Great faith – Matthew 15:21-28

Sometimes we think of great faith as the kind of faith that prays for great things and sees amazing answers to prayer.  That is probably how great faith frequently looks, but great faith need not always look the same.  Consider the case of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The greatness in the woman’s faith is not that she asked for anything more than others might ask.  The Gospels give several examples of people coming to Jesus on behalf of their children and Jesus healing them or even raising them from the dead.  He cast out plenty of demons.

Jesus commends her faith before granting her request, but only after an interaction in which Jesus seems to refuse her.  First he says nothing (v.23), then he pushes the Gentile/Jewish distinction beyond what we might even consider polite (vv. 24-26).  Her humility and persistence in the face of Christ’s seeming condescension and persistent refusal brings out his praise (v.28).

If you are like me you have several prayer requests that God has not seen fit to answer even after many years, maybe decades or most of your life.  And like me you struggle and are tempted to give up.  You might see numerous reasons why God would never answer these prayers.  “I’m not worthy.  I’m really not worthy.  God doesn’t answer prayers like these for people like me.  Why should he?”  These reasons (and I have more) sound a lot like “The Jewish Messiah isn’t about to grant the request of a Canaanite woman, is he?”  But he did.  

The point is that neither an unanswered prayer nor what looks like a humiliating refusal are the same thing as a final “no.”  Jesus used his delays to draw out further expressions of the woman’s faith.  That faith was in her all the time, but had Jesus responded quickly, none of us would have seen it and we might never know.  

Let’s be the kind of people who hang on like the devil – or better, like this Canaanite woman – with whatever faith we have and then even more.  Sometimes faith grows in its praying, its asking, humility and continuous kneeling before God.  Sometimes God’s answers come only after long delays.  A paltry, weak and sickly faith can be satisfied with quick answers, and then it may mislead us into thinking such faith is great.  In fact, great faith, like this woman’s, may be the faith that keeps asking without any answer in sight.

A Prayer Prompted by the Overall Message of Matthew 14

Heavenly Father,

I understand that some of my desires are good, some of them are bad and some of them are neutral.

As for the wrong desires, please help me to be content without ever having those desires satisfied.

As for the neutral desires, the simple and basic needs that I have, please help me to trust you for their fulfillment.

Beyond that, help me to desire you most of all.

Help me to guard and cherish my time with you.

Help me to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Help me to long to be more like you, to want what you want and to work toward your desires and your will for me.

Make yourself my ultimate source of satisfaction.

In Christ’s name,

Amen

 

Matthew 14 Verse by Verse

Matt photoOur passage today will bring up several different types of desires and several types of satisfaction.  Some are good, some bad and some neutral.

Matthew 14.pdf

Matthew 14.mp3

 

Satisfied in Christ – Matthew 14:1-21

This chapter starts with two feasts and leads naturally to a discussion of several kinds of satisfaction.  The first feast is the birthday party of Herod the tetrarch.  The second is the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus.

The daughter of Herodias is both a niece to Herod and his stepdaughter.  Josephus tells us that her name is Salome. At the feast held for Herod’s birthday, “the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod” (v.6).  There is nothing in the text that absolutely assures us this dance and/or the way Salome “pleased” Herod was utterly sensuous, erotic or otherwise unsavory.  From what we know of the times, the culture and the Herods, however, it is understandable that this is how interpreters have often understood the scene.

I have no desire to dig into any of that, but the available literature is plentiful.  You are welcome to track it down for yourself.  Or just look at our own times, culture and public figures to compare, in which case Herod might not look so bad.  Let’s give the tetrarch and his guests an undeserved benefit of the doubt and imagine that Herod was pleased in a completely wholesome way.  His satisfaction was of the innocent entertainment variety.  It was a great show and Salome deserved some applause for a job well done.  This kind of satisfaction never lasts.  We want the next show, the next thrill, the next laugh or the next diversion.  There is nothing wrong with it, but does have serious limitations.

An uglier form of satisfaction comes when Herod offers Salome “whatever she might ask” (v.7).  Heeding her mother’s counsel, she says, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter” (v.8).  Herodias is training the girl to walk in her vengeful, merciless footsteps – and Herod complies.  Her thirst for blood is satisfied, but some forms of satisfaction are simply wrong.  John was the messenger to Herod and Herodias that their forbidden relationship (the brother and sister-in-law divorced their spouses to marry each other) was wrong.  They killed the messenger to block out the message.  Alas, every part of this series of satisfied desires is misguided.

