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Tattoos & Human Branding
I don’t have any tattoos, but I know lots of people who do – and a few that don’t have one yet but want one. As far as the Bible goes, there’s no problem with getting or having a tattoo, so long as it’s not done in as part of a pagan religious ceremony (Lev 19:28) or done in a prideful way, to show off and attract attention to your body (1 Peter 3:3-4). If you can do it in a tasteful, humble way, is profitable and helpful, that honours your body as God’s temple, and is an act of worship that brings glory Him glory, then go for it! (Eph 5:4 Col 3:8; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 10:23, 31)
As funny as some of these are, I want to take a minute to use it as an illustration. All of the people we saw in those pictures made the choice – however misguided that choice may have been – to go and get their bodies marked, but human branding has been around for a long time.
People would brand their slaves as their own property, brand thieves, brawlers or other undesirables with letters on their skin marking their crime. The practice even occurs a few times in the Bible. God marked Cain so people wouldn’t kill him (Gen 4). Ezekiel had a vision of men dressed in linen walking through a town destined for destruction marking the people who lamented their sins so they would not be destroyed (Exe 9:4). In Revelation it speaks of two different marks, those marked by God for salvation and those who take the Mark of the Beast (Rev 7:3; 13:16-17). Paul speaks of the scars on his body, from beatings, stonings and lashings as marks that point to his faith in Jesus (Gal 6:17). And it was seeing the marks in His hands side that brought doubting Thomas to faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 20:27).
The marks of Jesus are often called the “Stigmata”, from which we get the term “stigma”. Last week we spent some time looking at a biblical view of depression. It was by no means comprehensive, but I think we covered some of the basics, and I hope it was helpful to you. I was surprised how much feedback from last week’s message, both locally and after I posted it on the internet. I got hits and messages from all over North America. I even received an email from someone in Mexico.
The comment I heard repeated most often, including from my new friend in Monterey, revolved around stigma. Multiple people thanked me for simply not making them feel badly about struggling with depression or mental illness. Being a person suffering from mental illness like depression is bad enough, more than a few Christians I know have recently admitted some bad stories about letting people at church know about their struggles, and then having that knowledge used against them.
They come to their friend, their church, their family, to share a small part of one of their deepest struggles – that for a long time they have been in a daily battle against their own brain, that has made them feel anxious, sad, fearful, hopeless, and like an utter failure – and instead of getting love, acceptance, support, and prayer – they get stigmatized, branded, tattooed with a label. Most often in the church, that label is “Lazy” or “Faithless”.
Instead of coming alongside this person and patiently bearing their burdens with them, they accuse them of not having enough faith, not praying enough, not reading the bible enough, not understanding enough theology, not worshipping enough. They throw out quick answers like, “Have you done your devos? Reading the Bible and praying always cheers me right up!” or “You should listen to more worship music.” or “You need to stop drinking coffee, you’re your vitamins and do some exercise, and then you’d be happy.”
The implication to those quick answers is that the person’s problem is their fault – as though this was something they chose, or there’s something they are not doing that if they would just do, then their sickness would go away. That’s a ridiculous notion that we would never apply to any other sickness, would we?
I don’t intend to repeat last week’s message about the importance of realizing that they are suffering from a mental illness, meaning that they are literally sick, and that part of their body is broken (their brain chemistry) and outside of their control. And I don’t intend to try to convince you how bad it is by telling you a bunch of horror stories from my life or anyone else’s – please just believe me that however bad you think it is to be clinically depressed or suffer from mental illness, the reality is that it’s probably worse. But after hearing from more than a few people relate stories of how much pain they have been caused by people in the church, and saying that they are literally afraid of telling other Christians about their struggles, I feel there’s a couple topics we need to cover.
People Usually Fear / Hate Sickness
Today I want to talk about how God uses sickness and suffering for our good and His glory. Essentially, what we’re talking about is a building a theology of sickness.
