Getting Answers from God
September 18th, 1966 @ 7:30 PM
GETTING ANSWERS FROM GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-18-66 7:30 p.m.
Turn in your Bible to the Gospel of Matthew, the First Gospel. And if you are listening on the radio to the services of this First Baptist Church in Dallas, this is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled Getting Answers from God. In Matthew, turn to chapter 15, chapter 15; and we read together verses 21 through 28 in the middle of the chapter, verses 21 through 28. Always on Sunday night there is a message from the life of our Lord; and this message is one of the most pertinent that I could ever prepare, Getting Answers from God. Now let us read the text out loud, everyone sharing his Bible with his neighbor if his neighbor does not have it; and all of us reading out loud together Matthew 15:21-28. Now together:
Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and besought Him, saying; Send her away; for she crieth after us.
But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Then came she and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, help me.
But He answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
This is the first time, and the only time, that you will read in the life of our Lord that He is out of those narrow geographical limits of Israel. Always His ministry has been to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And this one and only time does He depart on a great journey, a great circle, an arc; and in that departure He came into the land of Tyre and Sidon, a pagan, heathen, idolatrous country. You have here a portent, a harbinger, a promise of the universality of the gospel. It was not given of God just to be alone known in Judea or Galilee; but the Lord sent Christ our Savior that He might be the Lord of the whole earth. And this is a harbinger of the universality of the gospel [Matthew 15:21-28]. Like the magi, those Parsee priests coming from the East at His birth [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]; or like those Greeks who at the feast came to the disciple Andrew and said, “Sir, we would see Jesus” [John 12:21]. So the Lord has departed out of the land of Israel and is in a pagan and heathen country.
From the same story that is told in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we would suppose that the Lord withdrew in order that He might find somewhat of rest for Him and His disciples. For in the twenty-fourth verse of the seventh chapter of Mark, the evangelist writes that He would have no man know it [Mark 7:24]; the Lord apparently withdrew in order that He might find seclusion and personal affinity with His disciples. But the next clause here in that twenty-fourth verse in Mark says, “But He could not be hid” [Mark 7:24]. To hide the Lord Jesus would be like trying to hide the rising of the sun; there was something about His presence, His personality, His countenance, the shining of the glory of God in His face; there was something about Jesus that could not be hid. So even in a pagan and a heathen land, and His purpose to withdraw that He might be the more closely associated for a while with His disciples, yet in that pagan land it is known that the Lord is there [Matthew 7:24].
So while He is there, there comes to Him a woman who is very meticulously described; and that for a purpose. She is called here in Matthew “a woman of Canaan” [Matthew 15:22]; that is, she belonged to that old Canaanite-ist tribe that the Lord devoted to extinction because of their impossible, darkened, blasphemous ways [Deuteronomy 20:16-18]. Some of them lived, as you know, because when Israel entered into the land they were not all destroyed [Judges 1:21, 27-28]; and this woman is of the genealogy of that Canaanite-ist tribe that inhabited Palestine in the days of the patriarchs. Now she is further described in Mark, in that meticulous way, as “a woman who was a Greek” [Mark 7:26], that is she spoke Greek; she was a Greek-speaking Canaanite, and further described as a Syro-Phoenician by nation. She was a citizen of and subject to the government of Tyre and Sidon, the Phoenician government. Now there is a reason for that meticulous description of this woman, and you will see it in a moment.
This Canaanite-ist, Greek-speaking, Syro-Phoenician pagan had heard somewhat about the religion of the Jew, and had been introduced in some way to the Prophet of Nazareth. So she came to the Lord with a great burden on her heart: her daughter was grievously afflicted. How the demon—not devil, there’s only one diabolos—how that demon had afflicted her child is not described. She must have been grievously ill, grievously tormented, grievously demented; but the child, the daughter, was in a tragic and terrible and sorrowful estate. So that woman, having been introduced somewhat to the religion of the Jews and having heard of this Prophet of Nazareth who could heal, she came to Him and addressed Him, spoke to Him in the nomenclature of what of Jewry that she knew. She cried unto Him saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David” [Matthew 15:22]; which is very Jewish, very Israelite-ist in its content, in its build, in its nomenclature; “Have mercy upon me, O Thou Son of David”; which was a very unusual thing, had you not been introduced to the religious background of Israel at all, to see a pagan, Canaanite-ist woman come and importune Jesus as the “Son of David,” Israel’s great king.
