The story is told of a man who attempted to cross the frozen St. Lawrence River in Canada. Unsure of whether the ice would hold, the man first tested it by laying one hand on it. Then he got down on his knees, and gingerly began making his way across. When he got to the middle of the frozen river, where he trembled with fear, he heard a noise behind him. Looking back, he saw a team of horses pulling a carriage coming down the road toward the river. And upon reaching the river, it didn’t stop, but bolted right onto the ice, and past him, while he sat there on all fours, turning a deep crimson.
Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28 tell the story of a Gentile woman whose faith succeeds. She demonstrates the characteristics of a strong faith. God is pleased when we demonstrate radical, persistent faith.
Until this time Jesus carried on most of his ministry in Galilee. Now he left Capernaum and went about 40 miles northwest to the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon. Tyre was a Mediterranean seaport city in Phoenicia. Tyre was a major marketing and agricultural center, prevailing over Galilee economically. The Old Testament deemed Tyre as a wealthy and godless oppressor of Israel. Josephus numbered the Tyrians among “our bitterest enemies.”
Faith is not determined by one’s background (Mark 7:24, 26; Matthew 15:21-22a). The woman has several strikes against her. She is a woman. She is a Gentile. She is from an area known for paganism and idol worship. She has a demon-possessed daughter.
Faith is motivated by need (Mark 7:25-26; Matthew 15:22b). The woman falls at Jesus’ feet and begs for mercy. Her daughter was severely or cruelly possessed by a demon. While the woman recognized she did not deserve Jesus’ help and was unworthy of him, she also knew her only hope for help was in his gracious mercy.
Faith is focused on the right object (Matthew 15:22b). It’s not enough to “just believe.” You have to believe the right things. For faith to make sense, it has to be placed in a trustworthy object. Instead of trusting idols and pagan religion, the woman addressed Jesus as the coming Messiah, the Son of David. She reverently addressed Jesus as her sovereign and omnipotent Lord. She treated Jesus with dignity and expectancy. Her approach stands in stark contrast to the Jewish religious leaders, who treated Jesus with disrespect, and called him a drunk, a companion of sinners, and demon possessed.
Faith is persistent (Matthew 15:23-25). Great faith does not give up; it is not deterred by obstacles, setbacks, or disappointments. Initially, Jesus ignores her request. The disciples interpreted Jesus’ ignoring the woman as a sign of unconcern and wondered why he did not dismiss her. Speaking to the disciples but within the hearing of the woman, Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Rather than give up, the woman demonstrated her desperate need by kneeling and pleading with Jesus, “Lord, help me.”
Faith is humble (Mark 7:27-28; Matthew 15:25-27). The woman did not come demanding but rather pleading. Jesus replies to her in a metaphor or figurative language. It was not appropriate to interrupt a family meal to give dogs under the table scraps from the meal. While both children and pets are part of the family, caring for family comes before caring for pets. In the same way, it was not appropriate for Jesus to interrupt his ministry to the disciples to address her need, especially since she was a Gentile.
The woman accepts Jesus’ reply with respect, “Yes, Lord.” But she presses the matter further. She points out that dogs often get food at the same time the children are being fed and thus do not have to wait. There would be no interruption to Jesus’ teaching because all she was asking for was a crumb. She recognizes the Jewish right to partake of the gospel first. and simply asks to partake of the leftovers.
Faith receives results (Mark 7:29-30; Matthew 15:28). Jesus praised the woman’s faith. “O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus also healed the woman’s daughter. When she arrived home she discovered her daughter was resting peacefully and the demon was gone.
- Don’t let your background stop you from trusting God – Faith can grow in the least likely places.
- Bring your needs to Jesus – Be specific in your requests.
- Center your faith on God and his power – Use God’s names and titles in making your requests.
- Be persistent until you receive an answer – Don’t give up at the first “No” or silence.
- Don’t make demands or act entitled – Be humble.
- Be confident as you wait – Maintain a sense of expectancy.
“Great faith is faith that takes God at his word and will not let go until God meets the need. Great faith can lay hold of even the slightest encouragement and turn it into a fulfilled promise. ‘Lord, increase our faith.’” Warren Wiersbe
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 3, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.