Approaching the Servant King – Mark 7:24-30
One of my favorite professors at Wheaton College was Dr. Lyle Dorsett. What a man of God! I was a new believer at the time and he pretty much discipled me in college through his classes. Most kids tried to find ways to skip classes, but not for Dr. Dorsett. Students who weren’t even enrolled in his classes would bring pillows and sit outside the classroom just to hear him teach. He had a tender love for Christ that just oozed out of him. You always left the class with a tear in your eye.
Everyone also loved meeting up with him one-on-one. But the problem was that he was always booked. You would have to sign up sometimes weeks in advance to talk to him in his office. I would sign up, but it was an ordeal for me every time. I wanted to meet up but I never knew how to approach him with confidence. I knew when I sat in front of him, he was going to look at me straight in the eye and ask, “Koshy, how’s your soul?” He wasn’t mean or judgmental about it. He genuinely cared about my walk. But it always felt scary.
You feel kind of naked in front of him. It’s like he has 3D-HD glasses and can see all of your sin. So the day of meeting up with him, I would make sure I got up early, read my Bible, pray and repent like crazy. “Lord, I repent about this and that and what I did 10 years ago and I repent about this prayer of repentance, etc.”In other words, let me clean myself up and then approach him so when he asks me about my soul, he’ll hear Heaven singing.But every time, Dr. Dorsett always brought me to Christ and God refreshed me, which I why I always went back.
But I feel like that with God sometimes. He confuses me. I know He loves me, but does He like me? Does He like hanging out with me? Does the Lord just look at me and see just my sin? Is He disgusted with me?Maybe I should get my act together and then start a prayer life? He’ll like me then!I get cynical in believing that He cares about my same old issues.Maybe you don’t ever pray because you have given up approaching Him? It is easier not to deal with the guilt and feelings of inadequacy that way. As Brennan Manning would say, “I feel bad about feeling good. I feel guilty for not feeling guilty.”
Just like with some of our parents, we may feel like as they are never happy and we have always failed them in their expectations that maybe God is the same way? As a result of a myriad of these factors, maybe you have become dry and barren spiritually. I have been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.
How do we approach Him especially when we feel like that? How does the Servant King want us to approach Him? The Pharisees said, as we heard last week, that if you wanted to approach God, all you had to do was meet these external standards. If you washed your hands, followed these rules, etc. Have something to offer Him, impress Him and He’ll accept you. They said do religious things and God will accept you and you can approach Him. Jesus quickly said basically, “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.” It’s not your hands that need cleansing. It’s your whole being, your heart. And you cannot cleanse yourself.
That’s where we ended last week. Oh man! If I can’t cleanse myself, how in the world can I approach a holy God? It is through the Gospel. The title of the message today is “Approaching the Servant King.” Today, we will look at this question: How should we approach the Servant King? Answer: With persevering, gospel-believing faith.Let’s start with this:
- Approach the Servant King with persevering faith (vv.24-27).
Jesus and His disciples have been trying to go on vacation since Chapter 6 (v.31). The crowd did not let that happen. Now Jesus has angered the religious establishment to a whole new level, so it seems like now He finally was able to get away to Tyre and Sidon (modern day Lebanon), which is Gentile territory. This trip marked the first time during His ministry that Jesus actually penetrated recognized pagan territory. It foreshadowed the extension of the gospel to the Gentile world.
He enters a house. If you look at Mark 3:8, some people from this region do know about Him. This is another reason to find an obscure house as opposed to some public setting. We don’t know if it’s a house of a Jewish friend or Gentile stranger. It does not seem like He’s going to do public ministry, but simply getting away from it all.
Someone couldn’t keep a secret, because a lady knew He was there. She seems to have some exposure to Jesus. Maybe she’s traveled to Galilee and seen Him teach and preach and work miracles. We are not sure.
If you are fromTyre, you are in extreme paganland.Let’s look at this woman. She has an increasing crescendo of demerit. First of all, she’s a woman. Strike one. Women were not respected in that day. Secondly, Mark says the woman was a Gentile. Strike two. Thirdly, Matthew goes further and says she’s a Canaanite. It was bad enough to be a Gentile, worse to be a Canaanite. They worshipped Ba’al and the Canaanites were a cursed people.Strike three. Fourthly, to say she’s Syrophenecian means that she identifies with Rome and all of its many gods. Strike four? Fifthly, she has a daughter with a demon. Strike five! Of all the people who approach Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, this individual has the most against her from a Jewish perspective.
