Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 11, 2015
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters 'table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
— Matthew 15:21-31, ESV
Most of Jesus’ public ministry was spent in the towns and synagogues that dotted the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He ventured occasionally into Judea and Jerusalem, being both a devout Jew and the Lord of the Temple. On rare occasions, Christ would venture off both the beaten path and the path less traveled to go where almost no Jewish religious leader would dare to go.
Here we find the Lord some forty miles north of His hometown in “the district of Tyre and Sidon.” He and His Jewish disciples find themselves deep in Gentile territory and harassed by “a Canaanite woman.” Why did Jesus go there? What purpose did it serve? What does it tell us about our life and work as Christians, today?
A Messianic Mission Trip
Jesus was raised Jewish, and His preference for Old Testament people is plain throughout the Gospels. He had Jewish family and friends. He picked Jewish men to be His first disciples. He wasn’t afraid to hang around tax collectors and prostitutes, but they were Jewish, too. The fact of the matter is that Jesus spent almost all of His time with people of His own particular race and culture.
It would be unseemly to say that Jesus was prejudiced against non-Jews, women, or people from different socio-economic classes. In the larger view, He certainly was not. However, He did prefer to hang around people who were like Him, for the most part. This behavior, named by the late missionary Donald McGavran, is called the homogenous unit principle. People tend to become Christians and congregate with other Christians without crossing barriers of race and class. It has always been this way, it will always be this way until we are united in Heaven (with some marvelous exceptions here on earth), and it is not necessarily a sin.
Having pride in your people is not a sin. Hanging around, even worshiping, with mostly your own kind of people is not a sin. But any belief that your own race is superior to other races, or any restriction of other kinds of people from entering into your areas of life and worship, is an abject sin. Pride is one thing, prejudice is another. Prejudice against another person because of color or class is a sin against humanity and God.
So what do we make of this situation when God became human, in Jewish skin, and seemed to shun a Canaanite woman? Christ even called her a “dog” and told her His “bread” (the word of God and the gospel) was for His kind of people, not hers. The disciples impolitely told Jesus to tell her to beat it. Have we discovered a sinful chink in our Lord’s otherwise perfect armor?
Heavens no! The Lord Jesus Christ, our sovereign God incarnate, did not venture north to discriminate against this woman, but to deliver this woman and her precious daughter. This was a messianic mission trip, one of a handful of Gospel stories in which Jesus went beyond the boundaries of the Old Covenant to make the New Covenant universal. Jesus went to her town intentionally, purposefully, and compassionately. Even His play on words was meant to be inviting, not insulting.
This lovely Lebanese woman understood, too. Her response to Jesus’ dialogue was witty and wise. Devoid of prejudice from either party, this unnamed woman made a most peculiar profession of faith in the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
A Peculiar Profession of Faith
Most professions of faith in Jesus Christ are just plain phony. They are made in response to a temporary excitement, guilt, or blessing. I’m sure twenty-thousand people professed faith in Jesus after He fed them with five loaves and two fish, but in the aftermath there were only twelve left who seemed to truly follow Him, and one of them turned out to be a traitor. I’ve witnessed more professions of faith than I can count in my experience as a Christian and pastor. Most of them turned out to be false. That’s why this Canaanite woman’s profession of faith is so peculiar. Jesus said it was the real deal!
Since Jesus said it was genuine, we really should take a very close look at it. The method of gospel call here is as peculiar, if not more so, than the profession of faith. But when God showed up at her doorstep, she stepped forward with a genuine profession of faith.
She was aware of the spiritual nature of life, albeit painfully because of her daughter’s demonic condition, and she knew she was on the losing side. She knew the only remedy was to plead for mercy to the Lord of Heaven and earth, and she recognized Jesus as such. She was humble, she was persistent, she was sincere. She trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord to deliver her from the tragic consequences of Satan and sin. Her God-given and self-professed faith was “great.”
It was grace that brought Jesus to her town. It was faith that saved her daughter and her soul. It was by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That sounds like a great profession of faith to me, and the entire story presents a perfect picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Picture of the Gospel
Jesus is the face of the grace of God in this and every story in Scripture. The Canaanite woman is the face of faith in God in this story. Many other faces appear in the aftermath. A large crowd of people apparently followed Jesus from this place of grace to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was a crowd of Gentiles who, after witnessing the miracles and hearing the message of Jesus Christ, “glorified the God of Israel.”
As Christ left His “Israel” to make disciples of people of other cultures, so should we. We should do it corporately, by sending and supporting missionaries. We should do it personally, by breaking away from our routines to intentionally share the gospel with other people.
The Christian life is the gospel life, and the gospel life means sharing the gospel. It no doubt begins at home, with godly child-rearing and candid presentations of faith between spouses, children, and other immediate members of a family. Put your loved ones at the feet of Jesus, like this Canaanite woman did, and watch Jesus work.
Remember that the gospel is for all people, red and yellow and black and white. And the gospel makes enemies friends. It makes friends between Canaanites and Jews. It makes friends between blacks and whites. It makes lost people, who are at enmity with God, into friends and children of God.
We do not need more activists in this world. We need more witnesses, witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Grace is the only solution to the dilemma of race and the many other problems that plague us. It dissolves our pride. It destroys our prejudices. It is the dynamite of God unto salvation. It brings about peace with God and peace among those with whom God is well pleased. Grace and peace to you!