Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 79 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last several episodes we’ve been looking at the events of Jesus’ ministry I’ve called the Late Galilean Period. Though we’ve covered a good amount of material in the last 5 episodes, the events we’ve looked at - the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on the water, His healing of many in the plain of Gennesaret, His confrontation with the Pharisees in Capernaum, and His famous “bread of life” sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum - all those things have taken place in a matter of just a few days. Just imagine how dramatic it would have been for the Twelve. Jesus’ popularity in Galilee is at its peak and instead of giving in to the crowd’s desires to make Him the ruler, Jesus slips away and then in the span of just a few days, makes the Pharisees really mad and drastically winnows down His following in Galilee.
Now I have mentioned this extensively in this series but I just have to bring it up again here. Jesus is being purposeful in what He says and does. Every act, every word, every sermon, every miracle - all of it was done under the banner and theme of division. Remember, this is God in the flesh personally reckoning with His people Israel. They were the ones whom God had chosen among all the other families of the earth to be a light to the nations, but they had been unfaithful to the covenant they had made with the Lord. And God had been faithful for so many years, and now had come to dwell among them and to appeal for the fruits of repentance. Remember, this idea of division is exactly what John the Baptist prophesied about Jesus. The people of Israel would be divided into two groups - the wheat, those who would receive the Spirit and inherit the promises made through the covenants, and the chaff - those who would be recipients of the fire of judgment on the day of the Lord. In the last episode when we looked at Jesus’ “eat my flesh drink my blood” sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum, we saw many of His disciples turn away and no longer follow Him. But as we also saw, a small remnant - the Twelve - remain faithful and still believe that Jesus is the Messiah that they have been waiting for, and that He alone will grant them the promises and the inheritance they are so eagerly expecting. With the theme of division in mind, the reaction of the crowds shouldn’t surprise us. This is Jesus fulfilling what was spoken about Him and His ministry.
Let’s take a look at our timeline to remember where we are at chronologically. This Late Galilean ministry began sometime in April of 28AD. We started with:
- The Feeding of the 5000 in Episodes 74 and 75,
- then Miracles on the sea of Galilee, which is when Jesus walks on the water in Episode 76
- then Healings in Genessaret in Episode 77
- then Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem also in Episode 77
- then the famous “eat my flesh drink my blood” sermon at the synagogue in Capernaum, where a larger group of his disciples turn away from him in Episode 78
- and now today, Jesus’ journey away from Galilee towards Tyre and Sidon where he meets a Gentile woman there
Now before we look at this scene we have to remember that the events we just looked at in the last few episodes all happen sometime just before the second Passover Feast of Jesus’ two-year ministry. This is a really important detail we can’t overlook. Back in Episode 31 I talked about how the Passover was one of the feasts that all Jewish males were required to attend. As we'll see, Jesus not only skips out on the Passover, but He heads north out of Galilee and ministers in regions that are mostly populated by Gentiles. The Twelve must have been SO confused. What is Jesus doing?
Well, today I’m going to read from Matthew chapter 15. The parallel to this story is in Mark chapter 7:
"And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly."
(Matthew 15:21–28 ESV)
So Matthew and Mark say that Jesus goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Let’s take a look at our map. As you can see, Tyre and Sidon are north of Galilee, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in a region known as Phoenicia. Tyre is about 35 miles north of Galilee, and Sidon is about 60. Later on in the book of Acts, we see the Apostle Paul visiting churches in this region. As I’ve already mentioned, during the time of Jesus this region is populated by people descended from Canaan, who were not Jews but Gentiles. So picture this - all the good Jewish men in Galilee are heading south to Jerusalem for the Passover. But Jesus and the Twelve head north, in the completely opposite direction. It’s in this region that He meets this woman whose daughter was severely oppressed by a demon.
