Matthew 15:21-39 Part 2

I want to review with you what’s been said so far with regard to this passage of Scripture.  We’ve all been made aware, on numerous occasions, of just how essential it is to apprehend the fullness of the context of Scripture.  And how, to a degree, a single portion of the Gospel, taken out of its own context, can become unintelligible.

This inspired Gospel writer, the apostle Matthew, has packed the glorious revelation of God’s Son into about thirty pages of written material!  And, therefore, each word and each event, as it unfolds, takes on enormous importance.

And the encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman, which we covered the last time we met, is of profound significance in that unfolding revelation!  And that’s what prompts me to go back and make sure that everybody remembers the event.

You remember that Jesus had exposed that Sanhedrin delegation of Scribes and Pharisees for what they were – blind guides, pseudo-shepherds, hypocrites, alien zizanium over-sowed in the field, and those who had turned everything concerning God and His Word upside-down.  And He had applied God’s prophecy in Isaiah chapter twenty-nine directly to them.  And He had done this in front of multitudes of people!

And then in a significant act of covenantal separation, He turned His back on Israel and entered the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon.  The Light of Israel had departed Israel and shined into the nations of the world!  And a Syro-Phoenician woman – a direct descendant of the Phillistines of old – a Canaanite who lived in darkness and who was condemned and judged of God to be worthy only of the death penalty fifteen hundred years earlier, saw that light coming out of Israel!  And she came to meet Jesus and beg His pity on her, for her daughter was grievously demon-possessed!

Jesus looked down at the woman – fully prostrate in the dust of the road and filled with anguish at her own condition – and He said to her, “It is not good to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

As you remember, Jesus is not humiliating this woman by calling her a “dog”.  He 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 – that of house dogs, or pets!  They’re the ones who eat second – after the children!  That the children of the house eat first is the priority – then the dogs, or the pets, of the family, which are waiting anxiously, can be fed.

But this 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.”  The bits, the leftovers, those items not finished by the filled children – that’s what the pets eat!  This woman somehow understood, by faith, that Messianic salvation was first to be given to the children of the house of Israel – and then to the Gentile nations 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 were 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!  We are not told how this woman knew this, but she acted by faith in God’s redemptive purpose for His creation.  She understood, and she was in perfect agreement, that her lowly position was due only pity; and that she might eat only after the children had eaten.

And the apostles were witnesses to the fact that Jesus acknowledged her faith.  The Light coming out of Israel shined in the darkness; and the void of demon-infested wilderness became a household of restoration and light.  God’s Son had come and turned away from Israel to the Gentiles; and they had seen Him coming out and begged for mercy.

This great event foreshadows that which was shortly to come – that the mercy of God in Christ would soon flow into the nations of the world as a river of living water – that whatever demonic wasteland it touches would become the new Garden of God – just as this woman’s household was cleansed of demonic infestation unto restoration and newness of life.


Now, having said all of that again, it shouldn’t be so remarkable that the next event recorded for us by Matthew has to do with the feeding once again, of the lost sheep of Israel with the Bread of Life, as we see in verses twenty-nine through thirty-nine.

But before we get to that text, I want to make just a few further comments concerning Jesus’ miracles – the reasons for them and their effect.  We are aware that the Gospel accounts spend a great deal of revelational energy on manifesting the condition of the people of Israel at the time of Christ.  Old Testament prophets foretold a Great Shepherd coming to the sheep who had been left untended to the extent that they were scattered and bruised and scratched and unfed and torn apart by ravenous wolves.  And their condition is many times described as poor, imprisoned in darkness, demon-infested, lame, blind, deaf and crippled; and on a number of occasions their conditions were such that they were unclean by law and unable to enter the temple or participate in society – due to such things as leprosy or a persistent flow of blood.

Now, we’ve seen on several occasions previously how this nation had sunk to a depravity lower than the surrounding pagan nations.  But all these descriptions of the lowly state of the people are graphic characterizations of the lost sheep of the house of Israel!  In fact, the term “lost” (as it appears in the English translations) is inclusive of the totality of their condition!

The nation itself had reached such depths of perversion so as to be compared with the former Canaanitish inhabitants and with Babylon itself; but God had sent His Son to find the “lost” sheep of the house of Israel – a term which includes this whole syndrome of brokenness and darkness and illness and hopelessness and inability to hear or speak; they were palsied and separated out and imprisoned and bruised and sighing under the weight of it all.

