Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)
There is the complaint that much of modern preaching is shallow. It addresses man’s needs and desires, but neglects God’s majesty. It is man-centered, not God-centered. If we mean it correctly, then there is some truth to this, but most of those who state the complaint make a wrong analysis, and some of the things they attack are in fact teachings that come straight from the word of God. Then, although they are satisfied that their solution corrects the issue, the truth is that it continues to misrepresent the biblical religion, only in a different way, in a way hidden from their bias.
A truly God-centered theology would ask God to tell us what it means to be God-centered, but this is not what we are presented by those who claim to be the most God-centered in their theology. If you ask man what it means to be God-centered, then the product is only a seemingly God-centered religion founded on a man-centered foundation. It is a man-centered opinion on what it should mean to be God-centered. It still ignores what God thinks about himself. It still ignores how God wants us to relate to him. So it is still a man-centered religion, but more hypocritical. What we need is a God-centered religion on a God-centered foundation.
Those who claim to provide a God-centered theology are often proud of their theological prowess, but in reality their solution is superficial. They are not much better than those they complain about, but they are the more vocal, more bitter, more arrogant counterpart. They represent the other side of man-centered religion. There is no theological depth and maturity. For this reason, they seem to think that God-centered religion usually stresses God’s transcendence. God himself does not think so. That is not how he presents himself in Scripture. That is not how he tells his own story. A God-centered theology listens to what God says about himself, and in his narrative, he stresses both his transcendence and his immanence.
He could be aloof, but instead he is closer than your own heartbeat. He could forget about you, but instead he counts your hairs. He could let you fend for yourself, but instead he feeds you and heals you, and works miracles for you. He could be too important to have anything to do with you, but instead he wants you to have faith in him and ask from him. He is so spiritual that he does not even have a body, but he promises he will strengthen yours. He is so transcendent that he created the world, but he is so immanent that he walked and talked with Adam. He is so transcendent that he could destroy Sodom, but he is so immanent that he engaged Abraham to negotiate with him. He is so transcendent that he could wipe out Israel, but he is so immanent that he allowed Moses to stand in his way and stop him. This is how he wants you to know him. This is God-centered theology.
I do not say that we should find the right balance, because it is not a matter of balance. It is not a matter of finding the right point on a scale, but a matter of right or wrong doctrine. Jesus was the most God-centered person who ever walked the earth. He was God himself, but more than anyone in Scripture, he was also the one who told us to pray for our needs and ask God for what we want. The “God-centered” people declares, “God is not Santa!” and they think that this is God-centered theology. It is true that God is not Santa, but this is because he is far better than Santa. Jesus said he is our Father, and it is his pleasure to give good gifts to his children. He does not bring us gifts only once a year, but Jesus told us to ask for our daily bread. They say, “God is not a cash machine!” It is true that God is not a cash machine, but this is because you only withdraw your own money from a cash machine. Paul wrote that God supplies all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. This is God-centered theology, because it listens to what God says about himself, rather than shoving divine transcendence back in his face no matter what he says.
They declare that God is for all of life, but then in one way or another suggest that it is unspiritual to ask him for health and wealth by faith, while it is spiritual to attain these same things yourself by effort, under some sort of cultural mandate. Do you see it? This is man-centered religion, hidden under the facade of divine transcendence. In effect, it pushes God away from our lives. They proclaim “The God Who is There” (not here?), but he is also “The God Who has Ceased.” Theologically, he is a heuristic principle. Spiritually, he is a psychological crutch. He does not really do anything. He is decoration. He produces actual effects only in hidden providence, where we cannot tell the difference anyway. What is this? It is fake religion. It portrays itself as God-centered, but it is phony and shallow. It is plastic faith.
Here we have a woman who asked Jesus for healing, to remove a demon from her daughter. There were no platitudes about submitting to the will of God or suffering for the glory of God. Do you think that people back then did not know to say these things? Of course they did. They could sound religious too. They could keep up with the best of them. But this woman did not say these things. There was something wrong with her daughter and she wanted her fixed! And she did not sit on her theological pedestal and stay home to make fun of the preachers on television while her daughter rolled on the floor and foamed at the mouth. That would have been really holy, as long as she slaps “for the glory of God” on whatever she was doing. Alas, she was not that sophisticated. There was a demon in her daughter and she wanted it gone!
