If your insurance agent contacts you about reviewing your homeowner's policy, you may want to take him up on that. Most of us assume that our coverage includes any possible contingency, such as a hurricane, flood, earthquake, wind damage, a mudslide, whatever.
Sadly, many who fall victim to these natural disasters assume they have coverage when they actually don’t.
Years of premiums paid may do nothing to cover the total loss of property and valuables.
The result of assuming in these situations is not only emotionally distressing, but it can also be financially debilitating.
It is not uncommon for people to look at religion like a homeowner’s policy where I pay my premiums and God provides protection from bad things happening to me. I attend Sunday services. I contribute financially. I volunteer my time.
Of course I’m forgiven and accepted by God. I’ve paid my dues, right? Isn’t that how religion works?
That may be how “religion” works but it not how Christianity works.
So, it may be time to review our coverage.
If you are relying on the premiums you are paying to God to keep you in good standing with your “religion policy,” you may be covered from a house fire but you are not covered from hell fire.
If you are not covered from that, wouldn’t you want to know?
Matthew 15:21-28 gives those who profess to be followers of Jesus the opportunity to review our gospel policy to see if we are assuming coverage or if we can rest, knowing that we really are in good hands, because all the premiums have already been paid, not just for partial coverage, but for complete coverage.
The place we begin in the text is in verse 21, where we see...
A CRY FOR HELP
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
After ministering to many people in Galilee, Jesus has led his inner circle of students, called disciples, to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which, as you will see on the map, is about 40-60 miles northwest of Galilee.
This region was populated primarily by descendants of the ancient Canaanites, whom the Israelites had battled for possession of the promised land 1,400 years earlier.
A Canaanite Woman
Upon reaching the town of Sidon, Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman crying out for him to heal her daughter, who is suffering from demon possession.
Since we don’t meet the daughter in person, we can only assume that she is manifesting similar outward signs of possession that Jesus encounters elsewhere, such as a madness of mind that leads to demonstrations of excessive violence.
In her mother’s words, she is “suffering terribly.” The Greek word translated as “terribly” indicates a severe, extreme and excruciating mental anguish. It is killing her mother to see her daughter in such torment.
No doubt, the daughter’s mother knew about Eshmun, the Canaanite god of healing whose temple was just 3 miles (4.8 km) northeast of Sidon. However, when choosing someone to cure her daughter, she doesn’t go to Eshmun. She runs to Jesus.
Though not a Jew, the woman appeals to Jesus with two very theologically loaded designations, calling him “Lord” and “Son of David.” Used in combination, they reveal that she believed Jesus to be the long-promised and awaited Jewish Messiah described in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Note further, that when appealing for help, she uses the word “mercy,” which shows that she is not issuing a demand for healing but rather is making a request.
Jesus’s response is unusual to say the least, as the woman’s pleading is met in verse 23 with…
AN UNEXPECTED SILENCE
23 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.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
I believe that this unexpected silence is a purposeful silence. One purpose is to teach his disciples a lesson.
They always seem to be pushing people away. Remember, the Samaritan woman in John 4. They pushed back parents with small children on another occasion, thinking that the infants were a nuisance and that Jesus must have more important things to do. Here again, they beg Jesus to “send her away!” She is a Canaanite, after all. C’mon Jesus. Don’t let her keep hounding us.
But the woman will not let up.
When Jesus eventually speaks, it is to clarify that his mission is to “the lost sheep of Israel.” The “lost” in our English Bibles doesn’t just mean misguided. The original Greek word is translated in other places as “perishing, ruined, and destroyed.”
His mission is to “perishing and ruined” sheep who will be “destroyed...” unless Jesus rescues them.
Notice that Jesus puts Israel in that condition.
But weren’t they covered? Didn’t God’s religious policy of protection spare them from condemnation? The disciples would have thought judgment was for Geniles like the Canaanites or the Samaritans or Romans. Not the Jews.
The assumed wrongly. This is the lesson they, and we, need to learn from this Canaanite woman.
Don’t assume coverage if you are looking anywhere else for coverage besides Jesus.
His mission—as a Jew—centered on making other Jews aware, not of their secure position, but of their desperate need for the same mercy as a demon-possessed Canaanite.
We may not be “demon possessed” in the same way, but we all need deliverance from our own inner evil, to which every human is in bondage from birth. It is an innate evil that has done more damage to our spiritual condition than a Cat 5 Hurricane can do to the physical landscape of a beach-side community. And that is saying a lot.
While Jesus’s message of mercy began with the Jews, his disciples later would be commissioned to take that message to the ends of the earth.
This desperate Canaanite woman represents what it looks like to need and to receive that message of mercy. Her posture should be the disciples’ posture. And yours and mine if we are going to receive the same mercy for which she pleads.
However, lest we think that receiving mercy is some kind of easy believism where we nod to God with all the right words like putting change into a snack machine, expecting to get what we want, Jesus employs...
AN UNUSUAL EVANGELISM STRATEGY
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
Against the protests of the disciples and with an unrelenting trust in the power of Jesus to heal, the woman does not give up.
Now she is kneeling at his feet, I imagine on both knees with her head bowed and hands raised to physically express the desperation of her heart.
