Lessons: Genesis 32:22-32, Romans 5:1-5, Matthew 15:21-28
Hymns: 756, 615, 423, 420, 422, 919
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Many popular books, comics, and movies are about a hero who overcomes evil. As we engage these stories, we often place ourselves into them, suffering in their defeats and rejoicing in their victories. There’s something about them that captures the imagination of many.
In addition, many are thrilled by the defeats and successes of war. They study how battles are won and are enamored by the seemingly untiring and selfless accomplishments of the soldier on the battlefield. We are impressed by their victories and rejoice with them.
As impressive as our imaginations are, and as impressive as some of the successes accomplished in battle, these are not the greatest battles of all time. Instead, they are the victories over sin, temptation, and trial. After all, eternal matters are involved.
These victories are won by Christ Jesus for all who believe. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). In fact, we even “rejoice in our sufferings.” Why? It is written, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom 5:3-4). You see, God uses all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
With this in mind, let us consider the victories of faith. There are victories over the devil, victories over obstacles placed by man, and victories over trials sent by God Himself. This first one (victories over the devil) was seen last week. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and withstood every temptation. His weapon was the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Satan tried his level best to tempt Jesus, but Jesus would not let Satan get the upper hand.
There is no way we have the power to overcome Satan and his murderous lies on our own. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, had to come into this world to defeat Satan. And Jesus grants us the victory by faith.
The other two are seen in today’s Gospel. Through the Syro-Phoenician woman, we can see examples of victories over obstacles placed by man and even trials sent by God Himself.
The Gospels do not record many times in which Jesus leaves Galilee. A few times He goes down to Jerusalem. But in this Gospel, Jesus retreats to the west, toward the Mediterranean Sea, a land the Israelites did not conquer when they entered the Promised Land. These people knew the Jews well. They were neighbors, but they weren’t neighborly toward each other. At first God commanded the Israelites to eliminate the Canaanites. But they didn’t listen to God and the Canaanite gods became a source of temptation for God’s people. So, for centuries the two groups feuded, battled, and hated each other.
And behold a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus for mercy. Just think what that must have been like for her. Somehow, she learned of Jesus and His saving work. She learned Jesus could heal her daughter. But how does she meet Him? What will her own people say? How dare she make her appeal to a foreigner like Jesus whose ancestry almost eliminated the Canaanites? Will her own people disown her if Jesus has compassion on her?
Those were all risks she was willing to take. In fact, from a human standpoint, trusting in Jesus is risky. Of course, the risk is not with God, for when we are justified by faith, we have peace with God. But when we have peace with God, many will not have peace with us. Just as the Canaanite woman faced possible scorn from her own people, so also Christians face scorn and derision from the unbelieving world. We are often tempted to close our lips and refrain from confessing the Gospel because we don’t want others to mockingly smile at us, question us, or reject us on account of our faith.
Yet, the Canaanite woman would not let any of these risks stop her. And so she boldly approaches Jesus and petitions His mercy.
Then she was met with another source of opposition. This opposition did not come from the unbelieving community, but from those who are of the household of faith. Jesus’ own disciples were bothered by this woman and said to our Lord, “Jesus, please do something. Get rid of her. Shoo her off. She’s bothering us. She’s talking to us. She’s asking favors of us. She’s cramping our style.”
How often do Christians become a detriment to those who are trying to enter the Kingdom of God? How often do we size up potential members, trying to see if they will support or hinder our church budget? How often do we raise an eyebrow at the poor, the disabled, the addicted, or those with mental issues? Jesus welcomed all. He offered forgiveness to all. He is not a respecter of persons. He died for all. And so we should never get in the way of those who wish to enter the Kingdom of God.
There’s another way in which Christians can get in the way. It’s when Christians devour their own. The world loves to see it. Internal battles within congregations or denominations. Using the press to fight against other denominations. If we Christians are always warring with one another, why would the unbelieving world want to join in?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should accept all beliefs; in fact, we should not accept any belief which contradicts Scripture. We have a wonderful treasure in the Word of God, and it is our great heritage. Therefore, we must work at preserving it. And we do so by confessing it and, in helpful ways, bring others along to join us in our pure and true confession of the Faith. The pure Word by which the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of hard men should never be considered a detriment or deterrent to faith. God and His Word are never the problem.
But sadly, Christians can be, as the disciples were to this foreign woman. Instead of trying to send people away, we are to always be ready to give reasons for the hope within in—to tell others the wondrous works of God, especially the mercy found in Christ Jesus who died on the cross to pay for the sins of the entire world.
So how did the woman in today’s Gospel overcome the obstacles of man? In faith, she was undeterred about her own countrymen and their rejection of the Christian faith. And in faith, she remained undeterred by the disciples who were so intent on sending her away. You see, faith does not, as we heard last week, rest on what we see or on how things appear. Instead, faith clings to that which is not seen. The woman in our Gospel had not seen the healing hand of Jesus. But she had heard and believed. And so in faith, she persisted on bringing her petition to the Lord, that Jesus heal her daughter.
Whenever others within the so-called Christian community present obstacles before us—whenever others try to get in the way of our hearing the Gospel—whenever those who hold to false doctrine try to deter us from clinging on to the Gospel truth, we follow of the example of the Christian woman in today’s Gospel—we persist in the truth, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we cling to Him.
For Jesus alone is our Savior. He alone bled on the cross to pay for our sins. He alone opened Heaven so we have access to our Heavenly Father. And so, we in faith never let anyone stand between us and Him. We gather in Church to hear His Word. We go to His altar to receive His Body and Blood. We take time each day in meditation and prayer. For in Him, we have obtained the victory.
Yet, there are times where God Himself sends us trials. He did so to the woman in our Gospel. Jesus did not answer her right away. When He finally spoke, Jesus seemed to dismiss her. He even seemed to call her uncharitable names. Yet, the woman did not let these trials defeat her, and God was using them for good. You see, this foreign woman is now recorded in Scripture as one of the finest examples of faith! The victory of Christ by faith is hers!
In the book of Hebrews, it is written, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11). And also remember, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom 5:3-4).
God knows what is best for us. He can and does send trials our way. But they are for our good. They train us to focus on Him as the source of every blessing. They teach us that we are unprofitable servants, but He is the victor who grants us the victory. After all, Jesus, as the Suffering Servant, bore our sins in His Body, and shed His innocent Blood on the cross to take away the world’s sin. In Him, we have redemption.
The woman was undeterred by the trials Jesus sent her. She did not go away in a huff, blaming God for everything that was wrong in her life. Instead, she drew closer to Him, accepting God’s apparent snub and continued to bring her petition before the Lord on her knees, saying, “Lord, help me.” And that is exactly what He did. Jesus exclaimed, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire!” And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is a most marvelous Gospel. God used a foreign woman as the example of great faith. And she received the victory of Christ by faith—her daughter was healed, she believed, and salvation belonged to them. In Christ, we too, obtain these victories. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.