January 19, 2020

Jesus Cares for Outcasts – Mark 7:24-37

Passage: Mark 7:24-37

Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be one under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Mark 7:24-37.

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in all 50 states. Today, churches around the world recognize the third Sunday in January as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, where we celebrate God’s gift of life and commit ourselves to protecting human life at every stage.

In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

For centuries, scholars and theologians have debated what it looks like to be made in the image of God, but what Christians have always held to is the belief that all people, regardless of age or gender or ethnicity or size, bear the image of God in Creation and thus have intrinsic value and worth as a human being. This is the biblical position on human life.

Pro-life doesn’t just mean pro-birth, although that’s one aspect of it. Pro-life means to be for life for all of life. We believe that all of life, from the womb to the tomb, is sacred and that to harm another image-bearer, at any stage of life, says something about the God in whose image we have been created.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article from The Gospel Coalition, which said that one of the features that made the early church unique was that it was “a community committed to the sanctity of life.”

The article pointed out that abortions at that time were actually quite rare, and instead, what would happen was that infants were thrown onto garbage heaps to die or be taken by traders into slavery and prostitution, and that what early Christians would do is they would save the infants and take them in.

It’s like what James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his letter. He says, in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

That’s what it means to be pro-life. It means celebrating God’s gift of life and committing ourselves to protecting human life at every stage, whether that’s the unborn, the aged, the disabled, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed—those who would otherwise be outcasts in the world.

And how all of this ties into our passage, from Mark 7, is that Jesus is about to head into Gentile territory. He is about to enter into a region of outcasts. And where other people would simply disregard them or discriminate against them or treat them less than human, Jesus draws near to them.

And in our passage, this morning, we are going to look at three things: We are going to see that Jesus values human life, regardless of who they are or what their background is, that Jesus meets our deepest need, even if it’s not what we think, and that our response is to declare the goodness of God, even if we don’t understand it.

I’m just going to read our passage for us, and then we will dive in. Mark 7, beginning in verse 24: “And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’ 28 But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.’ 29 And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’ 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

“31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”

If you remember from last week, the Jewish religious leaders confronted Jesus about why His disciples didn’t wash their hands the way Jews properly washed their hands. But what we saw was that their man-made traditions about handwashing was an indication that they had a heart problem of placing tradition above what God had commanded, and Jesus calls them out on their hypocrisy.

And so, in verse 24, we see that Jesus is coming from this controversy with the Pharisees and the scribes and He enters into the region of Tyre and Sidon, which is modern-day Lebanon and Syria. This was Gentile territory. These were individuals who were at odds with the Jews. But unlike the response of the Jews in the previous passage, the response of the Gentiles is much more favourable.

Jesus enters into a house, and in verse 25, a woman who is described as a Syrophoenician Gentile comes into the house, falls at Jesus’ feet, and begs Jesus to heal her daughter, who had an unclean spirit in her.

This woman really has everything going against her. She was a woman, and women were looked down on at this time. She was a Gentile, and Gentiles had no part of the covenant of the Jews. But she was also a Syrophoenician.

Now, what I like to do is I like to look elsewhere in Scripture to see where places like this are mentioned, because I always find it interesting, and it gives us some insight into the kind of people we’re looking at.

And what you find in 1 Kings 16 is a Sidonian princess by the name of Jezebel, who marries Ahab, the king of Israel, and who leads the people of Israel into all kinds of idolatry and wickedness. And this seems to have carried on into the time of Christ, as Syrophoenicians were known for their idolatry and how they would sacrifice children to their gods.

But then, in 1 Kings 17, we read of a widow in a place called Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon. And while there was a famine in the land, this widow and her son give the last of their food to the prophet Elijah, and God provides for this widow and her son by causing the flour to not be spent and the oil to not run dry.

And in our text, we see another woman from that area in need. She has everything going against her. She has no social currency. She is looked down on in society. She comes from a place that is steeped in idolatry and wickedness. By all accounts, she is an outcast. All she can do is beg Jesus for mercy on behalf of her daughter. And with everything against her, she comes to Jesus.

And in verse 27, Jesus says to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”

And we kind of wonder, what on earth do dogs and children’s bread have to do with this woman and her request? But what we need to understand is that Jesus is telling a parable, a story. Jesus is saying that there is this table, and you have food on this table, but you don’t just give the food that is on this table to the dogs, you give the food to the children, first. There is a priority here.

And that’s Jesus’ parable. And what Jesus is saying to this woman is that the bread is salvation, and eventually the bread of salvation will make its way to the Gentiles, but not before the Jews have had the opportunity of eating it, first. What Jesus is doing here is reiterating His mission, that He came first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. There is a priority here.

The Jews were the children of God. As far as Jews were concerned, Gentiles were dogs. They were unclean. They were of a lower social standing. They were not members of the covenant community to which God had given His promise. They were outcasts. And Jesus is saying that it wouldn’t be right to give to the dogs what was supposed to go to the children, first.

Jesus isn’t saying that the dogs will never get fed. There was coming a day when they would be fed, just like the children. But for right now, there is an obstacle. There is a barrier. There is children’s bread that this woman is not entitled to. She has no place at the table of God’s blessing with the Jews. She couldn’t claim entitlement. She couldn’t say that she had been treated, unfairly.

