You Are God's Dogs
A sermon based on Matthew 15:21-28
Sunday, September 7, 2014 – Pentecost 13A
"What's up, dogs?" Now, I don't pretend to be hip, but I've made an observation. I don't know how or when it started, but it seems to me that it's not really an insult to be called a dog anymore. But obviously that wasn't always the case. It certainly wasn't complimentary when the Jews referred to any non-Jew as a "Gentile dog" because they weren't a part of the people specially chosen by God as they had been. It certainly didn't sound complimentary when Jesus compared a Canaanite woman to a dog, and as hip as it may be, I seriously doubt that many of you would like it if I compared you to a dog.
But Jesus wasn't being mean to the Canaanite woman when he called her a dog. He was merely testing her faith that he might strengthen it. And I certainly don't mean it as an insult when I call you dogs. The truth is, it is a great privilege that you are God's dogs. Though you're as worthy as a dog of special treatment, God has made you his very own. And now he encourages you to cling to his promises in faith and beg like a dog. And you can rejoice and be happy in the feast that is yours as you sit at your master's feet. Listen now to the account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman recorded for us in Matthew 15:21-28…
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.
26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
28 Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
This is the Word of God.
Now, some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law followed Jesus from Jerusalem up to Galilee to hound him and harass him. After pointing out their hypocrisy and rebuking them he left the area to find some peace and quiet to train his disciples. He went northwest to the costal city of Tyre and tried to enter secretly. But before long, word got out that Jesus was there.
One woman, a Canaanite, went to Jesus to plead her case as soon as she heard he was there in the city. But she didn't receive the response she'd hoped for. At least, not at first… 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." 23 Jesus did not answer a word.
If you've ever had a sick child, you know how frantic you can get. But this woman needed more than a doctor. Her daughter was possessed—a demon literally lived inside of her. How desperate this woman must have been! And how discouraging when her pleas were met with silence.
The disciples knew that Jesus was trying to keep a low profile, something this woman was making impossible following behind them, making a scene and letting everyone know that Jesus was here. Why not just grant her request and send her away quietly? So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." 25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. 26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
How discouraging it must have been for this unnamed woman. She desperately needed help, help she knew Jesus could give—but it seemed like he wouldn't give it. And why not? Because it wasn't for her. She wasn't an Israelite. She was only a dog according to him and what he had wasn't meant for her.
But as Jesus tested this woman's faith, she passed with flying colors. And left a great example for us…
I. Worthy as a Dog
The first thing the woman did right, was to admit how unworthy she was. Though Jesus didn't use the derogatory term for a wild dog on the streets, but the term for a little pet dog the family kept in the house, it still was no compliment to be called a dog. But notice how she reacted to being called a dog… 27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
With a quick wit she played off of the insult. "I may be a dog, but even the dogs get something." And notice how she didn't react. She didn't argue with him, "How dare you call me a dog! After I put my trust in you for help, this is how you treat me?!" She didn't argue that she shouldn't be called a dog because of what she had done for Jesus. She wasn't proud, but humble, recognizing that she was as worthy as a dog and accepted her place under the table.
"You're right. I'm not a child, but a dog. I don't deserve your help. I don't deserve anything. But I beg you for help not on account of anything that I've done for you, but on account of your great mercy. For I know there's enough to go around. There's enough of your grace for the children and for us dogs. Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" What faith she had! A faith that accepted her unworthiness and pleaded not on her merits, but on Christ's grace; a faith that we do well to imitate.
Do you always remember that you're dog? Do you remember that you are completely unworthy in God's sight? Or do you sometimes forget? I know that I do. I forget that God doesn't demand that I try my hardest or that I be pretty good or better than most. He demands absolute perfection. Anything less than perfect damns me to hell. My sinful pride and arrogance, thinking that I am worthy of some blessing from God for my weak attempts at obedience damns me to hell. But God in his grace leads me to repentance by exemplifying a woman who wasn't even worthy to have her name recorded on the pages of Scripture. Through her he reminds me that I'm as worthy as a dog.
Dear friends, follow her example. Don't be proud. Don't think you deserve something from God, because the only thing any of us deserve from him is hell. Admit that you're a dog and not a child. Accept your unworthiness. And don't rely on anything you've done or could do for God, but rely only on his grace and mercy given to you in Christ. And that grace that you know you don't deserve will move you to be persistent and beg like a dog…
II. Begging like a Dog
If you needed a favor from me and I refused to grant your request three times, would you ask me a fourth? More likely you'd ask someone else the second time, right? But what persistence this woman had! Look how Jesus responded and look at how she continued to plead her case each time…
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." 23 Jesus did not answer a word… First her request was met with silence, as if he didn't hear what she was saying. It wasn't going the way she'd hoped already. But it only got worse…
His disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel…" When Jesus' disciples urged Jesus to grant her request just to get rid of her, it went from silence to flat out refusal. "My personal ministry is not to the Gentiles. I was sent to the Jews. And this woman is no Jew. She's a Canaanite; a survivor of the pagan race God told the Jews to destroy when they moved in to the Promised Land. No. I won't just grant her request and send her away." But she persisted…
25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. 26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." From silence to refusal to rebuke. If not sooner, I think I would have given up at that point. "It's not proper to take Israel's blessings and give them to the Gentiles. It's not right for me to give you what you don't deserve. You're no better than a dog." Ouch! And yet, this woman continued to see a "yes" hidden in each apparent "no." If Jesus would continue to hold out, she would continue to beg. The stakes—her daughter's very life—were too high and she had come too far to back down now. 27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
What persistence! To be met with "no" after "no" and keep asking! But what do you think made her press on like she did? She knew the Scriptures. She knew that the Messiah would come from the Jews. That's why she called Jesus, "Lord Son of David." And she knew that just because he would come from the Jews didn't mean that he would be for the Jews alone. Isaiah 49:6 made that clear…"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."
