Sermon Nov. 7, 2004 : Persistent faith (Matthew 15)

Posted in Sermons
  • Presenter: n: Omar Soto | Translation: Gregory Bishop
  • Length: 38:11
  • Date: November 7, 2004
  • Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA

Let’s pray. Father, we’ve come to the point today of sharing your word together and I’m always enthusiastic at this part because I know the life that it brings to us, Lord. The praise and worship is so important, it connects us to you, Lord. We worship you also through our tithes and offerings, but now is the moment in which we open our hearts and spirits to receive your word. Help us to have a teachable heart, Lord Jesus that even though it may be a word we have heard before that we can always receive something new from it. Your word is living and active and I pray for that life to touch our lives today. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I invite you to go with me to the Book of Mathew, Chapter 15. We’ll try to be as brief as possible, I want to make the most of the time. Mathew, Chapter 15, starting at verse 21. This is a text that can be very difficult to understand and interpret because it has certain confrontations that can be difficult to understand specially because it involves a particular woman. If we read the story here we’re going to see what I’m talking about.

This has always been a fascinating passage to me. I’ve always wanted to understand the context in which this is all happening. If you look at the beginning of chapter 15 it happens in the context of an argument between Jesus and the Pharisees about eating food without ceremony of washing the hands first. It was a ceremonial ritual in which they would wash their hands symbolizing that they were clean and the food wouldn’t contaminate them. But Jesus made it very clear that what contaminates a person isn’t so much what enters into his or her body but what comes out of the heart, that’s what contaminates people.

After this conversation about what is really clean and pure and what’s really unclean and impure Jesus at that point goes to a region of gentiles that were considered impure by the religious Pharisees of the day. It’s very interesting because Jesus went out of his way at this point to go to a place where people don’t follow those rituals at all and on top of that he doesn’t just encounter a gentile but a woman gentile and in the views of the traditional Pharisees of the day she would be even less acceptable than the others.

But this story has a part of it that is very interesting. This woman approached Jesus calling him by a special title that was a messianic Jewish title of the Messiah. She called him Jesus, son of David, that’s a special messianic title that she was giving Him and I believe that Jesus was noticing that got his attention something special about this woman, because He was sent to the sons and daughters of Israel and yet they didn’t recognize him as the son of David, as the Messiah, and here comes a woman who is not even a Jewish woman who recognizes that Jesus was the son of David, the son of God.

The silence of Jesus could be interpreted in many different ways, a person could think that He was simply ignoring this woman or maybe his silence was inviting her to seek more intensely. It’s as if He was walking along and even though He wasn’t answering He was paying attention to what this woman was saying, but the disciples played also a very important part. Someone could say that the disciples they were uncomfortable with this lady and that’s why they said: Jesus, get rid of her quickly. Or perhaps they were saying: Look, just give her what she wants to get of rid of her quickly.

And then we get into the give and take between Jesus and this woman. He said “I was only sent to the sons of the house of Israel”, and even though Jesus responded to the disciples he knew that the woman was listening and here’s where the woman bows down before Him. Here she doesn’t use a messianic title to speak to Jesus, she recognizes that she is a sinner and us such she bows down before Him. She’s basically saying “Jesus I don’t have any hidden agendas before you here. I know I’m a sinner but I have a great need. Please help me”. And that’s where Jesus comes with this sentence that can be very difficult and abrasive for us to read. Jesus said: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.

How would you feel if somebody called you a dog? I think that would be an insult to most of us, I think of the stinking street dogs that are out there just eating garbage out there so we really need to dig deeper and think what did Jesus mean by using a word like dog in this context? This word dog in the original Greek it means there are two different types of words for dog, there’s a street dog, a mutt, but then there’s also a pet dog. Jesus uses the word that is more used for the pet, the house pet dog, the puppy that you have in the house, that’s the word he used here.

How many of you have had a puppy or a dog in your house? I’ve got a little chiguagua in my house, almost a year old and he’s just about as sneaky as ever but we’ve learnt to love this little mischievous dog. People would say, how can you love a dog? If you have a dog you know what it is to develop a kind of emotional connection to that pet, some of you might even know having the dog in the bed sleeping with you, maybe some not.

I want you to imagine something with me right now, every time my wife and I eat together at the table little Mailo, my puppy, he always comes right along and sits on the floor right under the table, he tries to crawl upon out lap so that we give him something to eat, I look at him and say no, you’ve got your own little doggy dish over there and he just gives me these puppy eyes, he just gives me this look you know, just a little bit of crying, maybe a little tear, and I can’t take it at all, even if it’s a little piece of meat I have to give him something, I’m a pushover. And when I give it to him, but when I give it to him he always asks for more but sometimes he receives the little bit I give him and finally he leaves me alone and goes away.

