Calvary Road Baptist Church


Matthew 15.21-28


We begin by turning to Matthew 15.21, where we read, “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 map of the region, you will 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 show up on most maps that indicate approximate political subdivision boundaries, is something shaped as a finger that protrudes into Galilee from Syro-Phoenicia, along those streams that pass south and eventually come to the Sea of Galilee. That is what explains Jesus passing over “the coasts of Tyre and Sidon” without being anywhere near those two cities on the Mediterranean shoreline. He passed through a region that was politically a part of Syro-Phoenicia located between Galilee and Caesaria Philippi.

With that little bit of geography taken care of so you will not be the least bit confused, let me tell you about a struggling mother attempting to cope with an impossible situation. Perhaps you know a mom like that. Perhaps your mother was abandoned with young children to raise, and you have never before thought about what she had to face in order to survive with you kids. You may even be one of the many moms who must gin up the energy and the courage to face each dreary and desolate day with fortitude and consistency. It may very well be that the mother in this passage was abandoned shortly after her husband found out she was sick, and he showed his cowardice by leaving her and the kids when she was in a weakened condition. It may have been like my friend Jim Johnston, whose mom was abandoned in Missouri by his dad to come and live the good life in Sierra Madre, leaving her with a tiny baby and no way to make due.

As difficult as it is to be a good mom under the best of circumstances, it is nothing short of heroic to be a good mom when you are married to a worthless fellow who won’t work, or an even more worthless fellow who has abandoned you. Pile on top of that a child with very special needs and you have to wonder how it is that moms have any chance at all of making it through life. If you are married to a good man, praise God. God’s Word does not provide this mother’s name. Her name is unimportant. What is important is her situation. She is desperate. There can be no doubt that making ends meet was a continual challenge for her, which would be the case if her daughter was in good health and no trouble to tend to. However, she has a daughter who is demon possessed. Matthew’s account records her words. She told the Savior, “My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” That likely means seizures, convulsions, the need for constant oversight, and possibly even suicidal episodes, as frequently happen when demons are involved.

Some women who have given birth to special needs children give up and abandon them. A woman who gives up her child for such reasons shows herself to be guilty of being without natural affection.[1] Other women with special needs children do not abandon their kids, but they do give up on them, abandoning all hope, as if my baby’s problem is not my problem at all. This woman, however, is special. She loves her daughter with an everlasting love, with an unyielding love, with an unconditional love, and with a selfless love. Her love for her little girl is no convenient thing. To be sure, her situation is hopeless. Her baby is completely overcome, not by illness, but by an even worse affliction; demon possession. As we read from Matthew 15.22, notice what a desperate mother can do when faced with a hopeless situation that threatens not only the physical safety of her child, but also the spiritual well-being of her helpless baby.

There are four rounds of requests and responses that I would like to point out to you, so we all have a better understanding of what actually transpired, before bringing this morning’s message.

First, in verse 22 and the first part of verse 23, we read her request followed by the Savior’s response:


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.


Matthew describes her as “a woman of Canaan” to show her in the worst possible light, to starkly contrast her position as one having no standing before God and her low social standing with the Jewish people. This woman had no earthly reason to expect anything of Jesus.

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. She addresses Him with messianic titles, calling Him Lord and Son of David.[2] Then she states her plight. “My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil,” communicating that her daughter’s plight is hopeless, and 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. Not this woman.


The second round of request and response is found in the last part of verse 23 and verse 24:


23     . . . 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.


Perhaps our Lord’s disciples took a cue 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 want Him to give her what she wants, because she was continually crying after them.

However, the Lord Jesus Christ responds to the disciple’s request by saying to them, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”[3] What a crushing blow it must have been to her to hear those words. Disappointment on top of discouragement on top of defeat. So many mothers can identify with this woman from their own obstacles in life.


Nevertheless, she persists and asks yet again:


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.


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. She worshipped Him despite what He had done and said, also urging Him by saying, “Lord, help me.”

Our Lord’s response shocks many people. “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” His answer is tough, but not as tough as 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 of any relationship with God, as do the covenant people of Israel, our Lord is subtly suggesting that a proximity to God’s people exists, and therefore God’s blessings are close at hand.[6]

 Notice how she seizes upon the opening the Lord left for her when she utters her final request:

 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.

 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 housedog. “How dare He speak to me that way?” However, she had no argument whatsoever with the Savior, but recognized that lap dogs and housedogs, 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. 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.”

