These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
Mark and Matthew both tell about a woman who comes to Jesus desperately concerned about her daughter who is demon possessed. In this encounter Matthew says Jesus tells this woman, “your faith is great” (Matthew 15:28, NLT). The Greek word for “great” is megas, which is the source for our word mega. This woman had mega-faith. She had great faith. Her faith seems to serve three purposes: shows us what great faith looks like, salvation for herself, and deliverance for her daughter.
So here we go. Mark 7:24 says, Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre [tire]. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret. 25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” 28 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.” 29 “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone. (NLT)[i] Because having faith in Jesus is significant for every believer not only for salvation, but also for daily living we are spending two weeks looking at this woman’s great faith.
Last week we looked at four important truths regarding great faith. Let’s review and then at some new observations.[ii]
Great faith is built on truth
Last week, we saw that great faith is built on truth. She had “heard” about Jesus. She obviously had heard about Him healing various people, including casting out demons and demonstrating His authority over the demonic world. What happened here is the Romans 10:17 principle, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (CSB).
Great faith is focused
Then we saw that great faith is a focused faith. According to verse 25, when the woman heard that Jesus was in town and where He was at, she “right away” went to Him and “fell at his feet.” Her faith was focused on getting to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. There was no hesitation. Getting to Jesus was priority number one.
Great faith is persistent
Then we were reminded that great faith is a persistent faith. In verse 26, Mark tells us that the woman “begged” (erotao) and pleaded for Jesus to deliver her daughter. The Greek word for “begged” means to keep on asking until you get an answer. This is faith that perseveres. It is tenacious faith. This is the kind of faith that so deeply believes that Jesus can and will do something that you are determined to get an answer.
Great faith is desperate
Last week we also discovered that great faith is a desperate faith. It’s desperate because it knows it cannot fix the problem. It knows that the only answer to the situation is Jesus. If Jesus doesn’t do something, then nothing is going to change. This is why the woman cried out “have mercy on me.” She was desperate for Jesus to intervene in her daughter’s life.
Great faith is honest
Number five, great faith is honest. Great faith is honest about the problem. Mark tells us in verse 25, “Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter” (NLT). Great faith does not cover up the problem. Great faith does not pretend like there is no problem. Great faith admits to the problem and calls it for what it is. Great faith confesses the truth. According to Matthew 15:22 the woman said, “My daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely” (Matthew 15:22, NLT). I’m sure that living with and taking care of this daughter was a nightmare, headache, and a pain in the you-know-what. But this woman loved her daughter and had a deep faith and hope in Jesus to heal her daughter. Great faith is honest about the problem.
Great faith will say uncomfortable things when they are true. Great faith may say, “Lord, my child is a thief. Lord, my husband is an adulterer. Lord, my wife is selfish and cold. Lord, my parents are abusive and mean. Lord, my daughter is possessed by an evil spirit.” Great faith is honest about the situation, but great faith is also convinced that Jesus is the answer. That’s why great faith will also go to Jesus for help. Great faith is both honest about the problem and the solution.[iii]
Great faith is tested
Great faith is honest, but great is also tested. Your faith will be tested. Matthew says, “But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. ‘Tell her to go away,’ they said. ‘She is bothering us with all her begging’” (Matthew 15:23, NLT).
Matthew says, “But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word.” The word “but” is a word of contrast. Here you have a woman who is loud about her need, but Jesus is silent about His response. Remember who we have here. This is Jesus, the Son of God. God in the flesh. He reads minds. He reads hearts. He is in control. Nothing surprises Him. He is intentional about everything He does. He is perfect love, grace and truth on display.
Because of who Jesus is, Jesus is not being rude or cold to this woman. He was testing Her faith. This results in several implications.
- By testing her faith Jesus was putting her faith on display for His disciples to see and to help believers like you and me understand what great faith looks like. If Jesus hadn’t done this, this miracle would have simply been another miracle added to the thousands He had already done.
- By testing her faith Jesus is showing us that His delay in answering our prayers does not mean no. There is something about persevering in faith and trusting Him when it seems like He is ignoring us. Before the woman even approached Jesus, Jesus already knew He was going to heal her daughter, but He wanted to also use her to help heal those with weak or little faith as well.
