St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Persistent Prayer

Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28

Text: Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Children will often go to their parents when they have problems. If they are having trouble with an assignment or are worried about something, they will go to their parents for help or advice. Sometimes, as parents, we have to say, “I’m sorry. I’m busy. “I’ll help you later.” Usually, that doesn’t dissuade children. They will expect that they will be able to come back later for the needed help or advice. In our text for this morning, we have the account of a woman, who came to Jesus for help. We watch as she came to Jesus persistently. In doing so, we have an opportunity to examine our prayer life. This morning, let us look at PERSISTENT PRAYER. We will look at 1. A Prime Example Of Persistent Prayer and we will 2. Examine Our Prayer Life.

Our text begins by speaking of the fact that Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. This area was a region to the northwest of the province of Galilee. Jesus withdrew because he needed the rest. He also wanted to take the time to teach his disciples. There was so much to learn in a very short amount of time. So, Jesus left the crowds that were following him.

Even here, though, away from the crowds, a woman found Jesus and presented her problem to Jesus. She cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” What she brought before the Lord was not just some minor inconvenience. She wasn’t complaining about something that was setting her back. Her daughter was demon-possessed. In Mark’s account, we learn that this was a little girl. This little girl was being tormented by demons. She came to Jesus for help. Her love for her daughter is so evident. She said, “Have mercy on me!” She made the daughter’s problem her own. She would not rest until she had done everything possible. This mother’s love for her child caused her to go to Jesus for help.

We know that she had at least some familiarity with the Old Testament, because she addressed Jesus as “the Son of David.” This phrase was used to identify the Messiah who was to come. When the people heard the phrase, “the Son of David,” they thought of the Messiah. This woman believed that this Jesus, who was there was the fulfillment of these prophesies. So, she presented her problems to Jesus.

What was Jesus’ response to her prayer? We might expect a miracle to happen right away, as Jesus had done so many times before. Yet, instead of this, we read, “Jesus did not answer a word.” He didn’t even acknowledge that she was there. He continued in what he was doing. This may sound harsh to us, but Jesus had his reasons for this seeming indifference to her prayer. Jesus did not answer a word.

If that had happened to you, what would you have done? Perhaps, you would have stopped right there. You might have left crushed or angry. At the very least, we would have been disappointed. Yet, we are told that this was not the case with the Canaanite woman. She continued to cry out to Jesus for help in her time of need.

The disciples thought that they had the solution to this problem. They came to Jesus and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” They wanted Jesus to get rid of her. She was being a nuisance. She was calling attention to Jesus, who had come to this region for some rest. They urged Jesus to get rid of her. Tell her, ‘I’m too busy to help you right now.’

However, Jesus didn’t listen to their suggestion. He didn’t send her away. Instead he spoke to the woman, but it was not what we might expect Jesus to say. He said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” By this statement, Jesus was pointing out the fact that the Messiah had been promised to the Jews, first of all. All of Jesus’ human forefathers were Jewish. They had looked forward to the time when Jesus would come and set them free from their sins. It was to these people that Jesus was sent.

On the surface, this might not seem so bad. Jesus was, after all, talking to the woman. However, this woman was not a Jew. She had not descended from Abraham. She was not one of the chosen nation of Israel. She was a Gentile. So, again it seems as though this woman had run into a dead end.

This did not stop her. She didn’t give up and go home. Instead, we are told, she knelt before Jesus and prayed, “Lord, help me.” She wasn’t going to let anything stop her from getting help for her daughter. So, even after the first two responses of Jesus, she continued to pray to Jesus for help. Her love for her daughter would not let her stop praying for her daughter. We can almost hear the plea in her voice as she prays, “Lord, help me.”

Now, certainly Jesus will help her. This woman had prayed so many times thus far. To our minds, it seems only right that Jesus would help her now. Instead, we hear what, to our ears, sounds like the cruelest response yet. Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” What Jesus is saying is that it would not be right to give away Israel’s blessings. Again, we think of the fact that Jesus said he was sent, first of all, to the lost sheep of Israel. While Jesus was on the earth, he concentrated his ministry among the Jews. Jesus performed the majority of his miracles in Palestine. As we said earlier, the Jews were God’s chosen people, who were to be the ancestors of the Messiah. Jesus, by this statement, is saying that there were rights that belonged to Israel alone. It would not be right to give them away.

