord Jesus had been in the region of Galilee.  At the beginning of chapter 7, he discusses the whole question of clean and unclean.  The Jews made a big deal out of ritual cleanliness but they had forgotten about or ignored the uncleanness of their own hearts.  Now Jesus leaves Galilee and he heads to the northwest to the area of Tyre.

 

Now Tyre is where unclean people live, it’s Gentile territory.  Not only that, but there was a long history of interaction between the residents of this area and the Jews.  Some of it was good.  Hiram was an ancient king of Tyre and he had good relations with David and Solomon.  But as the years went by, things soured.  Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived around the same time as Christ and he said that the residents of Tyre were “notoriously our bitterest enemies.”  There was animosity and tension between the people of Tyre and the Jews.  This makes it all the more unusual for Jesus to go here.  In John’s gospel we find Jesus among the Samaritans at a certain point, but in that instance it made sense that he was there because Samaria was between Galilee and Jerusalem and he had to travel through there.  But here he goes out of his way to go to an unclean Gentile land where there’s hard feelings for the Jews and vice-versa. 

 

He entered into a house and tried to hide the fact that he was in town.  It appears that he wanted to retreat for a time and find some privacy.  However, this wasn’t possible.  His fame and reputation followed him even into these Gentile regions.

 

Word gets out and one of those who hears is a woman in a desperate situation.  She’s in anguish.  Mark makes it clear that she was as Gentile as they come.  She was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia – in other words, born in this very area.  She wasn’t a Jewish transplant, but a native daughter.  A Jewish reader would see this in Mark’s gospel and know right away what this says.  It says that she is unclean.  Actually, she has two strikes against her, because not only is she a Gentile, but she’s also a woman.  But she’s a woman with a problem.


That problem is her daughter, her little girl.  She was possessed by an evil spirit.  Literally, Mark says that it was an unclean spirit.  The daughter has three strikes against her.  Now we’re not told exactly what this unclean spirit did or how it manifested itself.  But the fact that this Gentile woman comes to Jesus is enough to tell us that the situation was bad.  She loved her little daughter dearly and she couldn’t stand to see her in this state.  So, she does two things.

 

First, she finds Jesus and she throws herself at his feet.  This was an act of submission, an act by which she recognized his authority and his ability to help.  She knew that Jesus was someone great and someone who could deliver if he wanted to.

 

But then the second thing she does is add words to her actions.  She begs Jesus to drive out the demon.  In fact, she persistently begs him, begging and begging.  This is a desperate plea for help. 

 

Loved ones, notice that this woman knows where to go for help.  She knows the right person to turn to and she doesn’t give up.  This Gentile woman with so much going against her, gets these things right.  She wasn’t brought up in a believing home, but in her desperation she knew that Jesus could help.  She acted in faith on the little knowledge she had of Jesus.  Think of how much richer we are in that regard.  Most of us have been raised in believing homes, raised as Christians, let’s remember where we need to turn when things are going badly for us or for our children and we’re faced with desperate times.  And let’s also remember where we need to turn when things are going well for us and for our children.  We can easily have Christ only as our 911 – just bring him in when we really need him, but remember that we need him to carry us and our families at all times, not just when the going gets rough.

 

The going was rough for this woman and her precious daughter and she turns to Christ for help.  His response has been the source of a lot of discussion among commentators and Bible scholars.  A lot of people find his response to be harsh and even offensive.  He doesn’t seem to be displaying any tact or diplomacy.  People read this and say, “Where is his compassion and love for this woman?” 

 

He says, “First, let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  At first this looks like a bit of a riddle.  But it’s not hard.  When he speaks about children, he’s referring to the Jews.  In the parallel passage in Matthew 15 he makes this more clear and he says that he came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Who are the dogs?  Well, they are the Gentiles, those dirty, unclean people.  Jesus uses the picture of a family eating dinner and he says that it wouldn’t be right for the parents to take the food and throw it to the little household doggies.  The children have to eat.  The blessings of Jesus are for the Jews.

