Sermon – Matthew 15.21-28 (Lent 2 – 2020)
Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, grant us, we beseech You, by Your Holy Spirit, that He may strengthen our hearts and confirm our faith and hope in Your grace and mercy, so that, although we have reason to fear because of our conscience, our sin, and our unworthiness, we may nevertheless, with the woman of Canaan, hold fast to Your grace, and in every trial and temptation find You a present help and refuge; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and 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.” 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.” 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.
These are Your words heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Christ Makes a Theologian
Dear fellow redeemed,
What is a Christian theologian? Strictly speaking, a Christian theologian is a person who has a special measure of the knowledge of God and His Word. This is the special knowledge that pastors should possess. But a Christian theologian can be a name more broadly used. Francis Pieper, a theologian himself, wrote the three volume set of Christian Dogmatics from which I and many other students at confessional Lutheran seminaries learned their theology. He said that a Christian theologian can also include a person who possesses the knowledge of God and divine doctrine, namely all Christians.
In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus take on the role of theology professor, and this poor woman in anguish His student. Jesus here seems to be one harsh teacher, one of those you would try to avoid. As a parent, you would write the principal requesting another teacher, or as a college student you would register for the class with the other teacher. But here Jesus, though appearing very harsh, is full of love and mercy towards this Canaanite woman.
This woman is receiving the kind of theological training that Luther spoke about based on Psalm 119. Remember Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, all about devotion to God’s Word. Luther divides this “right way to study theology into three main rules: Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio.
In the English, it is Prayer, Meditation, and Trial.
All true theological training, knowledge and practice is based on the God’s Word. Therefore meditation on God’s Word is at center of becoming a Christian theologian.
Now we don’t know how much she studied the Old Testament. It’s likely that she didn’t know it too well, especially since she wasn’t an Israelite, but a Canaanite. But what did she know? She knew that one of the main characteristics of God spoken of in the Old Testament was His mercy, as Jeremiah said, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness,” (Lamentaions 3:22-23) and as the Psalmist says, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).
She knew that Jesus wasn’t just a man from Nazareth, but that He is the Lord, the Most High God, Yahweh, the great “I Am.” She also had the knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah. She knew the words that Nathan spoke to David, that His offspring will sit on the throne, and His kingdom will last forever. Jesus is that Son of David.
She may not have had theological training, but she trusted in God’s Word. And with this knowledge she held in faith, she was more of a theologian than the learned scribes and Pharisees. These so called “doctors” of God’s Word are those who have eyes, but do not see, and ears but do not hear (Jer 5:21). They are so called experts of the law, but they applied the law only to outward actions, and not the sinful thoughts and desires of the heart. They also believed that favor before God was achieved by obedience rather than by grace, through faith in God’s Promised Son. And therefore, they rejected Christ and crucified Him.
Many today are like the Scribes and Pharisees who think that they are wise who exalt themselves over God’s Word that think that they are real theologians. Pieper talked about this departure from Scripture among theologians that has been taking place among Protestants since 1750. He spoke about how the human Ego has become the judge over Scripture. And so it continues today, when theologians exalt certain things to authority over Scripture. They place pseudo-science like evolutionary theory, the so-called “progress” of culture, and human reason and feelings above Scripture. Thus they twist Scripture to fit their own desires and the perversions of the world. These theologians think they are great and wise, but they are enemies of God.
But the true Christian theologians are those who humble themselves before God’s Word, who confess the Bible as God’s true Word, and the source of all knowledge of God and all divine wisdom. The true Christian theologian therefore, submits to that Word, and studies that Word and takes the Word to heart. Luther says, “You should not only meditate inwardly in your heart but also outwardly by repeating the words out aloud and rubbing at the written word (like a sweet-smelling herb), by reading and rereading it, carefully, attentively and reflectively, to gather what the Holy Spirit means by them.” This is the faith of a child that Christ talks about. It is the humble faith that puts aside our own wisdom, and trusts in the wisdom of the heavenly Father that we have revealed in God’s Word. This is the starting point of a Christian theologian.