- By testing her faith Jesus demonstrated that it is grace, not place which makes people believers. Had this happened in Bethany or Jerusalem where there were a lot of God followers and people who knew the Bible and synagogues where people could go and hear the Old Testament taught and discussed it would not have been as surprising. But this woman came from “Tyre” where there was very little knowledge of God and where paganism dominated the culture, but it is from there this woman brought great faith. It is grace, not place that makes people believers. A person can be raised in a Christian’s home and not care nor believe in Jesus. But a person can be raised in an ungodly home and come out of it with a great faith in Christ. It is grace, not place that makes people believers. By putting her faith on display, Jesus was also putting His grace on display.
- By testing her faith Jesus was demonstrating that suffering can be a blessing. Her daughter’s need drove her to Jesus. It was the problem that caused this woman to pray. The suffering in this woman’s family caused by her daughter’s condition became a blessing in the end. We are a stubborn people, when things are going good we think we don’t need God. When things are going bad, that’s when we start calling out to God. “God, my marriage is falling a part can you help you. God, my health is gone will you heal me. God, I have no money to pay my bills and can you send someone to help. God, I have made a bad decision and I need your wisdom on how to deal with my consequences.” At some point, our suffering drags us to Jesus. Its like what Psalm 119:71 says, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (NLT). We often don’t pay attention to God or to what He says until we are hurting and need Him. By testing her faith Jesus was showing us that suffering and pain can lead to a blessing.
- By testing her faith Jesus was able to demonstrate that His followers don’t always represent Him well. Matthew says, “his disciples urged him to send her away. ‘Tell her to go away,’ they said. ‘She is bothering us with all her begging.’” Even though Jesus was ignoring her, He fully loved her and intended to completely bless her. On the other hand, the disciples they were bothered by her and wanted to get rid of her. Don’t judge Christ, by Christians. If you have been hurt by a church or by a Christian, don’t let that build a grudge in you against Jesus. Just like any family, there are some Christians who are loving, kind, patient, and forgiving. Then there are those Christians who are immature, rude, unkind, and mean. They have a long ways to go. Some Christians may tell you to “go away,” but Jesus will never send you away. At this moment, His disciples were tired and selfish and didn’t understand the plan of God. By testing her faith Jesus was able to show us that His followers don’t always represent Him well.
Now here is the thing. When we are being tested, we usually don’t recognize it. This reminds me of a story I heard. There was a true incident in which a young man named Bill was being interviewed by a mission agency to serve as a missionary. He was going to be interviewed by a retired missionary. The retired missionary contacted Bill and told him to arrive at his home in Wisconsin for the interview at 4:30 a.m. Bill traveled to Wisconsin. It was the middle of winter, and the snow was deep, but he arrived at the home of the retired missionary a little before 4:30 a.m. At 4:30 he knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He knocked again—no answer. He stood there blowing on his hands and running in place to keep the blood flowing to his toes. Finally, the door opened and the retired missionary’s wife opened the door with her housecoat on. Bill said, “Good morning. I’m here for the interview with your husband.” She said, “Yes, come inside and sit in the living room. He’ll be down soon.” Bill sat down on the couch. Five o’clock rolled by, then six, then seven. Finally at about 8:30 the retired missionary came into the room and shook the young man’s hand. He said, “Have you read the missionary orientation workbook?” Bill said, “Yes, sir.” The retired missionary said, “I have a question for you. Spell the word ‘Bible.’” Bill replied, “B.I.B.L.E.” The retired missionary stood up and said, “That concludes the interview. Thanks for coming. We’ll let you know what we decide.” As Bill left, he was baffled. He thought that he must have made such a poor impression that he didn’t even merit a full interview. He was surprised a week later when the mission board summoned him. When he arrived, the retired missionary told the board, “I have tested this candidate in every area necessary and he passed.” Bill interrupted and said, “Excuse me, sir, but I don’t think you really tested me at all.” The old man said, “First, I tested you for diligence. Anyone who would travel to Wisconsin in the middle of winter has a streak of determination that every missionary needs. Second, I tested you for punctuality. I was awake and saw that you arrived before 4:30 a.m. Every missionary must make the most of their time. Third, I tested you for patience. I had you wait for me for over four hours and you didn’t complain about waiting. Patience is one of the most important characteristics of a successful missionary. Finally, I tested you on humility. I knew that you had studied the manual and were prepared to answer many questions. I asked you a simple question any third grader could answer. Yet, you didn’t seem offended, you simply answered the question. You passed the test of diligence, punctuality, patience, and humility. Congratulations, Bill, you’ve passed all four tests!” The problem with God testing our faith is that we don’t recognize it as a test at the time.