People who are sick are often treated very badly by their fellow man. Maybe it comes from our inherent fear of death, so we distance ourselves physically and emotionally from anyone who is suffering. Maybe it comes from our belief that all suffering and sickness is bad, and therefore we need to avoid it at all costs. Maybe it comes from thinking that anyone who is sick or suffering is being punished by God, or has lost faith, and therefore we need to stay away while God deals with them. Whatever the case, being sick, whether with a mental or physical illness, has often come with stigma – they are marked as outsiders and shunned.
Even though the Old Testament is full of commands to care for the poor and be merciful to the suffering (Deut 15:11; Micah 6:8), and they did have medicine and physicians (Job 13:4; 1 Chron 16:12; Jer 6:22) it was often believed that anyone with any kind of handicap, from birth defects to blindness to leprosy to the flu to losing life or limb in an accident, was being punished by God for their sins, and was therefore shunned from the community.
From ancient times until today one way that societies have dealt with their weak and sick is to lock them away, forget them, or simply kill them – and this is on both ends of the spectrum. In some ancient cultures, if a baby had any kind of defect at all, it was policy to leave it out in the open until it died so that it’s weakness wouldn’t impact the family or the nation. In some cultures today girls are seen as weaker than boys, so they murder baby girls in favour of having more boys.
Since we have the technology to look inside the uterus before the baby is born doctors can diagnose all kinds issues a baby might have. Most of these issues are non-life threatening and are very treatable, but often end in abortion. For example, the rate of Downs Syndrome children has rapidly declined these days, not because there are less of them, but because they are murdered before they are ever born.
In the proudly liberal United Kingdom, famous for their open-mindedness and tolerance, they have a law that says you can abort a “disabled child” up to the day it’s born. Because the term “disabled” isn’t defined well, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women have aborted their baby because it had a cleft lip. Why? Because people hate, shun, stigmatize, and reject sickness.
And we do it on the other end of the spectrum too as we take the sick and the elderly, push them out of our society, remove them from our media, lock them away in homes to forget about them, charge them enormous fees to care for them, and then, when they are rejected and alone, and feel like a burden to everyone around them, the lawmakers, doctors and insurance companies offer them euthanasia (Greek for or “The Good Death”). Like Coke, Pepsi or Nike, they find a young, pretty spokesmodels like Brittany Maynard to be their advocate and make suicide seem like a wonderful thing that everyone should consider, and then do what they can to eliminate other options.
One recent example of this comes from the story of Stephanie Packer, a mother of four who lives in California which recently legalized doctor assisted suicide. She has an auto immune disease that forms scar tissue on her lungs which makes it hard to breathe. She was told she wouldn’t live until age 32, but she’s already a year past that. She’s been in treatment for a long time, but when her doctors switched her expensive chemotherapy drugs, her insurance company informed her that they refused to pay for them. She then asked if they would cover the cost of the drugs that would put her to death. They said yes, and that it would only cost her $1.20. The same thing happened to a 64-year-old woman in Oregon who was given the choice between paying for a $4000/month drug to help her get better, or a $50 drug that would kill her.
Humanity hates and fears weakness, sickness, and death, and we will do everything we can to remove it from our minds, hearts, homes, and country. Christians need to be better, but too often we’re not. Instead, we, in our own ways, mark those who are sick, hurting, or weak, as undesirable outcasts that need to be treated by specialists, and only hang out with people who are strong, helpful, and that contribute to our wellbeing.
Think about it. I’ve heard so many times that people want friends that will help them grow, a church where they will be fed, spouses and partners and friends that will strengthen them – but they never, ever, ever mean someone that is sick or hurting. They always mean that they want to find someone who is strong, smart, and healthy, that will build them up. They never meant that they want to be surrounded by people that are sick, weak, afraid, confused, struggling, and in constant need.
But let me tell you the God’s honest truth. The place your faith will grow most, where you will be challenged most, where you will be tried, tested and refined most – is among the lust, hurting, and sick.
I hear Christians ask all the time about how they grow more spiritual, get closer to God, deepen their prayer life, learn more about the faith, be more dependent on scripture, hear the Holy Spirit, and become more like Jesus – and that’s a good thing. But the answer isn’t just “read your bible, pray every day”, avoid bad things, and you’ll grow, grow, grow. No, what will really, truly cause you to become desperate for the presence of God is to come face to face with weakness.