Maybe even Matthew the tax collector would raise his eyebrows when she walked in. She is lower than him on the totem pole. Notice she “fell down at his feet.” Only one other time is this phrase mentioned and that’s in Mark 5:22. Remember Jairus? He was the president of the synagogue, a top religious leader. Jesus went to his house. It makes sense to meet the need of a religious official. But this lady is doing the same thing and she is far, far away from being religious Jew. A woman approaching a man? A Gentile approaching a Jew? An unclean approaching the clean?
She has no credentials—no moral, no religious, no cultural or social to approach Jesus. She is disqualified on every side. She is unclean. Despite all these strikes against her, she still comes. Notice, “she begged.” This is present progressive, meaning she kept on begging.She wouldn’t stop. In Matthew’s account the disciples actually told Jesus to make her stop (15:23). But she won’t let anyone stop her! Why is she so bold? Because she’s a mom. You may be a coward in every sense of the word, but when it comes to your kid, it’s a whole new level of bravery and heroism!
What is Jesus going to say? What is He going to do? Then in a shocking parable, He says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Wow. He gives her a parable and parables are often very confusing, but this seemed pretty clear that…”Wait, did he just call me a dog?”First, let’s not read our dog-loving cultural pre-understanding into thetext.We even call each other that and it’s a good thing, “Whaddupdawg!” I have nothing against dogs. I like looking at them myself…from a distance, even better in a cage from a distance and even better, on a tv screen in a cage from a distance.
But dogs in that day were not universally loved. They were scavengers. They were dirty and unclean, carrying diseases. And the Jews called Gentiles dogs. It was a slur and insult. Now Jesus softens a bit by the using the word for household pet instead of the word for scavenger dogs. A puppy if you will. Nevertheless, this is still harsh.
The parable is about a family meal. Everyone is sitting around a table for a meal. The children eat first and then the puppies get food. There is an order here. The puppies must not eat before the children. It is inappropriate to interrupt the meal and allow the household dogs to carry off the children’s bread.
What does He mean? He means He came first to Israel. He is saying,“I am showing Israel that I’m the fulfillment of the revelation of the Scripture. I’m the fulfillment of all their promises. I’m the fulfillment of all the prophets, priests, and kings. I’m the fulfillment of the temple.” Most of these “children” rejected Him. When He resurrects, we see Him going to the Gentiles. Christ also does this to bring up and destroy the Pharisees categories of who is “in” and who is “out.” He wanted to bring up and just long enough show and dismantle the categories of who is “clean” and who is “unclean.” For Jesus there are only two categories: broken sinners and broken sinners in Christ. So this is about the priority of His mission but more than that, this was a test of her faith as she is challenged for the cultural and religious standards that should keep her from approaching Christ.
What will she lean on here to plead her case? Will she lean on external qualifications? Her morality? Her race? Her personality? What is going to motivate her to persevere here?
Let me stop here to say some of us feel this way about the Lord. He seems cold and indifferent to your needs. He seems to be answering others prayers and not yours. He seems harsh that you have had to wait and maybe even still waiting while others have passed your life stage. Your prayers have stopped because you are tired of it seeming like it’s hitting a ceiling and bouncing right back down. Some of you may even feel like you are cursed, abandoned and forsaken.
First remember that His silence never means His absence. How do I know that? Because of the Gospel.One author says, “Christ cried out to his Father as he suffered and died. The Cross invites you to cry out to the Father as well. Christ cried to a Father who was silent as he let him die, so that you could cry to a Father who will hear you and give you what you need to live.”God did forsake His Son so you and I would never be forsaken if we have believed in Him.
Second, He answers prayers better than we know how to ask. Jon Bloom in a recent article in the Desiring God blog says:
[Our] longings and prayers are sincere and God loves them and loves to answer them. But we do not know ourselves very well, nor the depth or pervasiveness of our sin, nor what it really requires of us in order to receive what we ask for. We can’t help but have unreal, romantic imaginations and expectations about what God’s answers to our prayers will be.
He gives several examples. If we pray for a greater love and patience towards people, guess what? He will put us with people who are annoying and irritating. But it is struggling through that and praying in weakness where that love will develop. What if we pray to be near to God? I want to be close, close to your heart, we sing. The Bible says that the Lord is near the broken-hearted (Ps. 34:18). There might be heartbreak to experience His nearness. Bloom adds, “If we ask God for greater wisdom and discernment, what should we expect to receive? A steady stream of mind-bending, confusing answers that are difficult to understand and work through because our powers of discernment are trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).”
