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The Mother Jesus Praised

Gospel Favorites

May 12, 2024

by: Jack Lash Series: Gospel Favorites | Category: Mothers Day | Scripture: Matthew 15:21–28

I. Introduction
A. It is my great honor to preach a Mothers Day sermon today. It is my delight to exalt and appreciate our moms for all their love and service.
B. Matthew 15:21-28 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre & Sidon. 22 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.” 23 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.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
II. This story is a strange one!
A. Jesus was a man who was responsive to the needs of others. In the gospels His life is a pattern of moving from one human need to another. When people came to Him in need, He was quick to respond, even if it meant going out of His way. Men and women, Jew and Gentile, young and old, slave and free – He dropped everything in order to help others.
1. One thing which can surely be said of Jesus is that He was willing – willing to help.
2. So, it surprises us and even shocks us when here, the One who said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do” (John 14:13), gets humbly asked to help a woman with a demon-possessed daughter, but instead of springing into action, Jesus ignores her! “He did not answer her a word!” He acts like she’s not even there.
B. But there’s something else strange going on here. It’s the disciples’ reaction. They begged him to send her away, because she was annoying. The way Jesus acts here shocks us, but it didn’t shock the disciples at all. They actually enjoyed it when Jesus acted harshly toward this woman.
1. In fact, this was the first thing Jesus did which DIDN’T shock the disciples! “This is more like it!” This was finally a style of ministry they could get into!
2. You see, at this time in history, male Jewish attitudes toward Gentiles and women were appalling by modern standards – and by Biblical standards. And so Jesus’ initial approach to this woman didn’t bother the disciples at all.
3. Instead of being concerned that Jesus was giving this woman the cold shoulder, the thing which bothered them was that she kept hanging around in spite of His disinterest in her.
4. Instead of being disturbed that He wasn’t helping the daughter, they were disturbed that He was even tolerating this mother’s annoying appeals.
C. But instead of rebuking the disciples for their heartless request to send her away, Jesus says to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (24) I.e. I wasn’t sent to you!
1. We can see that this is way out of character for Jesus.
a. We’ve already seen Jesus spring into action with great compassion eight chapters earlier when the Roman centurion approached him about his sick servant (Matt.8).
b. We’ve seen Him act with great tenderness and compassion toward the Samaritan woman in John 4, when He reached out to her at the well.
2. But the disciples were so entrenched in their culture that they didn’t pick up on it. They’d been hearing this kind of talk ever since they were born. So they just joined in: “Send her away, Jesus! She’s a nuisance!”
3. Jesus is clearly up to something.
D. At this point the woman comes over and bows down right before Jesus, "Lord, help me!"
1. But shockingly, Jesus persists in and even intensifies His coldness, "It’s not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
2. This may seem rude and unfeeling to us, but it wasn’t taken that way by this woman. It seems to be what she expected, what she may have even thought she deserved. Perhaps this was how she was used to being treated by Jews and by men.
3. But if Jesus’ statement is shocking to us, her response is even more so.
4. We don’t even know how she knew who Jesus was, but even His stunningly unfriendly remark did not throw her off her game, did not shake her absolute confidence in His goodness & grace.
5. And in dramatic fashion she ends the contest with one final master stroke, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
6. Folks, this is amazing! Jesus never loses debates! Many tried to ensnare Him. Many tried to corner Him or humiliate Him by their clever arguments. He ALWAYS walked away the winner.
7. Except here! Here He is bettered – not by the clever attacks of an enemy, but by the desperate pleas of a humble Gentile mother.
8. At every point, she has matched His show of resistance with her persistent humility and need. And now finally, she has outdone Him – just as the importunate widow outdid her judge (Luke 18:1-8). Her faith has melted His ability to continue His pretense of coldness – just like Jesus wanted! She has passed the test with flying colors!
E. And so suddenly Jesus completely changes His tune. Instead of being rude or harsh, suddenly Jesus is acting the part of the humble one. And instead of putting the woman down, He highly exalts her with a song of praise. "O woman, your faith is great!"
1. Instead of ignoring her, He becomes her servant and heals her daughter at once (“You want it? It’s yours!”).
2. Instead of acting like she’s not good enough, He starts acting like she’s the best of all!
3. He now refers to her not as “Woman” but as “O Woman,” exposing His deep affection for her – in spite of the fact that up until this moment He has been acting like He doesn’t care.
4. “O Woman, your faith is great!” And He praises her right in front of His disciples!
5. Jesus was often struck by the faith of His disciples, but it was always about how SMALL their faith was: “O ye of little faith!” He never once praised the largeness of their faith.
6. In fact, Jesus didn’t do a lot of praising of people when He was here. He did a lot more criticizing than affirming, a lot more disapproving than approving.
7. This wasn’t because Jesus was a negative person, it was because He came into a sinful world.
8. Jesus didn’t come to celebrate us because we were doing so well, He came to save us because we were doing so badly! If mankind deserved God’s approval Jesus didn’t need to come.
9. But now He says to this Gentile woman, “Wow, Woman! You have mega-faith!” That’s actually the word Jesus uses here for great: the Greek word MEGA. Jesus was impressed!
