The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 3, 2017

Matthew 15:21-28

Strive For a Great Faith!

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (NIV1984)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

What is the difference between a “good” job and a “great” job? Which one would you rather have? What is the difference between a “good” friend and a “great” friend? Which one would you rather have? What is the difference between a “good” retirement and a “great” retirement? Which one would you rather have?

The distinction between something that is “good” and something that is “great” can be quite subjective. What seems “good” to one person can be “great” to another person and vice-versa. The question of which one we would rather have is all but universal. Why settle for “good” when we can have “great”?

As we turn our attention once again to the Gospel of Matthew the Holy Spirit gives us an opportunity to see the difference between “good” and “great.” Last Sunday we saw how Peter’s faith in Jesus enabled him to step out of the boat and walk on water. Peter had a “good” faith— even if the Lord said it was a “little faith” which doubted. (Matthew 14:31) Our sermon text for today, on the other hand, focuses our attention on a woman who had a “great” faith!

Our goal this morning, my friends, is to see how the woman with “great faith” serves as a wonderful example for us. With that in mind, let’s study this text under the theme: Strive For a Great Faith! As we study this portion of God’s holy Word we will see two things. First, we’ll see that a great faith enables us to humbly turn to Jesus for help. Then we’ll see that a great faith empowers us to boldly expect Jesus’ help.

Our text for today picks up shortly after where last Sunday’s text left off. After Jesus and His disciples had crossed over to the other side of the lake and after Jesus had miraculously healed all the sick people who were brought to Him for help, some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus with a gripe. They complained, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2). Jesus responded to this complaint about His disciples being “unclean” by reminding the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that it is both wrong and hypocritical to put the traditions of men over and above the Word of God. When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and said that the Pharisees and the teachers of the law took offense at being called hypocrites the Lord explained to His disciples that what makes a person “clean” or “unclean” in the eyes of the God of heaven does not center on outward things such as eating food with unwashed hands. No rather, what makes a person “clean” or “unclean” in the eyes of the God of heaven is what is in a person’s heart and what comes out of a person’s mouth.

With those events serving as the backdrop Matthew now introduces us to a woman with “great faith.” Why does the Lord Jesus hold this woman up as an example of great faith? Because in a time of great need this woman’s great faith enabled her to humbly turn to Jesus for help. Look at verses 22-25 of our text. Matthew writes, “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’ Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.”

We cannot overlook the fact that this woman was a Canaanite and not a descendant of Abraham. This meant that humanly speaking she did not have any right to come to Jesus and ask for His help. Why then did she even bother to come to Jesus in the first place? Because she had great faith! This Canaanite woman’s great faith led her to believe with all her heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the “Lord,” the “Son of David,” the long awaited Promised Messiah. This Canaanite woman’s great faith led her to believe with all her heart that as the Promised Messiah Jesus was the only One who had the power to help her daughter who was “suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Did Jesus’ apparent lack of interest stop this woman from humbly coming to Him for help? No! Why? Because she had great faith! Did the fact that Jesus’ own disciples tried to get the Lord to send her away because she was bothering them stop this woman from humbly coming to Jesus for help? No! Why? Because she had great faith!

What a wonderful example for us, my friends. There may be times in our life when we might feel as though we do not have the right to go to Jesus for help. Perhaps we have not been as faithful to Jesus as we know He expects us to be. Perhaps the conduct of our life has not exactly been exemplary. There may be others who tell us that we do not have the right to humbly go to Jesus for help— for the very same reasons that we don’t feel as though we have that right. There may even be times when we do go to Jesus for help, but from our perspective it seems as though He is not interested in helping us. Should we simply give up and go away? Not at all! We need to follow this woman’s example of a great faith and in all humility kneel before our God and cry out, “Lord, help me!” A great faith does indeed enable us to humbly turn to Jesus for help— even in the face of opposition.

At the same time, a great faith also empowers us to boldly expect Jesus’ help. Look at verses 26-27 of our text. Matthew writes, “He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’”

Now at first glance it might seem as though Jesus’ response to this woman was a little harsh, but in reality it was not. While dogs in Jesus’ day were mostly scavengers and would have never been allowed inside someone’s home, the Greek word which Jesus used here in our text very literally refers to “little dogs”— dogs which were kept as household pets. At the same time Jesus makes it extremely clear to this Canaanite woman that it would not be “proper” or “right” to take food away from the master’s children and feed it to their dogs. What Jesus is emphasizing here is that as the Promised Messiah His ministry centered primarily— not exclusively, but primarily— on dispensing God’s grace and God’s blessings to God’s children, the Chosen People of Israel.