It is hard for us to imagine that any of us would still be clinging to the hope that this woman has shown, so far. Especially after Jesus’ last statement, it is difficult to imagine that we would continue to pray, much less gain any hope. Yet, the woman found encouragement in Jesus’ words. When Jesus used the word, “dogs,” it wasn’t the word for the large, savage dogs prowling around in the garbage. Rather, it was the word used to denote a loved family pet. Just by using this form of the word, Jesus was encouraging the woman to keep on praying.

Indeed, she did. After Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” she replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” The woman acknowledged that she had no right to ask for Jesus’ help. After all, dogs, no matter how dear, are not children and have no right to be treated, as such. Yet, she continues to pray. When she asked for a crumb, she used a word that signifies a very small crumb. A crumb is all she is asking for. She doesn’t need any more than that. She would be satisfied with that.

Now, Jesus can no longer conceal his compassion. He had only been testing her faith. When we speak of testing, we don’t mean a pass or fail type of situation. Rather, by these responses, Jesus was refining her faith, as gold is refined in a fire. Gold ore is valuable, but it becomes precious once all of the impurities have been taken out. Jesus, by his seemingly harsh statements, was refining the faith that compelled the woman to keep praying.

Jesus said to the woman, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Jesus praised the woman for her faith. Her faith helped her continue to trust in the Lord for help. The reason her request was granted was not because of anything she had done. It wasn’t that she had lived such a wonderful life that Jesus was compelled to grant her request. Rather, it was her faith that clung to Jesus for help. She believed that Jesus could and would help her. Even this faith was not something she had obtained for herself. It, too, was a gift from God. The Holy Spirit created this faith that led her to ask Jesus for help. Our text tells us that her daughter was healed immediately. Jesus answered the woman’s persistent prayer.

How do we pray? Do we pray as persistently as the woman in our text? Or, do we lean the other way? We pray once about a problem and then figure that we did our part. Now it’s up to God to do his part. Jesus praised this woman for her persistent prayer. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they were to “Pray continually.” All of our lives are to be ones of prayer. We are to be in constant communication with God. Now, obviously, this doesn’t mean that we are to walk around with our heads bowed and our hands folded. It would be impossible to accomplish anything, if we did that. Yet, we are to pray continually and persistently. A prayer can come in the form of a thought as we ask God for help with something we are doing. We have the fine example set for us by the woman in our text.

We are free to pray to our heavenly Father, only because of the work of Jesus. All of us were separated from God, because of our sins. There was no place we could look to for help with our problems, including our worst problem: sin. Yet, Jesus stepped in and changed all of that. With his life, death and resurrection, Jesus brought us back to our Father. Because he is our loving Father, we know that we can come to him with all of our requests, as dear children ask their dear father. We pray to God, bringing all of life’s problems to him.

How will God answer our prayers? He will answer in one of three ways. He may answer, “Yes,” as he did for the Canaanite woman. ‘What you have asked for is good for you.’ God might also answer, ‘Wait awhile.’ He said this to the Canaanite woman, at first. He did so to test her faith. God may, also, be testing our faith. Another possible answer is, ‘No.’ God, in his infinite wisdom, knows that what you have asked for would not be good for you.

Does this mean, then, that we should hesitate to come to God with our prayers, because he might say, ‘No’? By no means! We still come to God, as children come to their parents with their requests. Our parents, for our best interests, at times refused our requests. If that was and is the case with sinful, imperfect parents, how much more so isn’t it true of our perfect, heavenly Father! Having brought our requests to God, we can rest in the confidence that it is in God’s hands and he will do what is best for us.

At times, it might seem as though God doesn’t answer our prayers. We might be tempted to give up praying. However, as we learn from the example of the Canaanite woman, we are to pray persistently. We keep praying. We keep coming to God with our requests. God does hear all of our prayers and he will answer every single one of them. Let us then approach our heavenly Father with persistent prayer, confident in the fact that he hears all of them. Amen.