Jesus Heals a Canaanite | Matthew 15:21-31
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 15:21–15:31
Good morning, and welcome to Damascus Road Church this morning. My name is Randy, and I am one of the pastors here. We are currently working our way through the book of Matthew as a church, and today we are going to look at Matthew 15:21-31 together.
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.
And when they had crossed over, they came to a land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Knowledge of Jesus
The first observation I have from this text is that the Canaanite woman knows who Jesus is. So, what’s the big deal about that? There are some details given in this text that make this fact very surprising.
First, we’re told that Jesus is entering the region of Tyre and Sidon. This is the only time in the New Testament (that I’m aware of) where we are told that Jesus leaves the territory of Israel, which keys us in to its significance.
Tyre and Sidon are two significant port cities on the Mediterranean coast. At the height of the Phoenician Empire, Tyre was its capitol. It had plentiful natural resources, so much that David and Solomon both worked with Hiram – king of Tyre – to get Cedar trees and other materials necessary to build the house of David and the Temple of God. The cities were actually part of the ‘promised land’ Israel was supposed to inherit – in Asher’s allotment – but never actually did (Joshua 19).
But most significant, perhaps, was that Tyre and Sidon were a cultural and religious hub of sorts for the Canaanites. The people in this region were culturally as non-Jewish as you could be; and religiously, they were as pagan as could be. This really goes back to Genesis – we’ll look at two passages to give us a better grasp of who the Canaanites were.
Genesis 9:18-27 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers." He also said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant."
Genesis 10:15-19 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.
We see in these passages that the Canaanite people were a people founded on perversion, and were excluded from the blessing promised to God’s chosen people. These lists of people and places are pretty unsavory. The who’s who of the unrigheous. Remember that Matthew wrote this book to the Jews. They knew their Old Testament. Things like Sodom and Gomorrah… and the cycle of Judges (turning from God – judgment – repentance – rescue – restoration – repeat…) that repeated over and over again with the descendants of Canaan would come to mind immediately. A Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon – it would be difficult to find someone who would be as utterly unredeemable as this.
But, she knows who Jesus is. She calls out to him not just as Jesus, but as Jesus, the Son of David. This is the name given to Jesus that emphasizes his place as the long-awaited Messiah – the King. This is a woman who understands who she is speaking with.
Applications of this observation are:
1. You can never be beyond the reach of Jesus.
2. We must never believe anyone else is beyond the reach of Jesus.
Knowledge of Self
The second observation I find in this passage is that the Canaanite woman knows who SHE is. Let’s walk through this exchange between her and Jesus.
Woman: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon."
Jesus: “…” [but he did not answer her a word.]
Disciples: [to Jesus] “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
Jesus: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Woman: [kneeling before Jesus] “Lord, help me.”
Jesus: It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.
Woman: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Jesus: "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." [And her daughter was healed instantly.]
There’s no getting around the fact that Jesus calls this woman – a woman who comes to him begging that her daughter be healed – a dog. Rather than heal her, it seems that he insults her, saying it’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. Jesus is keeping in line with what he told his disciples at first – that his mission at that moment was to the lost sheep of Israel… but did he have to say it so harshly?
How would you respond if you were that woman and Jesus treated you this way? This woman’s response is amazing! She does not claim to be deserving of his blessing, she does not make a case that she is a ‘diamond in the rough’… a standout among those other filthy Canaanites. She does not lash out against Jesus for his words.
Because she knows who Jesus is and who she is, she understands that she deserves nothing. We are no better off than this woman. You sin, I sin, we all sin. Sin seperates us from God, from his blessings, and from each other.
This woman has faith in his ability to heal her daughter with even the crumbs… the leftovers or ‘lastfruits’ if you will, of Jesus’ power and blessing.
The distinction that Jesus makes between Israel and the gentiles is disturbing, but it is important to note that no such distinction exists today. Galatians 4 says that we have been adopted as sons of God through the blood of Jesus. For those who trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior – you are in the family. We – most if not all of us are gentiles – have a place at the table.
Mark 15:37-39 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (38) And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (39) And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"
Eph 2:14-19 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (15) by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (16) and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (17) And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (18) For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (19) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God
The Silence of God
An inescapable aspect of this text is that the Canaanite woman’s request for help – her humble pleas for help – her begging Jesus to heal her daughter – were met initially with silence.
Mat 15:22-23 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…
This is hard to understand, isn’t it? If God is love, if God loves all the little children, if God really cares about this woman and her demon-oppressed child, surely Jesus would respond – right? Try for a moment to put yourself in the place of that woman. We don’t know anything specific about what this oppression looked like, but we can imagine the suffering of a child who is ‘severely oppressed by a demon.’ That could look pretty bad. Fits of uncontrollable anger. Screaming, cursing, violence – against herself and against others, dire sickness, etc.
