Matthew Series | Matthew 14:34-15:28 | Pastor Duane Smets
This week is an exegetical sermon on Matthew 14:34-15:28 where Jesus calls some old pastors weeds and blind guides and then later calls a woman a dog. This sermon takes a close look at the nature of evil deeds, the heart, what does and doesn’t make one defiled before God, and how God wants us to come to him. This sermon was originally preached on June 6th, 2010 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
June 6th, 2010
“Jesus Confronts The Heart & Heals The Helpless”
I. Defiled and Rejected
A. The Word of God Versus The Word of Men
B. Blind Weeds and Evil Deeds
II. Defiled and Received
A. A Daring Dog
B. A Divine Deliverer
This morning we’re looking at verse 34 of chapter 14 up through chapter 15, verse 28. So you can open your Bibles and we’ll read through it and pray over it.
I’ve titled my message today “Jesus Confronts The Heart & Heals The Helpless.” Let’s read the text and pray over it.
Okay so we left off two weeks ago with the story of Jesus walking on water and him calling himself the great I am, which results in the disciples bowing down in worship to him saying, “Truly you are the son of God.” Then there’s this quick paragraph which basically says Jesus went and healed a bunch more people.
There’s not a whole lot there, so I think it’s a set up for the next two stories. Matthew, the narrator of our book interjects this little piece to set up the next two episodes. With this little snippet about Jesus healing a bunch of people, Matthew reminds us that Jesus is the healer and then gives us two stories. One of some guys who don’t think they need healing and one of a gal begging for it.
As we’ll see, all the people Jesus encounters in these stories are defiled. Some don’t see it, realize it and repent thus are rejected but a woman does and she is received. First let’s check out Jesus encounter with the first type, the defiled and rejected.
I. Defiled and Rejected
This first group is the Scribes and the Pharisees. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Jesus tangle with them. If you’ve been here, you’ll remember they are like the ancient pastors. The ones who were supposed to teach God’s people and spiritually oversee and care for them. We first met them in the book of Matthew at Jesus baptism (3:7), then a couple chapters later they got all torqued about Jesus going to a party and drinking and hanging out with “sinners” (9:11), then just a couple chapters ago they got really bent at Jesus when he called himself the Lord of the Sabbath, so they called him a demon-lord and started plotting how they could kill him (12:2,14,24).
Now they’re back. This time these guys are apparently the heavy weights since verse 1 in our text today says they “came from Jerusalem.” They’re probably officials, either senior rabbis or at least sent by them from the capital city.
And they come to fight and interrogate Jesus on why his disciples are not washing their hands before they eat. They’re not just asking Jesus nice questions and trying to learn from him…there is harshness to these words, they’re an accusation. Their charge is that in not washing their hands, Jesus’ disciples, whom he’s responsible for, have done something heinously wrong….they have broken the tradition of the elders.
I mean get this scene in your head. It would sort of be like this…can you imagine, we all go out to eat somewhere after church and we all sit down to eat and in walks like Mark Driscoll and he comes up to me and he’s all upset at me because he didn’t see any of you wash your hands first…up at Mars Hill, we wash our hands first. If you don’t know who Driscoll is, think the Pope…well, maybe not, they’re probably not on the same level:)
That’s kind of like what’s going on here. I mean yeah there’s more too it but that’s basically what’s up. This is a weighty charge. Here’s what’s going on. Some of you will remember when we studied the book of Nehemiah last year.
That book was about how after God had kicked his people out of Israel for 130 years because they broke his law and sinned, God was gracious and brought the people back and they rebuilt the city and eventually the temple. What happened after time went by is the priests developed a bunch of extra laws for the people in order to help them make sure not to ever break God’s law in the Bible. That’s what the “tradition of the elders” is here.
The basic idea was they would build a fence around the law of God in the Bible so that no one would ever be able to come near breaking it. Washing your hands was just one of those things. And it didn’t really have anything do with sanitation like it does for us but for ritual purity.
In the Bible, in the Old Testament, before a priest would ever offer a sacrifice to God, he had to go through a bunch of washing procedures meant to symbolically cleanse himself to be a mediairy between the people and a holy God (Ex.30:17-21). What the tradition of the elders did, to build a fence around this, was extend that to all people, not just the priests…and they got very specific about.
