Mercy Needed, Mercy Sought, Mercy Given
“And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.” (Mark 7:24-30)
Here Mark gives us his inspired history of this poor woman, her great need, the mercy she obtained of the Lord Jesus, and his high commendation of her faith. It is the same story Matthew gives us in Matthew 15:21-28. But both Matthew and Mark give specific details the other was not inspired by the Spirit of God to relate. So it will be helpful to read Matthew’s account as well.
“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 worshipped 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.”
Matthew tells us that this woman was of Canaan. She was a Gentile. Mark adds that she was a Syrophenician, that is, she belonged to that part of Phoenicia that bordered Syria. She came seeking Christ. Who taught her about the Lord Jesus? How did she to know that he was the Christ, the Son of David? We are not told what instrument God used to teach her; but it is obvious that God himself was her Teacher. God the Holy Spirit had given her faith in Christ.
“And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” (Isaiah 54:13)
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:37-40)
Taking the accounts of Matthew and Mark together, I see ten gospel lessons clearly set before us in the story of this Syrophenician woman.
1. Man’s unbelief never thwarts or even hinders the purpose of God. — “Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon” (Matthew 15:21).
It is written, “For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged” (Romans 3:3-4). The Pharisees would not hear him or receive his Word. Their pride, self-righteousness, and religious traditions kept them out of the kingdom of God. Therefore, in judicial reprobation, our Lord left them; but his leaving them was that he might enter into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon and there bestow his grace upon a chosen Gentile woman.
2. Before ever a sinner will come to Christ seeking mercy, the Lord Jesus Christ must come to that sinner in mercy.
We do not read this story aright if all we see is a needy soul coming to Christ. Certainly, we must not neglect that; but this Syrophenician woman could never have come to Christ for mercy if Christ had not come to her in mercy. She sought the Lord; but he came to seek her first. It is not the lost sheep who seeks and finds the Shepherd, but the Shepherd who seeks and finds his one lost sheep. If we love him it is because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). And if we seek him, it is because he first sought us.
“And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
Our Lord passed by the multitudes, the congested cities, and the people of renown and came to the outskirts of nowhere to show mercy to a nobody. That brings me to our third lesson…
3. Grace always comes to the most unlikely.
I always get a little uneasy when I hear men talk about being able to tell who is going to be saved. Anyone would have thought, “If the Lord is going to do any great work or perform any great miracle, he will pick someone important, someone respected, someone other people will look up to.” But that simply is not the case. The Son of God comes to a Greek, a Canaanite, a Syrophenician woman, a woman with no promise from God, no covenant rights with God, no relationship to God, and nothing to offer God; but she was “a certain woman” loved and chosen by God as the special object of his special grace.
4. When the Lord God intends to be gracious to a sinner, he always causes that sinner, like this poor woman, to “hear of him,” to hear the gospel of his free and sovereign grace in Christ. — “For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet” (Mark 7:25).
As I have already stated, we do not know who the instrument was by whom this woman was taught of God; but we do know that an instrument was used because the Scriptures tell us that it is the will, pleasure, and purpose of God to use the preaching of the gospel, by one means or another, to save sinners, give them faith in Christ, and teach them (Romans 1:15-16; 10:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-29; Ephesians 1:13; 4:8-16; 1 Timothy 4:12-16; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25).
The Word of God, the gospel of Christ, is the power of God unto salvation, the catalyst God uses to give sinners life and faith in Christ (Romans 1:16). A catalyst is an agent of action. If a chemist desires to unite two substances to create another, in many cases a catalyst is necessary. The catalyst does not cause the union and never enters into the union of those substances. But without the presence of that specific catalyst, the union could never take place and could not continue. That is exactly what the preaching of the gospel is in God’s saving operations.
Without question, were it his pleasure to do so, God almighty could have chosen to save sinners without the use of any means or agency of any kind. Had he chosen to do so, he could have sent angels to pull us into heaven by our noses, once atonement was made for us. But that is not his pleasure.
The Lord God has chosen to regenerate and call chosen, redeemed sinners through the agency of gospel preaching. The fact that God has so ordained it makes the preaching of the gospel the catalyst necessary for the communication of his saving grace.
I know that many cry out against this and say, “That limits God’s sovereignty. That makes salvation depend upon man.” Do not be so foolish as to be found fighting against God. We must never force the Scriptures to mean what we want them to mean. We must never bend the Word of God to our doctrinal notions and theological system. Rather, we bow to God’s Word. We cannot extol and honor God if we refuse to submit our reason to his Revelation.
Carefully read the Scriptures cited above. It is impossible to read them in their context without concluding that regeneration and faith in Christ, gifts of God the Holy Spirit and operations of his irresistible grace, are communicated to chosen, redeemed sinners through the instrumentality of gospel preaching. In each of those passages the Lord God plainly declares that it is his purpose and pleasure to save his elect through the preaching of the gospel.
Perhaps you think, “What if one of God’s elect is in a remote barbarian tribe in the jungles of New Guinea where no gospel preacher has ever been?” I can see how that would create a problem, except for one thing — There are no problems with God! He knows exactly how to get his prophet to the people to whom he has purposed to show his mercy. Just ask Jonah!
We preach the gospel with a sense of urgency, knowing that sinners cannot believe on Christ until Christ is preached to them. Yet, we preach with confidence of success, knowing that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). God’s Word will not return to him void. It will accomplish his will and prosper in the thing it is sent to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). Every chosen, redeemed sinner must be regenerated and called by the Holy Spirit. And that work will be accomplished through the preaching of the gospel.
