Sunday, February 21, 2016

True Testimony

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)

We focus on the apparent rudeness of Jesus when he seems to call the woman a dog, but the real attention-grabber for the preacher is when Christ says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  How can Jesus Christ be savior of the world, if he only came for the house of Israel?  The answer lies in covenant theology.  The short version: God honors the covenant he made with Israel so that the other nations will witness God's faithfulness and be converted.

The long version:

Israel was always meant to be missionaries to the rest of the world. God told Abraham that his seed would be a blessing to the nations.  But being missionaries to the world does not necessarily mean being a positive role model.  Not only did God's power reach the world though the exodus from and punishment of Egypt, but God's power was also expressed through the punishment of Israel.  The focus is not on God being an enabler who spoils his chosen people no matter what, but a righteous and holy God who punishes the wicked, even if they are his own people.  The holiness of God is what draws new converts, not the cool buddy who rewards his followers.

This is why testimonies need to focus on the witness' sin and God's holiness, not the "God made my life better" approach.  Everything is for his glory alone, not our own.  Show how God's righteousness always trumps our own wants.  Show how we ourselves are sinful wretches who deserve God's wrath but get his grace and mercy anyway.

1. The converted are to share the gospel with the unconverted.  We are not to revel in the grace God has given to us, but to pray for and preach to the weak, so that they might be partakers of God's grace, too.  This is not only loving our neighbor but building them up through our own sufferings.  Christ did not enjoy his sojourn on earth. He suffered on our behalf.

2. The scriptures are the fullest expression of Christ's sufferings on behalf of the ungodly. The Bible was written for us in order to give us hope and encouragement.  We witness the sufferings of Christ in its pages and as a result we endure to love God and our neighbor for the glory of Jesus Christ.  We also use the scriptures to make sure that our own testimonies are biblically grounded.

3. Christ became a servant to Israel to show God's honor of the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This service involved suffering to the point of death on a cross.  The result is that not only Jews but also Gentiles are brought into the sheepfold and both groups glorify God for his mercy.

The Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 never departs from her testimony of repentance, hope, and faith.  She has a correct evaluation of her own sinfulness, she has hope that Christ will heal her daughter, and she has faith that he will rescue the Gentiles as well as the Jews. She knows that God will honor the covenant he made with Abraham, that all the nations through his seed will be blessed, even if those blessings are only crumbs that fall from the table.

When Jesus seems to call her a dog, he's actually using a statement about how the Jews sinfully feel about the Gentiles to draw out the woman's faith and to show his disciples that she is part of Israel after all. Remember that Jesus is without sin, so his apparent insult has purpose.  It was actually a teaching lesson for his followers.  It is also a clear representation of covenant theology and God grafting believers from every nation onto the vine of Israel. Instead of saying, "I've never been so insulted in all my life!" the Canaanite woman agrees with Christ's assessment, and in penitent faith continues to ask for mercy.  All of us are like dogs to God.  Actually, that comparison is too positive, because dogs are loyal. More accurately, all of us are like thoughtless sheep who would blindly follow the devil himself, if he gave us an entertaining reason.

A great example for us is the ultimate sufferer in the Old Testament: Job.  In chapter 19, this man, who has suffered so much exclaims:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Testimony of our own sufferings, paired with our hope in God's deliverance, actually draws God's flock closer, not dispels them. But pointing to our own sin and suffering, and God's suffering on our behalf for our deliverance, all the while keeping everything biblical, we glorify our creator and redeemer. Let us praise God and sing his name.  Let us rejoice as branches on the vine of Christ.  Let us never lose hope but be filled with joy and peace in faith.