Oh the joy God finds in being persuaded by the determination of one of His children.
This mother is the incarnation of persistence. If you could put flesh on the verse “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) it would turn out to be this woman. Like the widow in Luke 18 who wouldn’t let up with the wicked judge, and like Jacob when he wouldn’t let go of the angel of the Lord, this woman was not going to be turned away by Jesus until He gave her what she came for.
Our text today records two miracles Jesus performed for Gentiles. First, a Gentile woman approaches Jesus and asks Him to deliver her daughter from a demon. At first Jesus rebuffs her. But because of her persistence He soon changes His mind and does what she asked. Moving on a deaf and mute man is brought to Jesus. Taking Him aside Jesus says “Be opened” and the man’s ears are healed and he starts speaking. The passage concludes with everyone praising Jesus and saying “He does everything well!”
EXPLANATION OF THE TEXT
Jesus never preached to small crowds. No matter how hard He “tried”, He couldn’t have small, intimate gatherings. People flocked from all over when He arrived. Leaving Galilee north into the region of Syria, He went to the ancient Gentile city of Tyre. While the majority of Jesus’ time was in Israel, He nonetheless made excursions into Gentile areas immediately outside of Israel.
If Jesus came to “that which was His own [Israelites]” (Jn 1:11) and was sent to the Jews, what was He doing taking time going to Gentiles? When Jesus ministered to the Gentiles it foreshadowed the Great Commission. God’s plans were not for Israel exclusively, but, for all men all over the world. “I have other sheep”, He said referring to Gentiles, “that are not part of this sheep pen and I must bring them in also.” (John 10:16). The Prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s designs to make Israel “a light for the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6). When His own ministry was complete, and soon to return to Heaven, Jesus ordered His disciples to conduct the Great Commission that specifically meant going to the Gentiles: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
First we see her pursuit of Jesus. So then, one of those Gentiles – a woman – came to Jesus. This is the first thing we see about her. Do you see the picture she portrays? The Gentiles also must come to the Jewish Savior. The Bible is all about God coming to man and man coming to God. Jesus would send the Apostles out to the Gentile nations, and those Gentiles would need to “come” to the Jewish Savior. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden…” (Mt. 11). “Come those who are thirsty, come and take the free gift…” (Rev. 22). She has heard Jesus came to her town and so she goes to Him.
Second we see her Problem. Her daughter is demon-possessed. We don’t know anything else, like how long she’s been possessed, or how she came to be possessed, or how old the girl is, or what has been done to try and get rid of the demons. I think we can safely assume that this mother, like so many who seek Jesus out, had no options. She had probably tried everything already. She may have spent all she had to heal her daughter, to no avail. Fear. Desperation. Hopelessness. How else would we feel if we were her?
Third, we see her Persistence with Jesus. Their interaction is fantastic. She first presents her case to Jesus and we have to marvel at His response. He basically snubs her. I can envision Him not even looking at her, just looking over her, and saying, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Oh. My. If that response confuses you let’s explain it.
The picture is of children sitting at a table eating their bread and dogs underneath the table. The children refers to Jews for they were the children of God by covenant.
Dogs refers to Gentiles, whom the Jews called dogs. Gentiles were considered by the Jews to be dogs. Now, in the Jewish mind, dogs do not evoke the same love, devotion, happiness, cuteness and companionship that we think of today. In our day we say things like “Hey wuz up dawg!” Its a term of friendship. But, to the Jew, dogs were dirty, vicious, wild and foul animals that were good for nothing and were to be avoided. Calling someone a dog was a serious insult. Jews considered all Gentiles dogs.
And bread refers to Jesus’ miracles, the ministry He was giving to the Jews.
What Jesus was saying was that it was not right to bring His ministry to the Gentiles because it was meant for the Jews.
Now, if that gets your attention, good, because her response is incredible. And Jesus thinks so too. She says, “Yes, Lord, but, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Kapow! She is not triggered by Jesus. She’s not insulted. She does not turn around and storm off to a safe space away from Jesus. She doesn’t go away in tears despondent. She was dug in. She came to Him and would not leave empty handed. She uses His own metaphor in her response back to Him, pointing out another angle to His metaphor that was in her favor: “Yeah, but, dogs under the table eat up the crumbs the kids drop on the floor. I’m here under the table, Lord, ready for you to drop me a crumb. Let some of the ministry you’re doing for the Jew children fall to me, a Gentile dog”
She simply will not be turned away. This is one of my favorite events in the Gospels. May every mother here be of such faith. May every mother here be so tenacious with Jesus for her children’s sake. She has grabbed hold of Jesus and will not let Him go until He blesses her. She will not stop pressing her cause with Him until He answers her. Oh the joy God finds in being persuaded by the determination of one of His children.
What then is our Lord’s response to her? He grants her request and expels the demon. Look closely though at what He says: “For such a reply…” There are all kinds of ways to speak to God. Is there persistence in our speaking with God? Let me offer four points of applications:
First, persistence is not presumption. Presumption is the attempt to determine for God what He will do. “I thank you God ahead of time for answering this prayer.” That seems to me to presume upon God. No, persistence is getting your mail at the throne of God because you spend so much time there. Persistence is the relentless, repeated prayers we keep coming to the throne with because we know that God is able and we’re going to keep coming until He decides to use that power of His to give us what we’re asking. Always we leave the prerogative with God, recognizing His divine right to do as He pleases, but, we are equally confident that He is a heavenly Father to us and He does hear and respond to our requests.