Then Jesus came.  The Good Shepherd.  He came to find the lost sheep of the house of Israel – those who God had preserved for Himself from this destitute nation.  And He came with healing.  He came to heal what the ravenous wolves had torn apart.  And His miracles, although compassionate to the elect children of Abraham, were primarily signs of condemnation and judgment upon this nation and its leaders.  The miraculous, accomplished in their presence and right before their eyes, condemned their leadership and their shepherding.  The Good Shepherd came with healing and restoration and life – a reversal of the devastation and consumption and dissipation which results from Godless and lawless leadership and society.

And the effect of these signs of condemnation and judgment so inflamed the pseudo-shepherds that they reacted to Jesus in the same way that they had reacted to the prophets sent from God, and to the elect house of Jacob – they judged and condemned Him, they treated Him unjustly, they separated Him out, and bruised and murdered Him.

So the Great Shepherd of the Sheep became the Lamb Slain in order that the “lost” sheep might be restored.  And not only them, but also that “other” flock – represented by this Syro-Phoenician woman who saw that Light coming out of Israel, and who somehow knew that there were plenty of “pieces” left over from the feeding of the children.  And who also, somehow, knew that she didn’t deserve those pieces, but begged for pity anyway.

Now, although I don’t have the time to expand this fully this morning, I want you to see clearly that there is a specific, causal relationship between the perversity and decadence of Israel and its leadership, and the often-described state of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Due to the degenerate nature of this national entity – its co-mingling with paganism, its revocation of God’s covenant, its idolatry, its false teaching, its unjust leaders, its hypocrisy, its demonic infestation, its pluralism, its mysticism and its sexual immorality; God’s promised people were filled with plagues, downtrodden, blind, deaf, imprisoned in darkness, lame, beset with trouble, poor, living under tyranny, scattered – and lost!  There is an undeniable crucial relationship!

There is this undeniable relationship between national perversity and the general health and well-being of the population!  In every occasion where obedience to God’s Law is abandoned, and the fear of God is replaced with the wisdom of men, there occurs a degeneration of national health, a blinding and deafening and dumbing of the truth, mass hysterical criminal injustice, cultic idolatry, sexual perversity and collective hopelessness!  In every way, humanity deteriorates when it is disconnected from obedience to God’s Law!

Plagues infest portions of the populations; mental illness and demon-possession become commonplace; people become diseased and fat and weak and cancerous.  Spontaneous abortions occur.  People contaminate one another with contagious diseases.  The heart and other organs begin to fail.  And the medical services labor unsuccessfully in providing answers to the increasing complaints of failing bodies and minds.

And, as Isaiah twenty-nine says, nobody can read the book any more.  The learned can’t read it because it’s closed.  And the unlearned can’t read.  Everything is upside-down.  And every attempt to fix it simply exacerbates the problem.

The Lord Jesus was constantly surrounded with the poor and the blind and the lame and the lepers and the demon-possessed.  And His healing of them condemned the leadership and the system which had produced this festering morbidity in the citizenry of Israel.  Each miracle was a public display of the fruit of Israel’s fraud and deception.  Israel’s pseudo-shepherds had ruined and scattered the sheep.

But Jesus and His apostles found them.  And restored them by the thousands, as we’ll see again in this text.  And the Syro-Phoenician woman, who saw the Light coming out of Israel, had her household cleansed from that plague of demons.  The nations eat last – but they eat.  It may be the pieces left over from the children’s table, but it is the food that fills.  And it is an abundance which restores humanity in every way.  Disease-ridden, plague-filled societies become Gardens of God where green trees grow strong with their roots sunk deep into the Law of God and their branches held high to the worship and fear and honor of God.  Obedience brings health and well-being and prosperity to nations and peoples.

Everyone can see that our national health and well-being is declining in proportion to our disobedience to and rejection of God’s Law.  Our national leaders have cut us off, pluralistically, from any connection to God and His Law-Word.  And our Churches are begging for miracles!  The Churches are hysterically begging for signs of condemnation and judgment!  And Jesus says, “I’ve already done that!  And I’ve already broken the Bread of Life to the nations!  Open the Book and read it!  Worship and fear God and obey His Commandments!  You’ve already abandoned the health and well-being of the nation to a pluralistic state, so how do you expect to change in a moment what you, yourself, have done over the last hundred years?”  “Abandon your mysticism and your spiritual/physical dichotomy, beg God for His pity and restoration, and read what the Book says!  And then go and do it!”

I’ve said enough about that.  We need to get to the text, now, and, for the few remaining minutes, begin to look at the next great event in the healing and restoration of God’s people.

Verse twenty-nine: 


“And having departed from there Jesus came to the Sea of Galilee; and having gone up into the mountain He was sitting there.”