She wanted healing for her daughter. She came for that one thing, not something else. And she asked Jesus to show mercy. Nowadays some people think that it is entirely legitimate to seek healing, as long as you do not expect to get it from God by faith, because that would mean you follow a gospel of health and wealth. This kind of religion is grotesque like no other. Can we even ask for mercy now? Be careful, or you might get healed. And that might get you excommunicated. Someone did in Jesus’ day, and that still happens today in fine “Christian” churches. So refined. So orthodox. So demonic. The woman was a Gentile, but she was not a Buddhist pretending to be a Christian. She was not so “God-centered” that she lost all sense of self. She thought it was just fine to ask for things. She wanted miracle healing from Jesus. Give ME. Help ME.
No. No. No.
Jesus denied her three times. At first, he did not even acknowledge her. She could have given up. If he was going to heal her daughter, he would have responded immediately like he did with other people. The Messiah, God in the flesh, decided not to answer her. She should have accepted this as the will of God, and she should have retreated. Correct? What would you have done? But she refused to be ignored and persisted for a significant time, so that the disciples were annoyed and asked Jesus to send her away.
So Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” He was sent to Israel. She was a Gentile. He was not sent to her. Therefore, no healing. It was an argument from covenant theology. This answer was stronger than a simple “No,” because he included a reason for his denial that the woman could not refute. His argument was correct, and so he left no room for negotiation. His meaning was clear, and he left no room for misunderstanding. If you take his words seriously, you know he was not going to do it.
She should have given up, right? Jesus not only denied the request, but he offered a reason. He hammered a nail right through her hope for a miracle. How many Christians who persisted through the silence would now continue even in the face of this explicit theological and irrefutable rejection, in defiance to the word of God, straight from the mouth of the Son of God? You assumed that when he does not grant your request, he usually just does not answer, and eventually you stop pestering him about it. But now he speaks to you directly and audibly, and even stated a reason for the denial, a reason that you cannot refute, based on a condition that you cannot change. Would not every Christian tradition, even if it comes short of condemning her audacity, urge the woman to submit to the will of God? But she refused to accept even this verbal rejection. She did not answer his argument, but insisted, “Lord, help me!”
Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Christians today would call him a racist and leave. The more aggressive ones would try to damage his reputation on social media or even send him death threats. It is interesting how theologians address this. Some of them claim that he was only using a term that was common in his day. So what? Would they find it acceptable for me to use a racial or religious slur that is common in my day? Right to the woman’s face? In front of a crowd? During ministry time? Some of them say that Jesus was testing the woman’s faith. With a racial slur? Should I do this when someone asks me to pray for him? Is this kind of speech “seasoned with salt” and offered with “gentleness and respect”? Or do the theologians have no idea what Paul and Peter had in mind? This is speculation in the first place. Jesus could have been testing her faith, but his words constituted an explicit rejection. His intention was irrelevant to whether the denial was genuine. Most importantly, all his points were theologically correct and irrefutable. He expressed no intention to perform the request. She could have left based on what he said.
If Jesus was testing her faith, then why don’t Christians follow the woman’s example, and insist that their faith is being tested in the face of silence and rejection, and insist on taking what they want from God no matter what? Instead, they give up and hide behind “the sovereignty of God.” Even without a verbal and audible denial, they resign so fast that even those impatient disciples would have been disappointed. And they are the ones who keep screaming “COVENANT!!!” every chance they get. Dumpster-grade scholarship. Their idea of a covenant with God is weaker than even the covenant between heathen tribes. Otherwise, there is no way they would not believe in health and wealth, and all kinds of signs and wonders, along with eternal life, for all times that the covenant remain effective. They have no clue as to what it means to have a covenant with anyone, let alone the Almighty, or they would be deliriously happy all the time as they encourage one another to have faith, to serve God, and to receive all his benefits, both spiritual and material.
