Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE WOMAN WITH GREAT FAITH”

Matthew 15.21-28

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 15.21, where we find the record of our Lord’s encounter with a Syrophenician woman. I have previously delivered three messages to you concerning this woman graciously blessed by God, dealing with her love for her child, dealing with her own salvation, and dealing with the greatness of her faith. This morning my plan is to address the character of her faith in her dealings with the Savior. Please stand and read along silently while I read aloud:

21     Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.

22     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.

23     But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

24     But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

25     Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26     But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

27     And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

28     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.

We find a parallel account of this event in Mark 7.24-30, however with fewer details crucial to this morning’s message. Therefore, this morning I will restrict my message to the passage just read, with a brief exposition before settling on our consideration of the character of this woman’s faith in her dealings with the Savior.

Verse 21: “Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.”

The word “coasts” here refers to political boundaries, not to shorelines along the Mediterranean Sea. If you look on a Bible map, you may notice the city of Tyre on the eastern shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea, in the region identified as Syro-Phoenicia. Due east of Tyre, far inland and almost due north of the Sea of Galilee, you will find the city known as Caesaria Philippi.

What does not typically show up on a Bible map are the political subdivision boundaries of that day, something shaped like a finger that protruded into Galilee from Syro-Phoenicia. That is what explains the Lord Jesus passing over “the coasts of Tyre and Sidon” without being anywhere near those two cities on the Mediterranean shoreline. The Lord passed through a region that was politically a part of Syro-Phoenicia located between Galilee and Caesaria Philippi.

Verses 22-23a: “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.”

Matthew describes her as “a woman of Canaan,” to show her in the worst possible light, and to starkly contrast her position as a woman having no standing before God and a very low social standing with the Jewish people. This is a woman who had no earthly reason to expect anything of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet “she cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” She pleads for mercy for her daughter. She addresses Him with messianic titles, calling Him Lord and Son of David.[1] You may remember that at the very end of our Lord’s ministry blind Bartimaeus will cry out “Son of David” near Jericho. Interesting that a Gentile woman would so identify the Savior before a Jewish man did publicly for the first time.

Then she states her plight. “My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil,” communicating that her daughter’s plight is hopeless, and that He is her only hope for mercy. “But he answered her not a word.” That would cause most people to just pack up and go home, would it not? Not this woman.

Verses 23b-24: “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.”

If you are keeping track, this is the second round of request and response. You might also take note how mistaken the Lord’s disciples were, saying “she crieth after us.” She was not crying after them, but after Him. Perhaps our Lord’s disciples took their miscue from His refusal to answer her as an indication He wanted nothing to do with her, so they bid Him to send her away, perhaps intimating that they wanted Him to give her what she wanted, because she was continually crying after them. They were mistaken.

The Lord Jesus Christ responded to the disciple’s request by saying to them (notice, not to her), “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”[2] What a crushing blow it must have been to her to hear those words. The Savior has not yet spoken to this woman. Oh, what disappointment on top of discouragement on top of defeat. So many, especially mothers, can identify with this woman from their own obstacles in life.

Verses 25-26:  25     Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26     But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

Obviously, this woman persisted and asked yet again. However, take note of the sequence, worship followed by her renewed plea. The word translated “worshipped” is an imperfect verb, showing us that this woman persisted in worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ, even after His refusal to respond to her, and even after His remark to His disciples.[3] She worshipped Him despite what He had done and said, also urging Him by saying, “Lord, help me.”

It is here that our Lord’s response shocks and disappoints many people. “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” Now, for the first time, He speaks directly to her. His answer is tough, but not as tough as most people think. The word “dog” is the Greek word for lap dog or house dog, as opposed to some mangy cur roaming the streets.[4] It is true that the Jewish people were severely prejudiced toward Gentiles, and very commonly referred to us as dogs.[5]

Not for a moment admitting that this woman has any kind of a claim on any relationship with God, as do the covenant people of Israel, our Lord is subtly suggesting that a proximity to God’s people does exist, and therefore God’s blessings are close at hand.[6]

Verses 27-28:  27     And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

28     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.

