Matthew 15:21-39 Part 1

Let me begin this morning by reading two short verses from Isaiah chapter forty-nine: 


“… Though Israel be not gathered, (that is, they’re scattered out as lost sheep) yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.  And he said, “It is too small a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Israel:  I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.’”


Those of God who are scattered and lost, bruised and uncared-for by blind guides, sickly and blind and crippled, will be gathered together once more; and Israel shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord.  And it will be too small a thing that they are (gathered) raised up again, but Jacob, or Israel, in Christ will be light to the pagan nations and a salvation to the end of the earth!

As we preach and hear, this Lord’s Day, we are allowed, by God’s grace, to witness an astonishing event; and to hear the very words of the exchange between Jacob Himself – Israel in Christ – and a Gentile, Syro-Phoenician woman who saw that Light coming out of Israel!  This is one of a number of those “shaking” events where we actually watch the beginning of Isaiah’s prophecy being brought to its fullness!  Where the “Light” of Israel breaks out upon the darkness of the world.  The “Morning Star” signals the dawn of a new day – and a new heavens and a new earth!

The Lord Jesus Christ – gathering together the lost sheep of the tribes of Israel – condemns as hypocrites the aliens who have been over-sown in God’s garden (the blind guides and leaders of Israel), and immediately withdraws, leaving them behind; and He proceeds directly to the pagan nations of the world.  He goes to the areas of Tyre and Sidon, as we see in verse twenty-one.

Now, reading the commentaries one would believe that Jesus’ purpose in withdrawing from Galilee was fear of the persecution that might come as a result of humiliating the Sanhedrin delegation.  But as far as I can see there is no hint of that in the text.  As in the other occasions in which Jesus has condemned the Pharisees, this event signifies a “withdrawing” of God in Covenantal separation from Israel; and a clear and purposeful indication of taking His Covenantal blessings elsewhere!

As the Light of Israel withdraws from Israel, verse twenty-two, we witness His purpose in going to the region of Tyre and Sidon; for the dawn of a new day begins to break out upon the pagans of the world!  “And lo, a Canaanite woman having come out from those regions cried out saying, ‘Pity me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously demon-possessed!’”

So, you see, Jesus and His disciples travel for maybe three days, one way, up to thirty miles, into the region of Tyre and Sidon; and Matthew records one event for the whole trip!  And he did that because that event was the purpose for the trip!  He went to Tyre and Sidon to signify that the New Covenant was being sent out of Israel to the world!  “A people that was not called My people will be called My people.”  Salvation was created.  The Word has come to the Gentiles, and a people in absolute darkness have seen a great Light!

Now, what’s a Canaanite?  Matthew is very specific about using the word here.  Remember the first time “Canaanites” comes up in Scripture?  The land of promise, the Covenantal land which was filled with milk and honey, the place of God’s Own choosing for his adopted son – Israel; Canaan.  You remember that Noah had three sons, one of whom was Ham.  And one of the sons of Ham was Canaan, who was given to settle that territory which was to become Israel.  And then God called Abram out of Mesopotamia – Ur of the Chaldees – and covenanted with him to give his seed the land which was before given to Canaan.

And when Joshua was given the task of annihilating all of the Canaanites so that that land might become the sole possession of Abraham’s seed, he was not successful in completely accomplishing that command!  Many survived.

And when Matthew refers to this woman who came out of the regions of Tyre and Sidon, he calls her a direct descendant of the Canaanites.  She was of purely pagan descendancy – not of the blood of Abraham – and whose ancestors were condemned to death by God, but who were spared by the disobedience of Joshua!  She was a non-Jew, and, in every respect, a Gentile!  In fact, being from the region of Tyre and Sidon, she was probably a Phoenician – commonly called Phillistines in the Bible – whose ancestors fought so hard to retain the coastal areas of Canaan; and who were even successful at one time in snatching away the Ark of the Covenant!  For a thousand years they were mortal enemies of Israel and of Israel’s God.

And on this occasion in the text, this descendant of Canaan had somehow heard that Jesus (the light of Israel) was coming out toward the regions of her homeland.  And she came out to meet Him!

Now, just think about this for a minute.  Here is a woman whose ancestry didn’t just span generations, or even centuries – but millennia!  She still lived in the same vicinity of a city named after a son of Canaan – Sidon!  And her ancestors witnessed – and even fought against – the Providence of God as He established His Covenant nation!  Israel itself was an integral part of the history and the stories and the folklore, and even the culture, of these Phoenician people!

So this woman grew up, and lived, as if she were just next door (maybe thirty miles from Galilee) just next door to that part of God’s Creation where the greatest events of history took place!  And through her own childhood and experiences she, no doubt, had heard, many times, of Israel and her God.  And no doubt she had heard of the expected Messiah of Israel.

