Just Say Yes, Part 3

Doing the will of God is saying “yes” to Jesus. Obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. The more we say “yes” to the Lord, the more prayers He will answer. Don’t believe me? It’s true. Here’s just one example:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8 | TNIV)

Many of the blessings of God are conditional – some aren’t, but most of what God promises to do for believers depends on them doing something to receive them. Being obedient is the very least condition we should be fulfilling.

We’ve looked at the case of the two blind men who were following Jesus. They asked for mercy; they responded “yes” when Jesus asked them if they believed He could show them mercy, and in a moment their eyes were opened and they could see (Matthew 9:28).

Jesus had been teaching a group of His followers some things about the Kingdom of Heaven. He asked them if they understood His teachings, and some of them answered, “yes.” It’s incumbent on all believers to accept the teachings of Scripture. You may or may not understand them all the time, but by faith you need to accept them and practice them.

Those first two examples of saying “yes” to Jesus are pretty easy to accept. This third example is a little more difficult to swallow. It’s found in Matthew 15:27 –

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (NIV84)

The part that’s difficult to swallow is that she was saying “yes” to being a dog! What’s worse is that it was Jesus who called her a dog! Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

Our Lord would probably be sued today for calling a woman a dog! It would be headline news on CNN: Jesus Calls Foreign Woman Dog. But, as usual, something else is going on behind the scenes, so let’s take a closer look as just why Jesus called this woman a “dog” and why she agreed with Him.

The context

The key to understanding Matthew 15 is a verse back in the Old Testament:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

It all began with a conflict between Jesus and some religious leaders who had come to see and hear Jesus. They weren’t fans, they were on a fact-finding mission to check out this popular rabbi – His teachings and His activities. Here’s how they began their investigation:

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2 | NIV84)

It’s not that these religious teachers were concerned about personal hygiene. They weren’t. They were perplexed that Jesus’ followers seemed to ignore the ritual hand-washing before eating. Jesus’ answer to their criticism was nothing less than breathtaking:

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3 | NIV84)

Jesus accused them – these stalwart religious leaders; these guardians of tradition and decorum – of breaking the law of God with their tradition; their made up rule about hand-washing. Is it possible to make up religious laws that actually go against the teachings of Scripture? According to Jesus, it is! Religion is man’s way to reach God. Obedience to the Bible is God’s way for man to reach Him.

To help them understand where He’s going with His accusation, Jesus gives an illustration about how honoring one’s parents, which is a Biblical admonition as old as the earliest teachings of the Old Testament, includes financially supporting them:

For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:4 – 6 | NIV84)

These clever religious folks got around God’s Word by concocting a “work-around.” To get out helping out their parents financially, all they had to do was deem their money as a “gift to God.” That’s despicable. They invented a pious way out of honoring their God-given responsibility of taking care of their parents.

In case you think that doesn’t happen in the Church, you’d be wrong. It happens all the time. Not just with money, but Christians are experts at justifying doing things contrary to what they know God wants. We invent all kinds of clever ways to get out of doing God’s will, all while claiming to love Him. For example: How many Christian students use “studying for an exam” as an excuse to get of going to church? How many Christian parents obsess over getting their kids to football practice or dance class but can’t be bothered to get them to Sunday School?

If that’s the way you live your Christian life, Jesus’ estimation of you is about as bad as it gets: You’re a hypocrite. That’s a terrifying word in the Bible. There’s no appellation equal to it. In Jesus’ day it was used to describe somebody pretending to be somebody else. We’d use the word “actor.” So people that invent clever ways around obeying God’s Word are actors – people playing at being a Christian.

But Jesus isn’t finished with this bunch yet. He goes even further:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:10, 11 | NIV84)

This is a spiritual principle here that a lot of people miss completely. The disciples did, so Jesus continues to push the knife of offence in even further:

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13, 14 | NIV84)

Of course Jesus isn’t talking about botany here any more than He’s been talking about washing your hands and eating the right foods. The word “plant” here means “system,” as in “religious system.” So what Jesus told His followers, including the religious leaders listening, is that every religion or religious system not founded upon the Word of God will be exposed for what it is, and destroyed as one would destroy a weed.

And to twist the knife one more time, Jesus referred to the religious leaders as “blind guides.” They weren’t just “actors,” but “blind guides.” In other words, these religious leaders were not only useless but dangerous.

Did Jesus really insult a foreigner?

