“Keeping the Faith”

Matthew 15:21-28

I am going to begin today’s message with a poem, by the poet, Yeshayahu, ben amoz, or more commonly known by Bible readers, as Isaiah, son of Amos. From the book of Isaiah, chapter 2 

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established

    as the highest of the mountains;

it will be exalted above the hills,

    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

    to the temple of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways,

    so that we may walk in his paths.”

The law will go out from Zion,

    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations

    and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

    and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

    nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,

    let us walk in the light of the Lord.


Isaiah was an amazing poet and he used a lot of Biblical imagery in his poetry. Isaiah had the ability to put the very essence of God’s story to the world, into words. 

Isaiah reveals to us that God’s focus was and continues throughout the Bible to be, for all people or all nations. God’s plan is to bring justice and His goodness to bear on all people. We are told they will gather together and learn what it means to be human in God’s kingdom. The whole idea is to beat swords into plowblades and spears into pruning hooks. If Isaiah were to write this today, he may write something like taking all the AK47’s in the world and melt them down into ambulances. The point being instruments of death get destroyed and turned into instruments of life. It transforms the world as you and I know it, turns it upside-down. From a place of tragedy, injustice and war to a place where all nations are at peace and there is harmony. 

How is that going to happen? 

Isaiah tells us it has something to do with Jerusalem with the image of God’s mountain and His temple. 

This poem tells us that God is going to do something specific and particular, in Jerusalem. Remember, the temple in Jerusalem was the place where heaven and earth meet. God’s presence was in the temple, in the holy of holies. If we go to chapter 11 in Isaiah, he tells us that something very particular is going to happen there, at a key moment in history, through the family of Abraham and the family of David, Isaiah 11, verse  10,

 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; 

If you recall, David and the kings following David, ran the kingdom of David right into the ground. So Israel did not become what God intended it to be. But Isaiah tells us God is going to start it all over again, from the stump of Jesse, which is in the ground. A shoot will rise, and bear fruit. This root will become a banner. From this root there will come a large flag pole with a banner of justice, peace and righteousness for the nations. 

Isaiah’s poetry was an integral part of the hopes and prayers of the Jewish people. 

So when Jesus of Nazareth arrives on the scene and starts saying things like, “The Kingdom of God is here, in me. Look at what I am doing.” The light bulb goes off in people’s heads of what Isaiah had written. Jesus brings hope to those who hear and believe. 

They were excited! 

This is what the Jewish people had hoped for and had been praying for. 

Lots of people were thrilled. 

But, not everyone was thrilled. 

We read last week at the beginning of this chapter, verse 1, 

 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem

According to Isaiah, when God comes and takes care of the world it is going to happen in Jerusalem. Here we have a delegation coming from Jerusalem, the religious leaders of the Hebrew people. They came to find Jesus and to pick a fight, because they hated Him. They thought He was dangerous to the order of their society because in their minds, He was not the kind of king anyone was expecting. The way Jesus was bringing in the Kingdom of God was undermining their authority and power. 

Have you noticed the pattern that occurs when Jesus gets a visit from spiritual leaders, or hears news that someone hates Him and wants to kill Him? 

He typically withdraws and goes to a solitary place to pray and reflect. You would too. If the FBI came to your house you are going to take some time to reflect on what this means to you and your family. 

This is where we pick up today’s story in verse 21, of chapter 15,

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Okay, I need to give you some background information for you to completely understand what was going on at this point. Jesus’ home base was near Capernaum and He would go out on itinerant journeys throughout Israel.  Jesus has experienced another threatening encounter with the Jewish religious leaders, so He withdraws to a region where Jewish leaders were not in charge. 

Tyre and Sidon were known as the economic powerhouse of the Mediterranean. This was where the Indian spice routes were connected to Rome and the rest of Europe. It was a non-Jewish region. I find it interesting that Jesus chose this place to retreat. 

Clearly He wanted to get away to a place where there were no Jewish people. Thinking He might be able to get away, we read that He was approached by a Canaanite woman, and she was crying out loud, 

 “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

This is where the Bible gets so intriguing. What a story line. Here we have Jesus, being rejected by His own people. So He decides to escape to a place where the people were historically enemies of Israel and who finds Him? A Canaanite woman. 

Okay, let’s test your Bible knowledge just a little bit. Canaanites, good guys or bad guys? 