And, in addition to that, for the last two years there had been a man named Jesus, over in the area of the Sea of Galilee, Who many were calling “The Son of God!”  And probably “Israel’s Messiah” was among the terms that were used to describe Him in the conversations that she heard.  And this Man was doing mighty things among the Jews and among the mixed-race people of Galilee.  And His disciples had gone over all the towns of Israel preaching “repentance, for the Kingdom of God is a hand.”  And crowds of thousands were coming out of the towns in order to follow Him!

Now, this woman, living in the wilderness of pagan culture and society as she did, abode in darkness.  She was a resident there alongside the demons of the darkness who were free to come and go as they were want to do!  The whole Gentile world-order was a wilderness filled with demons who lived there.  There was no Light from God; and, therefore, there was little restraint on demonic activity!

And as this woman comes out toward Jesus and His disciples, she has one thing that is upper-most on her mind.  And that is that her daughter, as verse twenty-two says, is “grievously demon-possessed”!  Now, we don’t know exactly what that means.  It could be that she meant that her daughter had “many” demons who had taken up residence in her – as was the Gadarene demoniac; or it could mean that her daughter was exhibiting gross demonic behavior.  But whatever the case, she was “grievously” afflicted.  And her mother was filled with anguish and terror at having demons infest her own home and possess her own daughter!

And having heard that Jesus had worked such mighty deeds in Galilee, and now having heard that He was coming out of Israel toward Tyre and Sidon, she rushes out to meet Him as her only hope of ending this malevolent reign of horror and death in her family!

And when she met Him and His disciples on the road, she began crying out to Him in order to get His attention.  And for a Syro-Phoenician woman, these are absolutely remarkable words.  “Pity me Lord, Son of David….”  Now, if we take these words, and the words she utters as Matthew records them in verse twenty-seven, we have to be utterly astounded that they would come out of the mouth of a pagan, Gentile Canaanite!

We only know what we’ve already said about this woman.  What we don’t know is what, in the Providence of God Almighty, has caused this woman to have so much knowledge and so much understanding so as to recognize the Messiah when He came; and to faith in the Mighty Plan of God for the extension of His Kingdom!

We do see that the Light of God was shining out of Israel into the darkness, and this Canaanite woman was one of the first to have that Light shine upon her!  Our Lord Jesus was providing a sign of that which was and which was to come; and this woman was the recipient of God’s grace in being intimately connected to that sign.  Little did she know that she was to receive sight from her prison of blindness – by the pity and compassion and love and mercy of God.

And that’s exactly what she cried out for.  “Pity me Lord….”  She already shows her understanding of her lowly condition – the pity is what she requires; if not pity, then nothing!  She knows she’s worthy of nothing, so it has to be pity!

And she calls Jesus “Lord, Son of David.”  Can you imagine!  Lord, Kurie, is the Messianic title!  And Son of David means David’s greater Son anticipated by the Jews!  The vast proportion of Israel is blind and antagonistic to Jesus, but a Syro-Phoenician woman comes out of Sidon proclaiming Jesus’ Lordship and His rightful seat as King of Israel!

Now, as you will see – especially when we come to verse twenty-seven – this isn’t one of those situations where, by calculated design, one approaches another by taking a lower position in order to flatter and charm.  The Pharisees gave that kind of lip-homage to God!  And calculated flattery – boot-licking – is condemned by God as deception.

But that isn’t the case with this woman.  The image we get from the language and the grammar here about this incident is that, as she met these men on the road, and as they were passing by her, she cried our, “Eleison me, eleison me – pity me – Kurie, uios David – Lord, Son of David!”  And she kept on crying out and begging for her daughter who was demon-possessed!

Now, the language is beyond me to sufficiently describe it, but maybe you can envision it in your own eye.  But while she is yelling and crying these words, Jesus and His disciples walk right by her!  And, as verse twenty-three says, Jesus did not respond to her a word!  But even if her heart must have sunk right out of her chest at the complete embarrassment of being ignored, and even if her hope of having her daughter healed might have been dashed, she kept on following them and crying out!  Here was the Lord of all the demons, and her family was haunted and demonized by these most monstrous of creatures!  There was no hope for her and her household, save in Him!

Now many might have quit and gone home in shame.  But the ensuing conversation between this woman and the “Lord, Son of David” shows that the Light from the Messiah that she was given to see wasn’t blind faith – but faith founded upon the knowledge of God’s redemptive plan for the salvation of the world!  Something had occurred with this pagan Gentile – something by the grace and mercy of God – to cause her to see the deepest of mysteries concerning Christ’s Kingdom.  We’ll see more about that in a minute.

But first, the text says, verse twenty-three:


“But He did not respond to her a word.  And His disciples, having approached Him, were requesting Him saying, ‘Send her away, she keeps on crying out from behind us.’  But answering He said, ‘I was not sent except to the sheep that have been lost (ruined) of the house of Israel.’  But having come she was paying homage to Him saying, ‘Lord help me….’”