Sickness as a Gift
The Bible says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6) and one way we become more humble, and thereby gain more grace, is to be faced with sickness – in ourselves or someone else.
- Physical, emotional and mental weakness will stop you in your tracks and force you to evaluate your life and faith.
- Whether you are the one who is ill or the one facing the illness, it will test the strength of your marriage, your friendships, and the bonds of your church and family.
- It will require you to admit you have problems and that you need help, opening up your heart to the ability not only to admit physical and mental problems but ultimately spiritual ones.
- It will force you to stop depending on yourself and humbly accept the help of God and others.
- It will force you to see your own weakness, and even your own mortality, and realize your time on earth is short.
- And it gives others an opportunity to care for you, thereby helping them grow.
- It will cause you to talk to God in ways you never have before– whether in anger, sadness, fear, or faith.
When you or someone you love is in pain your prayers get a lot less general. Gone are your prayers for a nice meal, a happy life, and to bless everyone around you –because now you realize what it means to come to God and say:
“Father in heaven. Hallowed be your name.
Bring your kingdom soon, because I hate this world full of sin and death.
May your will be done, because I am utterly at a loss for what to do.
Give me this day my daily bread, because I am weak, tired, and all of my energy is spent – I need a miracle of provision from you if I’m going to make it through this day.
Forgive me my sins, because I realize now how worldly I have been and how much I have sinned against others who just needed my love and comfort. How I wish I had been more merciful to them, because I could use their mercy now!
Help me to forgive those who have sinned against me, because people are saying and doing so many stupid, selfish things to me and the one I love, and I don’t need any more bitterness in my heart, God. I don’t have the time or energy to argue. I just need to find a place to know your life.
God, lead me not into temptation – because I’m tempted to give up, tempted to quit, tempted to go to evil places for a moment’s comfort, tempted to lash out at the one I’m supposed to be caring for and the ones that are caring for me, tempted to push people away, tempted to stop worshipping, stop praying, stop asking for help. God I’m so very tempted.
I need you to deliver me from evil, because all the time I can feel the presence of the evil one around me, and as I battle this illness on so many fronts – I need your spiritual protection so there’s at least one battle I don’t need to fight because you are doing it for me. Protect me, God.
I recognize yours is the kingdom, and I am but a humble citizen.
I recognize that yours is the power, because I feel so powerless.
And yours is the glory, so help me to somehow bring you glory in this as you make me more fit for your kingdom.
Forever and ever, even now, even in this time, even as terrible as this feels today – amen, so be it, I relent, I give it all to you.”
In Sickness You Meet Jesus
To my fellow Christians, I remind you that it is when you are face to face with the weak, the sick, and the poor – which includes those who suffer with depression – that you are closest to Jesus, and have the greatest opportunity to bless him. Turn with me to Matthew 25:31-46 and consider the words of Jesus:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We will not be saved because of our compassion and mercy towards those brothers and sisters who are hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned, but we will do it because we are saved. Listen carefully: Your understanding of your salvation and all that Jesus has done for you is demonstrated in how you treat those around you, especially those who are difficult – like the sick, the poor, the estranged, or your enemies.
A Christian understands from what they have been delivered. They know that in the eyes of a perfect God they were deplorable, wretched, sinners, enemies of God. Before we are saved by Jesus, the Bible says we have all the attraction and benefit of a rotten, stinking, enemy corpse (Isaiah 64:6; Eph 2:1-3). Humanity became sick with sin and succumbed to it completely. Jesus didn’t come to meet us in hospital room, or our deathbed, he came to our grave. We have the smell of death and rotten deeds all about us – as unattractive as possible – and yet, though there was not anything good about us, God sent His only Son to take the punishment for our sin so we could be reborn as one of His people (John 3:16; Eph 2:4-5).
