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The Miracles of Jesus – Healing an Outsider | Sermon from 3/30/2014

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Today’s miracle took place in the region of Tyre and Sidon which is in Lebanon not Israel, which means I don’t have any pictures of that area, but I do have these.  This is where the pools of Bethesda were located in Jesus’ day.

Pools of Bethseda

The pools were known for their healing power and in John 5 there is a story of Jesus visiting these pools and healing a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.  These pools were not only sacred places for the Jewish people but known throughout the region for their healing power among all people.  Many histories of this area talk about an asclepieion which is a temple or pool where people would seek healing from the Greek god Asclepius – the god of healing and medicine.

The woman in the miracle we are going to look at today may have visited this place with her daughter to find healing, we don’t know, but she probably did visit other places of healing, or other asclepieions, trying to help her daughter

Just a few comments about these pools before we look at today’s miracle.  These pools were not discovered until the 19th century so many people wondered about the authenticity of the miracle of healing found in John 5.

Because of all the battles and transfers of power in and around Jerusalem, much of the archeological evidence to support the Bible is difficult if not impossible to find, but then a discover like these pools takes place and gives weight and power to the truth of the Bible.

The other interesting thing about these pools is that it is one place in Jerusalem that really allows you to see the larger history of the city.

As you look from the pools up to the rooflines you see several layers of history.  Each new ruler of Jerusalem would tear down and then build up and more recently they have just built up on what is already there.  You can see several different time periods in Jerusalem’s history as you look up into the city.  Pictures like this are a great reminder of the amazing history of Jerusalem.

So again, it was at these pools where Jesus met a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.  We don’t know how often this man came to the pools looking for healing, but we do know it had been for some time and he appears to have given up hope which is why Jesus asked him – do you want to get well?  At first this sounds like a foolish question because he was at the pools where people gathered to be healed, but it seems as if he had stopped trying to get into the water.

He told Jesus that he was never able to be the first one into pool when the waters were stirred up, which was when people thought they would receive the healing, so he just sat on the sidelines and watched.  Like many of us, when the answer to his prayer didn’t come in the way, place and time he wanted – he began to lose his faith and trust.

Jesus said to the man, Get up, and it says that at once this invalid, this man who hadn’t walked in 38 years, got up and began to walk.  Jesus healed him not through the waters of the pool but with just a word.  In the miracle we are going to look at today Jesus also heals with just a word, but the difference in the people receiving the miracle couldn’t be more striking.  Today’s miracle comes from Matthew 15:21-28.

This story is one of the most controversial stories in the New Testament because it not only seems like Jesus is turning this woman away, he seems to be critical of her – even putting her down and Jesus just didn’t do that.  This story does not fit our image and understanding of Jesus.  Jesus reached out to all those people that no one else cared about.  He forgave and healed prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors.  He cared for women and welcomed children and ate and drank with sinners, so what is he doing here?

What is Jesus doing here?  To answer this we need to look at the larger context of Matthew’s gospel.  The two miracles we talked about last week, Jesus feeding the 5,000 (or 20,000) and Jesus walking on water took place just before this and in those miracles Jesus was trying to help the disciples and the crowds understand exactly who he was.  He was like Moses who provided bread in the wilderness but he is greater than Moses.  When Jesus walked on the water and identified himself as “I AM”, he was saying that he was God.  So those miracles were Jesus’ way of helping the disciples understand who he was and what he had come for.  Jesus was trying to lead and teach the disciples so that they would be able to teach and lead others once he was gone.  Remember, Jesus knows that he is not going to be in this world as a physical human leader forever.

So after those miracles, Jesus retreated to Tyre and Sidon which is a non-Jewish region and he goes there looking for some rest and reflection which he can’t seem to find anywhere in Israel.  While Jesus might think he can get away from people here, we see that he can’t.  The word about Jesus power to heal and drive out demons and overcome all things has spread all through the region and so even outside of Israel, a woman cries out and asks Jesus to heal her daughter.

