June 3, 2012

A Faith Which God Commends

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

Scripture Passage: Matthew 15:21-28/Mark 7:24-30

In the Old Testament, we see that God hated the sin of idolatry the most. God again and again reproved the Israelites for their sin of idolatry; in the end, because of their idolatry, the nation was destroyed. In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus didn’t rebuke the Israelites for idolatry because they had already been suffering for several hundreds of years from the destruction of their nation, they already knew that the Lord is the one and only true God. They no longer dared worship idols. But the Lord Jesus often rebuked them for their lack of faith.

In Matthew 17:17 Jesus said, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Jesus had once sighed deeply at Israel’s unbelief. However, while he was on earth, he had commended two persons’ faith.

  • One was the Roman centurion. The centurion’s servant was ill and he asked the Lord to heal the man. Jesus said, “I will go and heal him.” but the centurion replied, ““Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith…Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.”
  • The second one is this Canaanite woman, the Lord told her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

These two people were both Gentiles. They do not have many religious rituals and activities like the Jews, yet they had great faith. Those with many religious activities turned out to possess little faith. Faith is based on our knowledge of the Lord. Our faith is proportionate to how much we know the Lord. Today, let us learn the reasons why the Canaanite woman’s faith was commended by the Lord.

I. She had a Persevering Faith

When Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon, 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.” Jesus did not answer a word. Awhile later, his disciples came to him and urged him to send her away. It seems the woman had been crying out for quite some time, for even the disciples were disturbed. They couldn’t stand it anymore and asked Jesus to send her away! In Luke 18 Jesus had once told a parable, the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Every day, the widow went to the judge and pleaded for justice. The judge neither feared anything in heaven or earth, he didn’t fear God. He simply ignored her. But he became weary of her coming.

To depict this in a modern scenario, she comes as he takes his meals, she arrives as he heads for the restroom, she appears as he is watching TV, she comes as he heads for a shower. He couldn’t get rid of her, so he had no choice but to grant the justice she sought. Similarly, no matter how much the Canaanite woman cried out, Jesus ignored her, but she didn’t get discouraged, and when the disciples couldn’t stand it any longer, they asked Jesus to send her away!

Why was the Canaanite woman so persistent, why was she unwilling to give up? I believe there are two reasons:

1. Her Love for Her Daughter: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” This is the cry from deep within the heart of a mother. This is love’s cry. In this world, only parental love comes close to God’s love. 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” The love parents have for their children is a sacrificial love. It is an amazing kind of love. Even when our children are disobedient, the love of the parents doesn’t diminish; parents show a special concern especially when the children are in trouble. This is something only those who are parents can understand.

This Canaanite woman’s love for her child made her persistent and it kept her going, because love always believes. She believed there was hope for her child, she hanged on to the belief that she will get well. This year when my daughter had to go through surgery, I met another father whose daughter also went through the same surgery. We didn’t know each other but we became acquainted in the hospital. One day, our daughter was in therapy, and her daughter, who was only 16 and had just gone through surgery, was also there. Because she was in pain, she threw a temper tantrum. Her father on his daughter’s behalf explained to the nurse and the therapist, apologizing, “Her `princess disease’ occurred again.” This is the first time I heard this term “princess disease”. A tantrum is a tantrum, yet the father called it `princess disease’. This is a father’s love for his child.

2. Her Knowledge of the Lord: Her daughter was demon-possessed. I am sure that whoever was said to be able to cure demon-possession, the mother must have surely gone to him, she must have tried different methods and of course to no avail. When Jesus came to Tyre, she immediately went to see Jesus, she cried aloud, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” She used two names to call Jesus, first she called him Lord, then, she called him Son of David. She referred to Jesus as Lord, she acknowledged the lordship of Jesus and this, we all understand. But it is interesting that she called Jesus the Son of David, for Son of David refers to the Messiah. This name is only relevant to the Israelites. It has no relevance to the Gentiles. Just like the Chinese are called “Descendants of the Dragon”. This name is only relevant to the Chinese.

In the four gospels, all who called Jesus the Son of David were Jews. Only one Gentile, this woman, ever called Jesus the Son of David. She must have heard many stories about Jesus, including how he had healed the demon-possessed and other ill people. She acknowledged Jesus is the Messiah, she was willing to accept Jesus as Lord. She believed Jesus can heal her daughter. Her faith came from hearing. We can compare her faith with that of the prostitute Rahab. In Jericho, only Rahab recognized that the Lord is the only true God, because she heard how the Israelites departed from Egypt, how the Red Sea was divided, how manna fell from the heavens, how the rock brought forth water, she heard and she believed. Faith comes from hearing the Word. Now that you have heard, have you believed?

II. She had Faith that Withstood the Test

I often said that every Christian will encounter three T’s in life: Temptation, Trial and Test. Genesis 22:1 “Some time later God tested Abraham.” He asked him to sacrifice Isaac. In our faith journey, the Lord will test us, sometimes through difficulties, problems, or illnesses.