He stepped into a land of madness, sickness, death, betrayal, and hatred – a world completely bent away from Him – and stayed out of love. We insulted Him, He healed our wounds. We hated Him, and He exercised our demons. We broke every law He gave us, used the body He gave us for sin, rejected the prophets He sent us, corrupted the Word He spoke to us. He wept over us, prayed for us, fed us, calmed our storms, took the cross for us, sent us His Holy Spirit, and invited us to be part of His family. And even though we continue to get it wrong, sin like crazy, spit in his face, refuse to listen, obey, pray or do what He asks, even though we keep erecting idols in our hearts – He keeps walking with us, forgiving us, helping us, sitting with us, weeping with us, mourning with us, and reminding us of why we can still have hope.
We are never more like Jesus, and we never see Jesus more, than when we are serving, helping, and loving people who are suffering – and that includes people who are facing depression and mental illness.
Next week I hope to give some practical tools, but I that’s where I want to leave it this week. But let me challenge you to some reflection:
First, is there anyone in your life that you have stigmatized, marked as an untouchable because they are too weak, sick, sad, or frustrating? Has God called you to serve someone, visit them, feed them, help them, welcome them, clothe them, but you have said no, because like the pagan world around you, you don’t want to, are too lazy, too afraid to be touched by weakness, sickness and death? I beg you to repent. Ask forgiveness of those you have marked as outcasts because of your own selfishness, fear and sin, and then go and be Jesus to them – and meet Jesus in them.
And second, to those who have been marked by sin, who bear the scars of depression, anxiety, sickness and pain. I challenge you to change your perspective on your suffering to see that you are not being punished, and God has not left you. You have been given to your church and your family as a gift by which we are able to see Jesus. You have been given something that forces you to grow closer to Jesus, to depend more on Him, and to have a greater faith than many people will ever experience – if you allow it to drive you to Jesus and not from Him.
Consider how you can say the words of 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, which have been echoed by so many faithful believers throughout the centuries: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The Story of the Reluctant Doctor
Once upon a time there was a doctor of medicine. This doctor was somewhat controversial, in that, though his patients were cured, he used extremely unconventional, even odd ways to cure them – he also had a bit of a mouth on him. He tended to offend people when he spoke, to the point where the city officials and other doctors began to dislike him. At one point he said some things so offensive that they chased him out of town. He left and went all the way to the border, stepped across, taking his staff and his special medicines with him.
He found a house to stay in, but he knew he wasn’t supposed to practice medicine in another country, so he sat in the home, teaching his medical students. One day there was a knock at the door.
A young woman had heard that he had come to their country and was desperate to find him. She had a very sick little daughter who needed him. She’d tried all the doctors of her country and no one could help, but she had heard of this man’s amazing ways and was desperate for him to come and try.
She banged on the door, yelling for him to come out. “Please, I need you help! My daughter is very sick.” The doctor heard from the inside – and did nothing. She kept banging on the door. She looked through windows and saw that he was there – and when they met eyes, he got up and moved to a different room. She wouldn’t relent. She knew that he was her last hope.
She banged on the door even harder, wailing and weeping, calling for the doctor to come and help.
The doctor got up silently, looked at his medical students, and walked out the back door. He had decided to go home. The woman didn’t see him leave, but when she looked through all the windows in the house, she realized it was deserted, and began to run down the road in the hopes of catching him.
Finally, she saw him on the horizon and called out, “Please, help me!” She ran with all her might to catch him, and threw herself down at His feet so he couldn’t take another step. Panting and out of breath, she coughed out the words, “Please… please help me. You’re the only one that can heal my daughter.”
The medical students had had enough. Some were sick of her noise, others were moved to compassion, but they all began to ask the doctor to help the woman’s daughter so she would stop crying and leave them.
The doctor looked down at the woman at his feet, and said, “Why should I help a dog like you? You’re not even from my country. I am saving my medicine to use on my people first.”
She replied, “I may be a dog… but even dogs get to eat scraps from the table. All I’m asking for are some scraps.”
The doctor laughed out loud, lifted the woman from her feet, dug into his medical bag, pulled out a vial of medicine, and handed it to the woman, saying, “You’re right. Here’s the cure to your daughter’s sickness.” She thanked him and they parted ways.
What would you say about that doctor? Is he a good one? Would you call him compassionate? Kind? Loving? Helpful? What words would you have for this man? What do you think Jesus would say to him about his actions?