 

The Lord Jesus seems to be blowing her off.  He’s using this picture to send her away and leave him alone.  Or is he?  There are a few things to consider here.  First, the Lord has been in Gentile lands before this and he has healed and helped Gentiles.  Just in the Gospel of Mark, we find the healing of the demon-possessed Gerasene in chapter 5.  Word of that probably got around.  Jesus would have a reputation for healing, not only Jews but also Gentiles.  And that Gerasene man was not only healed, he also became a follower or disciple of Christ.  Second, the Lord Jesus came to the region of Tyre.  That would seem in itself to send a message of hope to the woman.  Even though he wanted some space and privacy, he must have known that people would track him down and look for help from him.   

 

Brothers and sisters, I think it’s best for these reasons and others, to take Jesus’ words with a grain of salt.  He is portrayed here as a wise teacher who presents an argument to see what his pupil will do with it.  He wants her to make a good response so that he can help her.  The woman has to justify her request, she has to demonstrate her faith.  How desperate is she?  More importantly, how does she view Jesus and what he can do even for a Gentile like her?

 

Her retort to him is bold, it’s daring, it’s shrewd, and at the same time incredibly humble.  “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  She again acknowledges his authority, calling him “Lord.”  She agrees with what he’s said.  She doesn’t argue with him.  She doesn’t deny it or question it.  She acknowledges her low status.  She basically says, “Are you comparing me with a little doggie?  I’m in agreement with that.  I’m not a child in your house.  I’ll accept what you say and I’ll even find some encouragement in it because I know that even the little doggies get table scraps.  Can I have some of the scraps?”  She recognizes that the Jews have a priority in the history of redemption.  But she believes that Jesus is also a Saviour for Gentiles.  She believes that he will not turn her away empty-handed, but will also give bread to her.  He will restore the life of her beloved little daughter, set her free from this evil demon.

 

Now remember that the disciples were standing there near Jesus watching and listening to all of this unfold.  These disciples had a hard time receiving the kingdom as little children.  But now they witness a Gentile woman receiving the kingdom or the benefits of the kingdom as a little dog.  There’s a lesson there for them and for us about humility.  To receive what Jesus offers, to receive his bread, humility is essential.  Remember what 1 Peter 5:5 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  We definitely see that illustrated here as well.  For us to receive bread, for us to receive blessings from Christ, all of us need to humble ourselves before him, acknowledging that we too are not natural children in this household.  We don’t have rights before God.  We don’t have a right to demand or expect anything.  We only have grace.

 

The Syro-phoenician woman also received grace.  Jesus says in verse 29, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”  Those are the words she’s been longing to hear from Jesus’ lips.  Bread has been thrown to the dog and the dog has eagerly accepted it.  The Lord Jesus recognized this woman’s faith and praised it.  With her words she showed that she believed him and in his power, in his Lordship and authority.  With her words, she showed that she believed he had the power to save. 

 

It turns out that Jesus gives bread to everyone in the house.  To those who know their Bibles, this is not a surprise.  Already in the Old Testament, there were hints and signs that God’s salvation in the Messiah was going to be something global, something for every nation on the face of the earth.  We read from 1 Kings 17 and there are some remarkable parallels between that passage and our text.  God’s prophet Elijah goes to Zarephath, which is the same region.  He encounters a single Gentile woman with a child, a woman who is desperate for bread.  Through Elijah, God works healing and restoration.  The whole event was prophetic of what would happen here in Mark 7 and what still happens today around the world.  Today the gospel is continuing to go out to all peoples – and that’s as it should be because the gospel is for all people.  Jesus Christ is a Saviour for all kinds of men and women and children, not just people from one culture or one economic status, or one language. 

