The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 20, 2023
The Church God Wants:
A Church for All People!
21Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A 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.”
23Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
27“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28Then 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,
“I want a church that….” How would you complete that sentence? Would you say something like, “I want a church that is upbeat and positive, one that doesn’t talk about ‘sin’ all the time.” Would you say something like, “I want a church that uses hymns that are fun to sing, hymns that make me feel good.” Would you say something like, “I want a church where the pastor is both energetic and entertaining.” Would you say something like, “I want a church that will show me how to make myself a better person, a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend. Would you say something like “I want a church where the people are like me— they look like me, they talk like me, they act like me.” “I want a church that….” How would you complete that statement?
Hopefully you recognize that the statement, “I want a church that…” is not the proper perspective to have on the church. Since God Himself bought the Church with His own holy, precious, innocent blood (Pointing to the cross) the proper perspective to have when it comes to the church is: What Does God Want in a Church? That is the theme of the new sermon series that we are beginning today. Over the course of the next five weeks we will be looking at what God want in His Church. As we begin this sermon series let’s see that when it comes to His Church— God Wants a Church for All People!
The fact that God wants His Church to be for all people was emphasized very clearly in our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 56:1, 6-8) After focusing our attention on the “foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD,” the God of Israel says, “Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:6, 7). Did God’s Chosen People always take these words to heart? Not always. As you know from your own reading and studying of God’s Word, in Jesus’ day there was a tremendous amount of animosity between the Jews and the Gentiles. That mutual “dislike” helps us to understand the depth of the opening verses of our text. Matthew writes, “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.’”
Matthew’s refence to “Leaving that place” is a reference to the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Capernaum was located. Recent events— such as the beheading of John the Baptist, the attempt to make Jesus king “by force” and the growing opposition of the Pharisees— prompted Jesus to go to the “region of Tyre and Sidon,” which is in modern-day Lebanon. While Jesus once again wanted some quiet time so that He could teach His disciples, we see that once again news of His arrival spread quickly.
One of the people who heard about Jesus’ arrival was a “Canaanite woman.” As you know, the Canaanites were the ancient enemies of the Israelites. This woman, however, knew that she had to go to Jesus and beg for His help! Why? Because she was living in a nightmare! Something terrible had happened to her daughter. There was something inside of her, something that was tormenting her, something that was controlling her. She was “suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Like any mother whose child is “suffering terribly” this woman would do anything to get help for her daughter. And so when she heard that Jesus of Nazareth had come to the area she automatically went to Him for help!
Why go to Jesus? Because she knew Who He is! She knew that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Promised Messiah! How do we know that she had faith in Jesus as the Messiah? Her faith in Jesus revealed itself in how she addressed Him, “Lord, Son of David.” Whatever she understood of the covenant that the Lord had established with Abraham and his descendants, whatever she understood of the promises and the prophecies that the Lord had revealed through His servants, the prophets— such as the prophet Isaiah— the faith of this Canaanite woman led her to believe that Jesus is the Messiah! The faith of this Canaanite woman led her to believe that Jesus was the only One who had the power to help her daughter. The faith of this Canaanite woman led her to go to Jesus and beg, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
How did Jesus respond? He all but ignored her. Matthew tells us, “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.’” It certainly didn’t look like Jesus was going to help her. He just kept on walking— without speaking a word. She, however, was not willing to give up! She followed behind Jesus and His disciples— continually crying out for help! Jesus’ disciples quickly became annoyed with her. It may have been embarrassing for them to have this Canaanite following along behind them crying out for help. Their solution was simple. They “urged” Jesus to “send her away.”
Finally, Jesus spoke. He didn’t respond to the woman’s request. He didn’t respond to the disciples’ request. He very simply summarized the main focus of His ministry: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” At this the woman became even more bold. She went around the disciples, knelt directly in front of Jesus and pleaded, “Lord, help me!” As parents and grandparents we can feel the pain contained in those words. Both her need and her faith were too strong for her to simply give up and go home. Her daughter was “suffering terribly” and she knew that Jesus had the power to help!