Jesus is The Reluctant Doctor
“ And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.  But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.  Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  And he said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’  But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’  And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’  And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.” (Mark 7:24-37)
Does it surprise you that the doctor from the story is Jesus? This is such a difficult to understand passage to understand, isn’t it? Why would Jesus do that? Why would He say those things? Why did He treat the woman that way? Before we start thinking we know better than Jesus how to handle His affairs, let’s go through the text together and see what’s going on.
Jesus Among the Gentiles
In verse 24 we learn that Jesus leaves His homeland and walks to the border, and beyond, into the gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. Remember, he’s just had a massive confrontation with the Pharisees about the hypocrisy of their hearts, and, perhaps, that was a good time for a little trip to let things cool off.
When Jesus gets there, He finds a house and though He doesn’t want anyone to know about His presence, even there His fame precedes Him. His plan wasn’t to spend a lot of time ministering to the Gentiles because, He knew He was, first and foremost, “sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24).
The Syrophoenician Woman
In verses 25-26 we see the plot thicken. We don’t know how she heard of Him, but we do know that when someone we love gets sick, we all keep our ears open for any chance of helping them, don’t we? This mother was desperately searching for someone who could help her daughter, when she heard that Jesus – the famous Jewish healer, the one who claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah – was near her.
By now, Jesus and the disciples are used to random, desperate people interrupting Jesus everywhere He goes to ask for help and healing. This story is special because of where it takes place. Mark makes the point to his readers that this woman wasn’t a Jew, she was a Gentile.
The question in the minds of all who would read this for the first time would be: What would Jesus do? How would He react to a gentile in a gentile land? He’s already shown He was willing to interact with Romans who had faith, but they were on Jewish soil. He even talked to Samaritans – but they were a people who held to a form of Judaism. This interaction would be totally different. This is a full-blooded gentile, woman from Syria.
Matthew’s account ups the stakes a bit by reminding his readers that she wasn’t just a gentile, but was, in fact, born and lived among the “Canaanites”, meaning she wasn’t just a gentile, but was from a nation that was an enemy of the Jews, a people that Joshua and the Israelites were supposed to wipe out, but didn’t. Their existence was a mistake and caused trouble for the Jewish people. What would Jesus do with her?
Her reaction to Jesus is surprising. She falls before Jesus, prostrate in grief and reverence. She worships Him. Matthew expands Mark’s telling of what says saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” This was a woman of faith among the Gentiles. She knew who she had come to see. She knew Jesus by reputation, and had worked out that Jesus wasn’t just another miracle worker, but was the Messiah of the Jews. She calls Him “Lord”, submitting herself to Him, and begs for his help.
A Strange Response
Verse 27 is where things go strange. Remember, Mark’s Gospel are the recordings of the sermons and stories of the Apostle Peter, and they are always written in a more action packed way, written to a Gentile audience, skipping some of the details to get right to the heart of the matter. Matthew, on the other hand, gives his Jewish readers a bit more context and a bit more detail so they can see the story in a way that is more meaningful to them.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus does something before he answers her. It says, “But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” (Matthew 15:23)
Consider the implications here. This hurting woman came to his door, begging for help, crying and weeping outside the house in which Jesus sat – and for a while He did… nothing. If you extrapolate from the different versions of this story in the Gospels, we see that Jesus not only ignored her, but in fact, left the house without talking to her. He basically snuck out the back door and she caught Him as He was trying to get away. He was heading home when she came crying behind him.
Even more strangely, Jesus didn’t automatically turn to her out of compassion – as we read about Him doing so many times in other parts of scripture – but it was Jesus’ disciples that seem to convince Him to deal with her.
The question is: Why? Why would Jesus do that? Why would He say those things? Why did He treat the woman that way? Let me give you a couple reasons:
First, this is not so much a miracle story, as it is a teaching story. Jesus doesn’t jump straight to the miracle because He needs to teach His followers something. His intention is to open the eyes of His followers to see the pain of the gentiles. He wants them to begin to understand His heart for the lost, hurting, demonized people that exist everywhere in the world – not just among the Jews. In that moment, Jesus was using that woman to test and expand the disciples hearts.
