2019-6-16 A Persistent Heart

A Persistent Heart
Mark 7:24-30
June 16, 2019

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 ’First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’

28 ’Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’

29 Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer for Illumination:

Guide us, O God, by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus has publicly spoken out against the Pharisees about tradition; that the bible should be the most authoritative aspect of our lives and our traditions should not be contradiction to it. He has corrected them and his disciples on what actually makes someone unclean, it is our sinful desires that actually defile us. And it is after that encounter he leaves Galilee and heads toward Tyre.

Why? Well, tension and pressure have been mounting. Herod, the ruler of the region, is disturbed by Jesus’ ministry. He was the one who beheaded John the Baptist and he was haunted by it. John had called out Herod’s sin and Herod didn’t like it, so he imprisoned him. Herod’s wife didn’t think that was sufficient. And so when Herod’s birthday rolled around, she orchestrated events so that Herod would kill John. Jesus has been ministering for a little over a year and his ministry reminds Herod of John. And that scares him. So Herod and those loyal to him are not happy with Jesus.

On the other hand the Pharisees are upset that this rabbi from Galilee is saying things against them. Jesus is proclaiming the Word of God, he is healing people, but often what he says flies in the face of the Pharisees and their traditions. We’ve seen several episodes of that, last week included. So the Pharisees are not happy with Jesus.

So Jesus and his disciples leave. It is not time for Jesus to be taken. They may also be leaving because they need rest. Remember, they tried to get away after the disciples’ mission and rest but their rest was interrupted, Mark 6:30-44. They may need some time to recuperate, debrief, and get some special training by Jesus. So for those reasons, they leave Galilee.

They go to the vicinity of Tyre. Tyre was a large administrative city in modern Lebanon, roughly twenty miles north along the coast. Twenty miles doesn’t seem all that far but keep in mind, this is before mass transportation. No planes, trains, or automobiles. They almost certainly would have gone on foot. And that would take a day maybe two for Jesus and the disciples to reach the vicinity of Tyre.

Tyre was never part of Israel. It was a pagan city. Now, Jews had lived there since the Exile but it had always been a pagan city. Before the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians, Tyre was Phoenician. The Phoenicians were a pagan people who lived in modern Lebanon and had spread to parts of Northern Africa and Spain.

The Pharisees would have considered the region unclean. It seems deliberate on Jesus’ part to go to a place that the Pharisees would consider unclean right after discussing and explaining that nothing that comes in makes someone unclean but only what comes out of the heart. Jesus is deliberately going to a place that the Pharisees would consider unclean to prove his point.

Jesus and the disciples travel to Tyre in secret. They don’t make a big to-do of entering Tyre. They want some peace and quiet. But Jesus is a well-known rabbi. People from the vicinity of Tyre have traveled to Capernaum to hear Jesus preach. Some have been healed by him. Even though he’s not making a big deal of arriving, he’s recognized. And even though there isn’t Twitter or Facebook, news spreads. We live in a small town and I’m sure each of us have experienced just how quickly news can travel. Jesus is recognized and news spreads.

And when one woman hears that Jesus of Nazareth is in town, she immediately gets up and goes to where people were saying they had seen Jesus. She finds him and his disciples in a house, enters and falls at his feet, begging. See her daughter is not well. She has an unclean spirit. Her daughter would randomly convulse and fall down. She might cry out and scream obscenities at any hour.

So this woman, this mother, comes to Jesus knowing that he has healed others and hopes that he will heal her daughter. She falls at his feet and begs. Our translation simply says “she begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter”. The word in Greek means that she continually begged. Over and over, she was begging with Jesus to heal her daughter from the unclean spirit.

Jesus responds saying, “First let the children eat all they want for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Even though we are a canine loving society, we hear Jesus’ words and we cringe. We think Jesus is saying that she is a dog. And even though we love dogs, we know that calling someone a dog is always offensive.