It is upon the truth of God’s Word that the Canaanite woman relied, and motivated by this truth, she prayed. Prayer is the word of the theologian to God that flows from faith in God’s Word, and is shaped by the truth of His Word. Because of the surety of God’s Word, she expresses her faith by praying to Jesus. It is an exercise of faith. She knows He is merciful, so she prays to Him for help.
But Jesus gives her further training. Jesus sought to strengthen her faith through trial. St. Peter writes: “Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe 1:6-7).
17th century Lutheran theologian John Gerhard uses the picture of faith as a fire, as Scripture talks about faith being a lamp sitting on a stand lighting up a house. He says, a flame burns more brightly if it is blown by the wind, “so also the light of faith shines much brighter if the bitter north wind blows various trials into it.”
Notice the trials she encounters in our text. The first comes from the devil, for he had sent a demon to possess her daughter. So she looks to Jesus for help in her time of need.
But sometimes, it’s not just the devil afflicting us, but sometimes it seems as though Jesus Himself acts as our enemy. For though she cries out to Jesus, He gives her no response. He acts as though He did not hear her.
Her faith is not destroyed, she does not question the Word of God that her heart had meditated upon and took hold of. She doesn’t wonder, “Maybe, I’m not trusting in the right God,” or “maybe the Word about Him is wrong.” No, she doesn’t take Jesus’ silence as a refusal, but she trusts the Word that says that He is her merciful Lord. She keeps after him, crying out to him for help, so much so, that the disciples got annoyed by her.
Then Jesus acts as a harsh teacher towards her again saying that He was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She was excluded, for she was a Canaanite. Certainly Jesus came for the salvation of all people, but His ministry was focused on the Israelites. It wasn’t until Pentecost that the Word was to go to all the nations of the world. But again, her faith is strengthened, as by the power of the Holy Spirit, she plants herself more firmly into God’s Word, trusting in God’s mercy. Her response, she falls before His feet, worshipping Him in prayer, “Lord, help me.”
Then Jesus gives her a great insult, what seemed to be a mortal blow to her faith. She equates her to an unworthy dog, saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But Jesus knows what her faith can take, and knows that she has the solid foundation upon which she stands. And her faith proves to be precious like gold refined by fire. She admits that she is unworthy. But she doesn’t come to Jesus for help, expecting Him to answer based on her worthiness. She says, yes, I am an unworthy dog, but then she pins Jesus with His Word, for she knows from the Word that Jesus is her merciful Lord, and that it is on account of His mercy that He will help her. Even if a morsel of that mercy that is lavished upon the table of the Jews falls to her, that would be enough for her.
O what a faith! What a theologian she has become! Jesus rejoices in her great faith! And according to His great mercy, He answers the woman’s prayer, removing the demon from her daughter.
It is by this method we become theologians—through meditatio, oratio and tentatio (meditation, prayer, and trial).
You have come to the knowledge of God’s mercy as revealed to you in His Word. You know His Word is true and infallible in every part, and you submit to it. And based on that word, we come to Him in prayer, and are exercised and refined through trial.
Though it sometimes seems like He does not hear, we know the promise of God, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is 49:15). Though it seems that He cares little for us, we put our confidence on the Word, “Cast all your cares on God, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Though your sins accuse you, and you feel your unworthiness, know from the Word that Christ receives every poor and broken sinner that comes to Him in repentance, for during His earthly ministry, Jesus received sinners and ate with them. And the promise is for us today, God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
Trials are difficult. The crosses in this life we bear are heavy. But Jesus is our Teacher, our Guardian, and our Helper, who is full of love and mercy toward you. And when He drives us to His promises of grace through trials, we are blessed because of it.
So, hold fast to that blessed Word of His mercy, and be more firmly planted in it, that we come to Jesus in prayer for forgiveness and for help in every need. And in trial, cling to that Word of God’s mercy towards you. For He will strengthen your faith through trial. May God grant us such strong faith, that we might become such strong Christian theologians like the Canaanite woman. That might be a dangerous prayer.
But God is merciful and faithful to His promises. He loves you, and will deliver you. You who trust in Him will not be put to shame. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.