Notice how she seized upon the opening the Lord left for her when she uttered her final request.

Most people would have bridled at the Lord’s remark comparing her to a dog, even if He did refer to her as a lap dog or a house dog. “How dare He speak to me that way.” However, she had no argument whatsoever with the Savior, but recognized that lap dogs and house dogs, by their proximity to the master’s children, are able to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

She was agreeing with the Lord Jesus Christ’s assertion that it would not be appropriate for her to be offered what was prepared for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the children of the Master in this verbal picture He has constructed. However, she was trusting that there was a surplus of mercy for them that could benefit her daughter. She was right. “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.”

How different are our Lord’s initial dealings with this woman than with the woman at the well, in John chapter 4, and the woman taken in adultery, in John chapter 8. The woman taken in adultery was a Jewish woman caught in terrible sin and exposed to public ridicule and embarrassment. The woman at the well was a woman also given over to sexual sins, a Samaritan who expressed no interest in the Lord when He first began to speak to her. Yet this woman approached and pleaded with the Lord, who initially displayed no interest and a reluctance to respond to her pleas.

So, what is going on here? How are we to understand this woman’s interaction with the Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, on Whom she has no covenant claim because she is a Gentile without the promises of God directed at her because she is not Jewish?

Three observations:

First, IT IS CLEAR SHE HAS FAITH

That she has faith, and that her faith is great faith, is acknowledged by the Savior, in verse 28: “Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith.” This great faith of the Syrophenician woman, this Canaanite woman, is described using the Greek word most of us recognize right away, the word “megalh,” which is the adjective form of “mega.” And most of us are familiar with the word “mega,” are we not? Not that great faith is required, just that great faith is advantageous. A small amount of faith is sufficient, like the grain of a mustard seed, which is very small.[7] Therefore, if someone has little faith, once they know Christ as their Savior they can then see to the strengthening of their faith by Biblical means.

The question, of course, is how this Canaanite woman came to have faith. We all know that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Romans 10.17. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10.14. Of course, this is not a mechanical interaction. Second Thessalonians 3.2 reminds us, “for all men have not faith.” For the preaching of God’s Word to be the means whereby someone is given faith, the Spirit of God must be actively involved, Second Corinthians 4.13, because He is the Spirit of faith: “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” This woman speaks, and then speaks again and again, because she has faith. And because her faith is great she not only does not stop speaking, she speaks so as to overcome obstacles that lay in her spiritual path. She by faith crosses a sexual divide, a racial and ethnic divide, and a spiritual covenant divide (remember, it was the Lord to crossed these divides when dealing with the woman at the well in John chapter 4). Thus, though we are not given the particulars of how she was exposed to the truth about the Savior which provided the means by which the Spirit of God worked to give her faith, we know it did happen. Perhaps her gift of faith came about in a fashion similar to Rahab’s in the book of Joshua, who heard the exploits of the Jewish people. No doubt, this woman had heard of the Savior’s doings and doctrines, with the Spirit of God kindling the flame of faith in her bosom, and her great need for her child provoked her to reach out and plead for mercy to the Savior in whom she trusted.

Next, IT IS CLEAR HER FAITH INTEGRATES

We have two separate individuals in the gospel accounts who are declared by the Savior to have great faith, the Roman centurion and this Canaanite woman. The Roman centurion’s faith is demonstrated in an entirely different way than this woman’s faith is shown. In Luke 7.1-10, we see that the centurion’s dealings with the Lord were always at a distance, through designated emissaries, because of his estimation of his own unworthiness and because of his conviction the Lord was powerful enough to work even at a distance. This woman’s faith is described as great for an entirely different reason. Her interaction with the Lord Jesus Christ is up close and very personal. Yet she meets a number of obstacles head on. First, the obstacle that she is a woman in a world where women simply did not routinely approach Jewish men. Second, she was a Gentile woman, identified by the Lord Himself as a Gentile dog. And third, there was the obstacle of our Lord’s disciples, men who really wanted nothing to do with her. Yet, because of her faith she persisted and pushed forward. How could she have done this when others would have been discouraged to the point of giving up?