At first, it says Jesus said nothing.  Look at Matthew 15:23, Jesus did not answer a word.  Now because Jesus didn’t answer this woman, the disciples stepped in and said something.  I wonder if Jesus didn’t say a word but turned to his disciples with a look that said, “What do you think we should do?”  Was Jesus using this as a teachable moment?  Not that long ago when the crowds were in need the disciples wanted Jesus to send them away, but Jesus didn’t, he helped them and when he helped them he was teaching the disciples that he didn’t come to turn people but to offer help

It’s the same situation all over again.   Someone is coming to Jesus in need and I wonder if Jesus turns to the disciples to see what their response would be.  Had they learned anything?  Were they learning that Jesus had come to help all people?  Were they learning that God’s power was for everyone and that Jesus had come to rescue people?  I think Jesus doesn’t say a word in order to see how his disciples respond and what they have learned.  Their response is just as it was with the crowds – send her away.  It doesn’t seem like they have learned anything.

But notice Jesus didn’t send her away, but he did tell her that he didn’t come for the gentiles but only for God’s chosen people.  That’s what Jesus means when he says in Matthew 15: 26, It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.  Let’s be clear that Jesus is not calling this woman a dog, but he is saying that the prevailing idea at this time is that God’s blessing, the bread, is only for God’s people.  Now we know Jesus doesn’t mean this because he has healed gentile people elsewhere and offered grace to non-Jews, so why does he say it here?  I think he says it to once again help teach his disciples what it means to have compassion and to show them that his power is for all people in all places.

For those of you who are parents, have you ever tried to show your children how wrong their attitudes, words and actions are by mirroring what you see and hear in them?  I know this is going to date me a little bit, but there are couple episodes of the old Andy Griffith show where Andy does this to help show Opie how selfish and unkind he is being.  When Opie sees those words and actions in Barney and in his father, it helps him see that his own attitude and actions needs to change.  I think that is what Jesus is doing here.  Before Jesus taught them by telling them directly to feed the people, he gave them clear instructions.  Here Jesus is teaching them by helping them hear how unkind and selfish their attitude is.

So Jesus basically tells her that he did not come for the Gentile people and that he was not going to give the bread of heaven, God’s blessing, to those who were outside the family of God.  But the woman didn’t give up and she was so desperate for her daughter to be healed that she grabbed for whatever hope she could find.  Her response to Jesus was, Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.   The woman understands that Jesus is compassionate and that God’s blessing is for everyone.  She has more faith than the disciples.  What she has heard about Jesus informs her to see God as one who will bless those outside the people of Israel and that all she needs is just a crumb from the table in order to experience the blessing of God.

And she is right.  Jesus says that she has great faith.  Unlike the disciples who Jesus had just accused of being dull – she is sharp and her request is granted.  So if we look at this miracle beyond what we read in these few verses, we see that what Jesus is saying to his disciples and to everyone else who hears about this miracle is that God’s power to bring healing and wholeness to people is not just for the Holy Land and for God’s holy or chosen people it is for all people in all lands.  God’s power is not bound by location or nationality it is available to everyone who simply has faith in Jesus to bring God’s power.

This woman not only had faith but she was bold, courageous and persistent.  She didn’t give up and she didn’t allow Jesus or his disciples to push her away.  She kept at it.  Unlike the man by the pools of Bethesda who seemed to give up on healing, this woman persisted and boldly asked Jesus for the healing she wanted and believed God wanted for her daughter.  While Jesus healed both people, the question it raises for us is who would we rather look like: the man by the pools of Bethesda who gave up easily or the woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer?

While I often look more like the man at Bethesda who wants God to do things my way and in my time and when it doesn’t happen I sit back and whine, I want to look more like this woman.  I want a faith that is bold and courageous and persistent and I want a faith that looks to God to do what everyone else thinks is impossible.  So I asked myself this week, what does this kind of faith look like?  What does it look like to be persistent and bold?

