Pastor James Preus
February 25, 2024
Last week, our greatest enemy Satan pretended to be a friend. He offered Jesus food, the help of angels, and the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Yet, it was an attempt to destroy Jesus and us. This week, our greatest friend pretends to be a heartless enemy. Christ Jesus ignores and insults a woman crying to Him for help. Yet, He did this to strengthen her and our faith. This teaches us that faith must be tested with tribulations, just as silver and gold must be tested with fire. This also teaches us that only faith can defeat God in a wrestling match.
In the previous chapter, Jesus said to His Apostle Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31) Yet, at the end of this Gospel lesson, Jesus says to the Canaanite woman, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” It’s quite unexpected that a great apostle would have a little faith, but a Gentile woman would have a huge faith. But here we see that it is no coincidence that Jesus walked by this woman’s town. His disciple Peter needed a stronger faith. We need a stronger faith. So, Christ came to this Canaanite woman to give Peter and us a demonstration of a strong faith in action.
Faith clings to the promise that God is willing and able to answer your prayer. Psalm 27 states, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord do I seek.’” Again, Jesus says in John chapter 16, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give to you.” God promises, so faith believes the promise and acts according to it. But what if tribulation comes? What if God makes you wait? What if God is silent to you? What of it? Why should these things question your faith? God is omnipotent, that means, He is all powerful. Since God is omnipotent, no trial on earth can hinder Him from carrying out His promise. God is truthful. We should never doubt that He will do as He promises, even if He makes us wait.
Jesus tries the Canaanite woman’s faith with four tests, which all Christians may endure from time to time. The first is tribulation. Tribulation is when you are afflicted with trouble and suffering. The Canaanite woman was afflicted, because her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. We don’t know how this particular demon oppressed her. But from what we know of other demon possessions, it could have made her mute and deaf, given her seizers, fits of rage, or even attempted to kill her. Tribulation might come to you in the form of great sickness or disability to you or someone you love, poverty, anxiety, conflict, guilt, terror, doubt, or any such thing. Often tribulation comes in the form of persecution, where you suffer on account of your confession of Christ. For such tribulation, Christ says you are blessed (Matthew 5:12).
Yet, it was good for Peter to see this woman in great tribulation, so that He could grow from one with little faith to have a great faith like her. And after having experienced some of his own trials, Peter was able to encourage the church in his first Epistle, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Tribulation causes the Christian to exercise his faith by clinging to God’s promise, so that suffering produces perseverance and perseverance character, and character hope, and hope does not put to shame (Romans 5:3-4).
Yet, to tribulation Christ adds a second test to this faithful woman: silence. Jesus didn’t answer her! She cried for help, and Christ remained silent! Yet, this is not unusual for our Lord. Job complains to the Lord in chapter 30, “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” And the Psalms are filled with complaints of God’s silence. “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:2) “O My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:2) “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!” (Psalm 83:1) And Peter surely prayed these Psalms as he waited in prison for the Lord to rescue him.
Silence can be worse than the tribulation! Silence gives ammunition to your enemies, whether they be human or spirits, to taunt you and say, “Where is your God?” Doubt wields God’s silence at your faith to knock it down. Yet, faith cries, “According to your steadfast love, remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!” God is not a liar. His promises are true. He may make you wait, but the wait is good for you. Do not mistake God’s silence for Him breaking His promises. God cannot break His promises. And Christ Himself cried out to a silent God from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” (Psalm 22:1) And God the Father answered Him by raising Him from the dead. So, all who trust in God for Christ’s sake have certainty that God’s silence will give way to a good answer.
Next, Jesus questions whether the promise to save is for this Gentile woman. She’s a Canaanite, not a child of Israel. Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. His disciples want Him to simply send her away, but Jesus answers them that He is sent only to Israel’s lost sheep. Yet, Christ, who nearly two millennia early strove with Jacob, so that he could earn the title Israel, which means, one who strives with God, strives with this woman, so that she can prove herself a daughter of Israel, not by blood, but through faith.
Peter learned this lesson yet again, in the house of a Gentile Cornelius, whom Christ revealed to Peter in a vision was worthy of the Gospel, just as the Jews are (Acts 10). Peter even had to defend himself for eating at the same table as Gentiles by demonstrating that they too are of the house of Israel through faith (Acts 11).
Today, you might question whether the promise of salvation is for you. Some argue that Christ died only for the elect. So, you must look at yourself to see if you are chosen by God. Yet, Scripture teaches that Christ died for all people. You know you are elect through faith in Christ. Faith rests on the promise that God forgives you for Christ’s sake. So, election can only be used as a comfort to those who have faith in Christ who died for all, not as a reason to doubt whether Christ died for you.
Finally, Christ questions the woman’s worthiness to receive an answer to her prayer. “It is not good to take from the children and give to the dogs.” Christ called her a dog. Dogs may not sit at the table. It is our sins which make us unworthy. Isaiah writes these horrifying words in chapter 59, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” How frightening! Is God refusing to listen to my prayers, because of my sin? St. Peter himself had to deal with such unworthiness, when he was first called by Christ, after the great catch of fish, he knelt down and said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8) Yet, Christ told him not to be afraid. Christ forgave his sins. And that is the promise He gives to all sinners. Yes, our sins separate us from God, but if we listen to Him and repent of our sins with a humble heart, He will not refuse us! He came into the world to save sinners!
And so, this Canaanite woman would not let being called a dog deter her. “Yes, I am a dog. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table!” How right she is! Christ cannot withhold from her a dog’s portion! And so, we cry, “Yes, I am a poor miserable sinner! But you came to save sinners! I confess my sins. Will you forgive me?” And He does!
This is the wonderful thing about faith. Faith does not depend on our worthiness, but on God’s grace and mercy! So, tribulation cannot conquer true faith, because God is more powerful than your tribulation. Silence cannot defeat true faith, because God is not a liar, and He will do as He promises, even if you must wait. Doubt that the promise is intended for you can’t defeat a true faith, because faith listens to God’s Word that the promise of salvation is universal to all who believe. And unworthiness cannot defeat true faith, because faith does not depend on your worthiness, but on God’s grace. We are not saved on account of our works, but on account of Christ Jesus who died to take away our sins.
And so, the woman, like her spiritual forefather Jacob did long ago, defeated Christ in a wrestling match by persistently and humbly clinging to Christ’s Word. And as it was for Jacob, this trial was good for her. Next week we’ll hear Jesus warn that when an unclean spirit is cast out, if it returns and finds the place empty, it will bring with it seven more spirits more evil than itself (Luke 11). And so, Christ by trying this woman’s faith instead of immediately casting out the demon, prepared her to keep that demon away from her daughter after it had been cast out.
This trial benefited the woman’s faith, yet it also benefited Peter’s and all the disciples’ faith. And it benefits our faith even today! Learn from this Canaanite woman. Christ made you a promise. Cling to it. Don’t let go. Like bulldog Jacob, don’t let go until He blesses you. Ask and it will be given to you. Seak, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. Don’t let your faith grow weary of silence. When you question whether God’s promise is for you, look to His Word again and see that He comes to save all sinners. When you feel unworthy because of your sin, confess your sin to Him who forgives sinners. Do not let your pride make you give up. Confess that you are a poor miserable sinner, even as this woman confessed to being a dog. And Christ will marvel at your faith!
Faith alone can conquer the devil, the world, and yes, even God, so that He gives us what He promises. Faith alone saves. So, let us not begrudge the trials which will strengthen that faith, so that we finally receive our promised salvation. Amen.