What can we learn from this Canaanite woman concerning the greatness of her faith? This woman’s faith was great because her approach to the Savior involved something similar to what mathematicians do when they engage in what is called integration. Integration is performed when separate parts are brought together to make up the whole.[8] Most of us do something like this every day without giving much attention to what we are doing. You go to work in the morning and the day starts off well. Your day consists of a hundred separate interactions and events, with your experience helping you to lump everything together so you can evaluate the day as a complete unit instead of ignoring ninety-nine good outcomes that day and focusing on the one disturbing thing that happened. That process of taking it all in and adding everything together is called integration, and it is this approach which distinguishes those with great faith from those whose faith is weak. From the time she had first heard of the Savior, this woman had begun to form an opinion about Him based on what she knew from scripture (if anything), and what she from time to time heard about His teachings and miracles and dealings with people. All these facts were put together to form an opinion about Him; her opinion about Him by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit is what comprised her gift of faith. Then comes the day when He passes nearby and she seeks Him out, cries out to Him, and finds Him unresponsive and considerably rougher in His treatment of her than she might have imagined. However, does that affect her faith? It certainly would with those who are weak in faith, whose faith depends only on the most recent event that takes place in life. However, this Canaanite woman integrated. Her faith was not based upon only the most recent event in her life, her most recent dealing with the Savior, but always included the sum total of everything considered along with the most recent events. And that, my friends, is a key to having strong faith. Refuse to let a recent disappointment or failed expectation deprive you of the accumulated confidence you have in the Savior.

Finally, IT IS EVIDENT THE SAVIOR IS TRUSTWORTHY

What is faith, but the right conclusion the Spirit of God gives to you that is drawn from circumstantial evidence? The question is, what do you do with your faith when a current event proves disappointing or discouraging? Do you cast off your faith and sink into the slough of despond? That is what those who are weak in faith tend to do. However, that is not what this woman did.

Another truth about faith is its conclusion that the Lord Jesus Christ, the only proper Object of real faith, is Himself trustworthy. The question is whether or not He is trustworthy even when He does something you neither understand or approve of. Of course, He is. She cried out to Him, yet He did not answer her. She cried out again, yet still He did not answer, though He must have heard her. Then His disciples speak disparagingly about her, and He says something to them that cuts her to the heart: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She immediately wonders, “What does that mean? Does that mean He is beyond my reach, that He will not help me, that with Him is no mercy?” Then, integrating this experience with the faith she already possesses, she concludes, “It cannot mean that. Such is not who He is!” She did not allow this one personal experience to deprive her of her confidence in Him, what she had come to know about Him, what she knew of Him from His dealings with others. So, despite what she had just seen and heard from His own lips, she cried out, “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.” If this woman’s faith in Christ had been dependent only upon her immediate experiences with Him, she would have walked away disillusioned and disheartened. However, that is not what happened at all, because that is not what she did. She tightly held to everything about the Savior she knew to be true, refusing to draw any premature conclusions from the immediate events as they unfolded.

No telling what would have happened if the woman was of the easy to discourage type, or if her faith was such that she acted only according to what most recently occurred. Thankfully, she did not do that at all, but took it all in and added it to what she already knew of the Savior. The result, of course, was that she did not give up, she persisted, her faith exhibited itself in her determination to secure mercy for her daughter. She approached the Savior because she believed Him to be worthy of her trust, and that confidence she had in Him was not diminished because He acted in a way she did not immediately understand. The result was that her plea was answered, her request was granted, and her daughter was made whole that very hour. Why? Because she did not waver in her conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ was worthy of her trust, even when His conduct and speech was not at all understood by her. She trusted Him, though she had no idea what He was doing in His dealings with her.

