A Savior for All

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Mark 7:24-30 (Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman)

INTRODUCTION: Last week’s passage showed that there was no longer a distinction between clean and unclean foods. Today’s passage shows that there is no longer a distinction between clean and unclean people. In one sense we are all unclean because we are sinful, but when it comes to Christ, there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile. Jesus is a savior for all peoples and for all nationalities, as shown in his conversation with this woman from Phoenicia. (Read passage and pray.)

Jesus was a Jew. He was born in the Jewish homeland and raised in the Jewish faith. He studied the Jewish Scriptures, worshiped in the Jewish synagogues, and prayed to the Jewish God. He observed Jewish holidays and traditions. He had Jewish parents, Jewish grandparents, Jewish aunts, uncles and cousins.

But Jesus was not just a Jew. He was also the Jewish Messiah. He was the one God sent into the world to redeem his people. He was the one prophesied and spoken about in the Old Testament Scriptures. He was the one who came in fulfillment of God’s promise to his people. He was the Jewish Messiah: born as a Jew, raised as a Jew, ministering among the Jews.

There was so much Jewishness about Jesus that it would have been easy for some people to think that Jesus was meant only for the Jews. And in fact the early church was mainly composed of Jewish believers who struggled with the idea that Jesus was for the Gentiles, or non-Jews, too. That seems odd to us today, because nowadays that is all backwards. Most believers today are not Jewish, and it is the Jews who have a hard time believing that Jesus is meant for them.

But one of the main messages of Scripture is that Jesus is a Savior for all, both Jews and non-Jews. This was prophesied in the Old Testament, it was fulfilled in the church, and it was revealed at various key moments in Jesus’ ministry. This passage is one of those moments.

Remember, the gospel of Mark was mainly written to share the gospel with non-Jews, so this passage would have special meaning for them. Even during his earthly ministry to the Jews as the Jewish Messiah, Jesus affirmed the faith of this non-Jewish woman and performed a miracle for her daughter. So let’s take a closer look at the passage together.

I. The woman’s request (verses 24-26)

We begin with the woman’s request in verses 24-26:

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. (Mark 7:24-26)

So Mark tells us that this incident took place in the vicinity of Tyre. Tyre was a coastal city in Phoenicia which is modern day Lebanon. It is about 35 miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee.

Now this is unusual. Jesus spent most of his time ministering in Israel. We find him going through Samaria and ministering in some non-Jewish regions, but this trip to Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia is the farthest north Jesus traveled that we have on record. We are not told why he left Israel to go to Tyre, or what house he entered, but we do know that he was trying to keep his presence there a secret. Perhaps he just needed to get away to get some rest, or perhaps he wanted to spend some time teaching his disciples. Mark doesn’t mention the disciples here, but we know from the parallel passage in Matthew that they were there with him. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Mark tells us Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, yet he couldn’t keep his presence a secret. I like that. Isn’t that the way it should be with Jesus in our lives? Shouldn’t Jesus make such a difference in our lives that we can’t keep his presence a secret? Shouldn’t we be so filled with the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, that other people take notice?

Well, Jesus couldn’t keep his presence in Tyre a secret, and as soon as this woman heard about him, she came to him seeking his help. You see, she had a little girl who was possessed by an evil spirit. We have talked about evil spirits before and the reality of demon possession both in Jesus’ time and in our day as well. I don’t know how it came about that this little girl was demon-possessed, but somehow her mother heard about Jesus and the works he had been doing and she believed that he could help her daughter. And so she comes to him and falls at his feet, a sign of worship, homage and respect. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Savior. He is the Son of God, and we should all bow at his feet.

One more thing here. Mark tells us that this woman was a Greek who was born in Syrian Phoenicia. In other words, she was not a Jew but a Gentile. She was a non-Jewish woman living in a non-Jewish land that did not worship the Jewish God. And now she is falling at the feet of this Jewish miracle worker, begging him to drive the demon out of her daughter. That is the context of the woman’s request, which is important for us to understand her following exchange with Jesus.

II. The woman’s faith (verses 27-28)

The next verses reveal to us this woman’s faith in Jesus. Look at verses 27-28:

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:27-28)

Jesus’ response here catches us off guard a bit. It seems a little harsh at first. And so we need to understand what Jesus meant by what he said, and then we need to understand why he said it this way.

What Jesus meant was this. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and at this point his ministry was primarily to the Jews. God’s plan of salvation way back in the Old Testament was to choose a people through whom he would give the promises of salvation and from whom the promised Savior would come. It was essential that Jesus came as a Jew to the Jews, for otherwise he would not be fulfilling his role as the Messiah. Now that doesn’t mean that he was only a Savior for the Jews. It just means that he came to the Jews first, in order to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all people from all nations everywhere.

Notice Jesus’ use of the word “first” with the woman. It’s just a small word, but it makes such a big difference. If you took away that one word, it would change the meaning of everything that follows. Salvation came first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles because God brought the promised Savior of the world into the world through the Jewish nation. The apostle Paul said the same thing when he wrote in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Here was Jesus in a non-Jewish land being petitioned by a non-Jewish woman at a time when he had not yet fulfilled his Jewish mission. And so he tells her that this is not yet the time for him to minister to the Gentiles. That is what Jesus meant by what he said. Now we have to look at why he said it in the way he did.

