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Great Faith

August 20, 2023 |Great Faith|Matthew 15:21-28

JD Cutler

For the sermon audio, click here

This is our third week of looking at miracles in the gospel of Matthew. This morning we will be in the 15th chapter of Matthew, if you want to turn there now.

So far we have looked at Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus women and children with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Then last week we looked at how later that night he walked on the water to the disciples and enabled Peter to do so as well. We saw that Peter’s faith failed him and Jesus called him both ‘little faith’ and challenged him to examine the root of his doubt that overtook his faith.

A few things happened between then and where we are today that I want to briefly share with you.

The disciples and Jesus reached land and after being recognized many people alerted the surrounding areas so that great crowds of people brought their sick to be healed. In the midst of this healing ministry, Pharisees from Jerusalem come and are appalled that his disciples are eating with ceremonially unwashed hands. Jesus exposes their corrupt and incorrect thinking and explains to the crowds that true defilement comes from within the heart of man and not in what he ingests.

Then having sufficiently enraged the religious leaders and having challenged the accepted Jewish religious status quo, Jesus leaves that area and goes into Gentile territory.

His reasoning is not specifically given in Matthew, but the gospel writer Mark tells us his desire was to withdraw into a place where no one knew where he was. We noted a few weeks ago in the feeding of the 5,000 that Jesus intended to get away to a quiet place with his disciples after their short term mission trip and the report of the death of John the Baptist. Perhaps this is why he traveled even further away. But whatever the reason, today we find a miracle happening outside of Jewish territories, and even more surprising is the recipient of the miracle, who is not a Jew or even a convert, but an outsider who displays an unshakeable faith.

What a great contrast Matthew presents for us in his gospel account.

We have seen the disciples exercise what Jesus calls little faith, and now just a few verses away,in this account, we find Jesus commending a stranger for her great faith.

What is interesting about this miracle, is that while it is no less miraculous than multiplying loaves, or walking on water, the miracle itself happens off camera, if you will. We aren’t told many details about the nature of it and we do not see it happen, but it is miraculous nonetheless. A woman’s child is freed from demonic oppression at a word from our Savior.

While Mark’s account focuses less on the interaction between the woman and Jesus and more on the miracle, Matthew seems to focus us in on the woman’s faith, which is what we will be looking at this morning. Three elements of this miraculous encounter as we try to answer ‘what does great faith look like’ by examining this woman’s faith as well as Jesus’ response to it.

The first element of our miraculous encounter is…

A Desperate Plea

Matthew 15:21-22 (ESV) 21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre (tiire) and (sigh-don)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.”

Every word in these verses help us understand what is happening here in this encounter.

The district of Tyre and Sidon- This area is northwest of Galilee and Gentile country, close to the Mediterranean sea.

A Canaanite woman from that region- Mark uses a different term, he says she was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. Matthew uses the more generic term of Canaanite woman. Either way, this woman is a gentile and of the people group who are normally considered hostile to the Jews.

Came out and was crying- the word used here is not emotionally crying, but raising one’s voice and crying out. Could be translated as shouting.

What was her cry? Let’s look at three elements, what she is looking for, who she is addressing, and why she is addressing him.

What is she looking for? Have mercy on me- be compassionate towards me

We do not know how this woman heard about Jesus, but it seems that what she had heard is that he was merciful or compassionate. She is asking him to show that compassion to her.

Who is she addressing? O Lord, Son of David- She essentially uses two titles for Jesus, Lord, and Son of David. These could have been formalities designed to gain her acceptance to this Jewish miracle worker, but as the story unfolds and her faith is displayed, I think it is more than that. She acknowledges that this man is the promised Son of David, the Jewish Messiah, the anointed one.

Why is she addressing him? Her daughter is in a bad situation

We do not find out whether she is a young daughter or a grown woman, only that she is severely oppressed by a demon.

The words here don’t give us any hints as to the nature of the oppression, only that it is demonic in nature and she is either diseased because of it or it is simply very severe in its effects.

You can imagine that this woman has tried everything in her power and every remedy available to her to help her daughter and thus far has been unsuccessful. She is desperate and now that she believes she has found one able to help her daughter, she desperately and unrelentingly cries out.

Having understood the situation before us, let us ask, what do we know about her faith so far?

