As we walk by faith, grow in our faith, and learn the obedience which stems from faith, God will produce in us greater faith. All believers believe to some extent, but not all believers develop the same amount of faith. Some remain weaker and some grow stronger. And some, a very few, gain an unswerving exemplary faith.
To learn the lesson of trusting God for greater things, the Gospel of Matthew contains a true account of a woman who showed great faith.
When one lists all the great women in the Bible like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Ruth, Esther, Elizabeth or Mary, this woman is often left off the list. I doubt she would make too many people’s top 20 women of the Bible list. Maybe this is because we do not know her name or much about her. Yet she is noteworthy for no woman received a higher compliment from Jesus than she did. Through her great faith she won over the heart of our Lord Jesus who then granted her mercy in the face of her desperate situation.
She also happens to be a woman whom Christ at first seemed to treat poorly. This created a tense drama completed and crowned with a magnificent ending.
The account is found in Matthew 15:21-28. It goes like this … “Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’ 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, ‘Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.’ 24 But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ 26 And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ 27 But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ 28 Then Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once.”
You can hear that this whole episode is filled with drama. First, the woman cries out, but Jesus does not answer. Next the disciples step in and plead with Christ to send her away. Christ then responds dismissively. Yet the woman persists to beg for help. She even approaches Jesus, bows low before him, and begs for mercy. Amazingly still Jesus refuses to help her! Then comes her expression of adamant faith, and Christ is won over to grant her request.
The entire passage is designed to highlight the words of Jesus at the end, “Oh, woman your faith is great, it shall be done for you as you wish.” She had great faith! Jesus said so.
From her example, then, we learn this overriding lesson: Great faith pleases God and accomplishes great things.
Great faith, though, is uncommon. So when we see it, we need to stand up and take notice. For it is truly a rare and beautiful spiritual jewel!
To learn this lesson we divide the story into 4 chapters that uncover more about this woman’s great faith. Picture a woman with a lovely face, yet covered with four lacy veils. One by one, as each veil is pulled back more of her lovely face is seen. Yet what we behold is not her actual face (for we know nothing of her looks) but her faith. Her great faith is revealed by 4 Unveilings:
The First Unveiling = Her Great Faith Emerges v. 21-22 . Here we see the motivation behind her faith, and that is her need. A little background helps to understand this woman’s plight. The location of this incident in the life of Jesus is in the region near the cities of Tyre and Sidon along the Mediterranean Coast. To travel there it meant that Jesus left Galilee with His disciples and traveled northwest some thirty to fifty miles toward these two cities and into (the Greek preposition used is eis “into”) the territories around them. This area is the ancient territory of Phoenicia. Today it is in southern Lebanon. Since Tyre & Sidon were on the coast, they were known as commercial centers for ship trade. The Phoenicians were famous in the ancient world as sailors.
This move by Christ was significant, for it marks the first time in His public ministry that our Lord entered into a heathen country, that of Phoenicia. Why did Jesus leave Israel and go to an unbelieving nation? Well the verb used to indicate His action in v. 21 is anacōreō, and it means “to withdraw” or “to pull back and go away and be separate.” It seems the Lord was attempting to find a place of solitude with His disciples. The attempts He made within Israel have thus far failed to provide them rest and privacy. We also know that Jesus tried to avoid unneeded conflict with King Herod and the religious leaders who were seeking to destroy Him and His ministry. Well, neither Herod nor the Jewish leaders had jurisdiction in Phoenicia. In fact, this withdrawal is reminiscent of Elijah’s move to the same region in 1 Kings 17:9 some 700 years earlier to hide from another evil king – Ahab. The prophet Elijah also met a woman in this same region. a widow, whose, son (rather than daughter) He would raise from the dead. The woman Jesus encountered while in this same Gentile region is expressly called here a “Canaanite” woman.
