Sermon Notes on Woman of Tyre and Sidon (2nd Sunday in Lent), 21 February 2016 Anno Domini
21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Matt 15:21-28 (KJV)
I have delivered sermons on this Gospel text many times, but I believe several hundred sermons could be preached on this text with each being unique for the gems upon which they could be based. I will attempt to address only a small sampling of these gems without duplicating points I have derived in the past from the text. Amazingly, with each reading of the lectionary texts, we can gain greater and deeper insight than ever before. God’s Word is the richest of mines from which we gleam precious gems and ores, and there are new veins always to be discovered and followed.
The first impression with which one is blessed at the reading of this, and every Word of God, is it profound beauty couched in simple and plain language. Perhaps the reason for this simplistic beauty is that the Author and Finisher of the Word became flesh like unto us for the benefit of showing us His Person on terms we could understand. We often miss the beauty of it by failing to look beyond the petty prejudices we harbor of God’s nature. Jesus never was unkind to a poor sinner, and approached them always with kindness. There is no shadow of offense or disparagement in the words of Christ to the woman of Canaan. He knew her metal, for He made her from the beginning just as He made you and me. He tried her metal knowing that the dross, if there was such, would float to the surface – but though ignorant and not as learned as those in company with Jesus, she was made of a better and purer form of metallic faith than any of them as is brought out in this text.
After confronting the arrogant and petty Scribes and Pharisees of Galilee’s shorelines, He departed for a sojourn on the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. It was not some haphazard decision, but one made long before the worlds were made. Like the Woman who waited all the days of her life daily at the Well of Jacob for an appointment with the Savior – an appointment of which she was not aware, but God was – the Woman of Tyre and Sidon was full of pain and hurt for her daughter. Little did she know that God had already heard her tears before she ever had shed them, and our beloved Lord Jesus was on His way to keep an appointment of eternal dimensions.
So I will open this beautiful narrative with some – not by any means all – of the salient points that literally flash as gleaming pearls from the page as we read.
First, let us observe the power of a mother’s love. The woman, like you and I, had a grievous burden on her heart. Our grievous burden was sin – hers was a precious little daughter grievously vexed by a devil. Many of our youth in America today are vexed by devils – sexual immorality, irreverent and ungodly music, drugs, rebellion, etc. Though a poor heathen woman had no right to approach the King of Israel with her petition (and neither do we), she was emboldened by her love. If we are emboldened by love we can approach Christ wherever we find Him. “And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” The woman sought mercy for herself knowing that if the Lord had mercy on her, He would heal her daughter which was her most cherished possession.
Second, observe the unholy attitude of those closest to our Lord revealed here. How did our Lord respond? Remember, his disciples have no use for those heathen peoples outside what THEY considered the boundaries of God’s people. Herein, they were mistaken and grossly so. “But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.” Just as they had done with blind Bartemeus, those closest to our Lord tried to shush the woman away. How presumptuous, they thought, that an unclean heathen woman should attempt to approach the Lord. How presumptuous, indeed, for any of us with unwashen hands, and more importantly, unwashen hearts, to approach the Lord. But such are the ones He seeks, for the well have no need of a Physician.
Third, we are often tried and proven – not to test our metal – but as a testimony to the world and those around us. Thus, our Lord tries the woman’s faith to reveal a mystery to the disciples. Please remember that gold or silver, being tried in a furnace, loses none of its essence. All that it may lose is the dross of impurities.
At my grandmother’s funeral in a small rural Methodist Church, the first line of a Gospel song was sung which my eight year old mind never forgot. “Tempted and tried, we’re all made to wonder; why it should be thus all the day along.” Yes, we are tempted and tried, but the hidden mysteries of God are often revealed thereby. “But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It is likely that the disciples missed the point of our Lord’s comment, for right to their fore stood a woman of the lost sheep of Israel. She was a child of the Promise made to Abraham, and she would prove it by her faith. This seeming rebuke of Christ would have discouraged an unbeliever, but not this woman. Christ intended to reveal her great faith as a lesson to the proud disciples with Him.
“Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.” The woman had never heard with her ear the promise made by Christ in Matthew 21:22, but she had heard that promise in her heart. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Another point that jumps forth in brilliance is this: It is far better to bow the knee to our Lord while He may be found, then to do so at the last day as a sinner who is found by the Lord in his sin. If we die with deadly sin ruling our members, we die to hope of Heaven.
“It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” Our Lord loved this woman now, and long before she had ever seen His face. This response of Christ is a tender and precious expression of love. The term used for dog here is puppy dog – a family pet that begs beneath the table of the master for scraps. There is probably few living creatures with less sin than a puppy dog for all creatures, except human beings, are without sin – not having the Law of God written on Tables of Stone for their understanding and obedience. With these words, Christ is not rebuking the woman, but rather the disciples. They consider themselves children of the household of God, yet they would deprive this faithful woman of even the scraps from the table of the Master.
The woman had a ready response – perhaps more informed by the Holy Ghost than by her own imagination: “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 (KJV) The woman responded: “And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” It is at this point that the eyes and ears of the disciples are opened to a great truth they had not taken into account in the words of our Lord: “Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Her faith exceeded that of those who presumed to be very holy and on the very best terms with the Lord! The church today is filled, pillar to post, with presumptuous hypocrites; but we need not remain hypocrites for neither did the disciples.
Fourth: What was the result of the Woman’s faith? Precisely what Christ has promised each of us – And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
Our Lord preached a memorable sermon to the disciples that day on the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and He did so without addressing a single word to them. The sermon was in His demeanor and actions toward the Woman. The greatest sermon we preach is in our daily lives and actions.
There is a great truth revealed to us also in this dynamic and living sermon of Christ: “The lesson of perseverance in prayer. The narrative history gives us a picture of a person misled by appearances—(1) from want of knowing enough of Christ, and (2) from not yet having risen to that intensity of earnestness and full stretch of faith of which our nature is really capable. There is in Christ the stern goodness of a man of powerful insight; not the softness which, without doing any good, lavishes blessings before they are appreciated, but that paternal sternness which will have us brace ourselves up for a resolute, sustained effort. The prodigal son has a father’s welcome, but he must come home; he must come all the way. Like this woman, we may hear the words, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” but not till we have deserved the earlier words, “Great is thy faith.” Archbishop Benson, Wellington College.
Another point that lies hidden in many trails of biblical texts – the terror and consequence of sin. All illness, vexation, and hurt arise from sin – either latent or active. The world is full of sin, and the innocent young daughter suffered for the sins that are common to the world – either Adam’s sin, or those of the world around her. Our sin has consequences, but there is shelter, forgiveness, and restitution in Christ our Savior!