First, I suppose, we must ask an even more elemental question. What is faith? Letting scripture interpret scripture, the New Testament in Hebrews 11:1 gives us this definition. Faith is defined as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Assurance- confidence/trust

Thing Hoped for- one word- to expect

Conviction- proof

Things not seen- matters not seen

To overly simplify it then, to exercise faith is to put our confidence in what we hope for, or to be convinced that what has not yet happened will happen.

What do we know about this woman’s faith so far? Let’s walk through her story.

She has a desperate need- my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon

The beginning of faith is understanding we need something beyond ourselves. As long as we are okay, we do not need faith. As long as the answer is plain, or the challenge within our ability or resources, we do not need faith.

She possessed a small amount of truth- O Lord, Son of David

Faith is rooted in knowledge, but must go beyond it. You cannot place your faith in something you do not know, right? Faith is not blind as some would call it. This woman had some basic knowledge about God, his people, and his promises to them.

However, knowledge is not enough no matter how big or small, which leads us to the pertinent part of her story.

She was willing to act on it in faith- crying out to Jesus

Faith is acting on the knowledge you have in light of your need.

Faith caused her to leave her house, seek out Jesus because she believed he could heal her daughter, and cry out to him for compassion. This is the pattern of faith we find over and over in the New Testament. Desperate need, truth, action.

When we talk about putting our faith in Jesus for salvation, you can easily see the same pattern emerge, can’t you?

Desperate need, small amount of truth, acting on what you know to meet the need.

You will never come to place your faith in Jesus until you realize your desperate need for the salvation that only comes through him. Having realized that, you do not need to know all of the inner workings of God or his plan, it is enough to know that Jesus offers salvation to those who will repent of their trust in anything else and come to him in faith. Having realized your need and understanding that Jesus can meet that need, you act on it by crying out to him.

You will never come to place your faith in Jesus until you realize your desperate need for the salvation that only comes through him.

This is not the end of faith, it is the beginning of it. All of the Christian life is faith.

On Wednesday nights we have been walking through the book of Ephesians, a letter written to Christians in the church who had already placed their faith in Christ. What we have found is that the more we study the more desperate our need becomes, the more fully we realize that Jesus is the only one to meet those needs, and we cry out to him to help us. Help us walk in ways consistent to who we are, to help us to experience the unity he wants for us, in the church, in the home, and in the marketplace, to help us fight the spiritual battles raging around us.

This woman, recognizing her desperate need and recognizing Jesus is the answer, cries out to him.

How does Jesus respond to this plea?

Normally he responds quickly and favorably, right?

Blind men cry out have mercy, and he does, paralyzed men are lowered through the ceiling and he pronouns him forgiven and heals him, a woman touches the hem of his garment and is immediately healed. I mean just last highlighted the immediacy that Christ grabbed ahold of Peter when he cried out, Lord, save me. However, the second element of our miraculous encounter is…

A Delayed Response

Matthew 15:23 (ESV) 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.”

Jesus does not answer her desperate plea, the language implies he is indifferent to it, he ignores it

This evidently goes on long enough for the disciples to become irritated or agitated.

Two grammatical notes here, the verb tense in verse 22 of crying is imperfect, indicating an ongoing action. This verb tense is used again in verse 23 of the disciples begging him. She is repeatedly crying out and the disciples are actively begging Jesus to put a stop to it.

We need not think they are asking Jesus to simply send her away, they may just as well be asking that he heal her daughter so they can be done with her. Either way they are frustrated and come to Jesus.

We will look at his answer more in depth in our next division, for now I want to focus on his silence for a minute.

We have already acknowledged she had faith. She knew the right words-have compassion on me, the right person- O Lord, Son of David, and had the right attitude- my daughter is severely oppressed, she was not asking selfishly, but as an intercessor for her daughter.

And yet, Jesus did not immediately respond, the Bible says he didn’t say one single word.

What gives? She came to the right person, she said the right words, she seems to have the right reason and attitude. Shouldn’t this be a no brainer. Isn’t the kind of thing Jesus has been doing since he started his ministry?

Now we are never explicitly told why Jesus remains silent but there could be a number of reasons.

Perhaps he was intentionally waiting to see how the disciples would respond to his silence.

Perhaps he was intentionally waiting to see how the woman would respond to his silence.