Here’s what they said. We have it. The tradition of the elders is called the Mishnah, by the way. Listen to the Yadaim tractate in the Mishnah. “If a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean; but if over both hands with a single rinsing, he is unclean unless he pours over them a quarter log more (Yad 2:1).”
Jesus and his disciples apparently didn’t do that. Bad Jesus. And because they didn’t, from the Pharisees perspective they were spiritually unclean or defiled and thus in sin and unacceptable to God.
So you see, we’ve got a lot more going on here than just not washing your hands at a restaurant even though the sign by the mirror in the bathroom says to.
A. The Word of God Versus The Word of Men
Jesus response to them is both brilliant and biting. He cuts through to the heart of the matter and minces no words. So let’s check it out and talk about “The Word of God Versus The Word of Men.”
Here’s what Jesus does. Right away, rather than even getting into talking about hand washing instead Jesus challenges the Pharisees on their fencing, on this “tradition of the elders” itself and why they have so elevated it where they put it on par with the authority of Scripture or even higher. And he gives an example. Check it out. Verse 3, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” And verse 6, “For the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God.”
So Jesus says, look you shouldn’t even care about the hand washing because what you are making a big deal about in us not washing our hands isn’t even in the Bible and what the Bible says is more important and is what they should be paying attention to. To illustrate this he uses an example about oaths.
His example is a little bit cryptic, this is one of those instances where being 2,000 years detached from Bible times make it somewhat difficult for us. So let me just try and make it simple as best I can.
The tradition, the Mishnah, has a whole section on oaths. You could make an oath of your person, your property or your money to God. One oath would be to pledge all your money when you die to the temple, where the priests worked. But in the meantime you could spend it however you like.
One thing the Bible is clear about is honoring your parents. So Jesus points out the 5th commandment of the 10 commandments that we are to honor our father and mother, which other Scripture passages say includes caring for them when they get old…which takes money and or property.
Well, in the first century you had a bunch of greedy dudes who would oath their money and property to the temple and then use that as an excuse for not taking care of their aging parents. Jesus says that’s jacked! You’re just coming up with these legal loop holes to benefit yourself and you say it’s all for God when in reality it has nothing to do with him.
Jesus actually sounds pretty angry. In verse 7, he outrages, “You hypocrites!!!” And then he uses his masterful knowledge of Scripture (Is 29:13) to call these con artists out on their game. Look at it, it’s sobering. Verse 8-9, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Seeing and hearing Jesus like this is shocking. Actually it’s convicting.
I started thinking…what things or ways do we come up with to get out doing what we know the Bible tells us to do? Loopholes. You know, where we’re more concerned about breaking some rule and figuring out what we can get away with rather than caring about what pleases God’s heart. Times where we’ll knowingly do something we shouldn’t do but we figure God’s a loving God and he’ll forgive us later. That’s a loophole.
Pastor Ron and I we’re talking and praying at our elder meeting this week and a burden we share is that God’s people would have a concern for holiness, living for God out a true and pure devotion, in everything.
It’s amazing how easily corruption can creep in…whether it’s in what we do with our money and especially our mouths. I’m astonished at my own wavering, spending money I know I shouldn’t. Or how easy it is to get caught up in ritual and sing songs right here in church…my lips moving…but my heart being far from a heart of adoring God and is instead thinking about other things.
What about this issue of elevating other things above the Bible? Reason, our experiences, our feelings, or our traditions. Most of us are probably not caught up in the Jewish Mishnah traditions but we develop all kinds of new ones on our own.
The Roman Catholic Church throughout the years has continued to affirm that divine revelation is transmitted in two forms: sacred Scripture and the teaching tradition of The Roman Catholic Church. Jesus here says no, everything must come under the authority of the Bible.
But in Protestant churches we’re often no better. We can easily traditionize things in our church. Things like where we meet for church, the structure of the service, the style of music, how we do communion…and we end up caring more about how we do those things than worshipping the God of the Bible.
Or how about in decisions, where the decisive factor in our decision making process so often comes down to what we feel rather than what the Bible says. That’s the human tradition of our day. Whatever “you” want and makes you immediately feel the best is what matters most.