 Let us be careful on this Mothers Day 2010 not to give any praise to this unnamed woman. Do not brag on her. Remember, God is a jealous God. Not only will He not tolerate any gods before Him, but He also refuses to share His glory: “My glory will I not give to another,” Isaiah 42.8. You might react with the observation, “But Jesus said, O woman, great is thy faith.” Yes, but we must remember that faith is God’s gift, Ephesians 2.8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” As well, the primary means by which faith is imparted is through the preaching of God’s Word, Romans 10.17: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Therefore, whatever is praiseworthy about this woman’s conduct can be traced directly to God’s grace working in her life. The faith that Jesus found so commendable had its origins in the heart of God’s tender mercy toward her, despite the fact that she was a Gentile toward whom God had no obligation whatsoever.

Three things are remarkable in that woman’s reactions to the Savior, three things that can be traced back to the very nature of our good God toward undeserving sinners. Notice those three things with me:


 Humility is the opposite of pride. Humility is the fruit of faith. Humility is the recognition that in and of yourself you are nothing and deserve no better. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing,” Romans 7.18. No wonder, then, he describes himself as a servant, from the Greek word doulos, meaning slave, in so many passages in the New Testament. As well, no wonder the Old Testament patriarch Job said to God, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” Job 42.5-6.

This precious mom’s humility is evidenced in several ways: First, Matthew 15.22 reveals to us that she cries out to the Lord, “Have mercy on me.” This is no plea for justice, or to be given what you think you deserve. Quite the opposite. A plea for mercy is a plea for a blessing you do not deserve. That she addresses Him as “Lord” and as “Son of David” suggests that she knows He is the Jewish Messiah, and as such owes her nothing. Therefore, she comes not with any demands upon Him, but with a plea based on His mercy rather than what she thinks she is owed. That, my friends, is humility. As well, Matthew 15.23 suggests her humility by what she does not do. When the Lord Jesus does not answer her, she does not depart from Him. She is neither offended by His refusal to answer, nor defeated. Humility is first and foremost realism instead of fantasy. It would have been fantasy for her to expect to be treated as though she deserved His consideration. However, her humility, based on a realistic appraisal of her situation, prepared her for what she was faced with at that point, no answer from Jesus at all. Third, Matthew 15.27 shows her humility yet again. When our Lord drew the analogy between her and a dog, she had no argument whatsoever. Thus, she harbored no illusions about her standing before God, or in relation with the Jewish people. She recognized the benefit of being nearby, even if you are as lowly as a dog, so you could snatch a crumb here and there.

Of what benefit was her humility? First, her humility enabled her to arrive at a realistic understanding of her and her daughter’s situation. People who are proud and self-sufficient live in a dream world and are out of touch with reality. Second, her humility made way for the patience necessary to see God work. Proverbs 15.33 reads, “The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.” It would be her great honor for the Savior to grant her request. Therefore, humility is the necessary prerequisite that those who are proud fail to understand. Third, and finally, humility is the place where God’s grace is found. First Peter 5.5 reminds us, “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” Nothing is so obnoxious to God as a person who is so deluded that he thinks he deserves anything from God, as though God must bless to pay off a debt. God owes no man. This woman’s humility placed her squarely in the place where God’s grace could be seen as undeserved, as without merit, and resulting in God receiving great glory.


This dear woman’s faith produced no gluttony, greedy for personal gain. In Matthew 15.27, she speaks of “the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” What her faith pursued was only a small thing from the powerful Jewish Messiah she was pleading with, just a crumb of a blessing that was dropped on the floor by the children of the Master. And she didn’t even want the crumbs for herself, but for her afflicted baby girl.

What is further revealed about this woman from her faith’s display of modesty? We see more clearly the character of her faith as not being self-serving as much as waiting upon others. Does she not bow to the authority of Jesus by raising no dispute against His characterization of her as a dog? As well, does she not manifest her innermost motives by wanting nothing for herself, and only enough for her daughter that it can be described as crumbs fallen from the Master’s table?

Does this woman’s faith, which was so highly prized by the Savior, bear any resemblance to that which is seen on so-called Christian television these days? Whereas this dear mother wants only crumbs from the Master’s table for the benefit of her afflicted daughter, the morbidly gluttonous that parade their sick distortion of Christianity on so-called Christian television these days are committed to God allowing them to gorge themselves in an orgy of self-indulgence. These clowns bear no resemblance to the holy faith displayed by this dear mother who only wants relief for her little girl.


Call it persistence if you want. It reminds me of the parable our Lord taught in Luke 11.1-10, where He concluded His parable about the need to be persistent in praying by describing a friend who pleads late at night for relief: “yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.”[7]

Our text shows four cycles of request and response. Of those four requests, three of them come from the mouth of this desperate mother pleading for her afflicted child. Of these four requests, three times she was disappointed, discouraged, and denied. However, it is the very nature of God-given faith to persist, to continue, and to display an overcoming determination.