The Canaanites were wicked pagans of the Old Testament displaced by the Jews in the land of Canaan or Israel. They had been in the territory for 3000 years before Christ. The Canaanites even antedated Abraham’s journeys to the land of promise. However, they were a people cursed by God according to Genesis 9:25. So when Joshua entered the land God had commanded the Israelites to exterminate the evil Canaanites. (See Deut. 7:2.) This command did not originate from hateful racism but from their deserved divine judgment. Yet the Israelites did not fully carry out that holy command. So, many Canaanites remained in the land. Here is one Canaanite who was part of a group which survived all those years. Mark states too that she was a Greek and thus Hellenized. That means the conversation likely occurred in Koine Greek, the common language of the Roman world. Mark 7:26 also says she was of the Syrophonecian race which was a sub-class of Canaanites. Traditionally their religion was thoroughly pagan, idol worshipping, and offensive to the true God of Heaven. They worshiped a pantheon of fertility deities. One important female god was Asherah. A leading and popular god was Baal. They also had a sea god, a moon god, a sun god, and others. They were steeped in paganism.
This woman was obviously disillusioned with her gods. Just look what they had brought her family! We are not told this explicitly, but it is possible that her daughter was demon possessed due to her involvement with these gods. Certainly that makes sense when one understands that the source of pagan worship was demons. 1 Cor. 10:20 teaches that “… the things which the Gentiles sacrifice (to their gods), they sacrifice to demons and not to God.” So pagan idolatry opened the worshipper to demon influence.
This allows us to see the origin of this woman’s faith. The combination of weak and useless gods from her upbringing with great personal need drove this woman to faith in the Jewish prophet Jesus. This kind of conversion from paganism to Christianity is something the new church in Acts would see over and over. The Gentiles would abandon their false gods in droves to come to a God of love, power, and truth. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 “… you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” That’s true repentance – turning from false gods to serve a true and living God. That is what this woman was doing also – repenting, and turning to Christ.
The emergence of her faith also can be understood in that she had become familiar with the religion of the Jews having lived in a bordering nation. For the title she gives Jesus is “Son of David” – a clear Messianic term revealing her faith in Jesus’ rightful Jewish kingship. She reveals her need and her faith simply in verse 22 “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
By that statement we learn a little something about her daughter. The term used of this daughter in the parallel account in Mark 7:25 is a diminutive term. That means this child was quite young. This was a little girl. Mark 7:25 says she was not a typical young girl for she had an unclean spirit. Readers of Matthew by this point are not surprised to learn about demon possession for they have already encountered demon possession on numerous occasions in Christ’s ministry. The reality of the spiritual world influencing the fallen human mind is often discounted by modern people. Yet there is a spirit world, and only by including the spirit world can we fully understanding our full human experience. Matthew 4:24 mentioned Jesus casting out demons as a regular part of His healing ministry. Demons are not imaginary but still exist today. Matthew 8:28-29 describes “demons (who) were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way.’ Matthew 9:33 tells us that “After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke.” In our account the Canaanite mother said her daughter was cruelly demon possessed. What that specifically involved we cannot say, but it was something which drove this mother to desperation. In Matthew 17 we are told a demon possessed teenage boy was suicidal. Matthew 12:45 speaks of demon possession coming in degrees. Some demons, we are told, are more evil and more violent.
With this evil in mind, think about the need of this woman. She has a daughter, maybe her only daughter, who is cruelly indwelt by a demon and tormented by it. She heard of the power of Christ and came to Him to beg for her daughter to be released from the indwelling control of this malevolent spirit. She came with all she had – a desperate and humble faith.
In verse 22 we see her faith emerge in three actions: First, she comes out. Since there were no crowds present around Jesus in this region, her coming out probably means she heard a report of Jesus traveling in the region and came out of her home looking for Christ. Second, when she sees Christ she cries out to Him. That verb “cry out” is in the imperfect tense indicating she was continually crying out. That is indicated also by the annoyance of the disciples. She was continually saying “Have mercy on me.” She did not come to demand her rights. She was begging for mercy for her daughter. Third, she confessed out of her mouth Jesus to be the Son of David and the Lord. Everything in the account speaks of a genuine faith on her part.
So this is the first veil uncovered showing the emergence of this woman’s genuine faith. (Continued)