We do know the suffering is significant because the disciples start to get concerned about the fact that Jesus is ignoring her…
Mat 15:23 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."
Jesus doesn’t answer and it seems that she follows them for some time crying out – begging them to hear her case.
Don’t we often find ourselves in this position? This life is full of challenges, afflictions, and trials. Not one of us is untouched by suffering. We all cry out to God in the midst of life’s most challenging circumstances – desperate for his healing, his movement, his power to be at work bringing about the change that we desire.
In our church today, here are things that I know people are struggling with: sickness, death, broken family relationships, disobedient children, disobedient parents, job struggles, anxiety, divorce, sleepless nights, addictions, legal trouble, depression, abuse – past and present, child custody disputes, apathy, materialism, non-believing spouses and children, etc. I could keep going – but the point is that all of us are struggling with something. If you’re not, then your struggle is soon going to be disillusionment.
Perhaps even today, you’re at the end of your rope. You feel as if you’ve completely exhausted all your available resources and energy and you don’t know what to do. You’re a Christian, so you pray… after all, that’s what you’re supposed to do right? But you’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and all you get in return is silence. God isn’t answering – your circumstances aren’t changing – you’re as miserable now as were a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. Here’s the question: what do we do with this silence?
Here are some truths that are helpful when God appears to be ignoring our requests for help:
1. God’s silence does not equate to His absence.
In our text this morning, it is interesting that Jesus is close enough to this woman that she can cry out to him. When he set out on his journey, he knew the suffering of her daughter, he knew that she would call out to him, he knew that he would not heed her request. Remember that this is THE ONLY TIME that Jesus ventured out as far as he did. While it seemed that Jesus was not interested in her problems, HE CREATED THE SCENARIO WHEREBY SHE COULD BRING HER REQUEST TO HIM. He brought himself near, he closed the gap, he made himself available.
Deu 31:3-6 The LORD your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the LORD has spoken. (4) And the LORD will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. (5) And the LORD will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. (6) Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you."
Joh 14:15-17 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (16) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, (17) even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
2. Our suffering is not the result of God’s absence or silence.
1Pe 4:12-14, 19 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (13) But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (14) If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… (19) Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Peter says we should not be surprised by our trials – we should expect them. We mistakenly think that our earnest pleadings with God should be met with everything being as we would like. That’s just not the case. Going back to John 14, it says,
Joh 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (14) If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
But asking for something in the name of Jesus is not simply saying “In Jesus’ Name.” It means that we pray with His authority and in a way that is consistent with His character. In Colossians 3, Paul says that we should do everything in Jesus’ name. Clearly, it is not adding the name ‘Jesus’ to anything we do – that would be weird. In the Garden, Jesus’ prayer that he, himself, offered was “Father if it be your will, remove this cup from me.”
3. God is sovereign.
There are hundreds of bible verses that point to God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign. That means that he created all things, rules over all things, directs all things, knows all things, considers all things, and can fix anything that is broken in your life. He could do it this instant if it was His will. Do not think for a second that God is not capable of working that miracle you desire!
But you’d do well to remember the story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob. He was hated by his brothers so much that they sold him into slavery and convinced their father he was killed by a beast. He ended up – through a long series of ‘bad things’ happening to him – ruling over Egypt as Pharaoh’s 2nd in command. Because of this position of influence he was able to save his family… if you don’t believe in God’s sovereignty, read that story in Genesis. It ends with Joseph telling his brothers,
Gen 50:18-21 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." (19) But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? (20) As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (21) So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Rom 8:28-29 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (29) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
4. God cares for you (He hears you).
God’s not overwhelmed with your problems. He’s not too busy solving world hunger to bother with your problems – truthfully, if he decided to solve world hunger, there’d be no more hunger.
1Pe 5:5-7 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (6) Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, (7) casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
God loves you more than you could ever imagine despite the fact that you are as sinful as you will ever know… He commands us to cast our cares on Him. That is incredible!
5. God’s silence is an opportunity for your faith to grow.
Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
James 1:2-12 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (4) And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (5) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways… (12) Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
[Share personal stories of Unanswered Prayer]
Mat 15:28-31 Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. (29) Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. (30) 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, (31) 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.
This is one of two occasions where Jesus commends a person for their faith. Of all the people who believed that Jesus could heal them, of all the people he came across… we only know of two people who Jesus lifted up as examples of great faith. The other was the Centurion whose servant was healed.
In both cases, they were gentiles. Isn’t that interesting? That’s the good news of the gospel. Back to Ephesians 2 – we who were once far off have been brought near. You’ll notice that Jesus goes from healing this woman to healing several others. We know from Mark 7 that he does these healings in gentile territory.
God is the Shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep, he is the Father who adopts you into his family at great cost to himself, he is the King who laid down his life that you might live. As we enter into this advent season, may we all enter into it with eyes fixed firmly on Jesus – trusting in him as the one thing we need above all. As our great hope in times of need.