She knew that it wasn't an either or. She knew that Jesus had enough grace for the Jews and the Gentiles. She knew he had enough grace for her and she clung to that promise without letting go.
And what comfort we have that Jesus did finally answer her prayer. For in that answered prayer, he showed that she was right. Salvation isn't just for the Jews. It's not just for one tribe, race, or nationality. Salvation is for all people! There's enough food to go around. The supply of forgiveness and grace will never run out! Why? Because even though all of our sins, as heavy a burden that they are, are on one side of the scale, the blood of Christ, who is God himself, is on the other. And our sins are swallowed up in his perfection like a drop of food coloring in the Pacific Ocean. His forgiveness and grace are enough to cover more than just a few sins of a few people with only a few crumbs to spare. His forgiveness and grace are enough for all people of all time. His salvation is for everyone. His salvation is for you.
And it is that promise that moves us to cling to his Word in faith that never lets go, but begs like a dog. When I was a kid, my family had a dog (half German Shepherd, half Rottweiler) named Dexter. Dexter didn't just come to the kitchen table and wait a few minutes to see if we'd give him a scrap or two before he walked away. No. He waited until the last plate was cleared, just sitting there drooling, waiting for any food to be given until it was all gone and there was no chance he could get any more. He was persistent. And you know, I don't think a single meal went by that he didn't get something off of one of our plates. The people always had enough to spare to share with their dog.
Does it sometimes seem to you that God is answering your prayer with silence? Does it seem like he's flat out rejecting your request? Does it sometimes even seem that God is rebuking you for asking? Be persistent. You know God's grace is enough to go around. You know God takes care of his own. Just look at how he's already taken care of your biggest problems of sin, death, and hell. If he's willing to send his own Son to hell in your place, how much more won't he answer your prayers in a way that's for your eternal good? So cling to his promises with a faith that never lets go. Be persistent. And beg like a dog. And finally, rejoice that you are God's own and be as happy as a dog…
III. Happy as Dog
The Caananite woman wouldn't give up. She persisted in her pleas in spite of her own unworthiness, in spite of the incessant rejection she faced. And in the end, she passed the test with flying colors, with a stronger faith in Jesus than she had before. And her persistent faith paid off because finally, Jesus gave. 28 Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Though she deserved nothing, she received exactly what she asked for. Jesus didn't need to go visit her daughter. He simply said the word and the demon was gone.
What a lasting impression that encounter with Jesus, the true and only God, must have had on that woman. No doubt she later heard the reports of how this Jesus who once healed her daughter had now been crucified. She must have heard of the events that took place that Good Friday as God poured out his wrath on his own Son to punish her sins. I'm sure she heard the report of Jesus' resurrection—that he was alive! That she too would rise from the dead! In the end, Jesus gave her far more than she could want or ask. He didn't just drive a demon out of her daughter, but he won for them both eternal life! She trusted in his mercy and received much more than crumbs. She received a banquet feast for all of eternity in heaven with her Savior.
And there's plenty to go around. The blessings that God won for that Canaanite woman are the same blessings he's won for you and they're in endless supply. So rejoice and be as happy as a dog…
Dexter never worried that he wouldn't be fed on any given day. He never had to worry that he would be neglected or abandoned. He was our pet and we loved him. He knew it and lived a life of luxury laying around all day with everything he needed given to him. Many people treat their pets like the we did, like their pet is just another member of the family. And that's what God has done for you… but better. He's made you more than his pet. He's made you his own dearly loved child through faith in Jesus.
You don't ever need to worry that you'll be neglected or abandoned, but can live your life in peace, knowing that you have a perfect Master who loves you more than you can imagine—enough to send his own Son to hell in your place. Trust in his mercy and enjoy the feast of salvation with all of its blessings! Though we deserve nothing, he gives us everything, even heaven itself. How much more won't he hear our prayers! How much more won't he take care of our daily needs!
Dear friends, be like that Canaanite woman, who recognized that she was as worthy as a dog and didn't rely on her own strength or merit, but trusted in God's grace alone. Beg like a dog, with a persistent faith that clings to his gracious promises and never lets go. Be happy in the blessings he gives, especially the gift of salvation, and rejoice that you have it all as God's little dogs. In Jesus' name, dear friends. Amen.