The Cries of Faith
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Work in my heart the simple faith of a child and preserve me in that faith all the days of my life. Where I or fellow believers have a tottering faith, strengthen it. For sinners who do not put their trust in You, I pray, asking you to come to them with Your Word and call them to Yourself. In your mercy look upon us, help us, and feed us with Your Word. Amen.
Ruth was a Moabite—a Gentile. Yet, through her husband and his family, she learned about the true God of Israel. When Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law) was going to return to Israel she encouraged Ruth to stay with her people and their gods in Moab. Ruth refused. Instead, Ruth confessed her trust in the True God. Ruth, a Moabite by blood, was a child of God by faith and is an ancestor of Jesus.
God sent Peter to Cornelius, a Gentile centurion. In order to teach Peter that the Gospel was also for Gentiles, God gave him a vision. In the house of Cornelius, Peter spoke the words of this reading. Peter proclaimed the salvation won by Christ and further declared that salvation belongs to all who from every nation who put their trust in Christ.
Jesus is the “bread” that satisfies our souls’ hunger and needs. All who believe in Jesus have life in His name. The Caananite woman who came to Jesus (sermon text) pleaded just for “crumbs.” Her faith in who Jesus was and what He could do was so great that she believed even a “crumb” of the “Bread of Life” would satisfy her need. She was right.
Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 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.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
For a moment, put yourselves in confirmation class. Here’s a question for you: "What is faith?" Your hand goes up quickly because that is, afterall, an easy question. "Faith is BELIEVING!" But what is "believing?" Well, that’s easy too, "It’s having FAITH!" And thus we have made a nifty little circle, but never really answered the question.
Faith is one of those things we talk about a great deal. We use the word often especially when it comes to religion. But what is faith, really?
We know that faith is the way in which the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won on the cross is brought to us personally. Without faith in Christ we don’t receive the salvation that God has made available for us and all people. Faith is something that shows itself in how we live. As James says, “…faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead” (James 2:17). We know that faith is something that the Holy Spirit has to create in our hearts because we’re told by God in His Word that on our own there is no way for us to believe anything about Jesus as our Savior (cf: 1 Corinthians 2:14). Faith is something we see in action in someone else’s life and we might at times sit back and say, "Boy! I wish I had faith like that!" But I can guarantee you that the person whose faith you are admiring also longs for a stronger faith because he knows his weaknesses and feels his own lack of faith.
In Hebrews chapter 11, God provides a list of people who stand out in history because of their faith. Abraham is commended by God because of his faith, but Abraham’s faith failed in weakness and he lied, saying his wife was his sister. Isaac is included in the list. Isaac also lied saying his wife was his sister, and he sinned by trying to bless Esau instead of Jacob when God had specifically told Isaac the blessing was to be Jacob’s.Jacob is in this list of "heroes of faith," but Jacob deceived his father to obtain the blessing. Moses is in the list of outstanding faith, but he didn’t want to go to Egypt and lead the people out of the land; and God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land because he had failed to glorify God before the people. These are HEROES of FAITH—they are people to whom we could look and say, "Oh! I wish I had faith like they had!" Yet, they also failed in their faith.
What is faith? Faith is certainly "trust," but toward what does that trust lead us and what does it mean in our lives? We turn this morning to the faith of the Canaanite (Gentile) woman in our text. Faith which Jesus called "great." We can learn much about faith by listening to the woman’s cries. Faith cries out! THE CRIES OF FAITH are I. "Have mercy upon me!" II. Help me! and III. Feed me!"
This morning, to help us understand each step along the way in this account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we’re going to make use of a simple parable of sorts.
The parable begins in this way: A mother and her young son are out walking in the streets of a city on a dreary, rainy, cold, autumn, late afternoon. As they are walking along the street, they see lying in the gutter, a tiny, whimpering puppy. The puppy’s fur is ragged, he’s bleeding in places, he’s drenched, he’s shivering, he’s clearly sick, and he may even have a broken bone or two. Immediately the boy says to his mother with tears, "Look at the puppy! The puppy is sick! The puppy is dying!" The mother says, "Yes, he is" and they both feel compassion for the misery and need of that puppy. That compassion toward something in misery and need is MERCY.
Turning now to our text, “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.’” [v. 22]
The woman came to Jesus pleading for His mercy, pleading for His compassion. She told Him what the problem was, "Look! My daughter is demon possessed!" Her mother’s heart ached because of the condition of her daughter. She was pleading for mercy upon herself because of her sorrow over her daughter’s condition, and she pleaded for her daughter whom she loved.
The woman didn’t come expecting something because of her status in life. She didn’t come expecting something because she was a longtime friend of Jesus. She came with no plea other than, "Jesus look at my need and have mercy on me!"
