Is Jesus really merciful? Yes. He. Is.

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Sermon for Reminiscere

Isaiah 45:20-25  +  1 Thessalonians 4:1-7  +  Matthew 15:21-28

Last week in the Gospel, we heard the devil’s temptations against Jesus, and against Adam and Eve, “Did God really say?”  Calling God’s Word into question; calling God’s goodness and love into doubt.  That’s what the devil does.  Did God really say?  Is God really good?  And since the fall of Adam and Eve, the default mode of our sinful nature is to doubt God’s Word, to misinterpret it for our own sinful benefit, or not to care about it at all.  Our default answer to the question, “Is God really good?”, is no.  His commandments are too strict and His Word is too demanding.  And there’s too much suffering and evil in the world for God to be good. So says the devil.  So agrees our miserable fallen flesh.  And yet we Christians have been convinced by God’s Word that God’s Word is true and that God is good—He gave His Son for us all.

The devil’s attacks are all around us in this sin-filled world. The devil and his demons are still working to destroy our world and our race, and especially our faith as Christians.  We see the demons at work in our Gospel today, and we’ll encounter them again in next week’s Gospel, too.  “Did God really say?  Is God really good?”

Practically every week as we hear the Gospel, we hear about how kind and merciful Jesus is to all who come to Him for help. That truth is put to the test in our Gospel today as Jesus dealt with that Canaanite woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon. Jesus wasn’t as quick to help her as He usually was with other.  And the devil tries to take advantage.  He comes and whispers, “Is Jesus really kind and good and merciful?  Look how He treated that poor woman!”  But you ask that same Canaanite woman.  Go ahead and ask her.  Is Jesus really merciful?  And from the beginning of her encounter with Jesus until the end, her faith never stops crying out, “Yes. He. Is!”

Let’s look at the text.  Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

This verse becomes important later, because even though Jesus will say that He was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, it was Jesus Himself who chose to leave the borders of Israel and go north to where the Canaanites lived.  That Canaanite woman didn’t go barging into Israelite territory to steal Jesus’ help from the Jews.  Jesus came to her, and by doing so, demonstrated His mercy for Jews and Gentiles alike and His plan for incorporating the Gentiles into the house of Israel that is not called Israel because of common bloodlines, but because of a common faith in the merciful Jesus.

And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

We learn a lot about this mysterious woman from this one verse.  First, we learn about the affliction she was dealing with.  Her daughter was “demon-possessed,” which can also be translated, “afflicted by a demon.”  She and her daughter were suffering, but she wasn’t blaming God for her daughter’s affliction.  She knew that God wasn’t her enemy.  The devil was.

Second, we learn that this woman had already heard the word about Jesus and both knew and believed the truth about who Jesus was.  She calls Him “Lord” or “Master.”  She calls Him “Son of David,” which was a very Jewish title for Jesus, not a Canaanite phrase at all.  The Son of David was a reference to the Christ who would be born of David’s line, just as Jesus was, who would be the Savior and the righteous King of both Jews and Gentiles who would believe in Him.  Most of the people of Israel didn’t even believe that about Jesus, but this unique woman did.

Finally, we learn that she not only believed in who Jesus was, but she believed in Jesus.  She trusted in His mercy and love and His willingness to help all people, including her, not because she deserved it, but just because He was kind and good.  In other words, she had faith in Jesus—faith that was created in her by the simple message of how good Jesus was.  That’s where faith always comes from.

But right away her faith was put to the test.  Jesus answered her not a word. She knows who Jesus is.  She trusts that He is merciful.  And yet the first encounter she has with Jesus—He seems to ignore her and her cries for help.  That doesn’t seem to be consistent with the good report she had heard about Jesus.  Then again, He didn’t respond harshly to her; He didn’t tell her to go away and not to bother Him.  The only sure Word she had about Jesus was that He was merciful, so she kept trusting that, yes, Jesus was merciful, and she was determined to keep crying out to Him until He helped.

And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

There are two ways to interpret the disciples’ reaction.  The very best construction is that they meant, “Lord, send her away after fulfilling her request, because she cries out after us and we want to see you help her.”  That’s possible.  The other possibility is that they felt uncomfortable with this Canaanite woman following them around and embarrassing them with her cries; they figured that, since Jesus didn’t help her right away, He didn’t mean to help her at all.  Is Jesus really merciful?  Maybe not today, they thought, so He might as well sent her away now and spare her the indignity and them the discomfort of her unanswered cries.