Now when she addressed the Lord thus, first, the Book says, “He answered her not a word” [Matthew 15:23]. Now there are two reasons in that: first, the Lord would see how earnest she was in her importunity; and that is a strange thing about God that sometimes it is difficult for me to understand. The Lord does not force His way into our lives or into our hearts; if you want God out of your house, shut the door; if you want the Lord out of your life, dismiss Him; if you want nothing of Jesus, reject Him, and He will stay outside. Isn’t that an unusual thing, that God has made us creatures with that moral freedom of acceptance, of rejection, of opening the doors of our heart or closing the doors of our heart? And it enters every area of life. Do you remember the story of the storm on the sea? And the disciples were terrified, facing what seemed to be certain death. And Jesus came walking by on the water, and the Scriptures say, “And He walked by as though He would pass onward” [Mark 6:48], as though He would pass by. It was only when the disciples cried out that the Lord stopped and entered the boat, and hushed the winds and the waves [Mark 6:49-51]; at their invitation.
Do you remember the story of our risen Lord, our resurrected Lord, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke” [Luke 24:1-35]. On the way to Emmaus those two disciples, as they walked along and talked to this unknown Stranger, who was the Lord raised from the dead [Luke 24:13-15]; when they came to Emmaus, and those two living there started to turn into the house, Jesus, the unknown Stranger, made as though He would continue on; and it was only when those two disciples who lived in Emmaus invited the Lord into the house that He entered in and broke bread together with them [Luke 24:28-30]. This is the same kind of a situation here: the Lord will not intrude; He will not violate your moral freedom. And if God comes into your life, it will be at your importunity and at your invitation; He will not break down the barriers to your soul. So, “He answered her not a word” [Matthew 15:23]. “Does she seek really? Does she ask earnestly? Is it something of dire importunity by which she beseeches after Me?”
Now a second thing: not only would He see the depth of her appeal—and I haven’t time here to speak of it in our praying. When we pray casually, peripherally, God answers in kind; but when we pray earnestly, laying hold on the horns of the altar, God answers in kind. If you want a great answer from God, lay before God a great and earnest and importunate request. But I continue, there is a second reason why He answered her not a word [Matthew 15:23]: she came to Him a pagan, heathen, Canaanite-ish woman and did so in the name and in the nomenclature and in the likeness of a Jewish woman, “O, Thou, Son of David” [Matthew 15:22]. And the Lord answered and said: “I am not sent but unto the sheep of the lost house of Israel.” “If you come to Me in the language and the faith and the background of a Jewess, I have no answer, for I am sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And that does not include the Gentiles, who are beyond the covenant of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob” [Matthew 15:24].
Now I haven’t time to expatiate upon that; but back of that lies one of the great mysteries of the gospel. It was the rejection of Jesus that opened the floodgates of the mercies of God to us who are Gentiles [Romans 11:11-12]; for the covenants pertained to the children of Abraham, and the oracles of God were deposited in their hands [Romans 3:2, 9:4]; and we were lost and pagan and heathen peoples [Ephesians 2:12]. Read about our forefathers; it hasn’t been many centuries ago, according to the story of mankind, when our forefathers were savage, naked idol-worshipers. It has been in the mercy and grace of God [Romans 11:22], and in the rejection of Christ that the gospel was preached unto us [Romans 11:11-12]. That’s why Paul will say in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans: if the taking away of the natural branch has been our salvation, think what it is going to be someday when that branch is restored and Israel is glorified as the covenant people of God and as the apple of His eye [Romans 11:12, 15]. Ah, there are great things in store for us someday, some glorious day, when Jesus receives His own [Romans 11:26], and when His own people look upon Him who they pierced and accept Him as their Messiah and Savior [Zechariah 12:10].