 

Psalm 87 is another passage which spoke prophetically about what happens here and afterwards.  In this Psalm we find a vision of what will happen with the Gentiles.  We find God’s love for Zion, but then we also find all these other nations mentioned.  These nations that were once Israel’s enemies – including Tyre.  They’ll all claim Zion as their birthplace.  So, even though this woman was a Syro-phoenician by birth, by looking to Christ in faith she can be counted as a true citizen of Zion – not a naturalized or adopted citizen, but a true citizen of God’s holy city.  If we read Mark 7 through the lens of Psalm 87, then this woman with her faith is transformed from a little doggie into one of the children around the table.  Here again, there is the amazing grace and power of Jesus Christ.  And it’s true also in our lives, isn’t it?

 

None of us are truly native born children of Zion.  I don’t think any of us can trace our biological ancestry back to Abraham.  By nature, through biology, we’re in the same boat as the Syro-phoenician woman – all of us are little doggies.  But through faith in Christ, we are transformed into true citizens of God’s city, true children in his family.  We are fed with his food, nurtured by his love, promised his inheritance.  And we should never cease to be amazed by the fact that this is all grace.  If we hold that thought in our minds, that will also bear fruit in the way that we regard others, also others who are not in the same social status as ourselves, or who come from a different culture, or whatever.  God’s grace has been wide and deep for us, it has to be wide and deep for them too and that has to be reflected in the way that we interact with them.  It was that way for our Lord Jesus in this passage.  He gave bread to this woman and did not hold her Gentile roots against her.  So, it has to be the same way for everyone who is united to Christ by faith. 

 

In verse 30, we find that the woman returned home and her child was lying on the bed and the demon was gone.  Don’t glance over the fact that she returned home.  That’s important because it shows that not only did she have faith with her words, she also demonstrated her faith with her actions.  Jesus said that the demon left her daughter and so she didn’t stick around.  She left right away and went home expecting to find it exactly the way that Jesus said it would be.  And so it was.  The demon was gone.  Completely gone, never to return again.  This little girl had been delivered from the oppression of the evil one and her life was restored, her relationship with her mother was restored.  In a lot of ways, thing were back to the way that they should be.  This was the desired outcome.    

 

While Mark doesn’t give a lot of detail in this account, it is worth noting that the early church had a tradition about the names of the woman and her daughter.  According to tradition, the woman’s name was Justa and her daughter’s name was Bernice.  This is worth noting because it tells us that the early church knew these accounts not to be fictional stories, but real events involving real people happening in real history. 

 

Today as we look back at this, we need to know that it also involved a real Saviour.  Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day were not eager to be fed the bread that he had to offer.  They were like children all right: spoiled children.  But here was a Gentile woman who recognized that Jesus could help, that he had the power to restore life and relationships.  The people in the church had it all before their eyes, but they couldn’t see it.  This woman from outside could see it and she came with faith and was blessed.  This is where the rubber hits the road for us too.  We are in the church, we have it all before our eyes.  The Lord Jesus comes to feed us every Sunday with his Word and sometimes with the sacraments.  Do we see it?  Do we accept it?  Or do we act like spoiled children who would rather have a different family with different food? 

 

And then of course, if we appreciate the fact that we are children in the house being fed by Christ, do we also invite others to join us for dinner, not to be treated as dogs getting the left-overs, but as children with us receiving the best food and drink on the table?  Do we share the vision of Psalm 87?  Loved ones, never forget that we have an impressive Saviour and his blessings are extended to one and all.

 

Let us pray:

 

Our heavenly God and Father,

 

It is such a privilege for us to call you “Father,” for us to be children seated around your table.  We thank you for making us such children through Jesus Christ.  We praise for your grace and mercy in him.  We’re glad for the food you give us, for the blessings that you shower on us.  We rejoice at the way you promise to restore everything and make it the way it should be.  Father, please give us even more grace through your Spirit.  Please help us to continue looking to Christ, not only in adversity, but also in times of comfort and peace and prosperity.  That’s hard for us to do sometimes, and so we ask for your help.  Father, please also work in us so that we grow in sharing the blessings we have at your table.  Help us to be as wide, generous and magnanimous as you are.  You are God almighty, great, loving and merciful.  May we always reflect your image and that of your Son.  We pray in him, AMEN.                     


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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