In this scripture passage, the faith of the Canaanite woman was tested at least in two ways:

1. The Lord’s Refusal to Listen to Her: She was crying out loudly behind the Lord, but Jesus did not answer a word. This woman mustn’t only have cried out once, she must have cried out continually, but Jesus simply ignored her. In the end, even the disciples got wearied of her and asked him to send her away! This woman’s cry was a prayer, a prayer uttered to Jesus for her daughter’s need. Yet Jesus refused to answer her.

There are many such cases in the Psalms – Psalm 10:1 “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Psalm 13:1 “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”

Our God is not Wong Tai Sin. Wong Tai Sin is Hong Kong’s most famous idol. He is famous because it is said that he grants all requests made to him, you can even ask him for a winning lottery number. But that is deceiving people.

The true God is the Lord of all mankind, not the slave of mankind. He does not grant all requests. Sometimes, he would not answer our requests because he wants to test our faith. In the Cathedral of Lubeck in Germany, there is a poem displayed: “Ye call Me Master and obey me not, Ye call Me Light and see Me not, Ye call me Way and walk not, Ye call Me Life and desire Me not, Ye call Me wise and follow Me not, Ye call Me fair and love Me not, Ye call Me rich and ask Me not, Ye call Me eternal and seek Me not, Ye call Me gracious and trust Me not, Ye call Me noble and serve Me not, Ye call Me mighty and honor Me not, Ye call Me just and fear Me not, if I condemn you, blame me not.” Now, we can understand why the Lord often tests us.

2. The Lord Belittles Her : When the disciples spoke about the woman, Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

What kind of a reply was that? That is insulting another! “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs”, wasn’t the Lord saying the Gentiles were dogs, the Canaanite woman was a dog, her child was a dog! Although Bible interpreters tell us the Lord was not referring to wild dogs but domesticated ones, still they are dogs, whether wild or domesticated! When you call someone a dog, it is insulting him, right? You will not say, “I am not insulting you when I call you a dog, for I am referring to you as a pet dog, not a wild dog.”

If you say Rev. Cheung, you are a domesticated dog, like a pet dog in my home, I still won’t be pleased. The Jews see Gentiles as dogs, that is, they look down on them. They don’t respect them. Pardon me for saying this, when we call the Filipinos “huana” (barbarians), that is a disrespectful term. Yet Jesus said “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Although at first glance, it seemed he was belittling her, his motive really was to test her. If she became angry and walked away, she would have lost the greatest blessing of her life. Jesus once told the Jews, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” The Jews immediately replied, “This is a hard teaching.” And many turned back and no longer followed him, because the Jews don’t eat unclean meat (human flesh is unclean), they don’t eat blood. After many left him, Jesus did not tell those who remained, “I am sorry, I was mistaken with what I said.” Jesus instead said, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter immediately answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” If we depart from the Lord, we will lose eternal life. Do you still want to leave? Jesus often tests our faith.

Twice, Jesus tested this woman. He ignored her, he insulted her, but her faith in the Lord Jesus didn’t waver, her faith withstood the tests.

III. She had Faith as a Mustard Seed

Matthew 17:20 “Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”” Luke 17:6 “He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” These two scripture passages speak of the same thing, as long as you have real faith, even though you may start with a faith as small as a mustard seed, since there is life, in the end, it can grow into a big tree. This Canaanite woman had real faith.

When she heard Jesus’ reply, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs”, not only did she not show anger, she replied, “Yes it is, Lord. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

What does this passage in scripture mean? The Lord said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” And this Canaanite woman grabbed hold of what Jesus said and replied, “Yes it is, Lord. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Of course, let the children eat first, no parent would feed the dogs before their own children. But after the children have eaten, the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the table. She meant, “I and my daughter are undeserving of God’s grace, for I am a Gentile, not God’s chosen people, and I have no relationship with God. We are truly unworthy of God’s grace, but even a few crumbs would be good enough for us. The Lord Jesus immediately replied, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

In Africa, the Republic of Uganda was ruled by the dictator Amin in 1971. During his regime, at least 300,000 people were massacred. This was a country that worshipped idols and practiced sorcery. This nation also had the highest number AIDS cases. A United Nations report said that in the year 2000, one-third of the country’s population will be suffering from AIDS, one-third will die of AIDS, and a third will be left but cannot afford to support the country’s economy. Therefore, in the year 2000, this nation will disappear from the world.

However, that prediction did not come true. Uganda has now become a more progressive and prosperous country. AIDS cases have dropped from 36 per cent to 6 percent. It has become a nation from which many other countries in Africa would like to learn from. How did this happen? It started from a prayer campaign called “Transformation”. The Church began to look up to God, they prayed for God’s mercy and blessings in faith, they asked God to save this country from destruction and to transform it. Their faith grew day by day, and as a result, they saw the wonderful work of God; it was just like what Jesus said: “Your request is granted. It will be done just as you believed it would.”