Matthew Bible Study (The Gospel of the King and the Kingdom of Heaven)

Matthew 15:21-39, Come To The Table


One of the characteristics of Jesus’ ministry is that he challenged the interest level of people who claimed to want help or claimed to want to follow him. When people said that they wanted to follow him, Jesus did not simply respond, “Ok.” Jesus would do something to see if the desire is genuine. In Matthew 8:19 we read about a scribe saying that he would follow Jesus wherever he went. But Jesus challenged his desire by responding that he had nowhere to sleep. Do you want to follow if you do not have a place to lay down at night? In that same paragraph a disciple told Jesus he would follow him after he buried his father. But Jesus responded that he needed to follow him now and let the dead bury the dead.

We see this happen when people cried out to Jesus for mercy and help. In Matthew 9:27 we read about two blind men following behind Jesus, crying out for mercy. Jesus did not respond. Instead, Jesus went into the house and the two blind men followed him into the house. Jesus then asked them if they believed that he could do this. In Matthew 20:30 Jesus walks by two blind men who cry out for mercy. Jesus does not immediately respond. The crowds tell these blind men to be quiet but the blind men cry out all the more. Then Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32). What I want us to see is Jesus doing this with intention. Faith and desire are being checked. Do you really want to follow me? Do you really believe in who I am and what I can do? Jesus is not a carnival act who just heals people. Jesus is working among the people to save people from their sins, using miracles to prove who he is.

This is important to remember as we come to Matthew 15:21 because we come to an account in Jesus’ ministry that trips people up when they read what Jesus says and does. We see in verse 21 that Jesus leaves Galilee of the Jewish people and goes to the area of Tyre and Sidon. To underscore this situation, we are told that a Canaanite woman came. The term “Canaanite” recalls Israel’s historical enemies. The Canaanites were the people who lived in the land before the Lord brought the Hebrews out of Egypt to conquer the land of Canaan. The reason for the conquest was God was bringing judgment for their wickedness. So she lives in the region of Tyre and Sidon and she is a Canaanite, all of which indicates this woman to be an outsider and a bloodline enemy of God’s people.

But something stunning happens. She comes to Jesus saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” She calls Jesus the Messiah who would save the world in the term, “Son of David.” She calls Jesus her Lord, or her master. She also calls to Jesus wanting him to extend mercy to her because she has a daughter who is severely oppressed by a demon. This Gentile Canaanite woman has awareness of who Jesus is. Now here is the great irony. In the last paragraph we saw the Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem to Jesus to challenge him because they reject him (Matthew 15:1). This account opens with a Gentile Canaanite woman coming to Jesus, not to reject him, but to find mercy from the Lord and Messiah.

Three Responses of Jesus (15:21-28)

Now this is where people seem to get upset. Jesus has three interesting responses to this woman that cause them to bristle at it. In verse 23 we read that Jesus did not answer a word to her. Now I hope that I set up for us that this is a response that Jesus uses with others, including the people in the land of Israel. There is no reason to see Jesus’ lack of an answer as meaning that he is no interest in her. Jesus’ lack of a response sets up seeing what will be the response of everyone else.

Jesus does not answer. But carefully read verse 23. Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus to send her away. Why do they want to send her away? It is not because she is a Gentile or a Canaanite. Send her away because she keeps crying out after us. This Canaanite woman will not leave them alone. The disciples think that if you are not going to answer her then send her away. She’s following after us and keeps crying out to us. You can imagine her repeatedly yelling at the top of her voice, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”

Look at the answer Jesus gives his disciples in verse 24. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now this is a really curious response. The disciples may have meant by “send her away” to heal her and send her away. So Jesus then says that his mission is the lost sheep of Israel. It is also possible that the disciples meant that Jesus needs to send her away without healing her and Jesus reminds them of the mission because he is going to show them what his work means. Either way, the woman will not be turned away. In verse 25 she comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet, begging for help.

Jesus’ third response appears to be dismissive again. Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Again, Jesus is not being mean. Jesus is challenging her just like he challenged everyone who came to him for healing. Jesus’ response is clarifying to her who he is and what he has come to do. Have you come for healing or have you come because you truly know who I am and what I have come to do? Look at her response in verse 27 because it is amazing. She says that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

Her knowledge is amazing. Her faith is amazing. Even Jesus says such in verse 28. She knows that the blessings of the Messiah were not restricted to Israel. The blessings that were to come to Israel through the Messiah would reach to the whole earth. The kingdom of heaven would not merely impact Israel, but would impact the whole earth, including the Gentiles. She understood this truth which many in Israel did not understand. It appears that she understands what the prophets were saying.

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV)

The work of the Messiah did not stop in Israel. The work of the Messiah would be a light to the nations so that the ends of the earth would be saved. This is the faith she is expressing. You are the Lord. You are the Son of David. Have mercy on us also because your work would bless everyone, not just Israel. She has great faith and healing came to her family because of her faith in Jesus. She had great faith to come to the table because she understood her need, who Jesus is, and who she is. She comes to the table and is persistent. She will not be sent away. She wants nothing but Jesus and nothing else will satisfy her. She even says that the crumbs from the Lord are enough to satisfy. This woman’s great faith sets up the next two paragraphs of Matthew 15 as a call for us to come to Jesus’ table.