Truth be told, this woman would have no reason to expect help from Jesus if that help were to based on her status among the people. Jesus was a Jew. She was a Gentile. Jesus was a teacher, well-respected and popular among the people. She was a commoner and a woman. Only mercy could she plead, and that is exactly what her faith led her to cry.
Faith is not proud. Faith is not independent. Faith sees one’s misery and trusts its Lord for relief. Faith trusts someone else for attention to the need, for fixing the problem.
Throughout Scripture we again and again hear the faithful people of God crying out, “Lord have mercy on us! Forgive us our sin! (cf: Psalm 51:1 etc.) We come before the holy God without a thing to our credit—only the debt of sin. A few minutes ago, we sang, "Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me!" We have no status with God on our own. We are sinners all the way through! We have nothing of our own to plead.
David pleads in Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving kindness, according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). It is a plea that cries out, "Lord, look upon the misery of my sin. Look at me and see that I am a sinner from birth! Look at me and see how I am entrapped by this sin and I can’t get out of it on my own! Look and see the condemnation that is mine by Your just judgment! I have NOTHING to offer, just, please because of who YOU are, because of Your loving kindness, have mercy and forgive!" This is the plea of faith.
The pleas for the Lord’s mercy go beyond the forgiveness of our sins. They also apply to help in our day to day needs. "Lord have mercy on me! Can’t you see that I am sick. Can’t you see that I can’t work because of my poor health? Can’t you see how much the finances are stressed? Can’t you see how my heart aches because this child is so rebellious? Can’t you see how my heart aches because I’m at contention with my friends and family? Can’t you see the misery the people around me are causing me? Can’t you see how troubled my life is?!? I KNOW You DO see, have mercy, and compassion on my misery!"
Faith trusts that God is a God of compassion. The disciples did not particularly show compassion when they said to Jesus, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” [v.23] Where the disciples lacked compassion, Jesus demonstrates deep compassion. On another occasion, Jesus had gone away to be alone with His disciples, but then He saw the crowds of people coming to Him, and Jesus “was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
"Have mercy upon me!" is the cry of faith. It is a cry that knows its needs and pleads for help on no basis of its own, but simply on the basis of a compassionate Lord.
Back to the mother, the son, and the puppy: Both mother and son are touched in their hearts by the puppy’s suffering. This is mercy. But what if they aren’t able to carry it? What if they have no where to take it? What if they can’t provide for the needs of the puppy? Then, despite the mercy they feel, they cannot help. If on the other hand, they have a home where they can take the puppy, and they have the money to pay a veterinarian to treat his ill health, then they are able to help. Mercy is the compassion, being able to help is to have the knowledge and the means of giving assistance.
“His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!”[vv.23-25]
Jesus tested this woman’s faith by challenging it. After the first plea, He “answered her not a word." [v.23] Then He said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman was a Gentile, not part of the house of Israel, but this did not dissuade the woman from coming to Jesus. She recognized Jesus as the Messiah and believed Him to be the long awaited Savior. When she first greeted Jesus she had said, “Have mercy on me O LORD, Son of David!” [v.22]. The woman called Jesus "Lord" -- Master, Lord of all, God; and "Son of David" – a name used for the Promised Messiah. The woman confessed her faith, namely, that she believed Jesus to be God and the promised Savior. The woman was placing her trust in that identity. She was so confident in Jesus’ identity and His compassion that even when Jesus tested her to stretch her faith further, she simply cried out: "HELP ME!" Faith cries out, "Have mercy on me—see my misery, have compassion AND I am trusting that You to be able to come to my aid." Of course, Jesus was able to help the woman, though He would yet test her faith a little more.
“Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). Ourcompassionate Lord to whom we cry for mercy is also our able Lord who is ready and powerful and wise to give us the aid we need.
Faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. I could put my faith in the idea that tomorrow it is going to snow. My faith will be disappointed. My belief that it is going to snow is silly and has no basis in truth or reality. My faith in this case is worthless.
People talk about "you gotta have faith!" But faith in what? Faith in something that might make you feel good for a while? Or faith that can really help? Faith in a false god that seems to be the trend of movie stars and others among the rich, famous, and popular – faith that will fall flat because that god can’t hear? FAITH IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE OBJECT IN WHCH IT IS PLACED and the woman came to Jesus crying for help because she KNEW He was able to help.
We cry out to the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, knowing that He can deliver help to us in our every need. God WANTS us to cry out to Him for help. He says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you shall glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15).