Not only are they bad guys, Canaanites were the arch nemesis of the Israelites. 

They were the people group who were in the land God promised the Jewish people when they left Egypt. The prophets perpetually warned against the Canaanites because of their sexual misconduct and child sacrifices that were built into their culture. I’m not sure how to present this scene for you so that you recognize this is not just a simple encounter with Jesus. There is so much happening for those who would have been there at the time. The very thought of a Canaanite woman even having the soundness of mind or the guts to approach a Jewish rabbi would have had everyone there staring and frozen for a second with disbelief. Jesus, a Jewish Messiah, in a Gentile city, and a Canaanite woman approaches Him. Not only that, look at what she calls Jesus, 


“Son of David.” 

These were royal terms. They were how you would address the king of Israel. 

To understand what was going on in this encounter, it would be like Tom Brady flying back to Boston and driving up to Bill Belichick’s house, or estate and saying, 

“Oh master of everything NFL.”

The point of this is, these were two people groups that according to how all the boundary lines work, these two people should not be talking, especially a Canaanite woman addressing Jesus of Nazareth as “Lord of all,” or as the “Royal Son of David.” This had to have been a charged moment. 

This story is so odd, because what is Jesus’ response? 

He ignores her. 

Come on? 

Since when does Jesus ignore people in need? Notice the response of the disciples? 

They had to have been embarrassed or shocked because they have to step in and ask Jesus to say something to get rid of her. 

Here’s where the story continues to be interesting, Jesus answered with, 

 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”


Okay, Jesus doesn’t respond like the disciples expect, He gives them sort of a reason why He ignored the woman. He tells them what His mission was supposed to be. He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. 

Obviously, the screaming woman was not part of that group. However, if we remember clearly, there were quite a few times, back in previous chapters where Jesus helped out non-Israelites. Remember the Roman Centurion’s child, the two men in the graveyard and the pigs. 

So what’s happening here? We know that up to this point, Jesus hasn’t really cared about the boundary line between Jew and non-Jew. But it matters here? 

Well there a couple of things going on here.

  1. Lost sheep of Israel – this should trigger something for us. 
    1. Jesus was going around teaching about the Kingdom of God. He wanted to multiply the scope of the mission so He sent out the 12 disciples. In chapter 10, He told them don’t go to the Gentiles, “Go to the lost sheep of Israel, proclaim this message, the kingdom of Heaven is here.” At this point, Jesus has a laser focus on the people of Israel. He was focused on giving the message of good news to the people of God and to have them turn and repent.
    2. Jesus was being faithful to the whole story of God and to Israel. Isaiah chapter 2, right here. 

In order to really understand this we need to remember how the story of the Bible works.

  • God creates humans
  • Things don’t go so well in the garden so the humans were sent out of the garden
  • They were fruitful and multiplied and became nations.
  • The nations get together and decide they want independence and autonomy and started to build a tower towards heaven
  • We know how that ends up, it ends up with the world as you and I know it
  • What is God’s response to the nations of the world in rebellion against Him?
  •  He chooses one family out of all of the nations, and He says this family is going to be the conduit to all other nations, for how they receive my blessings, goodness and grace. 
  • He started with Abraham, who becomes the father of the nation of Israel, 
  • The nation of Israel became enslaved in Egypt. By God’s grace and justice and redemption they were changed by the Exodus event and became a contrast community to all the other nations, “the light on the hill.” 
  • What do they do with this responsibility?
  • They fail, because they are humans
  • Then God chooses one king to lead the people, King David, the root of Jesse, according to Isaiah, he had a great golden period of being the city on the hill, the light of the nation, that lasted a few years. 
  • But alas, ultimately, remember the story of David on his rooftop and he sees a naked woman, wants her, forces himself on her, gets her pregnant, has her husband killed, he too does what everybody else does. 

This is the plot of the story of the Bible, this is how it works. For whatever reason, I can’t figure it out, God is committed to redeeming and restoring His world through human beings. That is the plot tension that drives the whole Bible. God is committed to blessing the world that has rebelled against Him. He is also committed to doing so, in and through human beings who will finally listen, and get on board with God’s purposes and God’s plan. The story of the people of Israel is that there has been no one who has done that. 

So with the prophet of Isaiah, we continue to hope that there will be a new David, a Messiah, who will lead the people of Israel in the way they were always meant to be and therefore be the way God’s blessings come to the nations. 

