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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Godly Compassion and Saving Faith
Text:Matthew 15:21-28 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2013
Added:2023-06-13
Updated:2023-07-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Now with Joyful Exultation
My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less 
Tell Me the Story of Jesus        
I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“Godly Compassion and Saving Faith”
Matthew 15:21-28
 
This passage speaks to us both of God’s compassion and also the nature of true, saving faith. As the passage begins in verse 21, we see that Jesus is ministering among Gentiles. He is in the region of Tyre and Sidon. And it is a Canaanite woman who comes to Him with the anguished cry, “Lord, Son of David have mercy on me!”
 
One commentor notes “Such a prayer would have shown great faith had she lived in Bethany or Jerusalem. But when we find that she came from Tyre and Sidon such a prayer may well fill us with surprise. It ought to teach us that it is grace, not place that makes people believers.” (J.C.  Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, V- 1, pg. 179)
 
As the Canaanite woman comes to Jesus, we see God’s grace at work in her life. In the anguished cry of the woman, we see the first characteristic of true saving faith. True saving faith recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. When the woman identifies Jesus as the Son of David, she shows that she recognizes that He is the Messiah spoken about in the Old Testament.
 
The theme of the Old Testament is the coming of the Messiah to redeem His people from their sins. We see that already in the “Mother Promise” of Scripture, also known as the “proto-evangelium” recorded in Genesis 3:15. That verse contains the first mention of the gospel as the Lord said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
 
And then, through the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, we read of the sin of God’s rebellious people; we read about the purity and perfection of God’s law, and the inability of people to live up to the law and obey it with righteous perfection. But we also read about that great promise – that the seed of the woman will crush the serpent. Scripture records how He will come to bring deliverance from sin, to bring salvation, to bring the gift of eternal life to His people. 
 
Furthermore, He will come from the line of Judah, specifically from David’s lineage. That is, of course, what the term “Son of David,” so frequently used, means. It means that Jesus is the promised descendant of David, the true Messiah, the eternal Christ in human flesh.
 
And this Canaanite woman understood that. She understood the true identity of Jesus. In that way, she was much different from most of the people in that day. Do you remember in Matthew 14 how King Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead?  (14:2). He wasn’t alone in that belief; in fact, there were all sorts of erroneous ideas concerning the true identity of Jesus.
 
We see that especially in the next chapter where in Matthew 16:13-14 we read Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’”
 
Most of the people in that great crowd had an erroneous idea of who Jesus was. And the same is true today. We live in a culture that declares it is a Christian culture, even though it is “post-Christian.” Most Americans say that they “believe in God,” and coins in the United States are engraved with the motto, IN GOD WE TRUST. But ask most Americans to explain the identity of Jesus Christ and many will say, “He was a great teacher.”  “He was a compassionate man.” “He was a religious leader on the order of Mohammed and Buddha, or even a god like Allah.” Or they will say that he is a myth and a legend, a person who is only a figment in a deluded mind’s imagination. 
 
How many people in our culture really understand or identify Jesus as being the Son of David? How many realize that He is the only Redeemer, promised long ago in Genesis 3:15? How many recognize that He is truly God, yet truly human, like us in every way except sin?  How many realize that He was born at the fullness of time to suffer, die, rise again and ascend into heaven, the only Mediator between God and man, the only One who fulfills Old Testament Messianic prophecy?
 
So many today are like most of the people in that great multitude so long ago. They “believe in Jesus” but they have His identity all wrong. They think of Him only as a little baby in a cute manger scene. Or as a man with a beard holding a staff and walking among sheep. Or they picture Him sitting around that table – not reclining as He did – having the last supper with His disciples. 
 
Those mental pictures of Jesus are impressed in people’s minds today, and many say, “I believe in that Jesus.” But many of those same people want no part of a bloody Jesus. They want no part of the One who suffered and died for sinners to appease the righteous and proper wrath of God against sin.  “That’s a little extreme,” they might say. “Just give me Jesus as a good man, an example to follow as a good teacher and compassionate leader who loved and accepted everybody. That’s the Jesus I believe in.”  Many in our culture may also picture Him on the cross, but the reality of what He is doing there – bearing the curse His people deserve, and all the agony of hell – completely escapes them.
 
But this Canaanite woman, remarkably, saw beyond all those partial pictures of who Jesus is. She saw the complete picture. She understood His true identity as the Son of David, the promised Messiah who alone can deliver and redeem. She had the first characteristic of true saving faith. She knew the true identity of Jesus, and He was the object of her faith.
 
The Power of Christ
 
True saving faith also believes Jesus is able to do what is otherwise impossible. This woman had an impossible situation on her hands. She said to Jesus, “My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.”
 
