Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.—Matthew 15:21–28
Have you felt great distress over a loved one’s condition of soul? The woman of Canaan was in great distress over her daughter, who was grievously vexed by the devil. She cried unto Jesus for mercy. This may be a familiar situation to many. Faith is personal; we can’t believe for anyone else. But this example speaks to us of grief that is felt over one who has gone astray.
More importantly, the incidents in our text speak of continuing in prayer and faith. God does not turn away from the prayers of His weak and poor children. Instead, He comes to help and save in His time.
He Has Come to Save Lost Ones
The enemy of souls—the devil—attacks on many fronts. Our personal faith is often tried. In the midst of our own walk in faith one may hear that the devil has enticed a child or dear friend away from faith. When one loses faith, the Holy Spirit departs and one becomes spiritually blind. The return to faith from this condition is no longer in human hands, but rather in the hands of God.
Family members and believing friends of one who has given up faith feel great lacking, doubts and despair over a rift that forms and over the blindness that comes when one leaves faith. Some have left faith thinking they can return later, but sorrowfully death took them in their unbelief and they are eternally lost and condemned.
The Canaanite woman was in this kind of trial and distress over her daughter. She cried unceasingly to Jesus for mercy. At first Jesus did not answer, and the woman continued to beg for mercy. The disciples could not bear this and asked Jesus to send the woman away. Such is our own flesh and blood as well: it desires an immediate answer or resolution, and if those aren’t forthcoming, we are overcome with impatience and doubt. Jesus rebuked the disciples and reminded them that He has come to save the lost ones. Jesus surely heard the woman’s cry, but as our text teaches us, our all-seeing and all-knowing God answers our prayers in His way and in His time.
Let Us Always Put Our Trust in God
Our text tells how the woman came and worshipped Jesus and pled for help. She put her trust in Jesus. This encourages us to do the same yet today. When we struggle and have distress over those who are lost, we need to continue in our own personal faith. We can pray unceasingly and always put our trust in God. He hears all our pleas and gives us peace.
Jesus gives perhaps a surprising answer to the woman’s plea. He explains how it is not right to give the bread that belongs to a child to a dog instead. This word-picture may have certain meanings (cf. John 6:48–51), but the woman’s reply reveals the condition of her heart: “Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” She saw herself as an unworthy beggar of grace. This is a familiar feeling to a child of God who often feels unsuccessful in the battle of faith. Those who have lost children or dear friends to the world often feel their unworthiness. They may regret not taking time to visit the lost one more before he or she went into the world. However, we are not saved by our actions, nor are we saved based on what we have done or left undone.
The Canaanite woman’s example shows us that our priority is to lift our gaze from our sinful hearts, where nothing good exists. Instead we should look where Jesus can be found and to where He and His own are gathered. We need to go to the services of God’s children where our own weak faith can be strengthened by the gospel of the forgiveness of sins, which is preached through the Holy Spirit. This is how we are fed by “crumbs from the Master’s table.”
There Is Yet Hope for Lost Ones
Our text ends in glad tidings. Jesus called the woman’s daughter from the grasp of the enemy. The woman’s prayers were answered; her daughter was healed! The joy of the woman of Canaan was boundless, just like the joy that reaches to heaven when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10). This reassures us that there is yet hope for those lost ones we love so dearly. Let us pray for them unceasingly. God can help even when the situation seems hopeless to us. While there is life, there is hope.
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