Now to return: when she cried, “O, Son of David” [Matthew 15:22], as a Jewess, she had no part in the covenants and in the oracles of God; they pertain to the house of Israel. And He said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [Matthew 15:24]. Then is there not some other way, is there not some other approach? If the promises were to the fathers, and the covenants pertained to the children of Jacob, and if the oracles of God were deposited in their hands, what shall become of a heathen and pagan and Canaanite-ish woman? What shall she do? [Matthew 15:22]. She cannot plea, “Father Abraham” [John 8:39], she cannot plea, “I belong to the genealogy of the chosen family.” What shall she do? Is there some other way to come? My friend, there is, there is; and this Canaanite-ish, heathen, pagan woman found it and did it. And that’s why this sermon, Getting Answers from God. “Then came she and worshiped Him saying, Lord, Lord, help me, help me. I cast myself upon Your grace and mercy; Lord remember me” [Matthew 15:22]. And as that woman fell down at His feet and cried and cried and pled, the disciples said to the Lord, “Send her away, send her away, for she crieth after us” [Matthew 15:23].
When I read that, I think about Gehazi, the servant of Elisha. You remember that Shunammite woman who had a son in her age [2 Kings 4:14-17], and the little boy fell ill out in the field with his father. And the father brought the little boy and he laid him in his mother’s lap, and she held him in her arms, and the boy died [2 Kings 4:18-20]. And that dear mother so stricken put the little boy up in Elisha’s bed chamber, the prophet’s chamber, and made her way all the way to Mt. Carmel, to the man of God, to Elisha [2 Kings 4:21-26]. And when she came before him she clasped his feet; and in her tears and agony, holding on to Elisha, Gehazi sought to thrust her away. And Elisha said, “Don’t, don’t; for a great sorrow has overwhelmed her, and the Lord hath hid it from me” [2 Kings 4:27]. I think of this. You know it is easy to be cruel and unsympathetic and harsh and hard; it is easy to be that way. “I haven’t time, and I haven’t disposition, and I’ve got other things to do, and your sorrows and your vexations and your despairs, let them be yours; but don’t bother me with them.” And the disciples were like that. They said to the Lord, seeing that woman crying and pleading and begging, the disciples said, “Send her away, she bothers us, she bothers us” [Matthew 15:23]. The Lord said, “Not so, not so.” And He turned to that woman in her agony, and He answered. “And he answered and said…” [Matthew 15:24].
Now let’s pause here and talk about this appeal and this prayer. How do you pray? How do you pray? And how do you approach the subject of prayer? Now these are my persuasions; I’m not infallible, and wisdom will not die with me. But I think, I think when we approach prayer with a slide rule and a test tube, like you would any other mathematical formula or any other chemical problem, I think you will never find an answer, never, never, never! I do not think you can place prayer in categories of scientific research and experimentation and reduce it to category and to formula; I don’t think you can. I think real prayer belongs in another world; it belongs to the broken heart, it belongs to a sorrowful spirit, it belongs to the agonizing soul, it belongs to somebody like this dear mother who is crying in behalf of an afflicted daughter, “O Lord, help me, help me, help me” [Matthew 15:22, 25]. It is sorrow that will teach you how to pray. It is the difficulties and the despairs of life that will teach you the language to use.
And may I add further to that another observation about Jesus? I do not think there is an intellectual approach to our Lord. These books like Shirley Jackson Case, The Historicity of Jesus, are beside the point; they have no place in the life and devotion and faith of a child of God. We know Jesus by feeling, by trusting, by loving, by opening our souls and our hearts; and I do not think that we are the more precious in God’s sight because we are approaching Him with great erudition, as though we were going to surprise Him with some intellectual achievement or mountain top that we have won for ourselves. I don’t think He is impressed at all with our erudition or our intellectual or academic attainments. I think we know Jesus as a Savior who comes to us in our need. I think we know Jesus as an angel messenger to our hearts. I think we know our Lord as we find our hearts crying out after Him. I have always said, “If you never sense the need of a Savior, Jesus could never be a Savior to you.” If you’re all sufficient, He could never have aught a blessing for you. When you face death, if you are equal to that hour, you don’t need God. And when you stand at the judgment day of the Almighty, if you are all adequate in yourself you don’t need a Lord, a Savior to intervene, to mediate, to plead, to intercede for you. It’s those who are poor in spirit who inherit the kingdom of God [Matthew 5:3]. And it is those who find need in their souls for Jesus to whom Jesus has an answer.