How? This woman is a representative of all gentiles. She is hurting, broken, demonized, in need of help from God. The question was, “Did the Jewish disciples really care?” and the answer was “No.” See how long it took for them to act. They, like most Jews of the time, thought, “Let them rot in their pagan ways. God has forsaken them, and so shall we.”
But Jesus brings His disciples face to face with an actual gentile woman, that had an actual need, and who desperately wanted help from the God of the Jews – and He waits for them to react. He wants their heart to break like His does. I don’t want to extrapolate from what’s not there, but I would imagine that this teaching time was hard on Jesus. Of course, His instinct would be to heal the daughter of a woman that had faith in Him for help – but there was a bigger plan in place, a bigger lesson to be learned.
It takes the disciples much longer than it should for them to come to Jesus to ask for the healing of this foreigner. She has to cry out, over and over and over, finally falling down in front of them so they can’t take another step, before they begin to feel her plight and start to petition Jesus on her behalf. It says, “…his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’”
For some, it was done out of pity, for others exasperation, but what Jesus wanted them to learn was finally learned. They finally looked at Him and said, “Lord, just do something for this poor woman! It doesn’t matter that she’s a gentile. It doesn’t matter that’s she’s different. It doesn’t matter the history between us. Can’t you see her pain? You must do something. Deal with her. Show her mercy. Give her the grace you’ve given us. Please!”
A Heart for Evangelism
Jesus does for the disciples what He must do to us too. Brings them face to face with lost people. The Salvation Army had a brilliant campaign a while back called” We See What Most Don’t” They see it because they are looking. Jesus needs to teach us to look.
Our heart will not hurt for people only unless we actually get to know people. Our passion for evangelism and missions work will only happen when our hearts break for the lost. And as long as we sit quietly and comfortably, not knowing them, not seeing them, not caring, it’s very easy to forget about them. And as long as we couldn’t care less about them, as long as our hearts remain unmoved, we are never going listen to their cries or share our hope with them.
Most of us will never go to where the hurting and lost people are. We will never bring ourselves there because it is uncomfortable and frightening, and because we have prejudice in our heart. We, like the disciples will never go to where they are – so what does Jesus do? He brings His disciples there. He forces them to go out of there way, out of their comfort zone, out of their country, to be around people the don’t know and don’t understand. Why? So they can actually see, feel, hear and touch, the broken hearted that before, they couldn’t care less about.
Most of us will never listen to the lost. We write them off, ignore them, chastise them, drop tracts off on restaurant tables, argue with them – but how many of us truly listen to them? The disciples couldn’t hear that poor woman. She banged on the door, she pleaded, she ran after them, she dropped at their feet, begging for them to bring her to Jesus – and they didn’t hear. Their prejudice, racism, discrimination, intolerance, preconception, and bigotry made them outright refuse to have anything to do with this broken hearted woman. How long did Jesus have to let her cry before they could actually hear her? How long did the disciples have to stare at her tear-stained face before their hearts were moved?
Not only did Jesus have to bring them to where the hurting and lost were, but he also had to let her suffer right in front of them for a long time, before their hard hearts started to crack.
Most of us don’t go to the lost. Most of us don’t listen to the lost. And most of us don’t act on their behalf. How long did Jesus have to wait before someone stood up on behalf of the hurting woman? The disciples, perhaps like many of us, assume someone else would do it. If Jesus wants to save her, let Him – I don’t want anything to do with her. If Jesus wants to deal with those kinds of people, let Him – I’m staying out of it. If Jesus wants to get involved with someone as messed up and troubled as this, let Him – I’ve got better things to do.
Jesus tells us to go to the hurting and lost, listen to them, help them , and plead for their needs and souls. But just like the disciples – many of us don’t.
The task Jesus gave to the disciples, and to us, in in Acts 1:8 was to be “[His] witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But that won’t happen unless our heart breaks for the hurting, broken, demonized and lost first. God knows we won’t get involved unless we feel it. We must begin to ask God to give us His heart for the broken and lost – even if it requires us to leave our comfort in order to get to those people.