Second, persistence is born of faith. When you really believe God is able you will keep going to Him. Again, again, and again. Let’s say your child needed an organ transplant. And lets say that someone had that organ that you needed. And lets say that person arranged it so that whoever filled out the most applications would be at the top of the list and get the organ. The more applications you sent in the higher on the list you would go. How many applications would you fill out to get your child that organ? As many as it took until you finally got it. Prayer is like that, you know God has what you need, He has the ability to give you your request. All things are possible with God. He is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine. His ability is not the issue. Your persistent prayers are meant to persuade Him to answer you. Again, I point out, Oh the joy God finds in being persuaded by the determination of one of His children. I really believe there are many things God will never do because people don’t ask Him to do those things. Someone might say, “Well doesn’t God care?!” The real question is: “Don’t you care?!” Of course, yes, you may care, but, you may not believe God can do anything about it. And that is why you don’t pray.
Third, Our Lord is not inflexible with our prayers. A “no” today may not be a “no” tomorrow. The Lord at times has cut-off prayers and not allowed any further requests on a matter: Paul was told the thorn would stay; …..In these circumstances keep in mind that the people were tireless in asking God and He had to silence them. But unless God so speaks to us in the same way then we must consider it an invitation to keep on indefatigably with Him. For it may be that greater developments in His overall plan are still happening and our answer may be at a point yet on the horizon.
Fourth, there is another point we must consider: waiting sanctifies us. God makes us wait to deepen our trust in Him and sanctify our character even more. Our focus may be on our situation, or, even someone else we’re praying for. But the Lord will use the waiting period to teach us. Matthew Henry said, “Where Christ knows the faith of the poor supplicant to be strong He sometimes delights to try it, and put it to the stretch.”
We want to hear lots of things from Jesus. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” “Come, take a seat here at the table in the kingdom of God.” “Here is your reward.” “Justified. Your sins are no more.” And in this passage we learn something else we ought to seek to hear: “For such a reply”…. “For such a reply it will be done for you.”
Ears to Hear (31-35)
The chapter ends with Jesus healing a deaf and mute man.
First, we can see again the kind of tenacity that gets results with Jesus: “they begged him” it says (v32). Now they are begging Jesus on behalf of this person, not themselves personally. Who is it in your life that you are tenaciously going to Jesus for? Who is it in your life that you should be?
If ever there was a basis for a prayer group this is it: a group of people who go to Jesus on behalf of others. Who do you pray with? Are you taking the initiative to pray with others? Husband do you initiate prayer with your wives? Parents do you initiate prayer with your kids? Members why don’t you start a small prayer group with one or more people here? I would love to know that Sunday morning and the Wednesday morning prayer group are not the only prayer happening.
So while surrounded by a bunch of people Jesus finally takes action. What I like is that He takes the guy aside, away from the crowd. I think they aren’t far, probably still in earshot, but, Jesus makes it a little more private. I like this because it shows Jesus treating this guy very personally, one on one, literally stopping the whole show to give this guy his undivided attention. He didn’t do it “for” the people. He responded to their begging but He did it for the guy himself. How intimate. How personal. They guy could see, I can just imagine him looking at Jesus, unable to hear Jesus or say anything to Him.
Man, in prayer don’t you often feel like this: a mute before God? Like you just are unable to speak, you don’t know how to say anything to the Creator of the universe? What could I say? But, this guy didn’t need to say anything because Jesus already knew. And He knows with us too.
So Jesus puts his fingers into the man’s ears and then spits, and then touches the man’s tongue. Now pause. I have no idea what all this means. Jesus could have just spoken like He just did with the demon-possessed little girl. But, He chose to heal this guy in this way. It’s like the time when Jesus would heal Malchus’ ear after Peter whacked it off with a sword (Lk. 22:50-51). Why He does this Mark does not tell us. Maybe Jesus wanted to allow this guy to feel how profound it was to have a personal physical touch from the Creator of the universe. Isn’t that how we pray: “God touch his body and heal him”, or, “Lord Jesus, touch his heart and turn him to you so he would believe in you.”?
There is something theological here that we might consider. Jesus was portraying Himself to this man as his Substitute. In that moment He was taking away the man’s ailment, but, soon He would take away the man’s sins at the cross. Quoting Isaiah, Matthew 8 says, “[He] healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’” (Isa. 53:4; Mt. 8:16-17). His ministry of removing sickness was a sign that He was the one who could remove sins.
Then Jesus heals the guy. It doesn’t happen when He touches his ears, or his tongue, or when He spits on the ground. It happens when He commands the man. Jesus says, “Ephphatha!” and Mark translates this for his Gentile readers. Ephphatha means “Be opened!” Boom! The authority of Jesus’ words. You have to love that. The man instantly hears for the first time, and He probably heard all his friends erupt in excitement. He probably heard them calling his name for the first time, and telling them their names, which he would have heard for the first time. I bet He started hearing before Jesus was done saying Be opened, and that he probably heard the last part of “-e opened!” Then I could imagine him look at the man who just touched him and ask, “What is your name?” And with ears to hear he heard Him say, “Jesus.”
Jesus would often say to those who could hear: if you have ears to hear, then listen. Jesus was talking about their hearts. Ears to hear was a phrase that meant you were ready to listen, and, to receive what Jesus was saying.
Take-Aways for Silent Reflection:
- Go to Jesus. The woman did, and, the friends of the deaf man did.
- Show your faith by your persistence in prayer.
- Remember that God uses waiting to work in your life
- Go to Jesus that your sin-ailment will be healed.