So Jesus could have been testing her faith, but I don’t care, and the woman didn’t care. We must deal with what he actually said. It was another covenantal argument, and it was even stronger than before. The first one was a positive statement that implied her exclusion, but this one was a negative statement declaring that it was “not right” to give her what she asked. He just clenched the nail on the other side. But it was even stronger than that. Mark’s account tells us that he said, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Mark 7:27). The plan was for his disciples to bring the gospel to the rest of the world — but not now (Acts 1:8). Thus he added a redemptive-historical dimension to the covenantal argument. At this point in God’s plan of redemption, in the unfolding of his will in history, it was not time for the covenant to be bestowed upon the Gentiles. He was sent to someone else, not to her. It was not right to give to her what belonged to someone else. And even if she could get it, she could not get it now. He was entirely correct in his theology. There was no way to refute any of this.
But I Say Yes
He said no. He said no in three or four ways. There was the silent treatment. There was the positive covenantal argument. There was the negative covenantal argument. And there was the redemptive-historical maneuver.
Imagine what you would have done. He was not just ignoring you, he was saying no. He was not just saying no, he was schooling you in theology. You were defenseless because he was correct, and he was the Son of God. It is a standard Christian assumption that we can pray, but God will do what he wants anyway. The unspoken heresy is that God will do what he wants regardless of what he has promised, because he is “sovereign.” Somehow he was not sovereign when he made the promises, but he is sovereign when he breaks his promises. Or he was sovereign when he made the promises, because even then he intended to break them. This is theology. It is brilliant. No wonder people hate it.
But now he is not just unresponsive, he is saying no to you in person. What would you have done? The Angel told Jacob to release him. What would you have done? Jacob said, “Not until you bless me.” God said he would wipe out Israel. What would you have done? Moses said, “Don’t you do it.” Elijah prayed six times, and nothing happened. What would you have done? How would your theology handle this? The prophet prayed again, and God sent a heavy rain.
The woman did not accept the denial as “the will of God,” but she pressed on. Jesus asserted a covenantal argument. Then he asserted a redemptive-historical argument. He was correct theologically. What could turn this around? It was the simplest and rarest thing in the world. The woman asserted an argument from faith. She hijacked the Lord’s metaphor and insisted on getting something from him that was not intended for her and that did not belong to her, and that he said was “not right” to give to her. Faith made it right anyway. She had no covenant, and it was not her time, but she still got what she wanted. What’s your excuse?
Jesus kept saying no, and the woman kept saying yes. And she received what she asked. Nowadays God keeps saying yes, and Christians are the ones who keep saying no. Instead of arguing with God out of faith to obtain blessings from him, Christians argue with God out of unbelief to refuse blessings from him, as if these things, stained by the blood of Christ, are some dirty, filthy things. Is this the pinnacle of God-centered theology? Is this the product of covenant theology, and a redemptive-historical approach to Scripture that finds Christ on every page? Which Christ? Apparently, not the one in this passage.
No wonder non-Christians laugh at us. We do not even believe our own God. We make up all kinds of very complicated reasons to reject his benefits — pushing it into the past or into the future, to another race, to another covenant, or up into heaven, or into another dimension, anywhere but here, anytime but now. And then we tremble with indignation when the atheists want to take away our Nativity scenes. We will get rid of our own God, but don’t you mess with our politics and homeschools! But why am I saying “we”? I am not a part of this mess. I will disown these weirdos. I will preach the Christ of the prophets and the apostles, not the Christ of the religious phonies.
Jesus made a covenantal argument. He made a redemptive-historical argument. And his theology was correct. But then she made a declaration of faith, and that finished the whole exchange. There was no more rejection, and no more argument. Faith shut down every opposition, every reason to refuse, even from Christ himself.
Faith trumps everything. Faith is immune to even correct theological arguments. This is not because faith could contradict sound doctrine, but because faith in God is the first sound doctrine. Faith in God is the primal orthodoxy. Thus we do not say that faith would contradict correct theology, but that correct theology could never contradict faith. Even when a doctrine comes straight from the word of God, so that there is no room for refutation, it will always leave room for faith, because faith comes first. No covenant? No problem. Stuck in the wrong spot in redemptive history? Who cares? Faith always reaches God directly.
Of course I care about theology. I care so much that I am accused of extremism and rationalism. And I will outmatch those who wish to argue. But many people do not want to argue — they just need God to help them. Some try to resist unbelief, but they lack the cunning to outwit the sophistry of the theologians, if they can understand their complicated gibberish in the first place. I want to tell them that even when they are faced with a correct theological argument that denies them, and even when Jesus Christ himself states the argument, they can still get help from God by faith, because faith reaches God directly, and faith trumps everything. How much more should they receive from God, when all the arguments that deny them now are in fact heresies!