We read about the unique phenomenon of demon possession repeatedly in the gospels. Many biblical scholars believe that demon possession was unique to the time that Jesus and the Apostles were on the earth. They see demon possession as a direct result of the devil making every effort to derail the ministry of Jesus and the formation of the New Testament church. All are in agreement that demon possession had no human cure, and the people of the first century certainly understood that.
 
Some would have given up. They may have shrugged their shoulders and said, “This daughter is impossible to deal with. There is no human cure.  I’ll live with it stoically as I can…”  But not this woman. We read in verse 25 that “the woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’  she said.”
 
That is a second characteristic of true saving faith. We must recognize that we have a problem that we cannot cure ourselves. We are stained with sin, and there is no way for us to cleanse ourselves. All of our righteous deeds are like a filthy rag before God, in the words of Isaiah 64:6.
 
And even if we could somehow cleanse ourselves of the sins we have already committed, there are innumerable sins in front of us. We are infected with what the Heidelberg Catechism calls, “our continuing weakness.” (Q&A 81) It is the propensity to sin that David wrote about when he lamented, “My sin is always before me.” (Psa. 51:3) Until the day we die we will be sinners. Martin Luther likened sin to a man’s beard. You shave it off in the morning and you have it back with a five o’clock shadow in no time at all.
 
Most people take sin very lightly. It is simply a “shortcoming” that keeps us from being as good as we could be. Sin robs us of our full potential, but it is not deserving of damnation, not deserving of hell. We are still good people, despite our sins, and God will accept us for our good deeds, especially if our good deeds outnumber our bad deeds, most people think.
 
But, of course, in the sight of the holy, righteous, pure God all sin is truly heinous and repulsive. Sin does indeed require punishment, even damnation. The Westminster Larger Catechism asks, in Question 152, “What does every sin deserve at the hands of God?”
 
        Answer: Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and
        against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and
        cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.
  
True saving faith will recognize the heinous nature of sin; true saving faith will recognize that we cannot cleanse ourselves, that we need divine cleansing that only God can give. True saving faith will follow the example of this Canaanite woman, and cry out “Lord, help me!” 
 
Debtors to Grace
 
A third characteristic of true saving faith is that it recognizes that we have no claim on Jesus; it recognizes that we are debtors to His grace.
 
Jesus responds to this woman’s cry for help by pointing out that He was sent to save the lost sheep of Israel and that she is not an Israelite but a Canaanite. He says what seems, on the surface, something almost rude. In verse 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
 
And the woman agrees to this statement of Jesus! She is not offended. She realizes that as a Canaanite she has no claim on the Redeemer of Israel. She recognizes that she is a debtor to grace. 
 
Many others in her situation might point to what they perceive as value in their life. They would point to something in their life that they believe would entitle – indeed obligate – Jesus to help them. They might say, “I know I’m not perfect, but I’ve tried to live by the golden rule…”  Or, “I have my share of sins, but you know my life took some really tough twists and turns, and anyone in my situation would have done what I did, so you should still help me…”
 
But this woman doesn’t try to use some experience in her life to manipulate Jesus. She instead agrees with Him. She admits that she is a debtor to grace, and humbly says in verse 27, “Yes, Lord. 
 
But she adds a statement of great faith. Although a debtor to grace she yet points out, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
 
Then Jesus answered, in verse 28, “‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”
 
She had three crucial characteristics of true saving faith: First, she recognized Jesus as the Messiah and He was the object of her faith. Second, she believed Jesus could do what is humanly impossible. Third, she recognized that she had no claim on Jesus, but was a debtor to His grace.
 
This Canaanite woman exemplified the type of faith Hebrews 11 describes, when it declares in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
 
Faith Tested
 
By way of application, we also see in this passage that God often tests our faith by not giving us, at least initially, an immediate answer. The Canaanite woman certainly found that out. Verse 23 begins with these words: “Jesus did not answer a word.”
 
It is not because Jesus wasn’t listening, or because He isn’t compassionate, loving and kind. Not at all. Sometimes the Lord doesn’t give us an immediate answer to our requests because He desires to test our faith, to see that it is genuine, and also to purify our faith so that in the description of 1 Peter 1:7, the dross is removed. Peter describes the trials of life and the testing of our faith, and then writes, “These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
 
Throughout biblical history, we see that our Lord often did not give an immediate answer to His people, not because He is unkind, but because by causing His people to wait on Him He shapes and molds His own after the likeness of His Son. 
 
Consider how long Abraham and Sarah waited for the child God had promised to them to be born. Genesis 21:5 describes how “Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born to him.” Or consider how Israel waited four hundred years before being delivered from their bondage in Egypt. Or consider from the Psalms how often David felt that the Lord was not giving him a quick enough answer to his prayers. He finally came to the conclusion, expressed in Psalm 27:14, that we are to “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”
    
By not giving us an immediate answer, the Lord also causes us to be more faithful in prayer. True saving faith persists in prayer. This Canaanite woman, when Jesus initially didn’t answer her, persisted. When He said that He only came for the lost sheep of Israel, she persisted in her request. Verse 25 describes how “The woman came and knelt before Him. ‘Lord, help me!’  she said.”
 