We must be dedicated to the Word of God first and foremost in everything. Martin Luther of the Protestant Reformation speaks of the devotion we need to the Scriptures. He writes, “Since these promises of God are holy, true, righteous, free, and peaceful words, full of goodness, the soul which clings to them with a firm faith will be so closely united with them and altogether absorbed by them that it not only will share in all their power but will be saturated and intoxicated by them. If a touch of Christ healed, how much more will this most tender touch, this absorbing Word of God, communicate to the soul all things that belong to the Word (Luther, The Freedom of the Christian).”
May God give us that kind of devotion to his Word.
B. Blind Weeds and Evil Deeds
Well let’s move on and talk about “Blind Weeds and Evil Deeds.” Apparently after Jesus laid down the gauntlet on the Pharisees, calling out their duplicity, it sounds like they either left or Jesus walked away from them and then continued teaching the crowds and the disciples.
What Jesus says next takes things to a whole new level. What began as a challenge to Jesus about he and his disciples not meeting the spiritual requirements and expectations of the day turned into Jesus calling out duplicity and false devotion and then going even deeper and addressing the true source of defilement. And he says it’s the heart.
Let’s look at closely, I want us to see it. These are extremely important words for us to know that Jesus said. This is a doctrine text. This is the doctrine of sin and depravity. Verse 11, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Verse 18-20, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are not what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
This is a huge text. Why do we disobey God’s word and turn to others words? Why do we break the Ten Commandments? Why do we think bad thoughts and do bad things? Our hearts. Our hearts. Evil deeds come from wicked hearts.
And this isn’t some foo foo thing, like how we feel when Jesus talks about our hearts. No heart here is the seat of the person. It’s the core of who we are in our being and in our personality. It’s what makes us and drives us, our nature, the engine of our soul.
Now notice something with me. Notice Jesus just took out everyone. He went beyond just the Pharisees. Jesus just said everyone is defiled. Because everyone falls in this category. Every single person there and every single person here has at least had evil thoughts and committed slander, talking trash or gossip about another person behind their back.
Then if we include what Jesus said earlier in his Sermon on the Mount…if we’ve felt hatred toward someone then we’ve murdered (5:21-23) or that if we’ve lusted after one who is not our spouse then we’ve committed adultery (5:27-28). Interestingly, the word right after adultery here, sexual immorality in the Greek is the word “porneia” where we get pornography. Feelings of hatred…lustful desires…it all shows we have bad hearts.
It’s clear, we’re all defiled. We all have evil deeds which come from our evil hearts. Fun times today eh? I was talking to my wife this week and she was asking me how my sermon was coming. I told her, great, “I guess I have to go tell everyone at church this week that we’re all defiled.” She said, “I think I might be feeling sick on Sunday and not be able to come.”
In verse 12 the disciples tell Jesus that what he has been saying is offensive. Duh! In response Jesus just gets more offensive and starts calling the Pharisees more names. He says they are plants that God will uproot like one does with weeds and then Jesus calls them blind guides who leading other blind people into a pit.
Jesus’ words here are really a wake up call for us not to be blind but to instead recognize who we are and admit the condition of our heart. When we refuse to admit we are sinners that’s when we become blind and unteachable. When we think that we are all good and that there is not really anything wrong with us deep down, we are being blind. We’ve got to start getting comfortable acknowledging and calling ourselves sinners.
Paul David Tripp recently wrote about why using blind people as a spiritual analogy for our understanding and devotion to God actually falls far short because real life blind people know they’re blind…but when you’re spiritually blind you don’t even know you’re blind.
Now remember, Jesus called the crowd and the disciples to him when he said this. So for that reason, I think these strong words of Jesus’ are meant to evoke a reaction in us…namely one where we don’t want to blind and we don’t want to be uprooted. I think these words of Jesus are meant to make us say, “Okay, yes. I am a sinner. I’ve got a jacked up heart Jesus.” Are you able to say that?
I think that’s the thrust of this story because the story just ends. Jesus doesn’t say what the answer is for a wicked heart. It’s almost like it’s cut short. But we’re left longing for an answer. And that’s what we get in the next story…the story of one who knows they’re defiled but rather than being rejected is received.
