Lent 2 Reminiscere 2017

March 12, 2017 A+D
Matthew 15: 21-28

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God is in control of all that is visible and invisible.  Yet humanity is completely enslaved by Satan through sin. The only way out of this slavery is by Divine intervention. Christ has defeated the devil on our behalf on the cross and He liberates us from Satan by forgiving our sins and creating faith in us through His Word. Our Lutheran forefathers confessed this. The Apology to the Augsburg Confession says:

Human nature is enslaved and held captive by the devil, who deceives it with ungodly opinions and errors and incites it to all sorts of sins. However, just as the devil is not conquered without Christ’s help, so we, by our own powers, are unable to free ourselves from that slavery. World history itself shows how great is the strength of the devil’s rule. Blasphemy and wicked teachings fill the world, and in these bonds the devil holds enthralled those who are wise and righteous in the eyes of the world.[1]

And again:

Experience proves that hypocrites who try to keep the law by their own strength cannot accomplish what they set out to achieve. For human nature is far too weak to resist the devil by its own strength. He holds everyone captive who has not been set free through faith. Against the devil the power of Christ is needed. That is, because we know that on account of Christ we have the promise and are heard, we pray for the Holy Spirit to govern and defend us so that we may neither be deceived and thus err nor be driven to undertake anything against God’s will. So the psalm [68:18*] teaches, “You ascended the high mount, leading captives in your train and receiving gifts from people.” For Christ conquered the devil and gave us his promise and the Holy Spirit so that with God’s help we, too, might conquer. And 1 John 3[:8*], “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”[2]

This is precisely why the Canaanite woman came to Jesus. She was seeking mercy for her daughter because her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. She was praying to Christ for the Holy Spirit so that she and her daughter would be governed and defended by Him and no longer be subject to demons.

The woman’s prayer is good and God-pleasing. She confesses that He is the Christ. She asks for spiritual help. Yet Jesus answers her not a word. This was not, as it seemed, a refusal. Rather the Lord was teaching her to trust His Word. And she did.

She trusted the words and promises of God. Because of this she was able to ignore what she experienced.  Experience can’t be trusted. Experience might lead one to believe that the devil cannot be beaten and men cannot resist sin and there is no hope. Experience must be subjugated to Scripture and the woman does so. She clings to God’s Word. She keeps crying out.

The disciples become embarrassed. They asked the Lord to send her away. To which He says: “I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now she must fight reason. For reason would interpret these words to mean that Christ was not sent for her. Yet, again, she brings the Word of God to bear. For the prophet foretold:

Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Reason can’t be trusted. The Word of God might seem to contradict itself. The devil quotes Scripture. The woman humbles herself. She clings to the promise that is beyond both her understanding and her exegesis. The Holy One of Israel, the Son of David, came for the Gentiles in some way. He has beckoned her to run to Him. She needs His help for she cannot conquer demons without Him. So she persists.

Before we go further, it is important to note that it is not that difficult, in hindsight, to understand the Lord’s Words here. The fact is the Lord didn’t Himself go to the Gentiles, but, rather, after the resurrection, He sent the Apostles to the Gentiles; “first to the Jew, and then to the Greek.” So what He said to her was not false, but He meant it to sound false. He was putting her through the paces on purpose. It was not a trick. He did not deceive her. Nor was His intent that she give up. Rather He knew what was good for her. Throughout the encounter He is exercising her faith, making it stronger.

Finally, she throws herself down in front of Him and asks for help. He says that it is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs. In her humility and trust, she accepts the insult.  Faith is always, in a sense, miraculous but this is astounding. Even after all she has been through with Him, she does not protest. She simply reminds the Lord of His promise. She doesn’t want the children’s bread. She only wants the crumbs that fall from the table, from His bread. The eyes of all look to Thee, O Lord, and Thou givest them their meat in due season. He feeds the leviathans and the conies as well as the Children of Israel and so, too, does He feed Gentiles and dogs.

At last, He relents. He praises her faith. Her daughter is healed of the demons.

This account ought to warn us of the danger and reality of demons. We ought to pray “deliver us from evil” with renewed zeal and force. This account ought also to show us something of the character of persistence in prayer and of humility. But ultimately, that for which the woman is praised, is her faith. Only she and the Gentile centurion receive such praise in the Gospels. She trusts God to be good. She believes that He will keep His promise to deliver us from evil. She will not be dissuaded from this despite appearances or reason or even experience. She knows that she cannot overcome the demons on her own, but she also knows that God is in control and has sent the Messiah for this very purpose.

May the Son of David, in His mercy, give us all such faith that we cling to God’s Word and not lose hope.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[1] Ap. II. 47 in Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 119.

[2] Ap. III. 17 in Kolb-Wengert, 142.

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