When Heaven Is Silent
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 15:21 (Holman) When Jesus left there, He withdrew to the area of Tyre and Sidon.
Jesus felt compelled to leave Israel. He needed, for a while, to be away from Herod’s malice, away from religious leaders who wanted Him dead, away from the exhaustion and hubbub caused by a rabble wanting to make Him king.
Jesus, knowing the end was drawing near, needed time to talk alone with the Twelve. There could be no privacy in Israel. Crowds were swarming Him there.
Jesus went north, to Phoenicia, modern Lebanon, where He was less known, but not totally unknown. People from there had traveled to Israel to find, and be healed by, Jesus. One lady had heard their stories, and came quickly to the Healer.
Matt. 15:22a Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came and kept crying out, . . .
Of the several reasons why Jesus headed north, this lady was one. He went knowing He needed rest, yet also knowing a lady there needed to be blessed.
The significance of the event in our text to religious history would be hard to overstate. Jesus’ first step across the border was pregnant with significance.
In order to find a living, vibrant faith, He had to leave behind an Israel filled with cold, dead, ritualistic religion. Don’t miss the importance of this fact.
It is possible for God to turn His back on a group that was previously His. He has often withdrawn His Spirit from a religious group, a denomination, a local church, a parachurch ministry. Our salvation is secure, but not our usefulness.
Israel had been offered much, but was believing little. Jesus left His people behind to go to Gentiles who had been offered little, but seemed ready to believe.
Our story, an early gleam of the light that would light the Gentiles (Luke 2:32), foreshadowed the spreading of the Gospel to the whole world. This event is a good reminder as to why we need to go, to penetrate this world’s darkest places.
Faith dwells in unexpected places, and is sometimes stronger among people least evangelized. Beware snobbish, insulated, exclusiveness against outsiders.
Refusing to be clannish, Jesus crossed the border of Israel, though there was nothing beautiful or winsome drawing Him. This Canaanite woman’s religion was grotesque, based on fertility gods whose worship called for pornographic rituals.
When Jesus stepped across the line, there was, for most of us here today, nothing pretty in our ancestors wooing Him. Our forebears in Germany’s Black Forest were worshiping a goat-god. Celtic communities were dominated by priestly Druids, notorious for ritual killings and for sacrificing first-born children to the gods. We Gentiles were not a pretty sight, but Jesus came our way anyway.
God forgive our ingratitude. It grieves me to see people trying to remove from our culture every vestige of Jesus, the One who made us the jewel we are.
May He make us like this woman who, to this day I’m sure, is still thanking Jesus for coming into her dark world. We in the USA should be doing the same.
Matt. 15:22b “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly tormented by a demon.”
Had Jesus not moved toward this lady, she probably would have never moved toward Him. There was some travel between Phoenicia and Israel, but not a lot, especially for common people. Jesus knew He had to make the first move.
In spiritual matters, when it comes to unbelievers, Christ-followers are to take the initiative. Outsiders will come in direct proportion to how much we go.
I appreciate this lady’s obsession with her daughter’s spiritual condition. She knew the girl needed help from the heavenly realms. I wish more people in our day and age would earnestly plead for God to free our children from the devil.
I fear we often fall victim to a subtle “all is well” mentality. “Our children aren’t involved much in church, but are good, upstanding citizens; they pay taxes, spend every weekend with family on the lake, none of their kids are on drugs, etc.”
For many parents, an adequate scenario is, “If they aren’t in jail or on drugs, they’re okay.” No! This is not enough! Pray for a wayward child’s spirituality.
Once a family deviates from God, however small the divergence seems, it is only a matter of time before they will deviate from good. At some point, sin, pain, sadness, and suffering will crowd into their lives. Pray they’ll be right with God.
Matt. 15:23a Yet He did not say a word to her.
Whoa! This seems out of character for the Jesus we know and love. While on a missionary mission of mercy, a Gentile came to Him with a valid request.
Yet Jesus is silent. The woman is in the throes of a wild passion; He’s impassive. She’s crying out; He’s quiet. Silence is awkward, particularly to big talkers. We are uncomfortable with it, especially if God is the One being quiet.
On closer examination, Jesus’ silence and the other ways He dealt with this woman become easy to explain. The moral of the story is, Jesus strengthens faith by testing it. Serious about His relationship with His people, Jesus isn’t interested in shallow, superficial faith. He tested her faith by setting up a series of obstacles.
His handling of her faith fits a word-play: prove, reprove, improve. First, Jesus will prove her faith, assess what it’s made of. Faith is measured by conflict.
Something we crave is not given, a sickness not healed, a foreclosure not stopped; no job is available. In trials like these, we learn where we are spiritually.
Second, Jesus will reprove her faith. During this moment of silence, Jesus is seeing a woman whose faith is misdirected. She sees only a wonder-worker, a healer. She has to grow beyond this. Jesus is not a sideshow, nor is He Santa Claus; He is the living God, and faith is inadequate until this truth is fully grasped.
Third, Jesus will improve her faith. She will become for the Twelve and all believers thereafter a classic example, a role model, of what faith should look like.
When Heaven seems made of brass, when the world mocks our pain by carrying on as if nothing of consequence has happened to us, when God is silent, remember three words: prove, reprove, improve. In His silence, God is proving us. One true test of effective spirituality is to love God even when He is quiet.
God is reproving us. Always be examining yourself. Search deep within to see if there is any wicked way in us that would cause God to be silent toward us.
We may feel we are being punished for our sins. This can be the case. God will not undo consequences, but He will forgive us, restore full fellowship, and help us bear whatever burden we face. He wants us to go on, not looking back.
God is improving us. In the crucible, we learn how to pray better, if we don’t give up. While working on this sermon, I had the privilege of attending the wedding of two of our finest young adults. Barron Hagerman helps us in media and with computers. Betsy Shock is a vocalist in our 11:00 praise band. Betsy’s written comments about Barron on their wedding program said exactly what I had been trying to pull together in my thoughts. Her eloquence speaks for itself.
While it was far from love at first sight, I was quickly intrigued by
Barron. During my quest to discover more about him, I developed a genuine love for a guy who could not stand to be around me. Many
chalked it up to a silly crush, but the Lord would not let me move on.
Over two years of my prayer journal is filled with pleas to the Lord to change my heart or to change his and, either way, to please grow
Barron into the man of God the Lord calls him to be. This seemed to
go on forever with no answer in either direction, but the Lord was busy refining me, making sure that my words about him being the desire of
my heart were not just lip service.
Amen. Well said, Betsy. Lord, refine us. Prove, reprove, and improve us.