II. Defiled and Received
So let’s move on and talk about this woman. She’s another defiled person, but instead of being rejected by Jesus as a blind plant to be uprooted, she’s received and her family is healed.
First off we see Jesus going up into the district of Tyre and Sidon, which is a pretty big deal because it’s not Israel. Tyre and Sidon are today’s Lebanon and Syria, northeast of Israel and approximately 20 and 50 miles of travel for Jesus. Tyre and Sidon were two of the ancient cities of evil, along with Sodom and Gomorrah…that’s how Jewish people saw them at the time. You don’t go there. If you were one of the Pharisees we’ve been talking about you’d have said the people there are evil, a defiled race.
But Jesus goes there and a woman comes seeking him out. Notice Matthew calls her “a Canaanite woman” which was unusual. In the gospel of Mark’s account, she’s called the more appropriate term, a Syrophonecian woman. To call her a Canaanite was to conjure up the Old Testament portraits of Canaanites, an evil and defiled people.
A. A Daring Dog
Okay. So this woman comes out after Jesus. In the last story the Pharisees came out after Jesus to question him. This woman, comes out after Jesus crying out to him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
Quite the contrast. From the start she admits and recognizes she doesn’t deserve anything, but simply begs for mercy. She calls Jesus “Lord” and “Son of David”, which is huge. It shows that she knows some stuff. Whether she heard news of Jesus, knew of the Jewish prophecies, or God just opened her eyes, we don’t know…but she knows some stuff.
As a “Lord” she believes Jesus has some sort of divine power or authority. As the “Son of David” she believes he is a messiah from the line of the famous king David and as such could do something about tormenting spirits.
So we’ve just finished hearing all about these hard-hearted hypocrite Pharisees who can’t stand to call Jesus Lord much less acknowledge him as the messiah. And now we see someone who is not proud but humble, asking for mercy, and confessing Jesus as Lord and as the messiah.
But Jesus doesn’t respond. Verse 23 says he just completely ignored her. But she keeps coming and keeps crying out. The disciples either get annoyed or they don’t understand why Jesus isn’t responding to her and so they go ask Jesus to heal her and send her off.
Jesus’ response to them about her seems cold. He says he just came for Israel. It sounds like the woman overhears this and takes her chance. She goes, butts in and interrupts the conversation by kneeling down in front of Jesus and she says to him, “Lord, help me.”
Now she has his attention and Jesus finally addresses her. But what Jesus says next makes him sound like a total jerk if you just read it on the surface…because he essentially calls her a dog. Check it out, verse 26, “And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to dogs.’”
To call someone a dog in that day was a racial slur. It was what Jews called Gentiles that they didn’t like. Dogs back then were not cute things you put in a purse and carry around the mall. They were mangy homeless scavengers who roamed the streets looking for handout. Dogs were known to be dirty and dejected. Jews called Gentiles “dogs” because they didn’t like them.
What’s astounding is, she’s still not fazed. Jesus has ignored her, rejected the disciples’ request to heal her daughter, and now calls her a dog…but she doesn’t deny it or argue or give up…but merely begs for mercy.
This story is phenomenal. And I’m sure you’ve got questions.
First and most obvious, why is Jesus seemingly being a jerk here? Right? Well, two things here. One, this is the only thing we have Jesus recorded doing up in Tyre and Sidon. Everything we know says he’s up there for her and this one encounter.
Two, text is sometimes difficult to communicate tone in. Have you ever written an email or sent a text that was misunderstood? It happens all the time right, so we use smiley faces and everything so people can understand our tone. I think that’s what’s going on here. One Bible commentator said, “What we can’t see here is the twinkle in Jesus eye (France).” That changes everything doesn’t it?
Now instead of hearing Jesus negatively shut her down and say, “I was only sent to Israel” we hear him suggesting, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Right? So she replies, “Lord, help me.”
Then we hear Jesus respond to her in the way she would expect a Jew to act toward her, so Jesus simulates the sentiment in order to summon her response of faith, “It is not right to take children’s bread and throw it to dogs.” And now she gets it! The Lord has helped her to see. And she excitedly acknowledges herself as a dog and pleads for the crumbs!