III. So, how should we view this strange and momentary unfriendliness on the part of our Lord?
A. Here is the perfect man, who is not of the world and therefore does not live like the world, who always resolutely refuses to conform to the sinful patterns of those around Him, who knows no fear of men, who is kind to the ones everyone else is spurning and severe toward those everyone else is trying to please. And yet here for a few moments He seems to grow cold and distant, and to adopt the prevalent sexist and racist attitudes of the time. What are we to make of this?
B. Anyone who reads this who thinks it’s possible for Jesus to do something wrong, will inevitably conclude that He does so here. Amazingly, they think they can judge the greatest paragon of love the world has ever known. In its arrogance, the human heart thinks it knows how to love people better than Jesus Himself!
C. But those of us who call Him Lord, who know He can’t do anything wrong, we come to a story like this looking to find a key which unlocks the beauty and glory of Christ in this passage.
D. It’s clear by what happens at the end, of course, that His heart wasn’t actually cold and hard.
E. And so we’ve got to try to figure out why He acted unloving even while love reigned in His heart.
F. Obviously, He is making a point of some kind.
G. As usual, the best way to figure this out is to look for other places in Scripture which are similar.
H. For instance, there is the story of Job.
1. Similar to this woman, God allowed horrible things to happen to Job and his family – and then when Job cried out to the Lord, for a long while God was silent. And Job felt ignored.
2. Also, similar to this woman’s story, God later spoke to Job and honored him in front of others for his faith, and gave him what he wanted.
I. Another example is the story of Sennacherib and his siege of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37).
1. God allowed the enemy to besiege them even though they had humbled themselves before Him.
2. When they cried out for help, for a time He didn’t answer.
3. Their prayer is found in Ps.44:22-26, “We’re killed all day long, like sheep being slaughtered. Wake up! Why are you sleeping? Rouse yourself! Stop rejecting us! Why are you hiding your face from us? Why are you ignoring what’s happening to us? Our faces are getting rubbed in the dirt; we’re lying in the dust. Rise up and help us! Save us and display your steadfast love!”
4. Finally, of course, God did step forward and deliver them dramatically from the enemy.
J. And there is the story of the healing of Lazarus, when, in spite of the appeals of his sisters, Jesus purposely delayed going to heal His friend until it was too late. He ignored their pleas and Lazarus died. Jesus came across as being calloused and cold-hearted. But it became clear when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead that the delay was actually a part of His grace. He was teaching them to trust.
K. And then there’s Jesus’ parable of the unrighteous judge who wouldn’t listen to the pleas of the importunate widow in Luke 18:1-5, but eventually broke down and gave her what she asked for.
L. — There are more stories like this in the Bible. For instance, there are many Psalms crying out to God and yet perceiving that God is not listening. And then when God finally does intervene, language is used as if for a time God had hidden His love toward them, as opposed to not having loved them at all:
1. — Psalm 98:2-3 “The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
M. But perhaps the greatest of them all is when this same Jesus was insulted and rejected and given over to the powers of darkness – for a short time.
1. But then God intervened and raised Him up and delivered Him from the power of evil.
N. The fact is, sometimes Jesus acts differently outwardly than what’s in His heart. Sometimes Jesus comes across differently than He really is.
1. — E.g. remember on the afternoon of the resurrection, when Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and they didn’t realize who He was. When they got to Emmaus, Luke 24:28-29 tells us “He acted as if He was going farther, but they urged Him to say with them.”
2. — But He wasn’t actually intending to go further.
3. God speaks the truth. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t allow us to get false impressions.
4. William Cowper understood this when he said: “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” It’s almost like Cowper had this story in mind when he penned that great line. 
O. Not only that, but think about two more things:
1. Even though there is a sense in which Jesus “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He also made it clear that He was paving the way for the Gentiles to be included as well.
a. In fact, there’s one time He did this that has special relevance to this story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. In Luke 4 there’s a story about Jesus in Nazareth. Even though it was His home town, Jesus was not well received in in Nazareth. And He used this to hint that, just as in the day of Elijah, He was going to extend His grace outside the community of Israel.
b. Luke 4:24-26 “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.”
c. He’s talking about the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in 1Kings 17:7-16 as an illustration of how God extended His grace outside of Israel in that day.
d. So, before Jesus ever went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, He had already clearly indicated that the grace of God extends outside of Israel and, in particular, to people in the region of Tyre & Sidon, which is where Zarephath was, and where this mother and her demon-possessed daughter lived. 
e. So, when Jesus says to the mother of this demon-possessed girl, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” God wants us to interpret this in light of what He’d already said about His grace extending beyond Israel to Tyre and Sidon. In other words, as the story is unfolding, He wants us to know that Jesus is saying this to test her, much like God told Abraham to sacrifice his son even though He didn’t really want him to sacrifice Isaac.