But Jesus didn’t send her away.  He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

That sounds like a deal-breaker for the poor Canaanite woman.  Physically she had no part in the house of Israel.  Still, Jesus often said things like “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”  Or that “God gave His only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  Or “For everyone who asks receives.”  Other sheep.  Whoever believes.  Everyone who asks.  The Word of Jesus told her that He would help her, too. 

She went with that.  Then she came and worshiped (or knelt down before) Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

Still not giving up.  There’s not a hint of entitlement in her plea, no demanding, no feeling sorry for herself, no pride.  So far nothing had moved her from her conviction that Jesus was really merciful

One last test of her faith: But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

What was that supposed to mean?  Were the Jews “children”—did they deserve God’s help just because they were born Jewish?  Were the Gentiles “little dogs”—did they not deserve God’s help because they were born Gentiles?

Ah, that’s what it comes down to.  Who deserves God’s help?  Jews? Gentiles?  No.  No one.  For all have sinned, and all are born under God’s sentence of condemnation.  No one is God’s child by nature—not anymore, not since Adam and Eve fell into temptation.  But God, in mercy, sent His Son and caused His mercy to walk around on the earth for 33 years and eventually hung His mercy up on a cross and then raised Him from the dead.  The mercy of God lives wherever Jesus is, and whoever lays hold of Him by faith lays hold of God’s mercy and is adopted as God’s child, no matter how much it may look like God is not merciful.

The Canaanite woman was counting on this truth.  She found her opening—the one Jesus had left for her. And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

She doesn’t care if she’s considered a child or a dog.  The important thing, the only thing that matters is that Jesus is her Lord, her “Master.”  Three times in our Gospel she calls Him “Lord,” the very same word she used for the master’s table.  Is this Lord—is this “Master” merciful, even to the dogs who beg at His table?  Yes. He. Is.

But does Jesus really consider her a dog?  Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

This Canaanite woman is raised up by Jesus and placed on a level with Abraham himself who believed God, beyond all hope, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Meanwhile, the physical descendants of Abraham are humiliated.  All those who walk away from Jesus in unbelief and despair are put to shame.  But she is lifted up and her faith is still being praised today, 2,000 years later.

Is Jesus really good and merciful?  His Word says He is.  But the Christian life can be so hard at times that Jesus’ mercy disappears from view for awhile.  Why does he allow suffering to linger?  Why are baptized believers in Jesus so beaten and battered by the devil and by the world, if they are really God’s children and if they really stand in His favor? And how can a merciful God condemn even the impenitent and unbelieving to eternal suffering in hell?

Those questions are normal, but they’re distractions.  How can God do this?  Why does God do that?  Some things just won’t be answered for us until we meet God face to face.  For now, He’s given us His Word and His image to look at, the image of God dying on a cross for His enemies, for sinners, for the world.  For now, He’s given us His promises to listen to, and His own sacrificed and risen body and blood to eat and to drink in the Sacrament.

So when the devil comes and whispers, “Will Jesus really help you? Is Jesus really merciful?”  You answer like Jesus answered the devil when He was tempted.  Away with you, Satan!  For it is written, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

Anthony, Lorenzo, Erika, you have come to Him today for help, haven’t you?  That’s why you’re joining this church today, isn’t it?  Why you’re confessing your faith in Jesus in front of everybody?  There’s no other reason to join this church.  We’re a small bunch of nobody’s and re-jects.  But here you will find Jesus, and with Jesus, all the mercy and goodness and forgiveness that He has earned as gifts to be given to you.  Here you know that His body and blood are given out for the forgiveness of sins and for strength against the devil, the world and your sinful flesh.

It will not be easy for you, for any of you, for any of us.  Jesus has told us that, too.  But whether it’s your sins and guilt that burden you, or whether it’s the many consequences of sin in this world, never stop crying out to Jesus for help.  Reminiscere!  Remember, O Lord!

Is Jesus really merciful?  The Canaanite woman’s voice still cries out, Yes. He. Is.  The Holy Spirit cries out, Yes. He. Is. And faith agrees, Yes. He. Is.  Amen.

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