Pastor Edward Brouwer 3-4-18 “Traveling with Jesus to Tyre & Sidon” Mark 7:24-30
Traveling with Jesus: To Tyre and Sidon
Today is March 4th and it’s a curious day in the calendar because it’s the only date in the year that is a command. March Forth! As a young child growing up in church one of my favorite hymns was Onward Christian Soldiers. It has a marshal rhythm that is maybe not as popular today as it was back then, but the words made you understand that the Christian life was not a Caribbean Cruise for tourists, but rather a true battle on the pilgrim way…”marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Forward into battle see his banners go…Christ shall have dominion over land and sea earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be”. As we travel with Jesus he brings us to places of confrontation with the enemy. The Bible (Ephesians 6:10ff) says “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” And evidently the mother in the story that we are about to read understands the nature of the battle and so she went to Jesus for deal with it.
Read Mark 7:24-30
What is Jesus doing on the coast of Phoenicia? And why does he seem to first ignore this woman and then speak harshly to her? Is Jesus having a bad day? Jesus knows exactly what he is doing! And it may not be our approach but look at the outcome. I am reminded of the poem “One Solitary Life” by an unknown author. Listen as I read:
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. Until He was thirty, He worked in a carpenter shop and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He wrote no books. He held no office. He never owned a home. He never lived in a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did any of the things that usually accompany greatness. The authorities condemned His teachings. His friends deserted Him. One betrayed Him to His enemies for a paltry sum. One denied Him. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed on a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He owned on earth: His coat. When He was dead He was taken down and placed in a borrowed grave. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, yet today He is the crowning glory of the human race, the adored leader of hundreds of millions of the earth`s inhabitants. All the armies that ever marched and all the Navies that were ever assembled and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the rulers that ever reigned – combined – have not affected the life of man upon this earth so profoundly as that One Solitary Life.
Jesus never traveled more than 200 miles from Bethlehem and yet his gospel, the good news has travelled to farthest regions of the world. And in this little story told my Matthew and by Mark, Jesus is pointing to his greater purpose—because he came to heal and rescue the lost not just from Israel but from all of Adam’s race: that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
The cities of Tyre and Sidon are in modern day Lebanon. It’s true that Jesus spent most of his earthly life in Israel in a ministry to the Jewish people. Jesus was, after all, a Jew, and the Jewish Messiah, but in this story we see already by the example of Jesus that he is communicating to his disciples and to us that His message of healing and salvation is for everyone. Jesus surprises me as I read the accounts of this story in Matthew and Mark. Mark tells us that Jesus wanted to keep his visit under wraps; he visits someone’s home and didn’t want anyone to know. But as is often the case with Jesus, his fame precedes him and a determined woman tracks him down and says “Lord, Son of David have mercy on me! I desperately need your help—my daughter is cruelly oppressed by a demon.” And Jesus doesn’t say a word—if Jesus were ignoring her for no reason, we should be shocked, but as is the case, Jesus doesn’t respond for a reason. The tension is building! The disciples approach Jesus and say “she’s bothering us! Send her away!” Jesus tells them “I only came for the lost sheep of Israel” Presumably they tell her this but that is not enough to make her go away. She approaches Jesus and kneels before him and says “Lord please help me”.
I find her words curious and telling. She says ‘Lord please help me”. Imagine yourself in her situation. You’re a mother and your child means everything to you. If you have ever been a parent you will know the love and the bond that would gladly take the pain of your child on yourself if only they would be free of it. She’s desperate but she is determined and will not be put off. To her Jesus is her last and best hope. So this Syrophonecian woman, this gentile, shows the love of a mother for a hurting child and begs Jesus ‘Lord please help me!” She owns the pain of her child and it is as much her pain as the child’s pain.
We don’t know the exact nature of the illness but the gospel writers say the child was oppressed by an evil spirit. In another place in the gospels, a dad comes to Jesus with a similar request because the evil spirit is trying to kill his son. To us, we might immediately equate this with emotional or mental illness, a child cutting herself, a young man relentlessly driven to self destruction. In our culture today we tend to reduce every illness to some physical or chemical imbalance—but the Scriptures tell us that at least some diseases have a spiritual component—and we do well to ask the Holy Spirit to give us discernment when we are praying for others. Because there are “spiritual forces of evil” that are very real and seek to do us harm. The modus operandi of the devil according to Jesus is like a wolf amongst the sheep, seeking to steal and kill and destroy. If we don’t recognize the schemes of our enemy then we will not be able to mount an effective defense.
Then we read of this serious conversation between Jesus and this woman. Jesus tells her that since he came for the lost sheep of Israel it wouldn’t be right to give the bread intended for the true children of God to “the dogs”. It seems like a put down, because in that culture to call someone a dog was a true insult. But is Jesus really saying that? I think Jesus is testing her faith and Matthew and Mark both use the Greek word for “little dog’ implying either a puppy or a pet. And this desperate faith filled woman responds “yes, but even the puppies get the crumbs from the master’s table” How many of you have snuck a little something to the family dog at the table? Those big beautiful brown eyes starring up at you so longingly—even against your better judgment that you are indulging this pet of yours—it’s almost impossible to resist wanting to reward that pathetic face!
Why is Jesus in Tyre and Sidon? Precisely for THIS encounter. Precisely to teach his disciples that the good news of Jesus is for everyone and that barriers of race, social status and gender are overcome by faith. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God”. Paul says in Galatians as he writes to Jewish believers who have somehow fallen into the trap that getting right with God means following all the old Jewish laws…(Galatians 5: 6) “neither circumcision nor non-circumcision counts for anything—what counts is FAITH, expressing itself through love.”
Jesus said “if you have faith and do not doubt you can say to this mountain—remove thyself into the sea—and it will be moved—only do not doubt. This woman had absolute and complete faith that Jesus could heal her daughter, and she was going to move heaven and earth to speak to him! This woman was brokenhearted and crushed in spirit because her daughter was desperately sick. Psalm 34:18 says “The LORD is near to the broken hearted, he saves the crushed in spirit”. Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon for a woman and a child broken and crushed by the Evil One. Jesus approaches (he came there) and hears (he listened) and saves (he healed).
I think that Jesus was showing his disciples the truth that He came for everyone. They say that more is caught than taught, and a big lesson here for the disciples is that though being Jewish gives you first access to Jesus it’s not exclusive access. So Peter had to learn later with Cornelius that “God is not a respecter of person’s and places his Spirit on all who call upon his name.” And Paul could say that Jesus has removed the diving wall that once separated us from God and also from each other—so being Jewish or Gentile (race) is not an issue, male or female (gender), or slave or free (social status). Everyone is made equal at the foot of the cross. And this faith filled woman, saying “Lord help me”, kneeling at the feet of Jesus, points to another day, when people from every tribe and nation will kneel before Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus is LORD.
Are you oppressed in spirit today, are you in need of a healing touch? Jesus invites you to the table to first experience him—remembering that Jesus suffered unspeakably so that we would not have to. Jesus was tormented by Satan so that we would not have to be. The prophet Isaiah speaking of the suffering Messiah writes “by HIS stripes, we are healed”. Jesus promises to heal your spiritual longing, all you need to do is come in faith. So come to the table by faith.