Come To The Table and Be Healed (15:29-31)

Jesus goes to walking beside the Sea of Galilee. We should see Jesus in the eastern side of the sea, still in Gentile territory. Jesus will not cross back to Galilee until chapter 16. Further, the parallel account in Mark confirms that Jesus is still working among the Gentiles in Decapolis (cf. Mark 7:31). This is important to understand as we read these accounts. Great crowds are coming to Jesus, bringing the lame, blind, crippled, mute, and many other afflictions and diseases. What does Jesus do? Does Jesus say that he has only come for the lost sheep of Israel? No. Verse 30 says that they put them at the feet of Jesus and he healed them. Notice what happens in verse 31. These Gentiles glorified the God of Israel. The God of Israel is the true and living God. Our gods are useless. The gods of the Greeks and Romans are nothing. The God of Israel is glorified by the Gentiles. These Gentiles come to the table and are healed.

Come To The Table and Find Compassion (15:32)

In verse 32 we see a similar account to what we read in Matthew 14:13-21. Jesus tells his disciples that he has compassion for these people who have been with him three days with nothing to eat. Please think about this picture. These crowds have been with Jesus for three days without anything to eat. No one is leaving. No one is saying they need to find a bed and will come back tomorrow. No one is saying that they need to go get dinner and will be back later. Jesus says that they will faint on the way if I send them away now.

Please see this important truth. Jesus’ compassion for Israel is the same as his compassion for the Gentiles. Jesus does not look at this crowd and say that he does not care for them because he has only come for the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus has compassion on this crowd just like he has for all the other crowds that he has encountered. Jesus does not care about one person less than another. We are missing this truth in our world today. Jesus cares for the person in the car next to you just as much as he cares for you. Jesus cares for the outsider just as much as he cares for the insider. Jesus has compassion for the people and if you will come to the table, you will find compassion and healing.

Come To The Table and Find Satisfaction (15:33-39)

Now what we read in Matthew 14 appears to happen again in Matthew 15. The disciples recognize that they are unable to feed this large crowd of people. But Jesus takes the seven pieces of bread and a few small fish, gives thanks to the Father, and gave them to the disciples who gave them to the crowd. Please look at verse 37. “And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” Do you remember the message that we saw with the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew 14? The message was Jesus provides, satisfies, and gives abundantly more than we need.

What is the message here as he feeds the 4000 besides women and children? Jesus provides, satisfies, and gives abundantly more than we need, even to the Gentiles. The Gentiles not only receive equal compassion but also receive equal provision and satisfaction with the lost sheep of Israel.

The Message

So what is the message today? Jesus wants everyone to come to the table. No one is excluded from his offer to come to the table. You can come to the table and find compassion. You can come to the table and find provision. You can come to the table and find satisfaction. You can come to the table and find abundantly more than you need for life.

But Jesus will challenge our faith and challenge our cry to see if we understand who he is and what he has come to do. Sometimes we will cry out and it will seem like Jesus says nothing back. Do not stop crying out to him. We need to be like these people who keep crying out to him, “Have mercy on me!” We need to keep crying out to him, “Lord, help me!” Do not cry out and stop. Do not walk away because you do not immediately get the answer you want.

Jesus often wants us to check ourselves as we come to him. Do we understand our need? Persistence comes from desperation. It is so easy to become comfortable in this life that we do not see our real needs. This was the problem with the church in Laodicea. They did not see their need. They said that they are rich, have prospered, and do not need anything. They were perfectly content to live life without Jesus. They did not see that they were poor, wretched, blind, naked, and pitiable. They did not see their need because they were looking at their physical treasures. The people who come to the table see their real needs. They see their problems. They see their emptiness. They see their sins. They feel their guilt.

Do we understand who we are? The people who come to the table understand who they are. This woman does not recoil at the idea of being a dog at the master’s table. She accepts it and says that she wants any crumb from the table. We need to see who we are. We cannot come to the table if we are not poor in spirit. Paul called himself the worst of sinners. Paul called himself unworthy to be called an apostle. We should all see ourselves as dogs wanting crumbs from the table.

Please think about that picture. I do not have a dog. I have eaten in many homes where there are dogs. Do you know what every dog wants to do during the meal? They sit either under the table or near the table and they are intently watching for anything to fall. They understand their position and are just hoping for any crumb to fall on the floor. We need to longingly desire the crumbs like that. We are unworthy servants who have done nothing to deserve even the crumbs that would fall.

Do we understand who Jesus is? If we understand who Jesus is, then we are not leaving. If we see him as the Lord and Master of our lives and the Savior of the world, then we are not leaving him. It does not matter if it has been three days without food, we are not leaving. It does not matter how hard life gets, we are not leaving. It does not matter what we lose, we are not leaving. It does not matter how uncomfortable our situation is, we are not leaving. When we understand that only he can provide, satisfy, and give more than we need, then we are not leaving him.

Now here is the good news. When the Canaanite woman understood her need and came to the table, and when she understood who she was and was willing to have some crumbs, did Jesus give her crumbs? No, she did not get the crumbs! She received a seat at the table. Jesus says that it was done for her as she desired. She was not turned away. She pulled up a chair, which is what the rest of the accounts were showing. You can have a seat at the table. If you come to him looking for the crumbs because you know who you are and you know what you need and you know who Jesus is, you are going to find a seat at the table. Jesus has what you need for life if you see your need, understand your position before him, and never leave him because you know he is the Lord and Savior you need. Come for the crumbs and you will find yourself invited to sit at the table.

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