When Jesus said that it is not right to give the children’s food to the dogs, she persisted. She set an example for all of us to be persistent with our petitions to the Lord, along with our praises and adoration.
 
In Luke 18, Jesus tells us about a widow who persistently went to a judge in her town to plead for justice in a case where she had been wronged by her adversary. In verses 4 and 5 we read: “For some time he (the judge) refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’
 
“And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice…’”  (6-8)
 
And perhaps you remember how Luke introduces that parable of the persistent widow. In Luke 18:1 he writes, “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Sometimes the Lord doesn’t answer us right away to test our faith and to keep His true children persistent in prayer.
 
Compassion for People Different from Us
 
A second application: This passage teaches us that we are to be compassionate in ministering to people who are not like us. We have already seen that the seeming harshness of Jesus toward the woman was a test of her faith, but it was also done to teach the disciples to have compassion on the Gentiles – on all types of people, not just Jewish people like themselves. 
 
The disciples were undoubtedly surprised that Jesus would go to Tyre and Sidon and minister to a crowd that was almost entirely Gentile. Jews and Gentiles did not get along. The Jews commonly called Gentiles dogs, which was anything but complimentary. The disciples, being Jews, would look at this Canaanite woman with a certain amount of disdain.  She was a Gentile dog, she wasn’t one of their own, a descendant of Israel. Thus, in verse 23 we read ...His disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’”
 
But Jesus, through His interaction with the Canaanite woman, not only tests her faith, but also shows His disciples their need to treat all people with compassion. By what He does in healing her daughter dramatically shows the disciples that the gospel isn’t just for Israel, it is for the world, and they need to accept others who are not like themselves.
 
That is a lesson that still needs to be learned in the church, isn’t it?  We still often have trouble accepting those who don’t fit our conception of what a believer should look like, or dress like, or what area of town they should come from. Christians today can be, unfortunately, just as unkind as the disciples were in verse 23: “His disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’”
 
J.C. Ryle, in his commentary on this passage, notes: “Christ’s people are often less gracious and compassionate than Christ Himself…Let us tell men continually that they must not judge…Christ by Christians.”  (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, V-1 pg. 181)
 
That is a sad but true observation, and one that runs contrary to what we should be. Instead, we are called to be “a letter from Christ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts...known and read by everyone…”  (2 Cor. 3:2-3)
___
 
As we close out this passage and hear that exclamation of Jesus in vs 28, “Woman, you have great faith!” we are reminded that the Bible calls us to examine our faith. 
 
If you and I were in the same situation as that woman so long ago, in great need with a problem that had no human solution - and, of course, because of our sin we all are in that same predicament - would the Lord say of you and me, “You have great faith!”?
 
Is Jesus the object of our faith – Jesus as He is portrayed in the Bible, truly God, yet truly human, the only Mediator between God and man? How persistent are our prayers? Do we take time to examine our faith in the light of God’s Word? 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless, of course, you fail the test?”
 
By God’s sovereign grace and Holy Spirit’s power, may we find that we, too, have the gift of saving faith. And may the testing of our faith strengthen it, as we always focus on the only proper object of saving faith: Our Lord and Savior, the Son of David revealed in Scripture, Jesus Christ! Amen.
 
 
 
sermon outline:
 
A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out,
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Matthew 15:22a-b
 
                    “Godly Compassion and Saving Faith”
                                      Matthew 15:21-28
 
I.  In this passage Jesus is ministering to Gentiles rather than Jews (21).
     As a Canaanite woman comes to Him, we see that true saving faith:
     1) Identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord (22, 25, 27)
 
 
 
 
     2) Believes Jesus is able to do what is otherwise impossible (22, 25)
 
 
 
 
     3) Recognizes that we have no claim on Jesus; we are debtors to His
         grace (26-27)
 
 
 
 
II.  Applications:
        1) God often tests our faith by not giving an immediate answer to our
             prayers (23) and by allowing trials (22; 1 Peter 1:7), which causes  
             us to be persistent in prayer (25, 27; Luke 18:1-8)
 
 
 
 
      2) We are to be compassionate in ministering to people who are not
           like us: The seeming harshness of Jesus (23-26) was purposely
           done, not to be mean to the woman, but to teach the disciples to
           have compassion on the Gentiles – on all types of people, not
           just Jewish people like themselves (23b-c). 
 
 
 
 
 
        3) We are also to test (examine) our faith (28; 2 Corinthians 13:5)
 
 
 

 

 
 
 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Ted Gray

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