If you pray that you won’t serve money and serve God, guess what? You will be put in situations where you are expenses are depleting your reserves and given many opportunities to give your money away in generosity. The point? I’ll let Bloom say it:
When God begins to answer our prayers, we often find his answers disorienting. Circumstances might take unexpected courses, health might deteriorate, painful relational dynamics might develop, financial difficulties might occur, and spiritual and emotional struggles might emerge that seem unconnected and we can feel like we’re digressing from not progressing toward the sanctification we desire. We cry out in painful confusion and exasperation (Psalm 13:1; Job 30:20), when what’s really happening is that God is answering our prayers. We just expected the answer to look and feel different…With regard to God’s answers to prayer, expect the unexpected. Most of the greatest gifts and deepest joys that God gives us come wrapped in painful packages.
So what is God calling us to? Persevere in approaching Him. He knows to answer prayer better than we know how to pray. He is writing your own narrative. No need to compare your story to anyone else’s. When you ask for bread, you won’t receive a snake. In other words, He will not send something that will hurt you. Why? Because on the cross, that’s what happened.In His suffering, He got the silent treatment—God turned His face away from Him—which is the most hurtful thing possible for our sin, so that God can turn His face towards us in ours. The Gospel says when you cannot trace His hand, you can always trust His heart. Lastly:
- Approach the Servant King with Gospel-believing faith (vv. 28-30).
How will this woman respond to Jesus here? Jesus is offensive here. Imagine somebody comes to you and says, “You know, I’m ready to be a Christian,” you don’t want to say to them, “Oh, I’m sorry, you know, we can’t give a dog food that’s supposed to go to…” She could have said, “Did you just call me a dog? How dare you use a racial epithet towards me? I will not stand for this!”
She comes back with her own parable! It’s remarkable: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” In this statement, we have the two elements of Gospel-believing faith. What does it mean to have Gospel-believing faith? It is to acknowledge our unworthiness while affirming His generosity. You need both! First:
- Acknowledge our unworthiness
She says, “Yes Lord.” You are right. I agree with you. I don’t deserve a place at the table. I have no merit. I have no standing. I have everything to disqualify me and nothing to commend me. I am not standing on my moral record. I don’t have any rights. I am no one to demand anything. Until our sin be bitter, Christ cannot be sweet.
Some of us think God owes us something. We have been faithful for x many years. We have prayed this long. We have fasted. We come to God having worked our way and we say, “Give me what I’m due! Give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” If we are like that, we don’t need a Savior. We are our own Savior.
The truth is that we are unclean dogs who deserve nothing. The only thing we do deserve is a first-class ticket to hell. Spurgeon says this, “”Beloved friends, whenever you meet with a sinner bowed down with the burden of sin never try to make his sin appear to be lighter; on the contrary, say to the soul that is most despairing, “You feel that you are a great sinner, but you are a much greater sinner than you feel yourself to be.” When the soul cries, “My sin is very heavy,” do not attempt to comfort it by making excuses for it; but, on the contrary, say, “Heavy as you think your sin to be it is much heavier than you know of.”But I know us Living Hope. We don’t struggle as much with our unworthiness as we struggle with this:
- Affirm His generosity
We are more aware of our unworthiness than we are of His generosity. Our unworthiness is more real to us than His generosity. Notice she doesn’t just say, “Yes Lord,” and walk away. She says “Yes, BUT..” Keller puts it this way,“Lord, I am not saying to you, ‘Give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.’ I’m saying, ‘Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness.’ She is saying, ‘I’m not coming to you on the basis of my goodness. I’m coming on the basis of yours. I accept your insult of me, but I will not insult you by not treating you as your mercy deserves.”
She says in effect, “I understand Lord that you said, ‘the children first.’ But you said, ‘first’ not only. First implies that there is a second and even a last. I anticipate a surplus. I come on the basis of your generosity that crumbs will fall from your table for someone like me. I am not worthy and I will never be, but from knowing you, this does not mean I cannot come.”
This is the first person in the Gospel who actually gets a parable. What is going on here? This is the Gospel in action. The Gospel says, “On the one hand…you’re more wicked than you ever dared believe, but you’re more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope. At the same time. On the one hand, she is not too proud to accept what the gospel says about her unworthiness.On the other hand, she does not insult God by being too discouraged to take up the offer.
We said if you are proud and approach Jesus with a posture of entitlement, you don’t need a Savior. You have failed to let Jesus be your Savior. It is a superiority complex. But if you approach Jesus with an inferiority complex, where you are so self-absorbed and so self-centered, you say, “Oh, I’m just so awful. I’m so awful. God couldn’t love me.” You have also have failed to let Jesus be your Savior.