5. True prayer arises from a heartfelt need of mercy, grace, and divine intervention.
“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” (Matthew 15:22).
“The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter” (Mark 7:26).
Such is the pride, self-sufficiency, and arrogance of our hearts that we will never come down until God brings us down. We will never beg for mercy until we need mercy. We will not seek grace until we need grace. We will not come to Christ until we have to have him.
This woman came to the Lord Jesus because her daughter was “grievously vexed with a devil.” None could help her but the Son of God who was manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). How blessed it is to have such a Savior to whom we may turn in times of great distress and trouble (Hebrews 4:16). May God the Holy Spirit give us such faith in Christ as this woman had, that we may spread our sorrows before him and seek grace to help in every time of need.
This woman wanted just one thing from the Lord, — mercy! She cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord!” What a comprehensive prayer that is. If he will have mercy, we need no more. The ground upon which she hoped for mercy was the fact that the man Jesus is the “Son of David,” Immanuel, God with us, God in our nature, God and man in one person. She sought mercy from Christ because he is the Christ.
Thousands of the Jews saw him daily, who knew him not; but this woman who was a Gentile knew him, believed him, came to him, and sought mercy from him. Obviously, none but God could have taught her; and the teaching of God infallibly brought her to Christ. So it has ever been; and so it shall ever be (John 6:45-46).
6. The place of mercy is at his feet.
Look at Mark’s description of this woman’s behavior.
“For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter” (Mark 7:25-26).
She was in trouble and had a desperate need. She heard about Christ. She came to the Son of God. She fell at his feet. If we would worship Christ and obtain mercy from him, we must be found, like this needy soul, “at his feet” (Mark 5:22; Luke 7:2; John 11:32; Revelation 1:17). This is the place of mercy, the place of humility, the place of reverence, the place of worship, the place of love, the place of obedience, the place of blessing, the place of honor, the place of peace, and the place of contentment.
7. True faith always bows to Christ.
Faith does not rebel against Christ’s words or his deeds. Faith bows, because faith acknowledges Christ’s place, dominion, and rights as Lord.
“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 worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:23-27).
“But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:27-28).
The Lord Jesus ignored her; but she considered that his right and waited for him to acknowledge her. The Master spoke to her plainly about the purpose of God in election and the distinguishing character of his grace; and she worshipped him (Matthew 15:24-25). The Lord described her in the most humbling terms, calling her a dog; but she took the ground he gave her, and begged his mercy and help, even if it were just the crumbs others despised.
8. Faith honors Christ and Christ honors faith. — “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” (Matthew 15:28).
“Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” — Robert Hawker suggested that it is “as if Jesus threw the reins of government into her hand.” Does he not say as much to all true faith? — “Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me” (Isaiah 45:11).
9. When Christ enters into the house of man’s soul and takes possession of it, he drives the devil out by the power of his grace.
We are told that when this woman came into her house, “she found the devil gone out.” What a blessing!
Let me show you one more thing. I readily admit that I’m stretching the text, using it now in a strictly allegorical, spiritual way; but I am not stretching the Scriptures. What I have to say in the last place is the teaching of Scripture, and a blessed teaching of Scripture. This is the dessert I promised you. In Mark 7:30 we read, “And her daughter laid upon the bed.” Here is our tenth lesson…
10. When Christ saves sinners he always puts them to bed.
Isaiah tells us of those who lay in a bed of religious deceit, a bed of free will, works religion, in which no rest is to be found. The bed of your works is too short to stretch out on it; and the covering of your self-righteousness is too narrow to wrap up in (Isaiah 28:20).
Here is a bed you can stretch out on: — Christ’s blood atonement! Here is a covering you can wrap up in — Christ’s perfect righteousness! But the only way you will ever stretch out on this bed and wrap up in this cover is if Christ himself gives you rest. Therefore, he graciously bids weary, helpless, guilty sinners to come to him for mercy and grace.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
May God the Holy Spirit lay to our hearts the wonders of God’s free grace in Christ that are displayed in the inspired records Matthew and Mark have given us of this woman.
We see the sovereignty of God’s grace in this chosen vessel of mercy, called from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. Our Savior has his elect in all nations, who must be gathered to him in faith. They shall come from north, south, east, and west. And they shall come willingly in the day of his power (Psalm 110:3).
Often our God uses great afflictions and troubles to sweetly force his own to seek his mercy, just as he did in the case of this woman (Psalm 107). How we ought to thank him for those trials of life by which our Savior sweetly causes us, under the irresistible influence of his grace, to seek him!
In order to enhance his blessing in our estimation and to improve our faith, the mercy we desperately need is sometimes withheld for a season, just as it was with this woman. By graciously forcing us to wait at his feet, our Savior renews our strength (Isaiah 40:27-31).
When the Lord was about to perform his wondrous mercy for this woman, he first forced her to take her proper place of humility before him, calling her a dog, to which she replied, “Truth, Lord.” She acknowledged that she was altogether unworthy of children’s bread. A proper view of Christ’s greatness, grace, and glory always causes sinners to have a proper view of themselves. Christ alone is exalted where Christ is known in the blessed experience of his grace (Psalm 115:1). All who have experienced God’s mercy in Christ gladly sing with Augustus Toplady…
“A debtor to mercy alone—
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet;
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below nor above,
Can make Him His purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from His love.
My name from the palm of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains,
In marks of indellible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n—
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified sprits in heav’n.”
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