Now, Mark lets us know that, having left the area of Tyre and Sidon – where He met the Canaanite woman – Jesus traveled Eastward, up around the north of the Sea of Galilee, through the area of the Decapolis (which is the ten cities established by Rome) and came to the Northeastern shore of the sea.  This was an area in the vicinity of the two places where He had been before on the eastern shore – Bethsaida and Gadara.  It was an area of pagan wilderness, but still in the tetrarchy of Herod.  And, as Matthew says, after He came to the sea He climbed up into the mountain and sat down.

And, as usual, huge crowds found Him.  Verses thirty and thirty-one:


“… and came to Him large crowds having with them crippled, blind, crooked, dumb and many others; and they cast them down at His feet and He healed them, so that the crowd to wonder – seeing dumb speaking, crooked sound and crippled walking around and blind seeing!  And they glorified the God of Israel.”


There could not be a more stunning scene than this one.  For three days, without rest and without sufficient food, there was healing and restoration of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  From everywhere they came to find Him.  From Galilee, and from the ten cities, and from other cities in Syria, and from Gadara and from Bethsaida and from as far away as they could hear of Him and travel the distance, the scattered and lost and sick and destitute came to Him for restoration and life.  And He healed them all.

Counting wives and children and mothers and sisters and in-laws there could have been upwards of eight or ten thousand people there – climbing up that mountain to get to Jesus.  And the terrible condition of the people is evident in Matthew’s word.  There were crippled and blind and crooked and dumb and many others!  All suffering from the blind guide hypocrites who had cast them down and injured them and scattered them and left them desolate and desperate!  The pseudo-shepherds had revoked God’s covenant and, thereby, had sent the people into a prison of darkness!  And they had preyed on them like ravenous wolves and left them abandoned and lost.

And now God had sent His Son to them to find them and heal them and restore them.  He was their Messiah and their Good Shepherd.  Matthew says that all those diseased were “cast down” at Jesus’ feet and He healed them all.  The apostle uses a word here, Hripto, which is unusual.  He could have said that they brought their sick to Him, or that the sick were laid at His feet.  But he didn’t.  He said they were “cast down” at His feet.  And his reference is to the pseudo-shepherds who had already cast them down.  But now they were being cast down at the feet of the Good Shepherd Who would restore their souls and set a table before them in the presence of their enemies and bathe them in soothing oils to heal their broken bodies.

These are the ones about whom Jesus spoke when He said to the woman in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs….”

A thorough examination of verse thirty-one and beyond is outside of the boundaries of our time limitation this morning; so next Lord’s Day we begin with the “wonder” of it all, as Matthew puts it, and the glorifying of the God of Israel.  And then we’ll witness the feeding of this huge crowd of people, the significance of that feeding, and some comments regarding the pieces left over and their relationship to the encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman.

This is a good time for us to participate in the Lord’s Table together, because, although we have the pieces left over, it is from the same table from which the children of Israel fed.  And it is as abundantly sufficient for life today as it was to that Canaanite woman two thousand years ago, our Gentile sister who was one of the first to see the Light coming out of Israel into the nations.

And as we come to the table this morning, let’s remember, first, the order in which we received the Bread of Life.  The fact that we are second (after God’s elect from Israel) in no way diminishes our standing before God in Christ Jesus.

The underlying issue here is that no person has any standing before God!  So, how can we be “diminished” when we have nothing to start with?  One who might say, “Well I’ve never done anything really bad in my life, so I should be allowed to the table,” or “I should be included!  I’m a good person!” really has no idea what this communion table is about!

The lost sheep of the house of Israel were first – not because they were superior people – not because they were good – not because they had something in them that nobody else had.  And they were first… not because they had suffered terribly.

God’s elect from Israel were first because God chose them and promised them.  And He always keeps His promises.  They had nothing to commend them to God – just as we have nothing to commend ourselves to God.  But they were first because of the covenant promise.

Secondly, our approach to the table ought to be exactly like this pagan, Gentile lady from Sidon.  Before we come we ought to recognize our position before God.  God sent His Son to find His elect from Israel – the lost sheep….  But He also promised Him the nations as His inheritance!  After finding those from the house of Israel, all the Gentile nations would be given to Him; and He would be Savior of the whole world!  The body and blood of God’s anointed would be the payment for the cleansing of the entire creation!

So, as we come to the table, let’s recognize what our position is.  We are second!

And, then, thirdly… you and I have nothing to commend us to God.  There is no necessity whatever for Him to love us and save us.  If there was something in us that caused God to save us, then there would have been no need for the death of the Christ!

Therefore the need for pity.  Just as the Phoenician woman cried out for pity, so it needs be for us.  Understanding that need is the very essence of “poor in spirit,” isn’t it?

We eat “second” – but we eat.  And we receive from the table because God pitied us.  The only One Who “earned” anything was Jesus.  He was the only One Who deserved anything.  And He was given the nations as His reward.