The question is what was the Lord Jesus Christ doing in His dealings with her? Though we are not explicitly told, I would like to suggest several things: First, His initial refusal to respond to her and His comments about her to His disciples provided her with an opportunity to show profound humility in the face of what, to some, would have been received as an insult. However, humility is based upon faith, and she trusted Jesus Christ enough to take whatever He dished out to her. Second, we are given an opportunity to observe the error of the disciples once more. As in other instances, they served more as an obstacle to the spiritually needy than as a help to the Savior to accomplish His mission. This opportunity would not have been afforded except by her persistence that led to the Lord’s seemingly rough handling of the woman. Third, the verbal exchange between the woman and the Savior serves to show not only her right appraisal of her low standing, but also her recognition of the great bounty of the Lord’s blessings. What she was asking for was a great thing for her daughter, but something that was a mere scrap to a Master so powerful and rich as the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatness of the Savior, His richness and His bounty, is spoken to in this exchange, which would not have occurred had He dealt with her in any other way. Finally, this woman serves as an example to us all that the Lord Jesus Christ is in His essence faithful and trustworthy. Therefore, it is foolish and characteristic of very weak faith to become distraught because of any recent experience at His hand. Your dealings with the Savior need to be based upon a strength of faith that is comprised of all that you know of what He is, has said, and done. This is not to say that you discount your most recent experience with the Lord, but that you do not discount all your previous experiences with the Lord to cling only to your most recent experience. Integrate! Bring all that you have learned, that you know, that the Word of God says, all added to your most recent experiences to form the foundation on which your faith is built.

Take a step back and reconsider the Lord Jesus Christ’s dealings with this Canaanite mother. Now evaluate His dealings with her by taking a less superficial survey of what happened between the two of them. Think a bit more deeply.

First, consider how the woman would have answered had you the opportunity to interview her two hours after this 60-90 second event in her life and ask her a series of questions. Would she be happy? Yes. Would she be satisfied? Certainly. Would she have any problem at all concerning how the Lord dealt with her? I am sure she would not. She trusted Him and He proved once more that He is worthy of trust. Therefore, if she is satisfied with her Savior, why should an onlooker take offense for our Christ treated this follower? You will hear no complaint from her.

As well, consider that the Savior actually complimented this woman by His seemingly rough treatment of her. Did He give her more to handle than most others He dealt with? He certainly did. There is no question about that. He dealt with her in such a way that some people certainly do harbor resentment in their hearts toward the Savior for the way in which He dealt with her. However, the reality is that had He dealt with her any other way than He did her faith would not have been so evident, the strength of it, the resilience of it, the persistence of it, and the determination of it. He held her up to scrutiny by His treatment of her to show what she had, not so that fault might be found in her. What can we learn from this woman about the Christian life, the life of faith, and our own relationship with the Savior? We can be reminded once more that He is faithful. Whatever He may seem to be doing in the short term in your life, rest assured that it will eventually be realized that He is dealing with you according to your best interest in the long run, so long as you really are a Christian and you trust Him.

Additionally, if you find yourself in the middle of His dealings with you, do not jump to a hasty conclusion and be overcome with discouragement. In other words, do not jump to a conclusion before verse 28, or your conclusion will be a wrong conclusion. Be patient with Him while things develop. Allow the Savior’s dealings with you to gradually unfold and develop before you get too excited or overly anxious. Begin to ask yourself in a situation how this will all turn out in the end.

Finally, determine that your faith in Christ will be integrated, that you will add to the body of truth you already possess as the basis for your faith in Christ, not discard what you already possess to lend too much importance to only the most recent event. That is the key to having great faith. Important to remember in light of the fact that the just shall live by faith, Romans 1.17.



[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works Of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), page 244.

[2] Matthew 10.6

[3] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 47.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Matthew Poole, A Commentary On The Whole Bible, Volume 3, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers reprint), page 73.

[6] Ephesians 2.12

[7] Matthew 17.10

[8] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 953.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org