This dear woman, in her agony and in her illimitable sorrow, came and worshiped Him saying, “Lord, help me” [Matthew 15:25]; nothing of Jewish genealogies in that is there? There’s nothing of the elective purpose of God in that, is there? There’s nothing of the covenant of Abraham in that, is there? All there is now in that Canaanite-ish, pagan, heathen woman is the cry of helplessness, “Lord, remember me, remember me.” And Jesus answered.
Now He is not done with her, He is not done with her. He said to her, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs” [Matthew 15:26]. Now I know the heart of our Lord; and when He says a harsh thing like that, He has something beyond, there is some good purpose in what our Lord will say when He uses language like that. And He said to that heathen woman, “It is not right for us to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs” [Matthew 15:26]. Now what shall we do? What shall she do? Here is your answer from God: what will she do? Well, she will be rebellious, and she will flare up and say, “God, I’m no dog, but I’m as good as any Jewess who ever lived.” A lot of people who answer God in the providences of life like that. They do it violently and rebelliously; and they say in their spirit and sometimes in their words all kinds of things about the providences of life. She could have done that; “I am not a dog, and I’m as good as anybody that You ever saw”; she could have said that. Another thing” she could have been highly offended, “Ah!” Or she could have been stoical, just turned away, “I’ll bear my sorrow, it’s a part of the affliction that has come to me.” Or, she could have answered nothing, just turned away. A lot of ways people respond to the sorrows, and the problems and the despairs of life, lots of ways. But this woman did a marvelous and a glorious thing: she accepted in humility all of the weaknesses of herself and the family and the generations to which she belonged. “It is true, Lord, that I am a heathen and a pagan and a Canaanite. I am not of the covenant promises of Abraham, and I am not a child of Jacob; I am a pagan, and I belong to an idolatrous people, and my fathers and their fathers were thus judged. But Lord, but Lord, even the dogs, even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the masters’ table [Matthew 15:27]. And dear Lord, if it is thus, for the sake of my daughter, so grievously afflicted, if it is thus, in humility and in confession, Lord, help me, and save and heal my daughter” [Matthew 15:25].
And when that woman got through speaking that, humbling herself before the High God, even to be a dog, when the Lord saw the humility of that pagan Canaanite-ish woman, who had been devoted unto death in her generations past because of the blasphemous evil of her people [Deuteronomy 20:16-18], when the Lord saw the humility and the repentance and the importunity and the crying and the asking of that mother, He answered and said to her, “O woman, what faith, what faith. O woman, great is thy faith” [Matthew 15:28].
Did you ever notice in the Bible how the Lord Jesus is ever astonished at faith, any kind of faith? Remember the story of that Roman, pagan centurion who came to see Him in behalf of his servant? [Matthew 8:5-13]. And Jesus said, “Why, I will go with you and heal your servant.” And that Roman centurion standing at his soldier’s erect height said:
No, Lord, I am not worthy that You come under my roof; speak the word and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, and I say to this one, Go, and he goes; and to that one, Go, and he goes. And You speak the word, Lord, just the word, and my servant will be healed—
and Jesus, listening to that pagan Roman said—
Verily I say unto you, I have found not so great a faith, no, not in all of the covenant people of Israel
Astonished, gloriously so! Or Zaccheus the publican, came down out of that tree and stood before the Lord and said, “Lord, I have given my heart to God. And if I have wronged a man, I pay him fourfold, and half of everything I have I give away.” And the Lord said, “This day is salvation come to this house” [Luke 19:1-10]. He was always overwhelmed by faith; “O woman, great is thy faith” [Matthew 15:28].
