What is faith? Hebrews 11 says that,
faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
We might not realise it but we show a kind of faith every day of our lives. When we travel by plane, bus, metro, in someone's car or especially at the moment when we travel by train, we show trust in the driver, pilot, engineers and manufacturers. We don't go up to those at the wheel and ask to see their licence every time they transport us. We trust in them and in their ability. We trust people all the time – doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers, lecturers. We may never meet many of them – examiners, those who supply us with food, power etc. So the focal point of faith is not so much what is in me, but rather in whom I am trusting. A Christian is someone who has faith in Jesus Christ, God the Son, the only Saviour, the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are saved by grace (meaning undeserved favour or God's riches at Christ's expense) through faith in Christ alone – not by works. Christians trust in God. We believe that he is there, that he is totally reliable and in full control. Someone once asked an elderly lady, who was noted for her great faith in God, 'what's the secret of your faith?' She replied, 'I am a woman of little faith in a great God'. To go back to the transport analogy. You want to go to another city. These days you go to the airport. You check in and go to the gate. The people on the desk assure you that it's the right plane. But simply believing that it is going to your destination will never get you there; you have to get on it and go! Believing in God, knowing that he's there is one thing. Committing yourself to him is another, and that's when faith springs into life. So what do we learn about true faith from this passage? First, GRACE NOT PLACE True faith can sometimes be found where we might least expect it. As we've been seeing in the first half of chapter 15 of Matthew it wasn't found in the Jewish religious leaders – the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who came from Jerusalem to see Jesus. Jesus denounces them as hypocrites in vv.7-9, quoting Isaiah:
These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.
Hypocrites often attach great importance to mere outward things in religion.
They nullify the Word of God for the sake of their tradition,
says Jesus in v.6,
Leave them [he continues in v.14]; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit [meaning hell].
Their own religion and doctrine were false. And despite having the OT Scriptures they did not recognise who Jesus was and is and were blind to their need of him. The same is true today of some religious leaders in the church. These Pharisees also failed to recognise that the fountain of all defilement is within man – out of the heart. Proverbs 28:26 says: "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool".
What is the first thing we need, in order to become Christians? A new heart. What is the sacrifice God asks us to bring to him? A broken and contrite heart. What is saving faith? To believe with the heart. Where ought Christ to dwell? To dwell in our hearts by faith. (Ryle)
In contrast to the Pharisees a Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon, north of Galilee, in Phoenicia, a woman from an area of pagan religion, a Gentile, who because she was a Canaanite, would have been the most ritually impure to the Jews, cries out to Jesus for help with her daughter and persists in asking the Lord to help her, even though he says in v.24 that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel and his disciples want him to send her away. Look at vv.21-25:
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession'. Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us'. He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel'. The woman came and knelt before him. 'Lord, help me!' she said.
Without any advantages of the Jews, she knew her need and knew Jesus alone could help her. She had great faith, as Jesus goes on to state in v.28. This reminds us that it is grace, not place, which makes people believers. Faith is a gift. I remember going along to the University Staff Christian Fellowship a few years ago and discussing true faith when one elderly gentleman said,
I've been a Christian all my life because I was born in a Christian country.
Being born in Britain doesn't make you a Christian. Having Christian parents doesn't make you a Christian. Jesus says,
I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he or she is born again. (John 3:3)
It is grace not place. In the section before and after the reading we had from 2 Kings 5:1-15, we see that Gehazi, Elisha's servant, remains unbelieving and unrepentant even though he lives in a prophet's household. Some people live in a house with Christian believers or with Christian parents and yet continue in unbelief. If we are the believers or the parents in that situation then we are to persevere in prayer for them, trusting in the Lord, as the Canaanite woman does here. Praying for them to come and as they come to Carols by Candlelight tonight or next week, for God to work in their hearts and minds. Perhaps you've been coming to this church for a short or a long time but still don't have faith in Jesus. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian, though it is important. Yet people like the young girl, the servant of Namaan's wife, who lived among superstition and idolatry, can be faithful witnesses for God. We should not despair of people's souls merely because they appear to be in a difficult position to hear and respond. One girl who came to faith in Christ in the school CU at Heaton Manor a number of years ago was from a Hindu family and despite pressure from the family she grew in faith and took her parents to her baptism service. Let's be praying for those living in lands hostile to the gospel and for those who have stepped out in faith to serve them. Here in Mt 15 Jesus' earthly mission was to the Israelites but he came to make that atonement for sin on the cross which would mean salvation for people in any place throughout the world. It is grace not place which makes people believers. God's approach to man is in grace and man's response to God is by faith. Secondly, AFFLICTION AND FAITH How do we view affliction?Look at vv. 22-23.