2. It was the Holy Spirit who was moving this woman to keep reaching out to Jesus in faith. So even as Jesus is acting uninterested, He was active in this woman’s heart, moving her to keep seeking Him in spite of how He was coming across.
a. On the OUTSIDE Jesus was acting disinterested and unconcerned. But on the INSIDE He was cheering this woman on, "Keep it up, my beloved daughter, keep it up!"
b. Visibly Jesus was acting uninvolved and uninterested, but invisibly Jesus was carrying her along to where she needed to go. 
IV. Let’s focus in more on WHY Jesus behaved like this. 
A. I said I think He was testing this dear woman. I’m not saying He did this to discern whether she had faith, nor even so much to increase her faith. I believe it was to demonstrate her faith for all to see.
1. I think Jesus gave this dear mother the hardest test because she was the best student in the class and He wanted to use her example to inspire the other students.
2. And I think Jesus is setting His disciples up to see how wrong their attitude was towards outsiders, just like He did by making a Samaritan the hero of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
B. This incident occurred when Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon, just north of the land of Israel. It is the only time Jesus ministered outside of Jewish territory (though, of course, He had been in Egypt as a baby.)
1. And while they were there in Tyre & Sidon, this is the only thing we’re told about which happened! In both Matthew and Mark, they go to Tyre and Sidon, this incident happens, and they come right back.
2. It seems that Jesus went all the way to Tyre & Sidon just so this story could occur and be written down for us, so He would be able to help this woman’s daughter, and especially so His disciples (and we as well) could learn another important lesson of faith.
3. Seven chapters before this in Matthew – and three in Mark – is the story of when the disciples were in the boat and Jesus calmed the storm. “Master, don’t You care that we’re perishing?” (Mark 4:38) And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)
4. It’s as if Jesus took His disciples on a field trip all the way up to Tyre and Sidon just to see what He was talking about. And they come to this woman and Jesus acts like a scary storm but the woman still believes. And He points to her and says, “That’s what I’m talking about! That’s how I want YOU to be even in a storm!”
C. And not only does she demonstrate real faith to the disciples, but as a Gentile woman – a person the disciples think they have absolutely nothing to learn from – she humbles them as well!
D. And here we see the point of all this. Jesus is killing two birds with one stone.
1. First, He’s teaching a lesson of faith.
a. At times everything seems to go wrong and it’s so easy to think that Jesus isn’t paying attention to your needs or your prayers. At times it’s easy to think that He’s got you stuck in a bad place and doesn’t care. But this woman shows us how we must refuse to think of Jesus as uncaring!
b. Jesus wants us to remember that He smiles at us in love even when He lets us experience pain.
c. Jesus wants us to have such confidence in His love for us that we resist any thought that He is aloof or cold or hard.
2. Secondly, He’s exposing our sinful tendency to disregard and disdain people who are different than us and think we have nothing to learn from them – instead of seeing them as our equals.
V. Conclusion
A. In my opinion, this is the best Mothers Day passage in the Bible. Nowhere else do we find on the lips of our Lord Himself such high praise for the faithful work of a mother in caring for her child.
1. In spite of how painful & scary it must have been for this dear woman to see her daughter being tormented by a demon, she did just what she should have done.
2. She recognized her child’s problem for what it was – a spiritual problem. She didn’t excuse it or deny it or defend it.
3. She addressed her child’s need with great determination. She subordinated her own convenience to her child’s welfare.
4. She knew where to go for help. She knew Jesus was ultimately what her child needed.
5. She did not seek the Lord’s help casually, but desperately and tenaciously.
6. Her love for her daughter and her desire to get help for the little girl, drove her to be bold and even audacious – crossing social barriers to speak to a man in public, to speak to a Jew. Her love trumped her natural insecurity and fear of being humiliated.
7. Her confidence in the Lord’s power and love never wavered – in spite of setbacks.
8. She had everything Jesus was looking for, and He honors her for it.
B. And yet this passage has been a stumbling block for some. They are not ready to deal with a Jesus who disturbs us, who is not safe, or tame, or predictable.
1. But blessed are those who are willing to take Him as He is, without improvement or adjustment.
2. They find out that He’s much better than tame/safe/predictable.
3. Once we get over the hump of letting Him be God and not cramming Him into our little box, we discover He is better than we could have ever imagined. And this passage helps us to see that.
4. But He IS willing to let His children experience pain and uncertainty and confusion – in order to get them to a better place.
5. This is another one of those stories where Jesus dazzles us with His grace, but also reminds us that He is God – not living up to our standards but insisting we live up to His.
6. And, as Jesus said to John the Baptist, “Blessed is he who is not offended by Me.” (Matt.11:6)

VI. Communion
A. One of the reasons I love this story is that I have always felt like the dog which feeds on the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.
1. I wasn’t one of the children who got to sit at the table while I was growing up, but I was able to lick up a few crumbs which fell from the table where the children were.
2. And those crumbs for me were the bread of life.
3. Sadly, many of the children at the table never really get it. They don’t realize how precious and delicious is the feast they’ve been served.
4. But how blessed are those who have eyes to see! How blessed are those who taste and see the goodness of the Lord.