But that’s not what he is doing. Jesus is not calling the woman a dog. He is actually speaking a parable to her. He is testing her faith. The word he uses is “little dog”. We might say puppy. What Jesus is saying is, “There is an order. First the little kids eat and then the puppies eat. It would be wrong to reverse that order.”

Jesus is pointing out that his mission is first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. When Jesus says first, he is establishing a temporal order. The order is first to the Jews then to the Gentiles.

Hundreds of years before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah said, “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)[2] Isaiah had a vision of a time when the Servant of the Lord would come. First he would come and restore Israel. He would come, raise them up, and after ministering in Israel he would go to all the nations.

That is the order. Jesus first ministers to the Jews and once that ministry is considered complete, then he will minister to the Gentiles. That was the order of how the gospel spread throughout the world. It started first with the Jews and then it spread to the Gentiles. That’s the same order that the Apostle Paul takes. In all of his missionary endeavors, he would start first with the Jews in the synagogue and then he would go to the Gentiles.

The woman is certainly offended by Jesus’ words. In fact, she takes it as an invitation. She responds. She says, “Lord even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She enters into parable. She understands that Jesus is testing her and she gives a response. She points out that puppies sitting under the table lap up the crumbs that the kiddos drop.

This woman displays more understanding that anyone else so far in Mark’s gospel. She doesn’t need any help in understanding the parable. Even the disciples need help understanding Jesus’ parables. But she doesn’t. She understands. She is saying, “I may not have a place at the table – but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now.”[3] She does not want to divert the order that the good news is to be first proclaimed to the Jews and then the Gentiles. She simply wants some of the scraps. She recognizes that she doesn’t have a leg to stand but humbly asks Jesus to heal her daughter. She’s asking not because she deserves it or is good enough. She is asking because Jesus is good.

Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ 30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” Jesus is impressed. She is the first person to understand one of his parables. She is the first person not just to hear the words that Jesus has spoken, but to understand what he is saying. She is the first person to hear the gospel. This woman is the first to recognize that salvation comes not because someone is good enough or deserves it. She recognizes that it comes because Jesus is good.

What does this mean for us today?

Application

First this passage teaches us that the gospel is for all people. Yes the gospel started temporally with the Jews but it spread to the Gentiles as well. It is easy for us to think that the gospel is for people like us, good clean people But not for those people, those who are unclean. We might think that they’re unclean because of their sexual sin, heterosexual or homosexual sin, and think we don’t want them here to hear the gospel. Or maybe we think they’re unclean because their culture is different than ours and so we don’t share the gospel with them.

But this passage shows that the gospel is for all people. It started temporally with the Jews but then spread to the Gentiles, so that each and every tribe and tongue can hear the gospel. Within a generation, the Church had to discuss this very issue. In Acts 15, the elders of the Church gather in Jerusalem to discuss who is the gospel for. Is the gospel for Jews and those who convert to Judaism or is it for all people? That was the question that the elders in Jerusalem were considering. The decision was that the gospel was for all people, regardless of ethnic status; they said the gospel is for those who are clean as well as those who are unclean.

Let us remember that. As we are going and making disciples, let us share the gospel with all people. Let us share the gospel with people like us and people not like us. Let us share the gospel with those who share our culture and those who don’t. The gospel is for all people.

Secondly, this passage teaches us about humility. Look at the end of verse 25. She fell at Jesus’ feet. That is a true sign of humility. She recognizes that she is unable to do anything to save her daughter. So she falls at the feet of Jesus humbly asking that he would do something. Let me ask you, are you humble enough to fall at the feet Jesus and ask him for help? Are you even willing to admit that you can do nothing to contribute to your salvation?

If you really struggle with either prayer or believing the gospel this might be why. To pray and to receive the gospel both require humility. They require that you be humble to enough to recognize you are unable to provide salvation for yourself and that you cannot meet your need on your own. If this is the case, then at some level you believe you are able to provide salvation for yourself and that you can meet your own needs.