Jesus uses a word picture of children eating at the table. Remember, Jesus often spoke in parables. And here he makes a very simple point. You don’t take the children’s food away and give it to the dogs. You let the children eat all they need first.

Now this statement seems a little harsh. Is Jesus calling the Jewish people “children” and the Gentiles “dogs?” Calling someone a dog was an insult in that culture, and actually the Jews often did refer to Gentiles as dogs.

Well, if Jesus is being harsh here, he certainly had his reasons. Perhaps he was testing this woman’s faith, to see how she would respond. But his words don’t come across quite as harsh in the original language. Instead of using the normal word for dogs, Jesus uses a word for smaller dogs, or puppies. The picture would seem to refer to house pets indoors, rather than dogs running wild outside. Either way, Jesus used this image to explain why he could not just say yes to this woman’s request to heal her daughter. His ministry was focused on the Jewish nation at this time, not the Gentiles.

You’ve got to love this woman’s perseverance. Not only does she not give up, but she uses Jesus’ word picture to reframe her request. “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28)

This was a remarkable answer. First of all, she addressed Jesus as Lord. This is the only time in the gospel of Mark that anyone addresses Jesus as Lord. You would expect it to come from the disciples, but instead we find it on the lips of this Gentile woman.

Secondly, her answer showed that she understood Jesus’ words. A lot of times people didn’t “get” Jesus’ parables, but this woman got it. She understood Jesus’ mission to the Jews, she affirmed Jesus’ mission to the Jews, but she also asked for a special allowance for her daughter. In effect, she was saying, “I understand that your mission is to your own people at this time. I don’t expect you to abandon that mission and begin a whole new mission to the Gentiles. But surely you can just heal my daughter. Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

III. Jesus’ response (verses 29-30)

What was Jesus’ response? Verses 29-30:

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7:29-30)

Jesus commended her reply, and then he healed her daughter instantly, from a distance.

Why did Jesus commend her reply? This woman showed remarkable understanding of Jesus’ mission and remarkable faith in Jesus’ power to work a miracle for her daughter. She showed remarkable faith in Jesus’ character to help her, a Gentile woman, and she showed remarkable perseverance in faith to keep asking Jesus even after he had basically told her no. All of these things were wrapped up in her wise, trusting and humble reply, and so Jesus commended her.

And then Jesus showed his great power by casting the demon out of the girl from a distance. This is the only “long-distance” miracle that Mark records in his gospel, although we see a few other instances of Jesus healing or working miracles from a distance in the other gospels. But what an amazing display of Jesus’ power! Jesus is not limited by time or distance or circumstances. He is the all-powerful Son of the all-powerful God, and nothing is too difficult for him. She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

CONCLUSION: So what are some of the applications of this passage for us today? Let me share with you three of them.

1) The first is the primary application, and it is the title of today’s message. Jesus is a Savior for all. Yes, he came primarily to his own people, but that was to fulfill the Old Testament promises. It was prophesied in the Old Testament that God would use the nation of Israel to bring salvation to all the nations. God fulfilled that promise by sending his Son Jesus into the world through the nation Israel as the Jewish Messiah. But now that he has completed his mission by dying for sin and rising from the dead, he is a savior for all people everywhere. That’s why he told his disciples before he returned to heaven, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

And so as you walk through your week, look around at the people God has placed in your life. Do they know Christ? Have they experienced God’s salvation? Jesus is a Savior for all who will put their trust in him. He is a Savior for young people and old, religious and non-religious, students, businessmen, doctors, nurses, truck drivers, factory workers, friends, neighbors and relatives. All have sinned, and so all need a Savior. That is part of the message of Jesus’ meeting with this Syrophoenician woman. Jesus is that Savior for all, and we need to share his saving message with as many people as possible.

2) Secondly, Jesus commends faith. We have seen a number of instances now in the gospel of Mark where Jesus works miracles in response to faith. We have also seen God hold back his power due to a lack of faith. Like the Syrophoenician woman, we must come to God trusting his character and believing his power. And like the Syrophoenician woman, we must persevere. Perseverance is part of faith, and when we do not see an answer to our prayers right away, we should not get discouraged, but we should persevere in faith. In the long run, we must trust God’s answers to our prayers, whatever they may be, but we may be confident that Jesus always commends faith and often works miracles in response to faith.

3) And then thirdly, Jesus can do all things. Once again, Jesus is not limited by earthly circumstances. Even when he was here in his physical body, he could heal people or cast out demons from a distance. How much more can he do all things, now that he has ascended to heaven and sits on the throne at the right hand of God!

No matter how bad your situation, no matter how desperate your circumstances, bring it all to God in prayer through Jesus his Son. Nothing is impossible with God. So come in faith trusting God’s character and believing in his power to do all things. Jesus is a Savior for all. Jesus commends faith. And he can do all things.

© Ray Fowler

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By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

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