Great faith is humble
Great faith is honest about the problem or situation. Great faith will be tested for your benefit and the benefit of others. Also, great faith is humble. Mark gives us some insight about this woman by saying in verse 25, “Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia.” She came from an area that was engulfed in pagan idolatry and probably worshipped many of these idols herself at one time. The city she lived in, Tyre, were major centers of worship for the goddess Astarte, also known as Ashtaroth in the Old Testament.[iv] No respecting Jew, Pharisee or Sadducee would allow a pagan Gentile to remain in their presence. This is one reason why the disciples urged Jesus to send her away (Matt. 15:23). However, Jesus was different. He was about to express love to this woman and bless her and her child on a miraculous level. He was about to show His disciples that the message of salvation was for all the nations and for all people regardless of who they are or where they come from.
This woman with great energy, passion, and faith approaches Jesus and begins begging Him to deliver her daughter from a demon. He ignores her and His disciples suggest she be sent away because she is annoying. When Jesus finally spoke He says, “First, I should feed the children – my own family, the Jews.”[v] Mark says Jesus spoke this to the woman, but Matthew says Jesus spoke this to the disciples (Matt. 15:24). Both are correct. He spoke this to the disciples with the intention of the woman hearing Him.
- What is Jesus referring to here? Jesus had a strategy. His first priority was to go to the people of Israel and reveal Himself as the Messiah. He would first target the Jews and reach out to them. The gospel came through the Jews (John 4:22) and first to the Jews, but it was never intended to be only for them. This is why Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes – the Jew first and also the Gentile” (NLT). The Great Commission was to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19), beginning with Jerusalem but reaching “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Israel was the channel though which the gospel would be carried to the entire world.
- Jesus had already ministered to Gentiles and pagans multiple times, but His disciples were not getting the message. Here was another opportunity for the disciples to learn something about Jesus and His mission. Jesus always extended Himself to open hearts and never refused a person of any race or culture who came to Him in faith.
Jesus goes on to say, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” Ouch! That seems harsh. What is really going on here? Based on the context the word “children” refer to the Jews and the word “dogs” refer to the Gentiles, people like her. This was a common insult used by many Jews cast at Gentiles and the woman had probably heard it many times before.
- However, Jesus gave it a loving twist. There are two Greek words for dog in the New Testament. One Greek word refers to the type of dogs that were wild scavengers. These dogs were hated by everybody. They would run in packs; they would attack sheep, they would attack children. They lived off garbage and the carcasses of other dead animals. They were ferocious, vicious, hated animals. This is the word the Jews would used to call the Gentiles dogs. The word is equal to our English word for the female dog (bitch). It is a derogatory term. My guess is when some of the Jewish youth were hanging out on the streets and saw a Gentile they probably started mocking and singing, “Who let the dogs out? Who… who… who?” (I couldn’t resist).
- The Greek word Jesus used for “dog” (kunarion) did not refer to those types of dogs, but to a little dog or puppy. This was a house dog. This “dog” was the little household pet that’s always under the table hoping someone would drop some food or give it some food. They were sometimes treated like family.
- What we don’t have in the written Word is the tone of His voice and the expression on Jesus’ face. Based on the word He used and the point He was trying to make I believe Jesus’ tone was soft, compassionate, and sympathetic. Can you hear the Lord’s compassion toward the woman and the sarcasm toward the broken religious system when He says, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the [little puppies].” As you study the Bible and seek to understand this statement, you will discover that Jesus was never harsh with those who came to Him in genuine faith. This was not a statement of rejection, but a theological statement against those who looked down on others. Whether Jew or Gentile, the person who approached Jesus with true faith and humility was always received. Jesus promised, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37, NASB).