I mean this is an interesting question isn’t it? Why didn’t Jesus respond immediately?

Whatever his reason for the delay it produces two things.

The woman continues to cry out, his silence does not deter her.

The disciples get irritated and beg him to do something.

Let us focus on the first result, the continued crying out of the woman.

Is this not a living example of Jesus’ exhortation to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 7:7-8 (ESV) 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Is it not consistent with his parable of the Persistent Widow by which he encourages the disciples to pray always and not lose heart?

Let’s imagine that after crying out to Jesus and his silence she gave up and went home, supposing everything she had heard about Jews was correct and they had no dealings with her kind. Imagine if she assumed it was because no self-respecting Jew would engage with a woman in conversation and gave up and went home. What if she supposed that the reports of Jesus’ compassion had been exaggerated and gave up and went home?

Would that have been faith she exercised by coming to Jesus, or some last ditch effort to secure a cure for her daughter in her own ability?

Think about it, if faith can be defeated by silence, then it wasn’t really faith at all.

Faith is not something we ‘try’ but something we hold to be true.

What if Christ is silent to elicit a greater faith? What if he doesn’t immediately answer in order to test whether it is really faith that brings her to him or if she is just trying something else in a long line of attempts at making her daughter well?

God is not a tool to get what you want, he will not be mocked or manipulated.

Just because you say the right words to the right person does not mean you get what you ask for.

Let’s bring it down to a more familiar level. Just because my children come to me and ask respectfully and politely for something does not mean that they will get it. Right?

If your 10 year old comes and says, O precious and sweet father of mine, you are a wonderful father and I know you love me so very much, and I am so hungry, and I know that you do not want me to be hungry, so can I please have the keys to the car so I can go to the store? They are likely to get ignored as well!

I think too often we treat our faith as a way to try and manipulate God. Now, we would never say that, but we say, sure I have faith in God, I believe in Jesus, I’ll accept him into my life, and all the while we expect him to give us what we want, to bless our plans for our lives, or to make our lives better, on our timetable and according to our schedule.

When that doesn’t happen, we abandon our so-called faith and claim that it didn’t work. We don’t believe that anymore. As the popular saying goes today, we deconstruct our faith.

Listen, God is not obligated to immediately respond to your petitions, even if asked in faith. Sometimes he may not answer because we are not asking for good things, and sometimes he doesn’t answer in order to test the genuineness of our faith, as I believe he does here. The greatness of our faith is revealed by what we do when he doesn’t immediately answer. Great faith keeps us focused on him as our sole source of hope, even in the midst of difficulties.

Jesus doesn’t immediately respond, which does not stop here from desperately crying out in faith. The irritation of the disciples does not stop her from crying out in faith. If we learn anything from Jesus’ silence let it be our third element of this miraculous encounter, that this woman had…

A Determined Faith

Matthew 15:24-28 (ESV) 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.

When Jesus finally answers, it is not to her, but to the disciples about himself.

I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This did not deter her. Even if he was not sent to help her, she believed he was able to. So she comes and kneels before him and says, Lord, help me.

Now the Lord responds to her, even though upon first reading we wish he had just stayed silent.

If we follow his picture, the children are Israel, the bread is God’s favor, and that makes the gentiles the dogs. Ouch.

Let’s stop there for a minute and catch our breath.

This woman has come to Jesus in faith, asking for healing for her daughter.

The first challenge is that she knows she has no right to presume anything from this Jewish messiah. She is an outsider and a woman, and yet she comes because she believes that Jesus can and will help her.

The second challenge is that she gets no immediate response from Jesus. He is silent to her cries, and yet she continues to cry out believing that Jesus can and will help her.

The third challenge is that she is outside the scope of God’s elect people and therefore outside of Christ’s mission at this time. He has been sent first and foremost to fulfill God’s promises to his covenant people, and yet rather than stop her, it brings her to her knees before the Lord where she again asks him to help her, believing that he can and will do so.

If this was all we knew about her, we should be impressed by her persistent faith and her humility to continue despite seemingly being rejected.

But as we noted a minute ago, the greatest challenge comes when Jesus says directly to her, it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.

We do need to make one grammatical note here that although surely softens the words, does not fully remove the sting.