Which brings us back to the New Testament, the book of Matthew, and Jesus, the Messiah has arrived. And according to Isaiah 2, the redemption will reach to all the nations. So we know that is where the story ends. However, for the 3 or so years that Jesus walked on earth, His focus was on the covenant family of Israel and the promise that was made to them that was yet to be fulfilled. Jesus appointed 12 disciples, for the 12 tribes, to go out to the people of Israel and proclaim the fulfillment of Isaiah 2. Jesus doesn’t wrap up the plot of the story line until we get to Matthew 28. Let’s go there for just a minute, most of you know this ending.

Jesus has risen from the grave and He sees His disciples and then He tells them, 

 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, 

But right now, in Matthew 15, we aren’t there yet. Back to the Canaanite woman, she refuses to take silence as an answer. She came and knelt before Jesus. “Lord, Master, Help me!”

Check out Jesus’ second response to this woman. 

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

That sounds pretty degrading to me. What on earth was Jesus saying? Does it lose something when we translate it from Greek to English? This doesn’t sound like a loving, forgiving Savior to me. 

Actually, it does lose something in the translation. Jesus was not calling this woman a dog. He was speaking again in parables. This time the parable had to do with children and the Greek word He used was actually for “little dogs,” or family pets. For those of you who have had both together you will understand the parable right away. The family pet knows exactly which chair to sit under at the dinner table. The youngest, or the most sloppy eater. I remember the first time Lydia was able to sit in the high chair on her own and our first Newfoundland, Kennebec, nearly tipped the chair right over with her in it as she dove for some crackers that had landed on the floor. 

Jesus was using the parable of parents feeding their children first. They wouldn’t give the dog their children’s food. Jesus was trying to put His mission into a story that this woman would understand. 

His mission was to come into the world and give bread to the lost sheep of Israel. It wasn’t time yet to feed the nations. 

This woman catches what Jesus was saying but she undermines the parable. She comes back with an answer that everyone loves the family dog and there are always leftovers for the beloved family dog. 

What was Jesus’ response?

“Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

What was going on? 

Why does Jesus give this woman the silent treatment? 

Why does He make her work for the healing? 

Now if this was the case that no food was to be given to the dogs, ever, then Jesus wouldn’t have healed this woman’s daughter or the centurion’s servant either. 

There is something happening at this moment where Jesus is drawing something out of the woman. First through silence, then through this unique parable. However to truly understand how, you need to understand how knowledge was taught in the traditional Jewish culture. Unlike American education, Jewish students did not sit and listen to some knowledge bearing adults give lectures or expound information. The way it worked was the student had a very personal relationship with the teacher and the teacher would present questions and provide provocative situations where there would be dialogue back and forth. That is exactly what was happening. Jesus discerned there was something in this woman that needed to be drawn out, first through silence, then through a parable and dialogue. 

The fact that this Canaanite woman even approached Jesus while He was on this spiritual retreat begs the question, “What on earth did she know about Jesus?”

That He was a wonder worker? A healer? Was it because Jesus was a magic genie who could solve all her problems? 

It can’t be these thoughts because if you recall, she addressed Him as “Lord.” 

Not just the “Lord,” but “her Lord.” Twice. 

Somehow she has Jesus as not just Lord of Israel, but also Lord of the Canaanites. To those listening, it would not have made sense. But Jesus draws these things out of her, her boldness, her confidence. The moment He sees her real belief, and trust and acknowledgement of Him really being who He says He is, the Kingdom releases. 

That’s it! Oh that we could be like this woman. I can relate to her 100%. 

There are circumstances in my life that on the outside look so far gone that there is no way there is a Messiah that can change them. Jesus Himself tells this woman that His first mission is to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. But she has nowhere else to turn. Her daughter is dying. Her gut instinct is telling her that He can heal her daughter, against all odds. She will not give up. Even a crumb is enough. 

What about my situations? 

What about your impossible situations? 

The real question should be, “Do I truly believe Jesus is My Messiah and that He has and continues to release the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, regardless of the circumstances?”

We come today to participate in the recognition of that very fact, with the Lord’s supper. I encourage you to join me in bringing the impossible situations in our lives and believing that the Messiah has come, He sacrificed Himself so that the Kingdom of God is on earth as it is in heaven. 

Come, descendants of Jacob,

    let us walk in the light of the Lord.


The Lord’s Supper