Israel and the Nations--Part 2
Mar 28, 2009
The theme of Matthew's gospel is: Behold your King (Lion). Mark's theme is: Behold the Servant(Ox). Luke's theme is Behold the Son of Man (Man). John's theme is Behold the Son of God (Eagle). These present the "four beasts around the throne" (Rev. 4:7), who represent the Gospel of the Kingdom to all of creation.
Let us focus upon Matthew for the moment. He presents Christ as the rightful King of the earth. He tells us of His birth in Bethlehem (2:6) and of his lineage from King David (1:6). It speaks in detail about the chief priests' disputation over the right to the throne (21:38), where they fulfilled the role of Absalom in the overthrow of King David. Yet for all of this, Matthew does not leave out the fact that He was to be not only the King of Judah and Israel, but as the Redeemer, He was also "the God of the whole earth" (Isaiah 54:5).
"God is my Yeshua . . . Yahweh . . . also has become my Yeshua," says Isaiah 12:2.
So it should not be surprising that Matthew would have a more universal viewpoint than most of his contemporaries. Though he reports Jesus as saying in Matt. 10:6, "go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," he also tells us that a Roman centurion had more faith than He had seen in all Israel (8:10). The Romans were hated in those days, because they ruled Judea as the fourth (iron) beast of Daniel 7. Jesus made it clear that Romans could have faith in God as much as Israelites, and said in verses 11 and 12,
" (11) And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; (12) but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness [outside the kingdom of light]; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
In Matthew 15 we find his most indepth teaching on this topic. It begins with a discussion about the traditions of men and how they nullify the law of God. Jesus then launches into a teaching about how men are made unclean, not by what goes into their mouth, but by what comes out of it (vs. 11).
The disciples felt constrained to warn Jesus that the Pharisees were offended by this teaching (vs. 12). But Jesus said that if God did not plant the tree (teaching), it would have to be rooted up at some point. Peter then asked for an explanation, and Jesus said to him in verse 16, "Are you still lacking in understanding also?"
It was obvious that the disciples needed some further instruction, so Jesus took them on a field trip. Verses 21-23 says,
" (21) And Jesus went away from there and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. (22)And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region and began to cry out, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed. (23) But He did not answer her a word."
Why did Jesus ignore her? We are not told at first. But keep in mind that Jesus' sole purpose in going to the area near Tyre and Sidon was to teach His disciples a lesson about the traditions of men IN THEM.
So the disciples took their cue and wanted to get rid of the Canaanite woman. Jesus seemed to agree, because He said in verse 24, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In other words, it appeared that Jesus was affirming the exclusiveness of the Gospel. How dare this Canaanite woman expect anything from Jesus? The Canaanites were, after all, the enemy. They had no right to be here on OUR LAND. The only good Canaanite was a DEAD Canaanite. Canaanites have only the right to die.
But the Canaanite woman persisted, saying, "Lord, help me."
Jesus then took the extraordinary step by insulting her for asking for His help.
"And He answered and said, It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
No doubt this was a common saying in those days, as the Jews despised non-Jews as "dogs." Worse yet, she was a WOMAN. That was two strikes against her in those days. But the woman persisted.
"But she said, Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
Can you not picture Peter with a stunned look on his face? Who is this woman who cannot seem to comprehend the exclusiveness of our Messiah? I can see Jesus looking at the disciples with a slight smile on His face, because His point had been well made.
"O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed at once."
Even Canaanite women can have great faith.
" (29) And departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up to the mountain, He was sitting there."
TAKE NOTE: Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon for no purpose other than to meet this Canaanite woman, in order to teach the disciples that Canaanite women can have "great faith." After the point was made, He turned around and went back to Galilee. This Canaanite woman was the occasion by which Jesus exposed the "traditions of men" in the hearts of His own disciples. That "tradition" was their exclusive "chosen people" attitude that had been drilled into them since early childhood.
This attitude had made them think they were better than Canaanites, and this "tradition of men" had justified their hatred of other racial groups.
So when Jesus said IN THIS CONTEXT that He had only come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He was not justifying the attitude of the disciples, but EXPOSING their hearts. Many have not understood the context of this statement, and, having the same "tradition of men" in their heart today, they use Jesus' statement to justify their lack of love for those of other racial groups.
The fact is, Jesus had brought them on a lengthy field trip specifically to meet this Canaanite woman, because through her, Jesus would uproot a tree that God had not planted (15:13). Jesus appeared to play along with their traditions, but in the end He exposed it as a noxious weed in the garden.
In the flow of Matthew's Gospel, the narrative goes immediately into the story of Jesus feeding a multitude of people by multiplying seven loaves and a few fish. (He had previously multiplied five loaves and two fish in Matt. 14:20, but that was a previous occasion.) The implication is that when the traditions of men are uprooted from our hearts, we are able to feed the multitude with the Living Word in a miraculous manner.
This is the second part of a series titled "Israel and the Nations." To view all parts, click the link below.