Saturday, April 8, 2017

A little faith, some persistence, and a willingness to accept what others do not want

AND HELL WAS POWERLESS

The Canaanite woman in the Gospel is a good example of that proverb, It's always darkest just before the dawn.  She had accomplished most of her objectives.  Her goal was to talk to Jesus, so she had gotten through to Him.  She thought the hardest part would be penetrating the dense crowd and the circle of disciples, but now she had the Lord's attention.  She assumed the worst was over, her hopes would be fulfilled.  How badly she was mistaken!  One obstacle she had not counted on was that the Lord might refuse.  That was what happened.  He gave her a very negative excuse.  How terrible that must have been!  She had won all the battles but now was losing the war.  If the devil tried at that moment to get her to abandon hope, he would have had reason on his side.  That is very unusual for the devil.  Normally, reason is his mortal enemy, which is why he is far more likely to tempt us through our appetites and emotions, but Satan does lurk, and sometimes he lunges when afflictions come.  Here he met a more formidable foe than reason.  He came up against the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit told the woman, Don't take No for an answer.  She had come to the right Person, but it was necessary to come in faith, so the Spirit told her not to give up.

Isn't it amazing how we both want, and don't want, answers from God?  What greater treasure can any Christian have than divine mercy?  Isn't that what makes us His sons and daughters?  He made us in His image so that we could love Him with a love like His own.  He makes choices, therefore His images also make choices.  We think we're so mature, but what have we done?  He has given us opportunities to serve Him instead of Mammon.  Instead of carrying us, He permits us to take steps on our own.  To look at us, though, you would think He had left the universe.  We look up and whine, "Don't You care?"  Think about this - you wouldn't spoil a child whom you really loved, so God will not spoil you.  He wants to build your faith, which He can't do by giving you everything you want.  Those evil experiences confuse us.  Often God's blessings get lost in the shuffle.

Do you see the parallel with last Sunday's lesson about the sacrifice of Isaac?  Here we have the mother-daughter relationship.  We don't see the daughter, because the mother did not bring her.   She was demon-possessed, badly in need of an exorcist.  The same God who tested Abraham was now testing this Gentile.  Jesus does not tell this woman that it is a test. He doesn't say anything about whether or not she loves Him.  He speaks only about what is right.  Just as in last week's lesson, the saving answer is the Lamb.  Jesus took all the assaults and temptations of the devil upon Himself.   So how did that help this woman?  In the end she did get what she asked for.  The demon did go out of her daughter, so, at the end of this Lenten season we will again come to that wonderful Sunday of Easter, where we can see that Jesus even conquered death.

How does this help with our afflictions?  Remember, He isn't asking us to do anything that he didn't.  The devil only looks big and menacing.  He is on his way out.  The only power he has is what people give him, but he can deceive.  If he can't get us to question Jesus' ability, he will try to get us to doubt His willingness, so when the Canaanite woman asked for help, the devil must have cast doubts in her mind when the Lord returned only silence.

That wasn't exactly a denial, but it certainly wasn't agreement.  It left the door open for the woman to consider her worthiness.  Here, Satan has some truth to begin with.  None of us are worthy of Jesus' help.  We do not deserve divine favors.  For anyone to look God in the eye and claim any kind of rights is vilest blasphemy.  So Jesus looked her in the eye and said, It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.  Since the woman already knew she was not worthy, the Lord probably said this for the benefit of the disciples, but the woman was being tested sorely.  Does she say, "You made me thus"?  No.  No excuses from her.  Only faith, which depends on the kind of humility she showed here.  If she had any self-esteem at all, she ditched it here, and hell was powerless!  By faith, this woman took advantage of the Lord's rebuke, and let us not blame Jesus.  His rebuke was infinitely wise.  It gave this woman the opportunity to jettison the excess baggage, to throw herself into His hands.  She was not just clever, she was faithful.  Even if she were from the cursed race of Canaan, Jesus' blessings were far too large to be contained in the tents of Shem.  The same God who enlarged Japheth, enlarged this Hamite woman, who claimed no right, but begged for the unwanted scraps of God's grace.  When we insist on our rights, we give the devil power.  If we fall down hoping for the scraps, hell has no answer.

Remember also, Jesus Himself is the children's Bread.  He was turned over to the Gentiles by the leaders of His people.  Yes, they threw the Lord to the dogs, but as we follow the Way of the Cross, we arrive at the Fountain of Life, to drink of God's good pleasure.  Don't let the powers of hell tell you that sinners cannot have help from Jesus.  So what if knowledge of your sin makes you uncomfortable?  Cast yourself on the mercy of the court.  The atoning sacrifice is our Bread.  When we, like the Canaanite woman, stop fighting with Him, He bathes us in the Fountain of Life, and dresses us in His righteousness.  When He went to Jericho, did He stay with the local rabbi?  No, he stayed with a tax collector, Zacchaeus.  When He was at Simon's house, was He impressed by the excellent entertainment?   He was far more pleased with a prostitute who cried on His feet.  When He wanted someone to preach to the Gentiles, did He ask one of His friends?  No, He got a guy who hated the sound of His name and converted him.  You see the pattern here?  Neither Zacchaeus, nor the prostitute, nor Saul had anything to offer, but neither did they take No for an answer.  In the most discouraging of situations, God's arms are often open the widest, as they were for that Canaanite woman.  He might want to make us a little thirstier, but His goal is to get us to drink, so His grace is at work, providing the Fountain of Life for us. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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