That picture, that mental picture of my interaction with my puppy, helps me visualize a little better what Jesus might have had in mind. When Jesus presented this illustration to this woman, the woman didn’t just go running away, she entered into the illustration Jesus was making, she says, ok, maybe you could see me as a puppy or a dog, but even the dogs can get a little bit of the crumbs that fall off from the table. This woman made it clear she wasn’t trying to steal the blessing from the people of Israel, she was just looking for little crumbs of that enormous blessing that Jesus came to give and from such a tiny declaration of faith came an enormous belief in what God came to do and there we understand how it is that Jesus responds to her. “Woman you have great faith, because of that your daughter is now healed”. In the book of Mark it makes it clear that at that very moment that Jesus said that, the child was healed. Because of that declaration we could see a woman of great faith.

Now I can’t help but make a comparison between this woman and the disciples. First we had a woman who had everything going against her, she had traditions, she was a gentile, Canaanean of Siro Phoenician, Jesus was a Jew with a group of 12 male disciples, seems like she had everything stacked against her except for her faith but even in spite of all of those oppositions Jesus considers her a woman of great faith. Here in the book of Mathew there are few particular occasions in which Jesus speaking to non Jews tells them that they had great faith. One example of that is the Roman centurion, he wasn’t a Jew so he was considered a gentile, his child was sick, he said “Jesus, I’m not even worthy that you come into my house, only say the word and he will be healed” and Jesus recognized that he was a man of great faith and his servant child was healed at that very moment. It was the same thing here with this woman, she came a gentile saying: “I know I’m not worthy but I have a child that needs healing. And because of that long distance pronouncement of Jesus the child was healed and the woman was clearly a woman of great faith.

Look at how interesting this is, one chapter before what we’ve read here today, we see the account of Peter walking over the water with Jesus. It’s important to recognize that Peter, a disciple, walked on the water with the Master but in the middle of his test he failed. When he gets back to the boat, Jesus said “how small is your faith”. But how interesting is this! The ones who came to his disciples He said they had little or no faith, but these gentiles, these supposed rejects are the ones that Jesus said, you have great faith.

My brothers and sisters, persistent true faith often comes from the places we would least expected. Sometimes in fact, usually the people we least expected are the ones who have the most faith. Persistent faith always has its benefits and rewards. That’s what we can see here in this woman’s story. She had a persistent faith, she didn’t let an initial appearing rejection take away her faith, she didn’t let the commentaries of the disciples keep her from having her faith snubbed out, she was sure of who she was talking to and what He could do. She didn’t let anything take her away focus, she knew Jesus could do something for her daughter, we can compare her to Peter who he had Jesus right there but he took his focus off Jesus and started sinking. This woman had Jesus before her, the disciples were there trying to distract her, insults and remarks from the people around, there were also traditions there to impede her, but she stayed focused upon Jesus. There was nothing and no one that would keep her from doing what she had to do. We need to see that we have something to learn from this woman and this story.

A person needs to persist expecting to receive what God has for him and many of us have received things that we’ve expected from the Lord but many of us are still in that waiting phase and when what we’re expecting and hoping doesn’t happen all too often our faith can begin to falter. This is a solid declaration we can count on, when I say that your faith, your persistent faith will be rewarded I put myself out on a limb by saying that. You know why? Because there can be moments where what you expect doesn’t happen the way you hoped.

The worst thing that can happen is that death arrives and you still haven’t received what you were expecting from the Lord. People can think, well, if death has come we’ve lost hope, there’s nothing else to wait for. But the faith we’re talking about here has an element that is much deeper than that, it’s a faith that is cemented in the heart of a person, it’s a faith that doesn’t have time limits to it, it’s a faith that will leave an inheritance to others. If you see the great people, heroes of faith, Abraham, Moses, you’ll see cases like that of Moses where he saw the promised land from far off but he never quite made it there.

Does that mean he didn’t have faith? That he wasn’t persistent? No, not at all. He certainly had faith but his faith didn’t just end with his death, he left an inheritance for those who came after him. Those that came after him received the full benefit of his faith. Moses wasn’t thinking selfishly that he was just waiting for his own benefit or his own reward, Moses knew that his faith left a legacy for those that would follow him. So he knew that although he might not receive what he was waiting for, those who came after him would.

This woman we’re talking about here she left a legacy of faith. Think about the impact on this child for what happened to her. We don’t know anything more about her, but just imagine when this woman got back home and found her daughter healed. I can imagine her daughter saying: Mummy, what happened to me? And her mother telling her the whole story. Maybe the mother said, perhaps they tried to reject me when I went but the person I went to talk to, whose name is Jesus, I knew that he could do something for you. I’ve heard so much about Him in the neighborhood that I knew I had to go to Him, and Jesus just by declaring one word that’s how you, my beloved child, were healed. You were healed by Jesus.

