Sermon for 16th August 2020


Amazing Grace 16/08/20

 

Reading – Matthew 15:21-28

 

‘Grace’, is unique to Christianity. By that, I mean, Christianity, is the only life and death faith, that denies the ability of human beings, to attain salvation, through rules, good works, and behaviour. Christianity, is the only faith, to teach that Salvation, ‘Eternal Life’, is always, an undeserved gift, freely given, by Almighty God, to the undeserving men and women, of a sinful fallen world:

 

“Amazing grace – how sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

 

‘twas grace, that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved;

How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.

 

Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;

‘tis grace, hath brought me safe thus far, and grace, will lead me home!”  John Newton

 

The best way to understand grace, or ‘undeserved love’, is to see it in action – first and foremost, in the church community; second, in the relationships between the church and the fallen world! Both, it seems, are in short supply today!

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!” Rev 2:7

For 2000 years, Jesus has been repeating this challenge to us, in the church – yet still, we forget it, or choose to ignore it!

 

As I said, the best way to understand ‘grace’, is to see it, in action – for, for too many Christians, it is merely a ‘concept’, and ‘ideal’, a ‘tenet of faith’. Something we talk about, something we admire in others – but not something we ‘do’!

Yet, as John Stott said, “Real grace, is love that cares, and stoops, and rescues!”

 

Nowhere is ‘grace’, seen more clearly in action, than in Matthew 15:21-28 – an encounter between Jesus, and an alien, foreign Gentile woman.

The implications arising out of this meeting, are serious; indeed, they are life-changing, especially for all those people, who lack any real self-worth.

So, for all those, who base their present and future plans, upon past failures and disappointments, this moving encounter, can bring hope to despair, and light into darkness.

Paul Tillich wrote: “Grace strikes us, when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us, when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us, when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual.”

How I wish that Christians would offer one another grace, instead of condemnation – how God would bless us, and His church!

 

 

And on the other side of the coin, there’s something else. This account, ‘dashes’, the ‘false’ hopes, of all those with feelings of superiority and pride; those who think that they are better than others; that they know best, and are more acceptable to God! For these people, this account should lead to repentance and a large dose of humility!

 

Jesus had deliberately withdrawn from public ministry – the Son of God was seeking a ‘quiet time aside’, before the turmoil, the pain and brutality, of the cross. This was the 3rd time, in the last two chapters, that Jesus had tried to ‘be alone’. Each time, he’d been interrupted – once by crowds, who needed healing (Matt 14:13,14); once by disciples, who needed rescuing, (Matt 14:22-36).

So now, He went north, 30 miles from Capernaum. Mark 7:24, tells us, that when Jesus got to Tyre, “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it.”

Certainly, no Jews were likely to follow Him into Gentile territory! Yet, as Mark put it so eloquently, even there, “He could not keep His presence secret.”

True, Jesus was free of the clamouring crowd; He was also safe, from the hatred and hostility of the priests and Pharisees – but He couldn’t escape, from the ever-increasing demand of human need! A Canaanite woman knew who He was, and that He was in that house!

This woman, was desperate! Her daughter was ‘demon-possessed’, and without even a ‘ by your leave’, she fell at Jesus’ feet, and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” Matt 15:22

The accurate translation, from the Greek, is more poignant still, “Pity me, Son of David.”

As a Canaanite, she had no right to ask anything of Jesus, a Jew! The Canaanites, had been the occupants of the Promised Land, when Joshua, had conquered it and driven them out. The Jews and the Canaanites, were ancestral enemies. The Jewish historian, Josephus, at this time, wrote,

“Of all the Phoenicians, the Tyrians have the most ill-feeling, towards us.”

Attitudes between the two races, mirror the violent animosity we see today, between Arab and Jew, in the Middle East.

This woman then, was way outside the Covenant – and therefore, outside the scope of Jesus’ ministry, to the people of Israel. Yet, despite that, this woman had a remarkable faith. She recognised Jesus’ identity, (Son of David), His position, (Lord), her own undeserving need and nature, (“have mercy on me”), her dependency on Him, (Lord, help me), and His power to give, to whom He willed, (even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”).