In the parallel passage in Mark 7, it’s clear that Jesus is looking to avoid contact with people there. But as we see, He doesn’t escape the notice of a Gentile woman who comes out seeking a miracle from Him. There are some things in this scene that are similar to what we looked at back in Episode 52 with the woman at the well and also back in Episode 66 with the healing of the Roman centurion’s son. In this scene, Jesus hears the woman's cries, but doesn’t answer her at all. The disciples end up being pretty annoyed and so they come to Jesus and ask Him to say something and send the woman away. But look at what Jesus says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What’s this all about? Jesus is affirming His God-given mission, to preach repentance to Israel. They were the ones God had a covenant with, and as I’ve already said, Jesus came appealing for the fruits of repentance from them. The woman in this scene was not a Jew and the promises God made were first to the Jew, and so Jesus rightfully could have ignored her. However, as we will see, His compassion and her faith come together and cause Jesus to marvel and demonstrate His authority over the demon.
Before we continue with the story, take a look at what the woman cried out when she found Jesus. She called Him the “son of David”. Why is that significant? Remember back to Episode 13 and the Supplemental Episode I did on the Biblical Foundations of Messiah and Christ where we looked at God’s covenant with David. Back in 2 Samuel 7, God promised to David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne in Jerusalem and reign over Israel forever. The Gospels make mention of this link to the Davidic covenant very purposefully, and for this woman to recognize that Jesus was the Son of David means that she believes something significant about Him - she believes that He was the promised descendant of David that God had chosen to rule from Jerusalem. She believes Jesus is the promised Messiah, and she is a Gentile! Do you feel how important this is? This woman has faith and is submitting herself to the king of Israel and therefore to the God of Israel. She is casting her confidence in what God had promised to Israel through His covenants with them.
Well, let’s continue looking at the rest of the scene. The woman kneels before Jesus and He says “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus here is picturing a family gathered for a meal around a table, eating food provided by the head of the household. Once again Jesus is using the picture of bread here just like He did in the last several scenes, representing the blessings of the covenant and the ultimate promise of eternal life. Jesus, as rightful head of the house of Israel, was saying that the choice morsels of bread first promised to Israel doesn't deserve to be thrown out haphazardly to the Gentiles. Back in Episode 39 we looked at how God had made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that it was through his family that all the other families of the earth would be blessed. This Gentile woman understands her place in the story - that it would be through the seed of Abraham that the promise of blessing, restoration, and eternal life would come to the rest of the nations.
Now the woman goes on to say “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” The Jews would often call Gentiles “dogs”, and this is how the woman saw herself. The woman was not wanting to deprive Israel of the blessings promised to them, but was simply asking that some of those blessings be extended to her. Again, look at what she is doing - she is affirming her place in the family, she is humbling herself and recognizing that God first made covenant with the people of Israel, and she is affirming Jesus as the head of that people as the "master”. And it is precisely because of this confidence, this faith, that Jesus marvels and says “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!” And her daughter was healed from the demon instantly.
Once again we have a contrast here between the Jewish leadership who continued to completely reject Jesus and this Gentile woman who sees Jesus for who He really is. This is one of the major themes of the Gospels and of the New Testament - that Jesus came to bring division to Israel and everyone but a small remnant would reject Him. And Gentiles would come to share in the inheritance promised to Israel as a provocation to the Jews, in hopes of their repentance. The Gospels hint at this inclusion of Gentiles, especially in scenes like the woman at the well in John 4 and this one here with the Caananite woman in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. But as Paul makes clear in Romans 9 through 11, God’s covenant with national Israel has not been redefined, annulled, or cancelled. He will indeed be faithful to all that He has promised to do through them, and one day the entire nation will see Jesus for who He is and worship Him as the one true living God. As Gentiles, our entire hope rests in the promises God has made to Abraham and to his seed. Jesus really will come and will rule the nations from Jerusalem!
Well we’re out of time for this episode today but in the next episode we will continue to look at Jesus’ ministry among Gentile cities. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes, you can find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. And if you’ve found these videos encouraging, share them on social media and tag them with the hash tag “#gospels”. God bless, see you next time!