Mark tells us in verse 28, She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.” Her answer reveals great humility.
- She says, “That’s true, Lord….” She agrees with Jesus that she and her people are looked upon as dogs by many. Whether it be the scavenger dogs or the little puppies under the table.
- There are several implications from her statement.
- He response demonstrated a complete absence of pride. The self-reliance and self-righteousness that characterized most religious people of that day, she did not have. She was willing to settle for “the scraps that fell from the children’s plates.”[vi] She was thinking that just a little of Jesus presence and power would be enough to meet her need. A tiny leftover of Jesus’ great power could heal her daughter, and that was all she asked.
- Her response demonstrated great faith. She took Christ at his word. She is saying, “Lord, if you say I am a little dog, I am. But that means I have a Master, and that is you. It means I am a humble part of the Household and that I can claim the crumbs.”
- Jesus loves faith and humility combined. She had both. She could have responded, “Who are you calling a dog? How dare you refer to me like that? You and your disciples are dogs.” She could have been easily offended and got mad at Jesus and the disciples and walked off. But instead, because of her faith and humility she eventually walks away blessed and her daughter healed.
Jesus immediately responded to her statement by saying, “Good answer!” He wanted to affirm what she said and wanted the disciples to hear His affirmation.
Great faith is rewarded
This takes us to the final point about great faith. Great faith is rewarded. Then Jesus said and did what He intended to do all along. He says to the woman in verse 29, “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone. Her great faith is rewarded.
- One can only assume that she gets up and leaves, with no other conversation taking Jesus completely at His word. When she “arrived home, she found” what her faith sought Jesus for. The girl was no longer screaming, hurting herself or others, but was “lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.” Her great faith was rewarded.
- The beauty of this story is that it was not the faith of the demon-possessed girl that brought healing, it was the faith of her loving mother. There are people in your life right now that need you to believe for them. They need God’s help and God’s wisdom and God’s deliverance. You can pray in faith on their behalf. You can pray for their deliverance and their healing and their restoration.
This woman had “great faith.” She had great faith because it was built on truth, focused on Jesus, willing to be tested and was determined to get an answer. May we have “great faith” as we live for Jesus.
[i] There is a logical connection between this section and the one that precedes it (Mark 7:1-23). Jesus had explained why He did not observe the traditional separation from defiling associations. Now He illustrated that by going into Gentile territory. This contact would have rendered Him ceremonial unclean according to the Jews’ traditions.
[ii] Another way to outline this event is – 1) The person of faith (25-26a), 2) the persistence of faith (v.26b), 3) the test of faith (v.27), 4) the response of faith (v.28), 5) the result of faith (v.29-30).
[iii] This passage is meant to encourage you to pray for others. This mother saw her daughter in such a condition in which no teaching or counseling could reach her mind and no medicine could heal the body. Her daughter was in a condition that was only one degree better than death itself. This woman’s example should encourage us to not give up on praying for others, even when it seems they are beyond hope.
One more thought to parents. This woman should speak to every mother and father here. As parents we cannot give our children new hearts. We can teach them God’s Word, tell them about Jesus, and live an example worth following. But we cannot give them a heart that loves Jesus and a mind that would choose Jesus. There is one thing we can do, we can always pray for our children no matter how young or old they are and no matter how far away from God they may seem and no matter how much they are in the grips of the kingdom of darkness we can intercede for them. Even when they will not let us talk to them about Jesus, they cannot prevent us speaking to Jesus about them.
[iv] Judges 2:13; 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:3-4; 12:10; 31:10
[v] Matthew 15:24, “Then Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep – the people of Israel.’” (NLT)
[vi] Now, those days they did not have knives and forks and spoons. They did not have eating utensils. They used their hands. They always had bread. And usually you would break your bread, pull it off and then dip it in the soup or in the sauces or in whatever. And you would use your bread oftentimes as sort of a spoon. When they were through eating, they would have some of the sauce or gravy all over their hands. So, they would take some bread and wipe off your hands or face like you would use a napkin. Then you would toss it under the table to the little dog down there waiting. These are some of the crumbs that fell from the table.