Matthew 15

Matthew 15 by David Groendyk

God is sovereign over all things, including the placement of each chapter in Scripture. Matthew 15 is one of those chapters that looks like a preacher’s dream during a pandemic. Someone being rebuked for not washing their hands? It seems all too appropriate. However, appearances can be deceiving, and in reality nobody has germs on their mind. The point of Jesus’s interaction with the Pharisees (vv. 1–20) is that outward cleanliness and traditions are not as important as what’s in the heart. The tradition Jesus addresses in verse 5 is one where a person would dedicate all their belongings to God after they die. Of course, while that person still lived, they were free to use all their belongings—they wouldn’t actually go to God until after they died. So, when that person’s aged father or mother would come to them and, let’s say, ask for financial help, the person would respond, “Sorry mom and dad, it’s all been dedicated to God. I can’t give it to you.” Do you see what’s going on? People would cling to this seemingly-good tradition and use it as an excuse not to keep the fifth commandment. This is what happens when we’re not willing to re-examine and re-think our traditions. Man made traditions become more important to us than God’s commandments. We need always to be taking a fresh look at Scripture and a fresh look at our lives and habits. Have you fallen into a rut with some of the “spiritual” things you do? As individuals? As families? As a church? Are your traditions truly honoring to God? Are you really obeying Christ through them? Or are they there simply so that it looks like you’re doing good?

This outward appearance vs. inward reality theme continues in Jesus’s interaction with the Canaanite woman (vv. 21–28). Unless we get some backstory, the full weight of this conversation won’t really hit us, so here goes. This Canaanite woman is being set up by Matthew as the most unclean of unclean people out there. For one, she’s a woman. In our 21st century American culture, that doesn’t mean anything; but in 1st century Palestine, women were considered lesser than men. Second, she’s a Canaanite from Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon were geographically far away from Jerusalem, and, symbolically, they were far from Jerusalem in spirituality. This is the place where sinners lived. This was a place of great darkness. This woman is being set up to look like the farthest thing from a “clean” Jew that there could be. Even Jesus calls her a dog (v. 26). Now, what does that mean? I don’t know fully, but we can all be sure that Jesus was not sinning when he says this. He wasn’t being rude or insulting, and he didn’t hate this woman. At the very least, Jesus is indicating that he didn’t come to the earth to go to the Gentiles… right away. His mission was, first, to go to the Jews. That wasn’t his full mission, to be sure, but that was his first mission.

But despite Jesus telling her that, this woman is ready with a quick reply. She doesn’t give up. She keeps going after Jesus. She keeps dogging him, to keep the metaphor going. And Jesus’s final reply is amazing: “O woman, great is your faith!” (v. 28). If we look at the chapters surrounding Matthew 15, this Canaanite woman is set in stark contrast to those who have “little faith” in 14:31, 16:8, and 17:20. What’s even more shocking is that in all three of those passages it’s the disciples themselves who have the little faith! This dirty Gentile woman has greater faith than the disciples. How? Because she knows that she’s a sinner (v. 27), and she begs for Jesus’s mercy (v. 22). Only when we know ourselves as sinners and beg for mercy are we displaying true faith. No matter how low you are, how dirty you feel, or what you’ve done, Jesus has come to earth to show you mercy by taking away your sin and by giving you new life.

A fellow pastor recently preached on this text, and after the sermon they sang the contemporary hymn “His Mercy Is More”, one of my favorite contemporary hymns and one we sometimes sing at Tyrone. Read these lyrics and meditate on God’s mercy to you in Christ:

Verse 1: What love could remember no wrongs we have done? Omniscient, all-knowing, he counts not their sum. Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore; our sins they are many, His mercy is more.

 Chorus: Praise the Lord! His mercy is more! Stronger than darkness, new every morn’, our sins they are many, his mercy is more.

 Verse 2: What patience would wait as we constantly roam? What Father so tender is calling us home? He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor; our sins they are many, his mercy is more.

 Praise the Lord! His mercy is more! Stronger than darkness, new every morn’, our sins they are many, his mercy is more.

His Mercy is More  by Matt Boswell | Matt Papa

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