I was convicted about this in my own life as I read the words of Charles Spurgeon this week who, though he pastored thousands of people, led dozens of ministries, wrote prolifically, and suffered from great bouts of sickness and depression, still agonized over lost and hurting people. “He was consumed with the glory of God and the salvation of men.”
He once said:
“I remember, when I have preached at different times in the country, and sometimes here, that my whole soul has agonized over men, every nerve of my body has been strained and I could have wept my very being out of my eyes and carried my whole frame away in a flood of tears, if I could but win souls.” ()
Neither was Spurgeon ever satisfied with the amount of people that were saved under his ministry. “The year he turned 40 he delivered a message to his pastor’s and teacher’s conference with a one-word title, ‘Forward!’. In it he said,
‘It is all very well to write essays, but what souls have you been the means of saving from going down to hell? Your excellent management of your school interests me, but how many children have been brought into the church by it? We are glad to hear of those special meetings, but how many have really been born to God in them? Are saints edified? Are sinners converted? To swing to and fro on a five-barred gate, is not progress; yet some seem to think that it is. I see them in a kind of perpetual Elysium, humming over to themselves and their friends, ‘We are very comfortable.’ God save us from living in comfort while sinners are sinking into hell! …. In every minister’s life there should be traces of stern labour. Brethren, do something; do something; DO SOMETHING. While Committees waste their time over resolutions, do something. While Societies and Unions are making constitutions, let us win souls. Too often we discuss, and discuss, and discuss, while Satan only laughs in his sleeve, … I pray you, be men of action all of you. Get to work and quit yourselves like men… Our one aim is to save sinners, and this we are not merely to talk about, but to effect in the power of God.” (From Desiring God and Spurgeon)
I admit that I have never felt about the lost the way that Spurgeon felt… and that is a shame to me, and it isn’t right. And I have sought God’s forgiveness for it. We must pray that God gives HIS a heart for the lost, just as Jesus tried to do for the disciples.
A Test of Faith
Jesus’ words and actions in Mark 7:27 obviously have meaning to the woman too. He said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? “Dogs” was a common name that Jews would call Gentiles, and the gentiles knew it.
The meaning of what Jesus is saying is that the Jews took precedence over the gentiles during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He came for them first, just like in a family, the children get fed before the dogs do. The children are the Jews, you and I and all the gentiles, are the dogs. Paul repeated this in Romans 1:16 when he said that the Gospel was “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”. If it makes you feel better, some translations will use the word “puppies”, implying a house pet rather than a dirty, scavenging, street-dog. Not much better though, is it?
The harshness of Jesus words were not an accident, nor were they racist. This is the second reason Jesus said what he did: His words were a test the woman’s faith in God, understanding of who Jesus is, and her place in the Kingdom of God. It was a short, but very meaningful conversation.
Our problem though is that sometimes Jesus’ claims, words, and plans cause us to rankle. His words are not comfortable, not politically correct, and go against our human wisdom. He annoys us with His exclusivity – why can’t He be more open minded? He frustrates us with His timeline – why can’t He be quicker? He says things, and tell us to say things, that get us into trouble – why can’t He just let us fly under the radar? He tells us to do things we don’t want to do – why won’t He just let me do things my way?
That’s all true – but the answer is: He’s Jesus, we’re Not. God is God, and I am not. His question is, “Even if you don’t agree with me, even if you don’t like it, even if you think you’re way is better, how will we respond to what I’m saying? Faith, fight or flight?
Her response in Verse 28 is what our response should be when Jesus says something difficult to us. What would you have done? Honestly? Called Him a sexist jerk? Walked away saying, “Well, if you’re going to be like that I don’t want your help!”? Lodged a formal complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission? Sued him for slander?
What does she do? She doesn’t argue, but instead, response with humility. She actually accepts her place as a gentile, second to the Jews. She humbles herself, calling Him Lord and herself a “dog”… but yet keeps asking for help.