To our Gentiles ears the conversation between Jesus and this Canaanite woman sounds rather strange, perhaps even cold. 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.’” On the surface these words at not all that difficult to understand. Picture a master at home with all of his children sitting around the table eating. Off to the side are their pet dogs. No one would take the food that was meant for the children and toss it to their pets. It just wouldn’t be right! At the same time, if some of that food fell on the ground, the dogs would gladly clean it up and no one would be upset.
On a spiritual level this picture is profound! Jesus’ reference to the “children’s bread” encompasses all the wonderful blessings that the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob freely provides to His “children.” This would include all the physical blessings the Lord God provided to the Children of Abraham. This would include all the spiritual blessings that the Lord God provided to the Children of Abraham. And it would include all the glorious promises that the Lord God made to the Children of Abraham. Since Jesus has already made it very clear, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” this helps us to understand why Jesus said to this Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The time would come when Jesus would send His disciples out into all the world and share with all people the blessings that God has given to His Chosen People, but that time was not now.
This Canaanite mother understands precisely what Jesus is saying. In a humble yet masterful way she phrases her response in a very powerful way. She does not argue that her needs are somehow an exception. She does not assert that she has the slightest right to Israel’s covenant blessings. She does not complain that Jesus is being unduly harsh with her. She simply asks for help, confident that though she is entitled to nothing, yet, at least, she might receive, by sheer grace, a leftover crumb of God’s goodness. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Jesus’ response to this Canaanite woman includes a commendation that He spoke to only two people while He was here on this earth— and neither of them were an Israelite, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (See Luke 7:1-10) Then Matthew adds those all-important words, “And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”
This Canaanite woman serves as a real, relevant example of why we say that God wants His Church to be a Church for all people! The disciples became so annoyed with this Canaanite woman because she “keeps crying out after us,” that they “urged” Jesus to simply “send her away.” This can also be translated as, “Dismiss her.” But the Lord, the long-awaited Promised Messiah, allowed her to kneel in front of Him and make her request. Then, the Lord, the long-awaited Promised Messiah praised this Canaanite woman for having a “great faith.” Then the Lord, the long-awaited Promised Messiah used His power to miraculously heal this woman’s daughter!
Who annoys us, my friends? Who might we want to “send away” if they came into our church? Who might we want to “dismiss” if they show an interest in our congregation? Our initial reaction to questions like that might be, “No one! We welcome anyone and everyone who comes into our church!” But— what if someone visits our church and they don’t talk like us? What if someone visits our church and they don’t look like us? What if someone visits our church and it’s obvious from the way that they are dressed that they don’t have much money— or perhaps are even homeless? Would we openly and warmly welcome them, or would we quietly be annoyed with them and wish they would simply go away?
As Christians we know that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). As Christians we know that “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34). As Christians we know that right now in heaven above there is “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). As Christians we know that God wants His Church to be a Church for all people!
At the same time, as sinners we’re all prejudiced in one way or another, to one degree or another. Our old sinful nature wants us to divide and distinguish between people based on the color of their skin, their ethnic background, the language they speak and how much money they have— or don’t have.
This account of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus “crying out” for His help because her faith led her to believe that He is “the Lord,” the “Son of David,” the Promised Messiah, reveals to us beyond any shadow of a doubt that the only thing that matters to Him (Pointing to the cross) and therefore the only thing that matters to us is the faith that lives in a person’s heart— faith in Jesus as this world’s only Savior from sin!
We need to keep coming back to this truth over and over again— especially as we look around and see all the division and all the animosity that exists right here in our own country. Since we all have that old sinful nature that is constantly fighting against the Truth of the cross (Pointing to the cross) we need to remember that the Chrisitan faith and prejudice cannot live and certainly cannot thrive in the same heart.
“I want a church that….” How would you complete that sentence? While it would be easy to finish that sentence by focusing on the externals— the music we like, the programs we want, the people we can relate to— my prayer this morning is that since Jesus is the One who bought the Church at the cost of His own blood that we will want what Jesus wants in His Church. What does Jesus want? Today we see that it begins with a Church that is for all people!
To God be the glory!