At first Jesus said nothing. He was silent. Why? Many commentators suggest that He may have been testing her, waiting to see, if she was really serious about her amazing request. I don’t think so. It’s much more likely, that he was admiring her faith – almost savouring the moment! Here was someone asking Him to do the very things, He, the Messiah, had come to do – give wonderful gifts of grace, to unworthy, undeserving people. How frustrated Jesus must have been, about His ministry – He had so much to give, and yet, wherever He turned, He was opposed and blocked, by hostility and unbelief.

Nothing has really changed, has it? God’s wonderful spiritual gifts of grace, are still refused. Many Christians, in many churches, insist that they don’t believe in them, or don’t need them, or don’t want them, on God’s terms!

And what about the greatest gift of all – Eternal Life, salvation? The whole world wants to live forever, doesn’t it? No one wants to die – let alone spend eternity separated from God, and those they love, in Hell!

But for some reason, to do with the original sin of pride, we only want it on our terms! We demand to earn it, or deserve it. We refuse to bow down to God, and receive it freely, as a gift of His grace! Intellect, good works, good behaviour, being born into a Christian family, attending church, being baptised – these things, and more, we are willing to ‘do’, rather than turn to Jesus, as our personal Lord and Saviour, and receive God’s grace gift of salvation. No wonder Jesus savoured the moment, in silence – this Canaanite Gentile, knew better than most of the Jews and most of us! She claimed no special heritage; she had no special qualification or degree; she had no impressive C.V. of past works or experience.

Indeed, she knew only two things:

  1. Her daughter was held in a bondage of terror, and she could do nothing! – which made her weak!
  2. Jesus, Son of David, Lord, full of power, grace and mercy – was strong!

 

Now, glance away, for a moment, and note the response of the disciples. There was no compassion, no grace there, only anger, annoyance and condemnation.

“Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us” Matt 15:23. In other words, “She’s bothering us, and we know best!”

How quick the church, and Christians can be, to judge who, and what is good enough for God! When all we should be acknowledging, is that we are all lost and sinful enough for God! God’s gift of grace! Surely, there’s a warning here for the favoured people of God – for us, for Christians everywhere – “Let God be God; He is far better at it, than we are!”

We need to remain fresh, new and humble, in our walk with God.

As C.S.Lewis said, “Relying on God, has to begin all over again, every day, as if nothing has been done.”

 

Having waited, in silence, and heard the disciples putting their big feet in their big mouths, Jesus spoke – Matt 15:24-27 – “ ‘I was sent only to the sheep of Israel.’ The woman came and knelt before Him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘ It is not right to take the children’s bread, and toss it to their dogs.’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said,’ but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.’ ”

 

Was Jesus being rude or cruel? He was certainly tired, overstretched and worn out – but would He really call this poor woman, ‘a dog’?

The disciples were showing their normal tendency towards His teaching – ears closed, eyes

glazed and mouths open! So was the request simply the last straw, that broke the camel’s

back? Did Jesus just ‘lose it’, for a moment? I don’t think so. After all, is it likely that the One who had compassion on the crowd of 5000 – tired though He was – the One who was to weep over Jerusalem; the One who came to seek and save the lost – is it likely, that He would ‘snap’ at the pleading of one needy woman? Of course not!

Some commentators say Jesus reacted that way because He felt trapped. As if Jesus could ever be trapped! They suggest He couldn’t help this woman because she wasn’t a Jew. There are two problems with this ‘trapped’ theory. The first is the Samaritan woman at the well, (John 4:1-26), the second is the centurion, with the sick servant, (Matt 8:5-13). Jesus had already helped and healed Gentiles, so there was no reason why He couldn’t help this suffering Canaanite woman, now.

So, was Jesus ‘testing’ her again? Even if He was, isn’t calling her, ‘a dog’, a little extreme?

No! There’s another option. The Bible tells us, that Jesus, was a “man of sorrows”; but no-where does it say, He was ‘miserable’.