Cessationism is not only a false doctrine, but it is also an irrelevant doctrine. If I have faith, then the doctrine makes no practical difference. This is because the gifts of the Spirit constitute only one mode by which spiritual manifestations occur. And if it includes other modes, it still makes no difference. Even if cessationism is correct, I can still receive and minister by faith everything that the doctrine denies to me. Cessationists are pointless. They don’t matter at all. Even if all the gifts have ceased, I would still be able to perform all their functions by faith.
I have never looked for someone with a gift of healing when I needed healing. I have always received healing by faith or commanded the sickness to leave. And I have never needed to think about any gift of healing when I prayed for the sick. I have always ministered to them by faith. Perhaps the gifts manifested sometimes, or many times. But I don’t care. Do you mean that if you are sick, I should not pray for you and expect something to happen unless I think I have a gift? Do you mean if you have a need that is best met by prophecy or some other ability, I should not pray for you and just watch you suffer? That approach is void of both faith and love. No, I am going to have faith and take it anyway.
Do you think the gifts of the Spirit have ceased? I don’t care. Do you think that signs and wonders have passed away? I don’t care. Do you think that certain blessings belonged only to certain peoples and at certain times? I don’t care. You would be wrong about all of this, but even if you are right, I don’t care, and I don’t need to care. I am going to have faith and take it all anyway. If anything have ceased, or slipped, or leaked, they are gone only for you, because you do not have faith.
If God is silent, or if God appears to say no, and if there is even a sound theological reason for him to say no, you can still say yes. If you have faith, you can still have it. You can still press for it. You would not be working against God. He likes faith. Faith is God’s “Yes” in your heart. Most of us are not really asking for something wrong, but the religious charlatans want to take even that away. Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t be bullied. Have faith, and take it anyway.
This woman came closer to the heart of Christ than many Christians, and her orthodoxy surpassed most of the heroes of the faith. Think about it: Would Calvin and Spurgeon have stood in Jesus’ face and demanded to take what they wanted? I will not answer for you. What about the famous theologians and preachers of our day? Would they have insisted despite the Lord’s repeated, explicit, and correct denials? When Jesus said no, would they have said yes? Or would they have retreated to their cute little Latin phrases long before the silent treatment was over?
The more knowledge we have, the more faith we ought to have. I am talking about the kind of faith that this woman had. It is the kind of faith that Jesus approved. But it seems that most people lose faith as they gain knowledge. This is the opposite of what should happen. It does not matter how much they study. They are not assimilating the Bible correctly. The more they study, the more they become estranged from God. They have become slaves to their own theories and traditions.
When knowledge does not increase a person’s faith, it only increases his ability to pretend. Just because someone takes it upon himself to handle an “adult” doctrine does not mean that he is mature spiritually and intellectually. You can let an infant drive a car, but he will probably crash it. Putting him in the driver’s seat does not make him an adult. Likewise, most theologians are spiritual kids, although they handle adult doctrines. They are just pretending. They play around with divine sovereignty, the covenants, the history of redemption, and so on, but when they drive — when they formulate, teach, and implement these doctrines — they wreck faith. They are just kids doing adult things to make other kids look up to them. A mature theologian will master more than the typical obnoxious prose and jargon, but he will grasp faith, mercy, justice, and these things will pervade his doctrine and ministry.
Faith trumps everything. It overrides all theological objections, even valid ones. It wipes out all covenantal restrictions and redemptive-historical concerns. Theologians might want to nitpick over this, but I can nitpick better than they can. If you know me, you know that I can nitpick with the best of them, and I will win. So I am not interested in a nitpick contest. This is not much of a boast, because it is not hard to nitpick. But do you have faith? Rather, I want to make it easy for someone who is in need, or who wants something from God, and to give him a defense against those who would “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” I want him to know that God can help him. Have faith in God. If you have faith in God, you can receive from God. Jesus said, “If you have faith when you pray, you will be given whatever you ask for” (Matthew 21:22, CEV). It is that simple.