In his bookTheKing’s Cross, Keller shares a letter of the former slave-trader-turned-minister John Newton, the guy who also penned Amazing Grace,whowrote to counsel a man who was depressed. Listen to Newton:
You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness ? Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside of yourself, but you may be, indeed you are, improperly controlled and affected by them. You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong. You complain about sin, but when I look at your complaints, they are so full of self-righteousness, unbelief, pride, and impatience that they are little better than the worst evils you complain of. “
It is far more insulting to God to distance ourselves as a result of own unworthiness, to refuse His offer of grace, to refuse to seek Him, to refuse to come after His mercy, by not only saying, ‘I’m too good for this’ but also ‘I’m too bad for this.’” Gospel-believing faith means we acknowledge our unworthiness WHILE affirming His generosity.
The Lord was so delighted with such humility and confidence of this woman. Her prayers are answered. She has a rightless assertiveness and deep awareness of her place before Christ, which John Newton would say, “I am great sinner, but I have a great Savior.” There is more grace in His heart than sin in mine.
Martin Luther says,“She took Christ at his own words. He then treated her not as a dog but as a child of Israel.” She asked for crumbs, but she gets the whole loaf. There is a connection here to the feeding of the multitude narratives. The disciples never get it in those stories. She gets Jesus generosity in the midst of inadequacy far better than the disciples have.
That’s nice Robin and good for this lady. How do I know He loves me like this? Well, like we said, I don’t know how He will answer your prayers when you approach Him. But I do know He will care for you and be generous to you and not treat you as your sins deserve when you do approach Him. How?
He treated this Gentile dog as a child. He gave her the whole loaf when she begged for crumbs. Pretty soon, the Son of God, that child, will go up on to a cross. Do you know what you see there? The ultimate Child of God, the only one who earned a place to sit at God’s table, was thrown away, cast out from the table without a crumb so those of us who are not children of God could be adopted and brought in. To put it another way, the Child had to become a dog so we dogs couldn’t just become little puppy pets, but we would become sons and daughters at the table. He was declared unclean, so we could be cleansed.
One of my favorite times of the week is coming home to my kids. They’re getting older now and getting too cool for this, but I would love the moment they hear the door open to run, drop whatever they’re doing right into my arms.
I remember Annabelle,she must have been almost 2 at the time, running to me with yogurt all over her face as the rest of her lunch was all over her shirt and pants. She was crying at the same time, so her whole face was leaking. She didn’t once think I’m sure, “Well my father is home. Let me properly present myself or he will not accept me. Oh my! I am quite a mess. I should have properly swallowed these dairy products since they have a potential for such uncleanness. Let me change my attire and clean my face or else. Let me also prepare a long list of items I would like for him to accomplish while he is here.” She didn’t care how she looked. She ran to me with her arms raised never doubting for a second that I will not pick her up when she approached me. She cupped my face into her tiny hands and said, “Daddy!” And I grabbed her face into my hands and said, “Where’s the paper towel?!” Yes, I am an imperfect father, but I can tell you that I cannot resist my child, regardless of how they look, when they simply want to be with me. As Jesus would say, how much more our Heavenly Father?
He became unclean so we could be cleansed. He was thrown out and kicked out like a scavenger dog as we deserved, so we are now children at the table. So now Paul can look at us and say, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). And the writer of Hebrews can say, “Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places…[why?] by the blood of Jesus..[how?] by the new and living way that he opened for us…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith….” (Heb. 10:20).Yes, let’s draw near. Let us not linger, but run into our Father’s arms.
Manning, Brennan (2008-08-19). The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (p. 25). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Hiebert, D. E. (1994). The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (p.
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Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 217). Grand Rapids,
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Edwards, J. R. (218).
MaCarthur, J. (2010, May 2). Sermon, “Food From the Master’s Table.” Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/41-34/food-from-the-masters-table.
Edwards, J.R. (218).
Hiebert, D. E. (p. 209).
Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (p. 262). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Keller, T. J. (2013). Sermon, “Goodness and Severity,” preached June 4, 2006. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Lane, Timothy S.; Tripp, Paul David (2008-05-22). How People Change (p.
215). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.
Bloom, J. (2014, July 11).The Unexpected Answers of God. Retrieved July 25, 2014, from http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/the-unexpected-answers-of-god.
Spurgeon, C. H. (1866). The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 12,
p. 569). Sermon “Children’s Bread Thrown to Dogs,” London: Passmore& Alabaster.
Keller, T. J. (2013). Ibid.
Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 88). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
Edwards, J. R. (p.222).
Keller, T. J. (2013). Sermon. Ibid.