Far from it! Jesus was no religious kill-joy’, who moped about spreading depression and gloom. On the contrary, He brought joy and peace, to those who would listen to Him. He brought healing and wholeness and hope and reconciliation, to many. Read His teaching, His parables, His anecdotes, and you’ll find humour lurking there! Unfortunately, the Bible only records His words – it cannot show His face, His expression, when He spoke them.

Call a friend, a ‘real terror’, or ‘an old villain’, a ‘greedy pig’, or a ‘sly fox’, with a smile on your face, and there’s no sting, no insult, in it at all.

So, of one thing I’m sure; a grin on Jesus’ face, and compassion in His eyes, would have robbed His words of all anger, towards this needy woman. Jesus never attacked the weak?

With a little knowledge of the Greek, we can confirm this. There’s more than one Greek word for dog, and Jesus was specific. The word here is, ‘Kunarion’ – meaning, explicitly, a little household pet, that is loved, and pampered; or a puppy that is doted upon.

The other word used in the New Testament, is ‘Kuon’, meaning a feral hound, a street dog; half-wild, living amongst the many rubbish tips, and both dangerous and dirty.

That’s the word used in Matt 7:6, “do not give dogs what is sacred, do not throw your pearls to pigs.” In Philippians 3:2; 2 Peter 2:22, and Rev 22:15, ‘Kuon’ is also used. Only here, in Matt 15:26,27, our reading today, and the corresponding one, Mark 7:27,28, is ‘Kunarion’ – ‘little pet, loved and cared for’, used. This Greek word, robs the conversation of all malice and insult. I believe that Jesus engaged this Gentile woman, in an amusing, almost tongue-in-cheek exchange – much to the embarrassment, or horror, of His rather stuffy disciples.

Clearly, this was a clever play on words. Jews commonly used the word, ‘Kuon – unclean dog’, for Gentiles, but Jesus used the word ‘Kunarion’– little pet, on this broken, fearful, woman; this Gentile, with great faith, to disarm the disciples’ prejudice, and to teach them, an important lesson!

Within this exchange, we see again so clearly, just how unlimited, God’s grace really is. Jesus was so pleased, to find someone, not talking religion, heritage, or qualification. Her reply, that if she couldn’t have ‘His loaf’, she’d be happy with a few ‘precious crumbs’, must have been a delight to Him.

Jesus knew He could heal her ‘demonised’ daughter. He knew He wasn’t bound by any legalistic system of rules. He knew her heart was good. So, with joy, and probably laughter – Jesus responded, (v 28), “ ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted!’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

This wonderful incident, doesn’t portray a harsh, condemning, contemptuous God, who insults and rejects those who approach Him, with a penitent heart, no matter what they may have done! It shows us a joyful, willing, approachable God, who responds with pleasure, towards a repentant sinner, towards a sincere seeker.

If only we had the simple faith and the trust of that Canaanite woman. To receive, without question, without fear, the gift of grace that God offers. Instead, we still often try to ‘earn’ our blessings, trying to impress God, and one another, with how ‘good’ we are, rather than confessing, how, ‘great’, He is!

We think that God smiles at our efforts – but He doesn’t. He weeps!

God’s smile, isn’t for the self-righteous, self-sufficient hiker, who boasts that he’s made the journey in his own strength!

Instead God’s smile, is for the crippled leper, who cries out from the roadside, begging Jesus, for a back to ride on!

The Canaanite woman’s request, was outrageous, and she and the disciples knew it!

But she also knew that Jesus, was both Lord and Saviour.

Daniel’s words, from Daniel 9:18, could have been hers, and they should be ours today. “We do not make requests of You, because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy”.

That woman came to Jesus, depending, not upon her performance, or upon her worthiness – but upon His grace, and mercy. We ‘must’ do the same!

Jesus blessed her with a big smile on His face!

For us, you and me, He will do the same! Let God, be God – let us offer one another grace, instead of condemnation – then see, how God would bless us, and His church!

                                                                                                                            AMEN

 

T.C.R.

 

 

 

 


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