After passing her by on the road, and having her continue to cry and yell and beg for help behind them, the disciples stopped Jesus and asked Him to dismiss her.  Implied in the question is the request to give her what she asks for and get her out of there!  It probably wasn’t the most comfortable of circumstances for the disciples to have this woman crying and begging from behind them all the way down the road!

But Jesus answers them that He wasn’t sent except for the lost sheep!  But by this time the woman has caught up to them; and she prostrates herself before Jesus in the middle of the road and begs again for Him to help her!  And now all of them are stopped, and this woman is on her knees with her face in the dirt crying and begging the Messiah to cast out demons from another Canaanite, in a pagan Canaanite city!

Quite a scene.

Now I know you’re all wanting to know why Jesus didn’t respond to her; and you’re wondering why Jesus said to His disciples that He was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But first I want to look at verses twenty-six and twenty-seven, because the answers are closely connected to these two verses.

So Jesus looks at this woman – sobbing and begging on her knees – and He says to her, “It is not good to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  And this Canaanite woman looks up at Him and says, “Yea, Lord, for even the dogs eat from the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”

Matthew has already let us know, when he began this section with “Lo, a Canaanite woman...” that this was an event of cosmic significance in God’s redemptive purpose in the world.  And it is that.  For our Lord Jesus Christ withdrew from Israel into the areas of Tyre and Sidon to signify the coming Light of Israel into the world.

But first here were the lost sheep of the house of Israel – God’s preserved remnant from the children of Abraham.  They were first.  Theirs was the promise from God.  It was so from the beginning, and it was so at the inception of the New Covenant.  For Jesus said to His disciples, in Acts chapter one before Jesus’ ascension:


“…ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”


Gospel preaching began with the Jews first, and then spread to every part of the earth.  The apostle Paul kept strictly to that same pattern.  The children of Israel were first – “to the Jew first, and then to the Gentiles,” he said.  And in every town where he went, Paul first went to the synagogues to preach the Gospel first to the Jews in dispersion.  And then, if he was not received, he went to the Gentiles!

And it was this very principle which was being followed in this great event with the Canaanite woman.  The Jew first, and then the Gentile.  Israel was God’s adopted son.  And He loved the children of Abraham.  And having been bruised and scattered and blinded by blind guides and false witnesses, the first priority was to send the Good Shepherd to find them and heal their wounds.

And when the Canaanite woman met Him and His disciples on the road, it was in the Providence of God that His great concern and care for the lost sheep be illustrated.  Jesus’ refusal to respond to her wasn’t a snub; it wasn’t a lack of care; it wasn’t that she was a woman; and it wasn’t, as some have suggested, that she was just a pagan and undeserving of His attention.  But this great occasion was a sign that the Messiah had come to save the children of God.  And then the Light of faith would be taken to the nations of the earth!

His comment that He was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel has a time factor involved.  Once the remnant of God’s elect nation were found, then the light of Israel would go into the nations and overcome the darkness there.  And Jesus’ reign from the heavenlies would join all of His elect from all the nations into one body – the New Jerusalem!

Jesus looked down at the begging woman, filled with anguish at her own condition, and said, “It is not good to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  Our Lord is illustrating the position that God’s elect children have in His covenant.  They are the children of Abraham.  And, in comparison, all the rest have a very lowly position – house dogs; the ones who eat second!  The pets of the household eat after the children!  That the children of the household eat first is the priority.  And then those of lowly position.

And the woman looked up at the Lord and said, “Yea, Lord, for even the dogs eat from the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”  This woman somehow understood, by faith, that Messianic salvation was first to be dispensed to the children of Israel, and then to the Gentiles of the world.  And she is content, without objection, to her lowly position as a house dog to the masters of the house – Abraham’s children.  And through her faith, judgment and death was removed from her house.  Her daughter was healed.

Israel first – and then the Gentiles.  The nations of the world are not “incidental” to God’s salvation – but second!  How this woman knew this, we do not know.  But she acted by faith in God’s redemptive purpose for His creation.  She understood, and was in perfect agreement, that her lowly position was due only pity; and that she might eat only the crumbs until the children were fed.

How we do need to understand God’s Gospel concerning His Son Jesus.  And how we do need to understand our lowly position – house dogs; second; deserving of nothing, but begging for pity and mercy; praying for the Light of Christ to cast out the demons; and thankful that God did graft us in, that we might also be the children of Abraham.  The next time we meet, the Lord again “feeds” the children with the Bread of Life.

But this morning we feed upon Him.  The sign of His body and His blood was given to us second.  We did, indeed receive His pity.  Our lowly position as pagan Gentiles required His pity.  For there was certainly no other reason in us that might cause Him to send His Son to us.  And He’s even given us this sign – as a seal – that we, as a foreign and alien plant, have been grafted into Him.

The bread and wine are signs that we are participants in Him.  That He is in us – and we in Him – and we in God!  We!  Aliens!  And the response to so great salvation is worship and adoration and obedience.