The disciples were dull people. That’s not my assessment, it’s what Jesus called them. They just didn’t get what their Lord was getting to. Giving it one more go, Jesus said this:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:19, 20 | NIV84)

That’s why the key to understanding this part of Matthew is an ancient verse from Isaiah:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

This was what those religious leaders were doing and what they were encouraging religious people to do. And it’s what religious people do to this very day. Their worship and devotion to God is a show – it’s a drama they perform for public consumption. Like the second of our “Just Say Yes” messages and our brief look at the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13, not everybody in the Kingdom of Heaven or not everybody who goes to church is what they claim to be. Anybody can call themselves a Christian; anybody can hold a hymnal and sing a hymn; anybody can bow their head in an appearance of humble prayer and contrition, but those are not the things that a believer genuine. Going to the right church or reading the right books does not make the Christian. Jesus is teaching here that a person is not defiled by what he puts in his mouth. He’s not defiled by the music he listens to or the clothes he wears. The primary source of evil is what’s in the human heart. A man may “do” all the right things; obey all the right man-made rules of his church, but moral purity and spiritual soundness begins with the state of his heart, which determines the state of his thoughts and will, which leads to his actions, which are, as we are discovering, manifestations of his faith.

After His go-around with the religious folks, Jesus traveled northward to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These two cities were in Phoenicia, which is now Lebanon, which was purely Gentile territory. Ostensibly He took His disciples up there to get a little privacy to teach them some more, but in reality a woman there needed His help.

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.” (Matthew 15:22 | NIV84)

Mark, in his account of the story adds little bit more detail about this woman: The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. (Mark 7:24a | NIV84)

So this woman was not only a Gentile but a foreigner and a heathen. Yet she came to Christ for help, addressing Him by His Messianic title, “Son of David.” Quite a contrast to the religious folk who came to Jesus, not having a clue who He was; who didn’t think they needed His help at all; and who only wanted trap Him by twisting His words around.

Even if you don’t, Matthew’s intended readers would have immediately recalled another Gentile woman in that very area whose child was healed by God through the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17. But Jesus’ disciples were simply annoyed by this woman’s persistence. He, apparently, didn’t want anything to do with her and they wanted rid of her. What they didn’t know was this whole thing was a set up; an encounter designed by God to drive home a point these thick-headed, dull-witted followers of Jesus needed to learn. Carr correctly observed,

Jesus, by His refusal, tries the woman’s faith, that He may purify it and strengthen it.

Amazingly, this woman does the unthinkable:

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. (Matthew 15:25 | niv84)

In the face of the disciple’s arrogance and Jesus’ seeming indifference, she went beyond merely asking Jesus for help. She worshipped Him. She took the position of humility and worshipped this Son of David.

And then it happened. In response to her simple worship, our Lord, full of compassion and mercy, said this:

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

On the surface, it sounds like Jesus is simply insulting this poor woman. But remember, He’s trying to teach something to His followers. In this verse, Jesus is saying that it wouldn’t be proper to take “the children’s bread,” referring to what He was bringing to His people, the Jews, and give it to “their dogs,” that is, to Gentiles. In other words, What Jesus was saying is this:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | NIV84)

That’s all Jesus was saying to this woman, and to His disciples, using the vernacular of His day. It was very common for Jews to call Gentiles dogs. Of course, Gentiles called Jews bad names too. But the point is, Jesus was behaving coolly toward this poor woman to prove a point to His disciples and to stretch this woman’s faith. Jesus DID come as “King of the Jews,” but that title meant nothing if there was no compassion behind it. Yes, He was the Messiah; He was the Messiah of all people. But He was so, not because this woman said it but because He acted like it.

This precious woman would not be put off. She seized on Jesus’ words. She didn’t deny them, she embraced them and turned them back upon Jesus. You have to admire what she did. What she did, in effect, was to take Jesus’ words and use them against Him to get what she needed. She did what the Pharisees and religious leaders could never do because her heart was right. Recall what Jesus had just said to His disciples:

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? (Matthew 15:16 | NIV84)

He’s not talking biology here. Jesus is talking theology – theology of the highest order. Elsewhere our Lord put it this way:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 | NIV84)

Only evil spewed from the mouths of the so-called, self-proclaimed religious leaders. But this woman, who from all appearances was a lost soul, in fact, spoke the truth because that’s what was in her heart. Appearances could be so deceiving. The disciples needed to learn this: It’s what’s in the heart that counts.

In answer to her faith – her “yes,” our Lord said this:

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28 | NIV84)

She was a dog – a Gentile – and she knew it. But that didn’t stop her from practicing her tenacious faith; a faith that Jesus marveled at.

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