Unexpectedly, Jesus responds with what sounds like an insult.
Jews were known to insult Gentiles by calling them dogs, which in ancient Palestine were wild scavengers, more like coyotes than a house pet. While the form of the word “dog” Jesus uses (Gk. kynarion) means “little dog,” being called a dog is still insulting.
Jesus is not primarily insulting her. He is testing her.
Is her heart really where he knees are?
Does she really see him as Lord, or is she just using the right words and body posture to get something she wants?
We know that Jesus told his disciples elsewhere that on the final day many will use the right words, saying, “Lord, Lord…” But he will cast them away saying, “Depart, I never knew you.”
Many will think they have coverage for the great disaster, when, to their shock and dismay, they don’t.
Those who would cry out “Lord, Lord” but be cast away would appeal to all they had done for Jesus, even casting out demons. They had paid their premiums. Certainly, they were covered?
But again, why did they do their “good works?” As a response to grace, or as a way to manipulate God in order to get something from God.
Have you ever thought, “Since I’m a good person, I deserve a good life.”
We kneel and pay our respects to Jesus, calling him Lord and go through the religious motions, assuming we are covered. After all, I’ve paid my premiums. God owes me.
But what if we do not get what we want? What if we lose our job? What if we are met with physical affliction? What if tragedy and hardship strikes our children?
“I deserve better, God! Look at what I’ve sacrificed for you, and you repay me with this? I’ve tried to live your way and my life has fallen apart. This is not fair!”
And so we get up and shake our fists, cursing the God who is supposed to provide coverage for those who pay their premiums.
We are at the most crucial part of the story.
Jesus’s hard, even insulting words are a test to see how the woman will respond to being in such a humiliating position of need, with empty hands, begging for mercy — and not getting what she wants.
Will she get up and shake her fist in his face? Will she reveal a hidden spirit of entitlement? Was she just manipulating Jesus after all?
Her response reveals…
A MODEL OF SAVING FAITH
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Rather than get up and wag her finger in Jesus’s face for the insult, she agrees with him. “Yes, I am a dog and I will savor even your crumbs of mercy if you will just let them fall.”
This text captures a perfect model of saving faith, where genuine humility is joined with sincere trust — a combination that elicits a joyful, exuberant response from Jesus that could not be missed by his disciples.
“YES! This is what true, saving faith looks like!”
We read that upon the expression of the mother’s trust in Jesus as the Messiah her daughter was healed at that very hour. Full coverage went into effect immediately.
Here is a difficult but necessary lesson. God often allows us to experience hardship in order to bring us to a place where we will cry “Uncle! — a place where we will confess our inability and limitations and our need for mercy.
In that moment of trial, it may feel like God is against us, but what if in our suffering, God is working for us to cultivate in us a genuine humility, which when combined with personal trust, will release far more than crumbs from the table.
This woman is a model of saving faith because she does not approach Jesus with a sense of demanding entitlement but with a spirit of someone who knows she doesn’t deserve even crumbs of mercy.
She deserves what Jesus will receive.
If anyone in this passage is entitled to blessing, it is Jesus. As God himself, what Jesus deserved was to receive worship and glory and honor and praise.
Jesus would take the posture of humiliation for us, not by kneeling but by hanging, where upon a cross he would take upon himself the shame of one accursed and rejected by God.
Jesus would become the dog.
But why would he be willing to be so humiliated?
The same reason as this Canaanite woman. She was willing to suffer humiliation because she loved her daughter and would do anything to end her excruciating suffering.
It would be the same with Jesus, whose love for his people was so intense that he would face the excruciating suffering of condemnation so that we wouldn’t have to face that suffering.
Through his perfect life and judgment fulfilling death, Jesus paid all the premiums our (eternal) life policy would ever need for complete coverage for every sin.
How Can a Worm Refuse
Jerram Barrs, one of my British Covenant Seminary professors from back in the day, shared with our class about an event that took place in England, just six weeks before his father’s death.
His father, Mr. Barrs, had been a committed Marxist for most of his life, and as such, was an atheist.
While Jerram had grown up an atheist, he was converted as a university student and ended up working closely with a man named Francis Schaeffer.
With Jerram’s father on his deathbed, Dr. Schaeffer made a visit to see Mr. Barrs. During the visit, Schaeffer had the opportunity to share the message of God’s mercy for sinners in the person of Jesus.
Mr. Barrs paused for a long time, looking down, and eventually responded, “How can a worm accept such mercy?”
Schaeffer reply, “How can a worm refuse?”
In that moment, Jerram’s dad—in genuine humility combined with personal trust—believed upon Jesus as the lover of his soul and forgiver of his sins, and the former Marxist atheist was reconciled to God as his Abba, Father, securely covered in the fully paid, blood-stained policy that had been purchased for him by Jesus.
I wonder if you can relate to that at all? When I think of the evil of my sinful nature, my flesh, I feel like a worm. Or maybe a moral cockroach that deserves to be crushed.
But here is what the gospel tells us: Upon a cross, Jesus became the worm, or to use the image from our text, he became the dog, so that we would not have to scavenge for crumbs of mercy but could savor a banquet of mercy, not as dogs but as sons and daughters of the King who get to sit and dine at his table of grace!