Each time the Lord answers our cries, He helps us and strengthens us for the next time. This is how trouble and sorrow in our lives actually build up and encourage us in our faith. When I in this particular problem go to God pleading His mercy and trusting that He is able to help me and He DOES help; then the next time I have a problem TO GOD is where I will go again for help. It is like going to a store for something you need and when you are satisfied with what you purchase, you will return to the same store the next time you have that need. So we go again to God, but this time the problem is different and BIGGER, but He is able to help again. This is GREAT! the next time the problem is still bigger, but we know where to go!! Our faith is stronger, we are trusting in Him so in each new and bigger problem we go to Him, crying out in faith: "LORD HELP ME!" And He does…and always will.
Again returning to the woman, the son, and the puppy: They are able to take the puppy home so they dry him, warm him, bandage his wounds, and give him medicine. All of this treatment still would not be enough if they did not give him food. That puppy doesn’t need to have steak every night. That puppy doesn’t need to have the most expensive dog food packaged in the most impressive way. He just needs food for nutrition and strength – "Feed me."
[Jesus] answered and said, "It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table." 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.” [vv. 26-28]
Jesus had one final test for the woman’s faith, one more stretching, one more challenge. He said that it was not right to take the bread intended for the children (the people of Israel) and give it to the little dogs.
In these words of challenge, Jesus also gave the woman something to which her faith could grab hold and cling. Jesus did not use the word for the big and wild dogs that run out in the streets. These would be the dogs that licked Lazarus’ sores in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (cf: Luke 16:19ff). Instead, Jesus used the word for the "little dogs," the pets, the dogs that are cuddled by the children and given food from their plates. These are the little dogs that become like one of the family. With that small opening of hope for her faith, the woman grabbed hold and replied to Jesus, "Yes, it is true you don’t give the children’s bread to the dogs, but the little house dogs do get the crumbs from the master’s table."
This woman was not asking to be great and prominent in Christ’s kingdom. The disciples, on the other hand, once argued about who would be greatest and have the highest position in Jesus’ kingdom (cf: Matthew 20:20ff). The woman wasn’t concerned about any of that, she simply wanted a "crumb." She only needed the nourishment of the Word of God. She was only looking for the healing power of her Savior. She was looking for crumbs, just something to fill her need and satisfy her hunger. When Jesus gave the woman’s faith something on which to hold, she hung onto it for dear life. Her faith cried out, "I don’t need much, just feed me, Lord!"
When things look the most desperate, faith clings all the more. "Feed me. Give me that Word of Life." Listen to David in Psalm 27, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a smooth path… I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Psalm 27:11, 13-14). Hang onto the crumbs. Desire that food, that assurance, that Gospel of Christ that tells you your sins are forgiven. It is the Word that assures you that He will help in every need—in this case, healing the woman’s daughter. Cling to that food, crying out, "Feed me Lord with food that is needful for me."
Martin Luther, speaking of crying out in faith through our prayers, once wrote:
Thus God tends to deal with us. After he has denied our petition for a long while and always said "no," but we firmly cling to the "yes," it shall finally be "yes," and not "no," for His word will not lie. ‘Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you.’(John 15:16).
"But our reason is highly offended at this delay and would gladly have God answer promptly. So it is not necessary to be offended. Let our Lord God say "no" and suspend the answer of our petition a year, 2 years, 3 years or longer still, and let us only watch that hope and faith in His promise are not torn from our heart. Something will come of our prayer in the end and God will give us far more than we asked Him to give." [What Luther Says #3483]
As we approach God, He may not fulfill our desires immediately. He may not give them to us completely as we have asked. But we have the "crumb" of God’s promise that He will answer our prayers. He will help us in every need, and above all He forgives our sins.
Faith that cries out for mercy, knowing its need, trusts in God for help, and clings to the crumb of life. Where this faith rules, there is no worry. Where faith in Christ exists worry is cast out, because we are relying on the One who can help us in all things. Fear is likewise chased away because we are trusting in the One who has all power in heaven and on earth. Faith prays, going to God for help, crying out for mercy, and "food."
In 2 Corinthians Paul says, “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We don’t know the future. When we walk by faith trusting God we don’t know what lies ahead, we can’t tell. We do know this:
Tomorrow, a week from now, three years from now, whatever life we may have, we will never deserve what He gives in blessing. So, faith walks and cries out for mercy.
Throughout whatever may come in the future, we’ll never be able to solve our own problems; and even if we could somehow finagle a solution on our own, there is always a far better solution with our Lord. So faith cries out, "help me.."
No matter what lies ahead, no matter down what the road the Lord may lead us, the Gospel still stands and that is food for which our souls in faith pray, "Feed me."
These are the cries of faith. Let us cry out to our Lord! Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt