Matthew 15

Matthew 15: For Crying Out Loud!

The Pharisees and teachers of the law (scribes) came to Jesus and asked him why his disciples did not wash their hands before they eat, as this was a ‘tradition of the elders’.   The Pharisees were the dominant party of the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees were strict legalists who believed in the Old Testament.  They had created a list of man-made laws called the ‘tradition of the elders’  which they believed were equal with the Word of God. These man-made laws were their ideas of how to keep the law, including certain rituals and specific ceremonies.  The scribes, also referred to as the teachers in the NIV, were a group of professional expounders of the Law, going back to the day of Ezra.   They had become ‘hair-splitters’ more concerned with the letter of the Law than the Spirit.

Jesus never broke the law of God, for he kept it completely, but he addressed their man-made laws specifically in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 where Jesus repeatedly referred to their traditions as ; ‘ you have heard…. But I tell you the truth.’   Jesus was referring to these people when he said- ‘ why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ ( matthew 7)

The speck they were looking at in this situation was the fact his disciples did not wash their hands before they ate.  This discussion is not about a sanitary washing of one’s hands before a meal, it was about the ceremonial washing of their hands which had become a ritual.  It was the breaking of this ‘ tradition of the elders’ they accuse Jesus and his disciples of breaking.

The Pharisees and scribes were telling the people if you do not observed the ritual cleansing of your hands before eating meat, then the meat you eat with unwashed hands will defile you.

Jesus then turns the tables on the Pharisees and Scribes.  Since they have accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the ‘ traditions of the elders’; Jesus now accuses them of breaking the commandments of God.   The commandment their tradition of the elders had broken was the fifth commandment- to ‘ honor your father and mother’ Jesus calls them hypocrites for they have placed a man-made law above God’s law.  * Note:  Only God sees the heart of man and therefore is able to judge the motives and intentions of one’s heart and proclaim a person a hypocrite.*

Here was the situation:  the Pharisees and Scribes had created a man-made law which provided a ‘loophole’ for not supporting your parents, thus not honoring them.  Their man-made law allowed a man to give to the temple and priests  a gift and then claim because of the gift he had given to the temple and the priests when his parents needed assistance, he was unable to help because all that he could spare was given to the temple service.

Jesus then turns to the crowd, as we continue to see the Lord turning in his ministry to the crowds and away from the religious leaders. To the crowd Jesus says:  “ Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.”

The disciples are first of all troubled by this change in direction of the Lord’s teaching and ministry.  They come to Jesus, saying:  “ Do you know the Pharisees are offended when they heard this?”    It seemed to the disciples if Jesus was the Messiah and to be the one who would be enthroned as King, he needed the support of these all important, powerful religious leaders. The disciples, like  a lot of us, wanted to avoid confrontation and seek compromise.  Wasn’t there some way  they could all get along?  Remember the Word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword. It divides.  Here was a clear case- of religious based on rituals and keeping laws, that were so complicated, and such a burden no one could keep them.

Are we not today as the Church divided into denominations based on our interpretation of the Word of God?  We look often at the specks in other’s eyes while ignoring the plank in our own.

Jesus instructs his disciples- to leave them alone. They are blind guides who are leading blind men and they will all end up in a pit.

Jesus then tells us:  whatever food and drink enters the mouth goes into the stomach and out of the body.  Our digestive system  takes what we eat and uses it for nourishment and disposes of the waste.  It is as if – everything God created reflects His principles.  Our blood system brings life to the cells while as the same time carrying out the waste.  Just as His blood washes away our sins and brings new life to us.

It is what enters our mind and we think about that causes us to be unclean- not eating food without washing our hands. Therefore what comes out of our mouth, not what goes into it, reflects what is in our hearts.  And remember – the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  You old nature is always seeking ways to be tempted, knowing getting you to allow those thoughts that are impure to enter your mind and dwell on them will result in actions taken.   There is no sin in word or deed- that did not first start in the heart, ( the mind).

For as a man thinketh, so is he.    “ For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean, but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean.”   Notice it all started with evil thoughts.  This is what they warned me about in AA- to guard my thinking.   They referred to this type of thinking that would lead to drinking – as ‘ stinking thinking.’ A new believer has to transform their minds with the Word of God.  This allows them to replace this ‘ stinking thinking’ with right thinking.  One must learn how to use the weapons we have which are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds and taking captive those thoughts and imaginations  that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. ( 2 Cor. 10)

This is exactly what the Pharisees and Scribes had done, they had elevated their man-made laws to the same level of Gods’ Laws, exalting themselves against the knowledge of God.  When in fact their motive was to gain the monies which would have been used to assist parents in need- to be given to the temple and priests :  thus allowing the Pharisees to gain financially, while allowing the man to utilize a loophole in the law that allowed him to avoid providing his parents with needed assistance.   It was like a tax loophole a congressman provides for his wealthy constituents who contribute to his re-election campaigns.  In  fact the tax codes in our government are so complex they run in the thousands of pages.

Now Jesus and his disciples leave this place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. This is the first time in his ministry he has been outside of the nation of Israel. Here we read of an encounter with a Canaanite woman. The conversation that follows is one of those conversations we find the initial behavior of the Lord Jesus contrary to what we think of him. He is abrupt, almost to the point of harshness, leaving us to wonder why is he behaving this way?

Here once again we see a parent with a child in trouble and in need of help, so she comes the Lord Jesus.  Her request is simple and straightforward:  “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” If you are a parent, when a child hurts – you hurt.

How does the Lord respond?  Does he say bring her to me? Go home she is well. No. He is silent. He did not answer a word.  Ever been there?  In a desperate situation, a loved one , a child in trouble- suffering and all you want is for the Lord to help you- to have mercy on you. And there is no answer. Heaven is silent.

By now you must know, the Lord Jesus is not in Tyre and Sidon on a whim- he is not there on the flip of coin- let’s go this way today. He is there by divine appointment.  This meeting is not by chance or coincidence.  What is the Lord teaching his disciples? He is teaching them about faith, he is teaching to trust Him with all their hearts and not lean to their own understanding and he will direct their paths.  Do you know that adversity is to faith what exercise is to our muscles.

Here is one thing we know as believers, we want to call out to the Lord. “ In the day of trouble, I will call upon You, and You will answer me.” ( Psalm 86:7)  “ Lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid.” ( Isaiah 40:9)  “ Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things you do not know.” ( Jeremiah 33:3)

Did you notice this Canaanite woman came crying out!  God allowed the nation of Israel to be taken into captivity over a period of years after Joseph died. Finding themselves in slavery, their lives in a pit, they finally had enough sense to do what needed to be done:  “The children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out and their cry came up to God because of their bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. (Exodus 2) There are numerous verses in the OT and NT where see this verb- cry, cried, crying out to the Lord.

The disciples are perplexed why the Lord does not do something and wanting to rid themselves of this crying, noisy woman they encourage the Lord to’ send her away for she keeps crying out after us.’  By this we believe they meant for the Lord to give her what she requested so she would go away.

Again the Lord’s reply is almost shocking to us as it must have been to the disciples. Jesus answered and said : “ I was sent only to the sheep of Israel.” What?! You must be thinking as I am, Lord- this woman just needs some help, have mercy on her as you have on so many others.

“The woman came and knelt before him, Lord Help ME!” she said.”  What a simple 3 word prayer that I am sure each of you have prayed on more than one occasion.  She is persistent. The Lord cannot seem to run her off.  What a contrast to those Jesus could not convince he was who he said he was even with the signs and miracles. In contrast this woman is convinced Jesus is  who he says he is and can do what he says he can do and she will not be discouraged even when he is silent or his words seem to condemn you rather than encourage you.

Are you discouraged the Lord has not answered your prayer yet?  Watch what happens next in this encounter. She prays – Lord help me.  Jesus replies:  “ It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Again – we are shocked. The Lord is actually calling her a ‘dog’. Is she insulted?   Will she grow angry and tell him –he cannot talk to her that way!

No. This woman agrees with the Lord. “ Yes, Lord, she said, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s tables.”

Let’s think about what the Lord has said:  “ I am sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Surely this strong a statement from the Lord will discourage her.  But she prayed even more earnestly- compressing her prayer to just three words-‘ Lord, help me!’

Jesus came to die for the sins of the world. He gave his life a ransom for many. He is the propitiation for our sins and not only for our sins only , but also for the sins of the whole world.(I John 2)  However his ministry which was only a little over 3 years had a timetable and a structure. Jesus was aware of this timetable. Often he would say- my time has not yet come. The reason he sometimes withdrew from confrontation was not because he was fearful, but because he was controlling the time table. He came first  to His own- the Jewish people as a fulfillment of all OT prophecies concerning the coming of the King in David’s line.  He presented himself as he fulfilled the prophecies with the signs and miracles he did.  But John tells us- he came unto his own, but his own receive him not.  Perhaps his reply also let this woman know he was not the Son of David and King of the Jews to her, for she was not Jewish. Notice her next prayer, simply addressed Jesus as ‘Lord.’   It is interesting to note although the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as their rightful King, Pilate had a sign placed above him on the cross that read:  This is Jesus, King of the Jews.

In calling her a dog- or implying she is not entitled or worthy of his blessing. Some would certainly consider this an insult. Not this woman. She replied simply in agreement- Yes, Lord. Do you see how humble she is?  Who does God resist? The proud, like the Pharisees. Who does God give grace to?  The humble.

Everyone has some type of stumbling block that keeps them from coming to the Lord.  Unbelief being one, but usually comes as a form of pride, of self-centeredness. The rich young ruler came to Jesus and ask what he must do to inherit eternal life- Jesus told him to go sell all his possessions and give them to the poor and come follow him.  We do not know what happened to him eventually, but at least initially, he went away sad.   Do you know what overcomes these stumbling blocks?  Faith.

When she agrees she is no more deserving than a dog, but says-‘even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’

Jesus’ answer: “ Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted. “ And her daughter was healed that very hour.

Another lesson in the school of faith. God tries our faith that it might come forth as gold.  As we study the stories in the Scriptures we observe, many who come to a place of honor are first humbled and brought low. Consider the story of Joseph, who was thrown in a  pit by his brothers. From that pit he was sold into slavery to the Midianites. They in turn sold him at auction where he was purchased by Potiphar. The story last several chapters as we see Joseph time and time again brought to a place of humility even a prison in order to prepare him for a high place for God’s purpose. For you  see God knows the plans He has for you.  And He is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. ( Romans 8).  And what is God’s purpose? It is that we be conformed to the image of His Son.  Whatever God lets you succeed in, excel in is something He wants to use to make Him known. To God be the Glory!

Perhaps today, what we need first to do is  see ourselves as dogs, in other words not to think of ourselves so highly.  For our self-  righteousness is  as filthy rags to the Lord. Perhaps the circumstances you find yourself so desperately crying out to the Lord have made you realize you can take no solace, nor find any peace in your possessions and position because of this vexing problem you have.  It seems as if heaven is silent. It seems like the harder your try, the more you pray-  nothing happens. Why God? Why are you not answering my prayer? Are you wrestling  with God about something?  Then be like Jacob and tell God, I will not let you go unless you bless me!

The NIV says- ‘ toss it to their dogs.’ In fact the Greek word used in the NT says, ‘ little dogs’ meaning a pet in the family household.

The woman agrees she is a dog unfit to eat at the table, but even the little dogs get to eat the crumbs from their master’s table.   She is in essence saying, yes I am a dog, but I am your dog. You are my master.

Now I see the face and hear the voice of the one I love. He face breaks into a smile and with great warmth our Lord Jesus not only heals her daughter – he commends her for her great faith.

The disciples must be thinking- what would I do if I was treated that way.

So it seems to you today- heaven is silent. Even worse- that maybe God is not smiling. Your flesh wants to whisper in your ear- ‘see, He does not care about your problem. Why isn’t he helping you in this situation?

If the Lord is denying you something- maybe it is because you are denying Him something?? That is ‘ something’ to think about- pray about.

You know what I see?  The Lord clearly has allowed or placed stumbling blocks in our way, in our lives.  Certainly they sometimes block us from doing something or keep us from going somewhere we should not go.  Or maybe they are just another hill for us to climb by faith.

Sometimes we cannot see His Plan.  We cannot trace His hand. And when that happens we must trust His Heart.

He allowed Peter to walk on the water that Peter might see the strength of the Lord. He also allowed Peter to sink that he might see his weakness. He was preparing Peter for a great work. He would face another humiliating situation- when he denied the Lord three times on the night of his arrest. A coward who cursed he ever knew Jesus.

Interesting when Peter was sinking he cried out with a loud voice- Lord save me.

“ after this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7)

Did you know you were in the Bible?  That’s us the redeemed who are right there in that glorious scene to take place in the future in heaven.

Did you notice what we were doing?  CRYING OUT LOUD!

Do you now understand why we were given voices?  FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14