I can imagine that daughter at some moment desired to know Jesus. It’s not an issue of making up a story, we’re creatively imagining what must have happened. Imagine one of the times Jesus perhaps walking through one of the neighborhoods were He ministered and imagine this little girl seeing him go by, and the mother pulling her aside to the window and pointing at him and saying: there He is, there’s Jesus, the one that healed you. That woman left a legacy, she left an inheritance to her daughter. Your persistent faith not just for the benefit of your personal life it will leave an inheritance for those who come after you. Faith isn’t a selfish thing, something that is shared with others, if you have faith, having it in your own personal life seeing to it that that faith that is in you is passed on to those who come after you. Because there will be blessing that you’ll receive, you have to know that there are some blessings that you won’t receive yourself but they will be passed on to those who come after you.

I’d like to close by sharing something. Many of you know that we’ve been ministering as church to the children at Shriners Hospital here in Boston, sister Marta Garzón and others and myself have been visiting the hospital and attending to these families and their children and this week one of the children that we’ve ministering to, a 3 year old child, a little boy from Honduras came here with his mother he’s been in an accident in which his entire body has been burnt and because of these burns in his blood he has developed a certain bacteria that was then affecting his organs. On Wednesday morning he began to have his first heart attacks, on Thursday evening he had a second heart attack and this morning they called me to tell me that this child has passed away.

I stopped to think, Lord there were so many times that sister Marta and myself and others sat to pray with the mother of this little boy, she is a woman who does believe in the Lord Jesus. There in Honduras she had been member of a church although she had been separated for a while from the church, being in touch with us to this trauma she was experiencing she decided to come back to her faith in God. They called me yesterday because the child was suffering terribly and I went to the hospital, they let the mother and me go in to the place where the child was and the mother could take the child’s hand although the child was in a incubator and was separated but the hand was sticking out and she could hold his little hand. When she was holding his hand she began to cry. What could I do but just offer a small prayer in that moment asking God that he would do his will through this whole thing.

When I heard that the child died today naturally that we all have the feeling that rises up in us that says Lord, why couldn’t you do a miracle to heal this child? We believed, we prayed with faith for God to heal this child, why didn’t you do it Lord? Who am I to question God in the first place? As I came in the car today I understood in my spirit what God was saying to me, he said: you asked me to do my will and I did it. I have taken this life but another life is reconciled to me and that reconciliation with God, that new life will bless all those in the family. Through our persistent faith there can be things that we don’t see with our eyes but there will be other things that we will see with your yes, there will be miracles that we will witness directly. You will be asking for a miracle of life and maybe it won’t happen in the life where you expected to be but somewhere else life will be born. Our faith needs to persist in God that’s where God gives the full reward that you deserve not just for you but those that you love.

I understand that this morning in this passage, it challenges us so that our faith would be persistent, if there’s something that you’re seeking from God today, fight, keep fighting until it comes, don’t let anything take your focus off Jesus until you break through, nor the rejection, perhaps comments from others, or even traditions…. Focus on the one who can really do it in your life and know that whether it happens before you or in those that you will leave behind that reward will come. Where are we going to be? What will our perspective be? We will persist, doesn’t matter what. We will persist. And the reward will come to you, to those that you love. The reward will come. Let us stand up, let’s pray, thank you Jesus. Thank you Lord.

Brother, sister I don’t know what the situation that you bring here today is, but I am sure of one thing and it’s that God does know, you and your situation. Jesus did know what this woman’s situation was, the questions and the dialogue that he did with her, they had a purpose to them, He wanted to help the woman’s faith here grow to its full potential. In your life, my brothers and sisters, sometimes it can seem like Jesus is quiet, sometimes it may even seem like he’s not paying attention but He knows what he’s doing, he wants your faith to be stretched, to grow. We have a challenge today that our faith will grow before him. I want to take some time to pray. For those who need that their faith grows today or maybe it means to just begin for the first time accepting Jesus into your heart. I’d like to open an opportunity for that today. If there’s anybody here today who would like to say: Jesus I want you to enter into my life today, I’ve experienced all kind of rejection, I need you, I come to you, help me.

If you want to make that decision today I invite you to raise your hand here today, God bless you. If you want to accept Jesus as the one who is the author of your faith, you’re free to raise your hand so we can pray for you today. God bless you.

Father we present to you these people who have come before to give their hearts to you today, Jesus. You know their hearts and their situations better than anyone else, you know the deepest fibers of their hearts, you know the things that they struggle with, and you are the one who has the answer for each one of those things. You are the answer, Jesus. Jesus cover the hearts of every one of these today, forgive their sins, cleanse them with your blood Lord, purify them with your holy spirit Lord God and give them a new beginning today. The same way that woman had an encounter with you and her life was changed, the life of her daughter was changed, I pray that the lives of my brothers and sisters will change, they will have an encounter with you Jesus. Take them in your arms Lord Jesus, we declare a blessing over them and their faith, Lord will receive the reward that they wait for from you. Thank you we give. Their lives are in your hand God

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