Did that reality shake this woman’s faith? Not in the least! She accepted Jesus’ explanation. She agreed with the fact that as the Messiah Jesus’ work and Jesus’ blessings were intended primarily for God “children”— the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. She understood that her place in God’s Kingdom was “under the table” like a “little dog.” At the same time she boldly reminded Jesus that she was only asking for “crumbs,” the blessings that Jesus could give to her and to her daughter without depriving the Master’s “children” of anything at all. What a humble faith! What a bold faith! What a great faith!

Again, this woman’s faith is a wonderful example for us, my friends. In all humility we can go to Jesus for help and boldly expect that He will indeed help us! Why can we be so bold? Why can we expect Jesus to help us? Because the gift of faith which God Himself has created in our hearts not only makes us one of God’s “children,” but the gift of saving faith that God Himself has created in our hearts empowers us to expect our God to keep the promises He has made to us on the pages of His holy Word: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will l deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15); “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7); “He who did not spare his own Son, (Pointing to the cross) but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). You are the children of God! You are heirs of your heavenly Father’s Kingdom! So follow the example of this Canaanite woman. No matter whether you need the “main course” or just the “crumbs” of God’s blessings boldly come to Jesus and expect His help!

Now look at the closing verse of our text, verse 28. Matthew concludes, “Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” You don’t need to raise your hand, but is anyone here thinking to themselves, “I wish I could have a faith like that”? If so, I want to share something with you. The Greek word which is translated here as “great” is a derivative of the word “megas.” As I was researching the background of this Greek word I came across a statement which I personally found to be eye opening. It reads, “According to the context, the emphasis of megas varies in translation: fully grown, important, magnificent, powerful.”

A “megas” faith, a “great” faith, a “magnificent” faith, a “powerful” faith is a faith that is “fully grown”! How can your faith become “fully grown” if it is not already? Let me suggest two things. First and foremost: feed your faith! Feed your faith with the spiritually nutritious food of God’s holy Word and God’s holy Sacrament. The more you read and study God’s Word, the more you attend church and Bible class, the more you come to the altar of the living God to receive His holy Supper— the “greater” and the more “fully grown” your faith will become!

Secondly: exercise your faith! Just as a “couch potato” tends to have weak muscles due to inactivity, so also a “Sunday morning Christian” tends to have a weak faith due to “inactivity.” Ask the good Lord to help you exercise your faith every single day— no matter where you are, no matter what you are doing and no matter whom you are with. In other words, put your faith into action! Look for ways that you can let your faith shine in your life! And as we look around, my friends, it is not difficult to see the many opportunities we have to exercise our faith and to put our faith into action, is it. For example, in your bulletin today you have contact information for how you can help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. You don’t have to send them your entire nest egg. Every little bit helps. And as James reminds us, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16) — so keep them in your daily prayers. On a more local scale there are a number of charitable organizations right here in Sonoma County that would give you opportunities to exercise your faith— whether it’s by given them financial help or by volunteering or both. If you narrow the focus even more I am sure you can see opportunities in both your biological family and your church family to exercise your faith. It doesn’t have to be something “big.” It doesn’t have to be something expensive. Simply talking about your faith while you are visiting with someone, simply sending a Christian themed card in the mail or simply taking the time to call someone on the phone is a wonderful way to exercise your faith. Somewhere I think I remember Someone saying something like, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

As you feed your faith with the spiritually nutritious food which God Himself has given to you and as you exercise your faith in your daily life God the Holy Spirit will enable you to have a “megas” faith, a “great” faith, a “magnificent” faith, a “powerful” faith, a faith that is “fully grown.”

What is the difference between a “good” job and a “great” job? Which one would you rather have? What is the difference between a “good” friend and a “great” friend? Which one would you rather have? What is the difference between a “good” retirement and a “great” retirement? Which one would you rather have? What is the difference between a “good” faith and a “great” faith? Which one would you rather have? Which one does your God want you to have?

May God grant that by His grace and with His help you will indeed strive for a great faith— a faith which enables you to humbly turn to Jesus for help, a faith which empowers you to boldly expect Jesus’ help.

To God be the glory!

Amen