A Canaanite woman from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession'.
No doubt this Canaanite mother had been through the mill with her daughter. She had seen her daughter suffering terribly from demon possession and was unable to help her. Yet that trouble brought her to Christ and taught her to pray. Psalm 119:71 says:
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
Not that we should go looking for affliction. Not that we shouldn't pray as the Canaanite woman does for the Lord to heal. But do we say the same in times of trial as the psalmist? or as we look back?
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
JC Ryle points out from this passage that:
We forget that every cross is a message from God, and intended to do us good in the end. Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees. Health is a good thing; but sickness is far better, if it leads us to God. Prosperity is a great mercy; but adversity is a greater one, if it brings us to Christ. Anything is better than living without a care and dying in sin. Better a thousand times be afflicted, like the Canaanite mother, and like her flee to Christ, than live at ease, like the rich fool in Luke 12, for example, and die without Christ and without hope.
James in the first chapter of his letter writes this:
Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:2-8)
Thirdly, THE NATURE OF TRUE FAITH Look at vv.25-28:
The woman came and knelt before him. 'Lord, help me!' she said. Jesus replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs'. 'Yes, Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Jesus' disciples wanted him to send the Canaanite woman away. They thought she was a nuisance. They may have meant, 'Give her what she wants and get rid of her' or just, 'Get rid of her'. Either way they did not show much compassion. Jesus did not answer her at first. As a Canaanite she was outside the scope of his immediate ministry to the lost sheep of Israel. The gospel was to the Jew first and then to the Greek/ Gentile. Spiritually speaking the Gentiles were afar off until Calvary, when Jesus Christ died for both Jews and Gentiles and made reconciliation possible (Eph. 2:11). But still she persisted on her knees, 'Lord help me!' and asks for some crumbs of mercy. Jesus then replied, 'Woman you have great faith! Your request is granted.' Surely we can learn from her persistence and faith in Christ. Are we humbly praying in faith for our children to be converted if they're not already? For our parents, relatives, spouses, friends, colleagues and neighbours to be converted as they come to Carols by Candlelight, for others as they come under the sound of the gospel at those services from seeing the Metro advertising? So what was the nature of this woman's true faith? She recognised… a) Jesus' identity (Son of David) She claimed nothing for herself (v.22) but discerned greatness in Jesus. She knew who he was. She had come to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Calling him the Son of David revealed her faith in him as the Messiah of God. b) His position (Lord) Three times she calls him Lord. She knelt before him expressing her deep reverence for him and recognising his position, his Lordship and her lowliness. c) Her own undeserving nature (have mercy on me) She was not claiming a reward for merit, but rather looking for help for which she could claim no worthiness. She came to Jesus humbly in faith. d) Her dependency on him (Lord help me) She came as a sinner needing help, recognising her dependency on him, simply pleading nothing but her need, knowing that he could help. e) His ability to give to whom he willed (even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table) She did not presume on her position. She knew that she did not belong to Israel. But surely there would be crumbs! Yes the children of Israel must be fed and care for the dogs must not interfere with this necessary duty. But the pet dogs or Gentiles have their place too. They eat the scraps that fall from their masters' table. Those who own dogs make sure they are fed. It was a tremendous testimony of faith. She was full of faith in Jesus. He acknowledged it and healed her daughter. Recognising who Jesus is, what he does, and our utter dependency on him are the essential components of faith. It was this faith that provoked the response in Jesus, and the Canaanite woman's daughter was healed from that very hour. Do we have true faith in Jesus, the Son of God? Is he our Saviour and Lord? Do we recognise our unworthiness and his greatness and graciousness? Are we depending on him?