That’s the kind of relationship that God desires we have with Him – and it causes us no end of frustration, because it means that we have to admit that He is Lord, and we’re a dog that is begging for scraps. It means we have to admit that we don’t deserve His grace. It means we have to humble ourselves before Him, prostrate on the ground– and yet stay persistent in prayer, asking for His help, because He’s the only one who can. We want to manipulate Him, force Him, make Him explain Himself – but we can’t. He’s God, we’re not.
We don’t turn away from Him, but keep knocking on His door, asking for salvation, asking for mercy, asking for a miracle because He’s the only one that can do it. There is nowhere else to turn!
Can you pray that prayer? “Yes, Jesus I know I don’t deserve to have you around me. I know you don’t belong here because you are holy and I am not. But I also know that You are good. I know I don’t deserve it, but I also know you are merciful, and I need your help. “
That kind of humility, the admission that we are dogs, sinners, undeserving, barely worthy of the crumbs off a Jewish family’s table, goes against our nature –even as Christians. We’re so used to the Bible verses that tell us we are loved, chosen, desired, predestined, children of God… but we must, must, must remember where we started. Our ancestors rejected God, God’s people, God’s law, and God’s prophets. We rejected Jesus when He came to earth – most of us to ignorant to care, others had ancestors that were involved in His crucifixion. We who sit here today belonged outside of God’s people – but God invited us inside. We deserved nothing, He offered us eternal life.
In the account in Matthew it says that when she caught up to him, she fell at his feet and said three words, “Lord, Help me.” Similar words were spoken by the tax collector who refused to look up to pray, but looked down low, beat his chest and said, “Have mercy on me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) Words like these were spoken by Isaiah who looked at the holiness of God and said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) These are the words of Peter who saw the glory of Jesus and fell down before Jesus saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
It is that kind of heart that Jesus wants, that Jesus saves, that moves God’s hand.
In verses 29-30 we see Jesus’ response to her humility. He commends her for her humility and works the miracle she has asked for. She goes home to a healed child, and Jesus heads back home.
This is a difficult to understand story at first, and a difficult interaction for us to read – because of the pain of the woman, the hard hearts of the disciples, the patience of Jesus watching her suffer and waiting to help her – but hopefully we see that God used this moment in time for so much good. It’s hard watch God allowing someone to suffer, isn’t it?
Sometimes our troubles seem to make no sense to us. We ask the same questions that woman must have asked: Why would God allow this child to be demonized? Why would God allow one of our loved ones to suffer? Why would she have to travel so far to meet Jesus? Why doesn’t God just come to us where we’re at, instead of making us come to Him? Why would Jesus walk away from her, make her chase Him down the road, weeping after Him, insult her when she finally catches up, embarrass her in front of the disciples, and then test her resolve, when all she wanted was to have her baby back? Why does God put us through so much trial and trouble?
I can’t answer that question for your situation, but hopefully this story helps us to be able to trust that God knows what He’s doing.
This woman was put through all that trouble:
- So a group of disciples would learn compassion and be affected by her plight – and the plight of all lost souls and hurting people. It allowed them to understand a portion of Jesus’ heart for the hurting and the lost, something they didn’t have before. Because of her suffering many, many more people would be saved through the compassion of those same disciples.
- To show the disciples, and all believers that would read the Gospels, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not bound by borders and race. God’s plan for salvation would expand far beyond the small land of Judea, and our small corner of the world. Because of this woman’s journey, and her daughter’s suffering, we can learn that God detests racism and that His love is all-encompassing.
- She had to wait for so long, and go through so much to get His attention, so that the testimony of her humility would be an example to all people for all time for how we are to pray and keep praying. Her persistence in asking, seeking and knocking (Matthew 7:7) would be an example to all believers in their prayer life.
- Her tears were not wasted, nor was her daughter’s pain. Through it Jesus’ was able to show His power over demons, demonstrate His ability to heal over great distances, increase the woman’s faith, and deepen the disciples understanding of who Jesus was.
- And through her story, condemnation was brought upon the sins of the Jewish Religious experts, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Elders, and Scribes who claimed to know God, but didn’t understand Jesus 1/100 as well as this gentile mother did.