On to the feeding of the five thousand, or far more when we count the women and children.  We might think more in terms of a sellout crowd in an NBA or NHL-sized arena.  The crowd was hungry, Jesus feeds them and there are twelve baskets full of leftovers.  The key point for us is “And they all ate and were satisfied” (v.20).  Jesus meets the need of the weary crowd and they all feel like they just finished Thanksgiving dinner.

if we stopped right there we would already have learned something helpful.  Jesus is willing and able to meet our needs.  He does not consider them trivial or choose to ignore them.  Many of our desires are good and helpful.  We need food to survive.  This desire ought to be satisfied.

But there is more.  When John tells the same story, he adds considerable dialog as a followup.  There, in John 6:35, Jesus says, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  This is the ultimate satisfaction. 

Putting our faith and trust in Christ fulfills a desire that we may not even want to acknowledge.  We can satisfy ourselves on entertainment and when the satisfaction wanes, we can do it over and over again.  We can allow our selfish, dark and harmful desires to consume us.  If we satisfy this inner Herod or Herodias, no good will ever come of it and never has.  Some desires deserve to go unmet.  Still, there are natural, healthy desires that inform us of our basic needs.  Jesus is happy to meet these, but they are not the whole story of our existence.

C. S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We were made for an unfallen, eternal world that is free from corruption.  The problem is that we have corrupted this world and sentenced ourselves to death in the process.  We have taken the beauty that God gave us and ruined it beyond anything we can repair. This is not one category of problem like crime or climate change.  There is no cause to support that will solve this one.  We can only admit our need and let Christ satisfy it.  He alone is able.  When we do so we will find that world for which we were made.  Everything else finds its place only when we let Christ have his place first.

John Piper has put it like this, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  He is right.  Let’s determine not to let ourselves be satisfied with anything less.  We need to prioritize our desires properly and, as citizens of heaven, glorify the God who made us.  We can only be fully and forever satisfied in Christ.

Some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty – Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23

The Parable of the Sower is one of the best-known parables of Jesus and one of the most important.  By it we can gauge our response to God’s word.  Here it is,

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

And here is the divinely inspired explanation of it according to Jesus himself.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

The lesson is simple.  The same word yields different results depending on the soil it lands in.  We want to be like that good soil.  

Some seed was devoured by birds.  This person did not immediately understand the word and evil one snatched away what was sown in his heart.  To counteract this possibility we have to be prepared to do a little work to make sure we are getting out of the word what God has put into it.  A little thought, a little study, a little reflection and conversation with others can go a long way.  We must make sure the evil one cannot devour the word once we have received it.  If we are attentive, hold on to that word at all costs and do not ignore it, we will forever avoid the first pitfall.  

Some seed sprang up immediately but had no depth.  Initial enthusiasm is no guarantee of long-term success.  What happens when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word?  Are we prepared to endure the rejection and ridicule that come along with a deep and firmly rooted faith?  Perhaps the main thing to know about difficulties is that we must expect them.  We Christians need to expect trials as a result of our commitment to the word of God.  Stand firm.  Do not waver.  Hold on tightly and never let go of Jesus and the walk with him that is continuously fueled by the word.  If we can survive these most certain troubles, we will avoid the second pitfall.

There is one pitfall left and i may be the most insidious.  The thorns, which represent the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, can choke out a well-informed and firmly-rooted faith.  In this case a person may say,”Sure, I believe,” but the fruit of their faith is simply absent.  Zoom in a little closer and we will likely find that this person’s faith is not their first priority.  One care or another gets in the way.  There is some status symbol, a relationship, a reputation among certain people who care little for the things of God, or of course, the next dollar.  Any of these can stand in the way of wholehearted devotion to the word.  Fruit gets choked out and never appears. 

Put the word first and fruit will come naturally.  Decide right now to not let anything or anyone stand in the way of it.  Others may come along if they choose, but we must determine not to be distracted from our Number One Priority – which is our faith.  No earthly thing compares.

Pay careful attention, stand firm under pressure and stay focused when distractions assault us.  This is how we avoid the three main pitfalls and diligently prepare our soil.  The fruit will now come if we are patient.  We may be surprised at how much there eventually is.  Some produce a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

A Prayer Prompted by the Parables of Matthew 13

Heavenly Father,

Christ has taught us about the reality and the danger of not responding positively and passionately to him.  Please help us to respond with unswerving commitment.

Let your word find good soil as it falls upon our hearts.  Let there be no corrupting or false influences in our faith.  Please keep us from being distracted by the enticements of this world.  Let us hold onto Jesus firmly, holding nothing back, remembering that he already gave everything for us.

Help us to make your kingdom the very center and goal of our lives. Cause us to continuously grow and bear fruit with perseverance as long as you allow us to live.

In Christ,

Amen.

Matthew 13 Verse by Verse

Matt photoJesus gives us an extensive teaching using seven parable that all deal with the kingdom of heaven..  

Matthew 13.pdf

Matthew 13.mp3