Seeing the twinkle in Jesus eye changes the entire tone of this whole scene. It enables us to see a woman pressing in to Jesus and Jesus beckoning her unto himself. Jesus points out his mission to call lost Israel first, but in this story reveals he has a much wider plan in store for all types of people to receive from him.
There’s so much to learn from this woman. First, what a mom! A loving parent will stop at no cost to see their children know the healing of Jesus. She’s an example for us parents and you parents to be of the great lengths we sometimes must take to do everything we can so our kids come to know and love Jesus.
In general she’s a great example of tenacity. As a pastor one of the most disheartening things I see in people’s lives is that when the going gets rough, so often that’s when people bail on God. This woman didn’t do that. When it seemed like Jesus wasn’t hearing her she kept on.
Does it ever seem like to you that God isn’t hearing your prayers? Do you give up or do you press on?
In general she’s also a great example of humility. She accepts that she is defiled and asks for mercy. She’s willing to be a dog at Jesus’ table as long as she gets to be there and receive.
Do you have that kind of humility? Are you happy just being a dog and getting to eat whatever Jesus gives?
May God grant us the kind of humility and spiritual fervor we see in this woman.
B. A Divine Deliverer
Well, let’s look at Jesus response, the “Divine Deliverer.” Verse 28, it’s like Jesus can no longer contain himself and he erupts in joy, “‘O woman, great is your faith! Be is done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”
In our earlier story today we learned of the critical condition we are in, corrupt hearts that defile us all. But the story left us wanting and wondering, what do we do? The answer, we see in this story with the woman. There’s nothing she can do to change her condition or her daughter’s. Only Jesus. She simply admits her condition and begs Jesus to act. And Jesus does, seemingly with great joy.
Notice, he commands the healing. Sometimes the most inconscipicuous statements are so powerful. Jesus just says, “Be it done.” At Jesus’ word all the universe bows down and obeys.
Now I know we don’t have a full-fledged doctrine of regeneration laid out here for us. But what we do have is beautiful. So often when I realize my sin and where I’m blowing it and I realize it’s because I’ve got some stuff going on beneath the surface I don’t fully understand. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start. And this woman’s words become my words, “Lord, help me.” Change me. Change my heart Lord. Heal me.
And you know…God is so gracious. Consistently throughout all of Scripture we find this principle at work: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. If we come to God self-righteously and demand, he will turn us away and we will have hard lessons to learn. But if we come to God humbly as dependant beggars, he always receives us and embraces us.
In this picture of Jesus we see him extend comfort to a very distressed woman. It’s actually ironic. A passage that on the surface makes Jesus look kind of harsh actually ends up being a very tender story where Jesus extends healing to a wounded heart.
Do you have areas you need Jesus to work in you today? Do you need the comforting words of Jesus healing? Jesus is the Lord, a very present help in time of trouble. The only one we can run to for all of our needs and the only one who can change our hearts and save our souls.
It’s been a good day today looking at these two stories, far different from each other.
The Pharisees belonged to the covenant people of God, Israel. The woman was a Canaanite and did not belong at all. The Pharisees challenged Jesus’ authority. The woman cherished Jesus’ authority and called him “Lord.” The Pharisees didn’t understand the Scriptures. The woman understood Jesus was the Son of David prophesied in the Scriptures. The Pharisees took offense at Jesus. The woman couldn’t be deterred by Jesus’ offense. The Pharisees rejected Jesus. The woman received Jesus.
As we go before the Lord’s Table today, the only question we have to answer is whether we’re going to be like the Pharisees or be like the woman.
The message from Jesus is clear. We’re all defiled. We’ve all got sin issues and need heart change and heart work. The good news of the gospel is that unlike us Jesus didn’t have a wicked heart and so unlike us he never sinned his whole life. Jesus took his perfect life and gave it up on the cross to satisfy the debt of wrath we owe to God. Three days later Jesus rose to new life and lives today.
Just as Jesus healed this woman so long ago he heals today for all who put their faith in him. Here is the promise of the Lord for us:
Ezekiel 36:26-28 “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your father and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
So let’s look to Jesus and have him work in us as we go to his table today to worship, repent, and receive his body and blood given for us.