It was common at this time for the Jews to refer to the Gentiles as dogs because they considered Gentiles unclean because they would eat anything and did not follow God’s food laws. They were, in their mind, like the dirty, scavenging animals in the streets. This is not the word Jesus uses. He uses the terminology reserved for a family pet, a little dog.

The reformed expository commentary says, he called her a dog, but he has also placed her in the home, near the table.

John Calvin, in commentating on this passage says, To make the meaning plain to us, it must be understood that the appellation of the children’s bread is here given, not to the gifts of God of whatever description, but only to those which were bestowed in a peculiar manner on Abraham and his posterity. For since the beginning of the world, the goodness of God was everywhere diffused—nay, filled heaven and earth—so that all mortal men felt that God was their Father. But as the children of Abraham had been more highly honored than the rest of mankind, the children’s bread is a name given to everything that relates peculiarly to the adoption by which the Jews alone were elected to be children. The light of the sun, the breath of life, and the productions of the soil, were enjoyed by the Gentiles equally with the Jews; but the blessing which was to be expected in Christ dwelt exclusively in the family of Abraham. To lay open without distinction that which God had conferred as a peculiar privilege on a single nation, was nothing short of setting aside the covenant of God; for in this way the Jews, who ought to have the preference, were placed on a level with the Gentiles.

Jesus is not saying that God does not give anything to those outside of the covenant people, but that the special ministry of Jesus to proclaim good news to the poort, liberty to the captives, sight to the bind, liberty to the oppressed was for the Jews first. To take it from the table and give it indiscriminately to the Gentiles would be akin to taking the meal from the children and throwing it to the pet dogs.

At this point, I am sure the disciples are thinking, finally, he put her in her place and she will leave.

But picking up on Jesus' use of the term little dog, she says, Yes, Lord. I agree with you, to take bread out of the mouths of the children to feed the dogs would not be good, but… and yet Lord, don’t those little dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table while the children are eating?

The level of humility this woman shows is impressive.

Ignored, then reminded that she is outside of God’s household, then compared to a family pet.

She doesn’t argue with any of this, she knows she doesn’t deserve anything from Jesus, she believes that he is compassionate and that he can and will heal her daughter. She doesn’t want a seat at the table, just the crumbs. She believes that will be enough for her daughter.

This is faith. Borne out of a desperate need and brought to the right person. It is a determined faith. She remains undeterred from her mission to plead with Jesus to heal her daughter.

Jesus says, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Be it done for you as you desire. What you have in mind will be accomplished.

What you believed in faith (the assurance of things hoped for) will be yours.

Her faith was obviously a determined one, but Jesus says it was also great. Literally mega-faith.

He applauds her faith and then on account of it, grants her prayer. Great faith perseveres despite challenges.


Three elements in our story concerning faith. A desperate plea of faith, a delayed answer that tests her faith, and a determined faith that perseveres until the end.

An example of what great faith looks like.

Let me ask you today, is your faith great or is it little?

Let’s contrast our two stories on faith from last week and this week.

Great faith isn’t dependent on who you are.

Peter was a Jew, one of God’s chosen people, more than that, he was a chosen disciple of Christ, one of the closest disciples to Christ, he had already experienced great things, and yet his faith was little in his moment of need.

This woman was a Gentile, outside of God’s covenant people, a stranger to Jesus, and had experienced no miraculous things, and yet her faith was great in her moment of need.

Great faith isn’t dependent on how much you know.

Peter had been instructed not only in the normal Jewish schooling, but had been learning directly from Jesus, he had access to a great amount of truth, and yet his faith was little.

This woman had only a sliver of knowledge, she knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that he was compassionate, and yet her faith was great.

She had a small spark of truth but great was her faith in it.

Peter had a large bonfire of truth but little was his faith in it.

Great faith isn’t dependent on how quickly or easily your prayers are answered.

Peter simply said, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water and Jesus said come. There were no obstacles or challenges to his request, and yet his faith was little.

This woman was ignored, excluded, and demeaned, and yet her faith was great.

What do you desperately need Jesus to do in your life? Do you believe that he can do it? Are you determined to believe it no matter the difficulties, no matter the challenges, even if it feels like heaven is silent against your cries?

Then faith says, bring your petitions to him, believing that he can do what he has said he will do.

God is no respecter of persons, but he is a rewarder of great faith as we see in our text today.

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