I wish we had time to discuss for a moment, what is faith? What would you say it is? The classic definition of course is Hebrews 11:1. Faith, it’s a sixth sense. It’s the affinity for God; it’s the language and life of religion; it’s the stepping into the unknown and into the invisible [Hebrews 11:1]. Wit is partial, and eloquence is bestowed upon but a few, and poets are made and not born, but faith is a universal possibility; the least, humblest among us can literally shake the very throne of heaven. Faith: “Woman, great is thy faith” [Matthew 15:28]. And then His benediction, “Be it unto thee as thou wilt” [Matthew 15:28] . . . the kingdom is in your hands and the keys to it, you possess them. “Be it unto thee as thou wilt; and that girl was made whole from that hour” [Matthew 15:28]. What a sweet way to close a message; and our time is gone. What a precious way to close a message. How many are the blessings that come to us from the prayers and the importunities of somebody else. “Dear mother, be it unto thee as thou wilt,” and for the sake of her prayers, that afflicted daughter was made whole from that hour [Matthew 15:28].
Ten righteous men can save a city [Genesis 18:32]. The house of Potiphar was blessed for Joseph’s sake [Genesis 39:1-5]. In that tragic wreck in the Mediterranean when Paul and two hundred seventy-six souls were on the way to Rome, the angel of the Lord appeared to Paul in the night and said, “And Paul, I have given thee also the souls of all those who are with thee” [Acts 27:21-24, 37]; for Paul’s sake, all of the rest were saved. Do you ever think about that in your life? Do you ever think about that? This gracious benedictory remembrance that has come to me, do you ever think that maybe you received it because somebody loved and prayed for you? Do you ever think about those things? Ever think about mother’s prayers, and dad’s’ prayers, and the prayers of faithful loved ones, and the blessings that you receive have come because of their gracious and heavenly intercessions? All of us are so much what others have helped us to be; and to return thanksgiving to God for their remembrance of us is a heavenly tribute that I think God will honor.
Do you know somebody who has prayed for you? Do you have a mother somewhere who asks God’s benedictory remembrance of you? Do you? Do you have a friend who asks that God give to you His finest remembrances and blessings? Do you? And would some of those answers to prayer be that you give your heart to Jesus, that you be a Christian, that you devote your life to our Lord? Would that be an answer to somebody’s prayer? Has somebody invited you to the Savior, hoped and prayed that you would open your heart and let Jesus come in? As God might Himself lay this invitation upon your soul, come tonight, make it tonight. “Pastor, I want to take Jesus as my Savior. And here I come, and here I stand.”
“Pastor, this is my family, we’re all coming tonight.” A couple you, “This is my wife, both of us are coming tonight.” A youth, a child, however God shall say the word, make it now, do it tonight; and the Lord speed you as you come. When we stand in a minute to sing, stand up coming. Into that aisle, down a stairway, here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Do it, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.
ANSWERS FROM GOD
I. Syro-Phoenician woman
A. Jesus took rare
journey outside geographical limits of Israel
there for seclusion and rest (Mark 7:24)
B. Woman of Canaan came
to Jesus with a great burden
Having some knowledge of Jewish religion, she recognized Jesus as the “Son of
II. The miracle
A. Jesus ignores her
1. He would see
how earnest her importunity
He does not force His way in, rather comes at our invitation (Mark 6:48-, Luke 24:28)
2. She came a
pagan Canaanite-ish woman in the likeness of a Jewess
has been sent to the lost sheep of Israel (Romans
B. She came another way
– casting herself upon mercy of Jesus
1. Disciples try
to send her away (Matthew 15:23)
Gehazi sending the Shunamite woman away (2 Kings
C. Jesus turns to
1. Sorrow will
teach you how to pray
2. Jesus has an
answer for those who find need in their souls for Him
D. Jesus confronts her
1. She responds
in humility and confession (Matthew 15:27)
E. The exclamation of
1. He is ever
astonished at faith (Matthew 8:5-10, Luke
A. Classic definition (Hebrews 11:1)
B. The humblest among
us can shake the throne of heaven
C. Her daughter was
made well (Matthew 15:28)
D. God’s gracious and
benedictory remembrances (Acts 27:24)