To understand this woman’s fervency you have to understand the nature of faith as it is described in the Bible. Hebrews 11.1 reveals, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That is, faith is all about expectation, anticipation, looking forward to realization, and is based upon what might be termed indirect evidence.

Just as important, faith acts on the trustworthiness of the One who is the Object of faith. Hebrews 11.6 reads, “he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Does this woman seem to be revealing by her conduct that she is convinced Jesus is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him? Yes, she most certainly is.

Thus, we see in this woman something not often seen in those who claim they have faith, or who claim they had faith. Integral to the genuinenness of faith is its persistence, its fervency, which is a reflection of what you think about the nature of the One you are seeking. Did you try once or twice and then give up? Are you sitting there with slumped shoulders, thinking to yourself, “What’s the use?” Sorry, that is not faith like this woman displayed, or like Hebrews explains it. Real faith persists, perhaps in part to show how worthy that One is who is being sought after.

In my mind’s eye, I see a woman who is prematurely aged by grinding poverty and perpetual deprivation. I see a woman who has shed so many tears for the suffering of her helpless little girl that she can shed no more. Her back is bowed by hard work and lack of sleep, as she tries to balance the need to work for their survival with the constant demands of looking after her precious child, not knowing when the next fit will be brought on by the demon, or when she will throw herself into the fire or into the stream. Many of her nation did not love their own children as she did, but left them to die of exposure, or chained them to a tree so they could not wander off and get into any trouble.

However, this Canaanite woman, this Syro-Phoenician, was unusual. Though she would have readily admitted that she was no better than her countrymen, she was very different. Where they ignored, she listened. Where they stared off into the distance, she watched and observed. From the Jews traveling back and forth, she picked up snippets of information. Some of it she knew to be true, because everyone admitted that the God of the Jews was a great God, and very powerful. Other things she heard with amazement. Could it be that their Messiah had really come? It was said He worked miracles, and even raised the dead. It was said He gave sight to the blind, and even cast out demons. Several months earlier, she had heard it said that He actually walked on water, and last year He cast demons out of two Gentiles![8] So, perhaps she made up her mind that if she ever had the chance, she would approach Him and plead on behalf of her daughter. Until that day came, she would cry out to God.

My friends, God, Who is rich in mercy, heard her cry. Jesus walked across her path. Her faith in Jesus, who she knew to be the Lord and the Son of David, prompted her to plead for mercy. The Savior’s response to her was not designed to put her off, but to draw out the richness and the depth of her God-given faith, and that is just what happened.

One might wonder why God would allow such suffering by a woman and her demon-possessed child. How is such a scene to be reconciled with our understanding that God is loving and tender? It is to be understood in this way: How else is God’s mercy to be displayed, and how else is the Savior’s greatness to be illustrated, except by giving to you the opportunity to plead on behalf of your afflicted child?

You might think to yourself, “But my child is not demon possessed.” I would answer to you that his situation is every bit as tragic as that woman’s demon possessed daughter, because your child is dead in trespasses and sins. Therefore, God has given you an opportunity very much like the opportunity this woman in our text was presented with. Your child’s situation is tragic, mom. This one you delivered and nurtured at great personal sacrifice will someday perish unless you approach the Savior with humility and with persistence to snatch a few crumbs of blessing that have fallen from the Master’s table.

You may be put off by some Christian. You may be delayed by the inattention of a church member. Perhaps you will be tempted to be outraged in some way for being treated in a manner not to your liking. That is okay, since it gives you an opportunity to show how great the Savior is, and to acknowledge how undeserving you are, by your patient and persistent determination to fix your faith firmly upon Jesus Christ. This is so necessary, mom, since it is unlikely your child will embrace a savior you have not yourself trusted.

Oh, dear mother on this Mothers Day. Show faith given to you by God. Exhibit humility, and a modesty, and a fervency that speaks of confidence in the Savior. Do you not value the eternal and undying soul of your precious child? If so, do what this dear woman did. Cry out for mercy and trust Jesus to respond to you as He responded to her. Even if you care little for your own soul, mom, cry after Jesus for the eternal souls of your children. If your faith is fixed upon Jesus, as the Syro-Phoenician woman’s was, He will not deny you.

[1] Romans 1.31

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

[3] Matthew 10.6

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

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

[6] Ephesians 2.12

[7] Luke 11.8

[8] Matthew 14.25-31; 8.28-34

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