The Stumbling Stone
Leaving the towns and villages along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and His disciples traveled northwest to the region of Tyre and Sidon, two cities about 25 miles apart on the Mediterranean Sea (v 21). People from Tyre were present for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount many months earlier(Lk 6:17), even though they lived outside the borders of Israel. As port cities, the moral reputation was quite low and in some sense could be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. 10:15; 11:23,24 and 11:20,21). A Canaanite (only here in the NT) woman “came out.” Perhaps she came out of her house, village, or one of the aforementioned cities (v 22). One can almost chronicle the history of Israel by their relationship with the Canaanites, who they never succeeded in driving from the land as the Lord commanded. The tense of the verb “was crying out” (ekrazen) is a continuous action showing that the woman was repetitively calling out for Jesus. To one extent or another, the woman had knowledge of some Judaism. The title she used was a Messianic title also used in 9:27; 20:30,31. It may be an acknowledgement of the Davidic covenant, that is, that a descendent of David—who had defeated Israel’s enemies—was present or announcement by Matthew that the Messiah whom the prophets declared was ushering in the Kingdom. The request was clear, literally, “my daughter, an evil demon is possessing.” By placing “my daughter” at the beginning of the sentences adds emphasis to the subject of the woman’s concern. Jesus’ initial response is emphasized by the fact that He not only did not answer the woman, but He did not answer “a word” (logon, v 23). The tone and tense of the disciples’ exasperation shows that the woman was persistent as she was continually “crying out after us.”
God, the Holy Spirit, working through Matthew brings us to an important point in salvation history. How we get from Jesus being identified as the Jewish Messiah to Paul’s explanation of the Gentiles inclusion in the gospel (by way of the Abrahamic covenant) reaches a critical turning point right here in Matthew 15. Jesus announced that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (cf. Rom 15:8). Nevertheless, because of this Gentile woman’s persistence, “Lord, help me!” He would turn His attention toward her. Looking down at the one kneeling as in a posture of worship, Jesus acknowledged her as a household pet, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v 26). Without skipping a beat and in humble agreement, the woman did not try and defend herself, rather thinking of her tormented daughter replied that even the dogs get the crumbs (v 27). Seeing the faith of this woman—maybe in contrast to what He had seen in both the Pharisees and His own disciples—the Lord acknowledged her faith “great is your faith” (megala sou he pistis)! And immediately, her daughter was healed (v 28).
We see a great contrast between Matthew 15 verses 1-20 and verses 21-31. At the beginning of the chapter we see the religious leaders, those who should recognize the Messiah first and foremost choosing their own traditions over the clear teaching of the commandments of God. They have become hypocrites because all they are preoccupied with is preserving their position of authority in Judaism. If they accept Jesus as King then they must become His subjects. On the contrary, this Gentile woman recognizes the poverty of her station in life and can do nothing but appeal to the Lord’s mercy and in doing so expresses her total dependency in faith. What is happening here?
God’s election is described in Romans 9:14f and those who are the elect come from among both Jews and Gentiles (9:24). In calling the Gentiles, God was fulfilling His word spoken through the mouth of Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call my people” (Hos 1:10). The judgment of God will be so severe that only a remnant of Israel will be left and the remnant is only the result of His mercy (9:27-29; cf. Isa 10:20-23).
How did these people who were not God’s people become God’s people? Was it by the works of the law? On the contrary these Canaanites did not have the law. Moreover, by the works of the law no one will be justified in His sight (Rom 3:20). Why then the law? The law is for those under the law or as First Timothy states, “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners” (1 Tim 1:9a). The law is made to shut the mouth (Rom 9:19), because all are without excuse (Rom 2:1). It is through the law that the sinner comes to the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:19; 7:7). But the law cannot save, the law cannot make one righteous, the law cannot justify. So, God sent His son to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law (Rom 8:3,4).
But Israel, the people of God, who had the law “did not succeed in reaching that law” (Rom 9:31). Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith (v 32). They were so close, but stumbled right over the Stumbling Stone. God the Father has put a Stone in Zion that would become? . . .No, in Matthew 15, is becoming a “rock of offense.”
Why is He, Christ the Rock, a rock of offense?
Because both Jew and Greek are unrighteous sinners who do not seek after God (Rom 3:9-18).
Yet in order to stand justified before a Holy God, we must be righteous. How can we be something we can’t be? By faith in Christ’s atoning work, God justifies the ungodly and that faith is counted as righteousness. Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to the believer by faith (Rom 4:5). Like Abraham who by faith was consider righteous before the law was given, so we too, who believe in Christ’s work by faith are clothed with His righteousness and free from the wrath of God (Rom 4:9-12; Gal 3:16-18).
What then does James mean when he declares that Abraham was justified by works not just by faith (Js 2:21-26)?
1. If you are like the Canaanite woman, a member of a group of people who are not God’s people, come to Christ the way she did. Forget all your attempts to be good enough by keeping a list of do’s and don’ts. God’s law has to be kept perfectly for you to be good enough and you’ve already failed. By faith in Christ’s perfect sacrifice on your behalf cry out, “Lord, help me!”
2. If you are a religious person, maybe even a church member, and you have been trying to live up to God’s standards and you’re worn out. Quit! Put down all your religious traditions, your “this is the way we used to do it’s” or “always done its” and run after Jesus and fall at His feet.
3. If you are a Christian and you are seeking to grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord by keeping the law; hear the kind rebuke of the Lord saying, “Are you so foolish: Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Repent. Fall before Jesus and worship Him alone.
Memorize Romans 5:1-5
Meditate on Romans 5:1-5
Live by Romans 5:1-5
In your growth groups, spur one another onto godliness and love by helping one another memorize, meditate, and live by Romans 5:1-5.
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