If this is starting to touch a nerve, then listen. The Holy Spirit is prompting you. Don’t resist. Admit that you struggle with humility. Admit it to yourself, admit to the God, and admit it to a close Christian friend. That’s the first step.

One of my favorite authors is Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor was a southern writer who wrote during the 50s and 60s. One of her first stories is The Geranium. The story is about an old man who has moved in with his daughter’s family in New York City. He spends of his day complaining about how he has to live in New York City when he would rather be back home in the South. The only joy he gets is looking at the geranium the apartment across the alley puts out for sun around 10.

When the geranium isn’t put out, he decides to go and walk down the six flights of stairs and tell the people to put the geranium out. The only problem is that as he’s going down the stairs, he falls, and he can’t get up. His daughter’s neighbor walks in the front door right after his fall. The neighbor tries to help the man up but the man refuses. He says that he can do it. But he can’t. It isn’t until he humbly admits that he can’t get up that the neighbor picks him up and leads him up the stairs.

The first step is to admit that you struggle with humility. Then once you admit that, be honest about your need. Honestly go before God and confess your need for him.

Thirdly this passage teaches to be persistent in prayer. The woman continually begs that Jesus would heal her daughter from the unclean spirit. She doesn’t stop after asking once and receiving no answer. She asked over and over that Jesus would do something. She persisted in asking for Jesus’ help.

J.C. Ryle says this about persistence. He writes:

Perseverance in prayer is a point of great moment. Our hearts are too apt to become cool and indifferent, and to think that it is no use drawing near to God. Our hands soon hang down and our knees grow weak. Satan is always working to draw us off from our prayers, and filling our minds with reasons why we may give them up. These things are true with respect to all prayers, but they are especially true with respect to prayers for other people. They are always far more meager than they ought to be. They are often attempted for a little while, and then left off. We see no immediate answer to our prayers. We see the persons for whose souls we pray continuing in sin. We draw the conclusion that it is useless to pray for them, and allow our intercession to come to an end.[4]

He is so right. So often our hearts are too cool and indifferent and we do not persist. We pray for something, and we don’t get what we prayed for right away so we stop praying. Maybe you were praying that a friend would come to faith and that friend continues in unbelief. And so you stopped praying. You didn’t persist. Or maybe you were praying for wisdom and answers but they didn’t come in your time. So you stopped praying. You didn’t persist. Or maybe you were praying for a thorn in your flesh to be removed. But after praying for a few days or a few weeks, the thorn remained. So you stopped praying. You didn’t persist.

Bishop Ryle continues. “In order to arm our minds with arguments for perseverance in prayer for others, let us often study the case of this woman. Let us remember how she prayed on and did not faint in the face of great discouragement. Let us note how at last she went home rejoicing, and let us resolve by God’s grace to follow her example.”[5]

He notes wonderfully and correctly that we should be like this woman. We should continue to persist in prayer even in the face of discouragement. Continue to pray for your friends and loved ones who do not belief. Persist in that prayer. Continue to pray for wisdom and answers, even when they seem not to come. Persist in that prayer.

After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Christianity was made illegal. While it was illegal, Christianity was hard to stamp out. Christianity had been part of Russian culture since the late 800s. But the Communist government tried. Evangelism was outlawed. If anyone wanted to move up in their careers they needed to reject Christianity. But the one group who had nothing to lose and nothing to fear were the widows. The Communist government didn’t fear them and they thought that what could these old women do? Well these widows prayed every day for the fall of Communism and for Christianity to be legal again. And when nothing changed, these women continued to pray. They persisted in prayer. And that prayer was answered 70 years after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Persist in prayer. Persist even when it seems hopeless. Continue to pray. Continue to humbly go before the Lord and ask him. Persist and you will not be disappointed.

[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 7:24–30). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 49:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Keller, Timothy J. (2011). Jesus the King (p.95 ) New York, New York: Riverhead Books.

[4] Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark (pp. 107–108). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[5] Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark (pp. 108). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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