First I think it means that we never stop praying.  We never stop asking God for what we need and what we know others need and we never stop sharing with God the desires of our heart.  Too many times I will pray about something for a day or two and when the answer doesn’t come in my way and in my time – I give up.  When I don’t see the change or the answers come quickly, I’m quick to give up and sit on the sidelines.  What we need to learn is to keep going.  We need to learn to pray in all circumstances and to pray without ceasing as it says in I Thessalonians 5:17.  This does not mean we pray with arrogance but with confidence.  This woman was not arrogant in her request; she was humble and said all she needed were some crumbs from the table.  There is no arrogance here, just confidence and boldness as she kept on going.

Persistence and boldness also calls for learning more about Jesus.  This woman was confident because of all that she had heard about Jesus.  We don’t know how she heard about Jesus, maybe she had been at the pools in Bethesda when Jesus healed the invalid or maybe she just asked a lot of questions when she heard that this miracle worker was in town, we don’t know.  What we do know is that she had taken the time to listen and learn about Jesus.  She knew enough to call him Son of David.  She knew he could drive out demons and provide the healing her daughter needed and she knew he could heal from a distance because she didn’t have her daughter with her.  Because of all she did know about Jesus, she was bold in asking for help.  The more we know of Jesus and the more we understand of his power, grace and love, the more we will pray and the more confident we will be in asking for help.

This is one reason we encourage people to be part of Bible Studies, Sunday School classes and small groups and this is why we encourage people read and reflect on God’s word.  Growing up I had a very casual understanding of God but when I started reading the Bible for myself I learned so much more and the more I learned the more I was able to pray and come to God and boldly ask for things I never thought to ask for before.  I could boldly ask for forgiveness again and again and again because I learned that God desires to forgive us and that his love is unconditional.  I learned that God is able to heal so I asked for healing and strength for myself and for others and at times I have seen that healing come in this world and at times I haven’t, but I have learned that just because healing doesn’t come the way we want it to and in the time and place we want it to doesn’t mean it doesn’t come.  God has made us for eternity and sometimes the healing God brings is divine and eternal.

 I have also learned that God’s work isn’t to take all the problems and injustice of the world away but to try and redeem the world through those things.  That is the symbol and story of the cross.  The cross of Jesus was a huge injustice – Jesus didn’t deserve to die and while God could have taken that cross away – he didn’t.  Instead God used that cross to redeem the world.  God doesn’t always take our problems and pain away but if we will be bold and courageous and keep on walking with God, he will redeem those situations in his way and in his time.

If we want a faith that is bold, courageous and persistent than we need to study and learn in any and every way we can.  That is what I think Jesus wanted for his disciples here, to learn something.  He wanted them to learn that his love and grace is for everyone who comes to him with faith and trust.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, it doesn’t matter if you are sick or well, rich or poor, faithful or sinful, clean or unclean, a success or failure – God’s grace is for everyone who simply comes to Jesus with faith and trust.  Are you seeing the common theme in all these miracles?  God rescues those who come to him for help because God’s grace and power and love is for everyone.  It is for me and it is for you if we will just not give up.

Next Steps
The Miracles of Jesus ~ A Faithful Outsider

1.  Since Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, this Canaanite woman (a non-Jew) would have been considered an outsider and beyond the reach of God’s blessing and grace.  Who today might you consider beyond the reach of God’s blessing and grace?  How does this story challenge that view?

2.  Like Jesus, who can we boldly offer God’s blessing to, trusting that it will bring a miracle of hope, healing and life?

3.  When have you cried out to God for help and felt like he wasn’t answering or sending you away empty?  Did you persist or give up?  Why?  What could you have done differently?

4.  The Canaanite woman persisted and Jesus healed her daughter.  What does it look like for you to persevere in prayer and faith?
• What step can you take today to persevere in prayer?
• What step can you take today to know Jesus better so you can be bold and courageous in asking for help?

For Further Study: Read Matthew 15:1-20 and John 6:25-59.
What insight do these teachings of Jesus give to this miracle?

Jesus is willing to reach out to those who are beyond the pale so that the least, the last, and the lost might become the first, the most, and the found.”   Ben Witherington III

 

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