And we struggle with Jesus’ answer, because here is a Gentile woman who is coming to Jesus, asking for Jesus to do a miracle in the life of her daughter. Here is someone who recognizes that Jesus has the power to heal her daughter. And Jesus seemingly turns her away. Why tell her that she is a dog and that the food is supposed to go to the Jews, first?

And it’s because Jesus is bringing this woman to the end of herself. Here is a woman with a cultural background of idolatry, and Jesus is getting her to see her need for saving faith in Him—that she has no other options. And it works.

The woman’s response is truly remarkable. Verse 28 says that she responded to Jesus by saying, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.”

Notice that the woman doesn’t hear Jesus’ words and storm off. She doesn’t get offended at being called a dog. In fact, she actually agrees with Jesus. “Yes, Lord,” she says. She understands that her place is not at the table of God’s blessing with God’s children. She acknowledges that she is completely undeserving of anything good.

“Yet,” she says, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Do you see what this woman is doing? She is inserting herself into the parable. Mark is pointing out to us that this has never happened before.

Back in Mark 4, Jesus tells the famous parable of the sower. He says that a sower went out to sow seed, and some fell along the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns, and some into good soil. And then, Jesus says, in verse 9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And the disciples begin to ask Jesus the meaning of the parable. And Jesus says to them that if they don’t understand this parable, how will they understand any of the parables? They were the ones who were supposed to understand what Jesus was saying, because they’re the ones at the table eating the children’s bread.

But they don’t understand. And what is more shocking than the fact that they don’t understand is the fact that this Gentile woman does. She not only has ears to hear what Jesus is saying, but she has the understanding to put herself into the parable.

She acknowledges that she is a dog and that Jesus’ ministry is first to the Jews, but she also acknowledges that the blessings of God’s table are intended to overflow and that the dogs get the leftovers.

She is the only one who gets Jesus’ ministry. The rightful children don’t even understand it. She could have wallowed in self-pity. She could have become angry with Jesus. But instead, she takes Jesus at His Word, and she says to Him, “If that’s me, if I’m dog, then can I at least just have the crumbs?”

She isn’t asking for a different meal. She isn’t asking for a different table. She is simply pleading for a few crumbs of God’s mercy. She is just asking for the crumbs of that bread of salvation to overflow to her. She recognizes that the salvation of the Gentiles is an overflow of the gospel that was given to Israel. It’s not a different gospel. It’s the same message about the same Saviour who came to offer the same forgiveness of sins that is received by the same faith.

She gets it. She doesn’t know what the outcome will be. She doesn’t know if her request will be answered. She just has a simple faith that believes God and takes Him at His Word. What we’re seeing here is a New Testament Jacob.

If you don’t know the story of Jacob, in Genesis 32, which I actually just read in my Bible reading plan, this week, Jacob wrestles with a man for an entire night. And when the morning comes, the man touches Jacob’s hip and puts it out of joint and tells Jacob to let him go. But Jacob will not let him go, until Jacob is blessed by him. And the man says, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

And that’s the kind of faith that we’re seeing from this woman. She wrestles with God and God acknowledges her faith. In Matthew’s account of this story, in Matthew 15:28, Jesus says to the woman, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And it says that her daughter was healed.

Jesus chose to acknowledge great faith, not just in a Gentile, but in a Gentile woman. And what Mark is doing is underscoring one of the tremendous things that Jesus did in the course of His ministry, and that is, He elevated the importance and social standing of women in the first century.

Jesus is showing us that He values human life, regardless of who they are or what their background is, and that He meets their deepest need. This woman’s deepest need was not that her daughter be healed, even though Jesus does heal her, but that she needed faith in Jesus’ ability to save her from her sin. That’s what she needed and that’s what she receives by the grace of God in Christ.

That’s the first outcast that Jesus encounters on this trip. But then, Mark shows us another outcast. In verse 31, Jesus enters the region of the Decapolis. And a man is brought to Him who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Jesus to lay His hand on him.

Can you imagine not being able to hear music or hear children laughing, or being able to sing or voice your opinion? Mark doesn’t tell us how long this man was like this, but he certainly would have been an outcast in society.

And Jesus takes him aside, privately. It would have been easy for Jesus to heal the man right then and there, but Jesus is about people, not about popularity. He values human life, which is why He doesn’t make a spectacle out of this man.

And so, He pulls him aside, and He puts His fingers in the man’s ears, and after spitting on the ground, He touches the man’s tongue. And what Jesus is doing is communicating to the man that He understands that his ears don’t work and that He is going to fix that. He is communicating to the man that He understands that his tongue doesn’t work and that He is going to fix that.

Verse 34 says that Jesus looked up to heaven, and sighed. There is a lot that is packed into that sigh. Jesus could have healed the man, quickly, but Jesus takes a moment to acknowledge the brokenness in the world.

Jesus is taking a moment to acknowledge that there is a disconnect between what is happening in the kingdom of heaven and what is happening on earth, and that there has been a disconnect ever since Genesis 3, when mankind rebelled against God and sin entered God’s good Creation.

Jesus is taking a moment to acknowledge that this world is in the middle of a long sigh. We have seen God do remarkable things, in and through Jesus. There are people being healed of their diseases and demonic oppressions. There are people whose bondage to sin has been broken. But we are not in the new heavens and the new earth, where everything will be fully and final restored and where everything will be as it should be.

We’re not there yet. We’re still here. We’re still sighing over evil, today. According to the World Health Organization, every year in the world there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions. There is actually an online counter that I found, where you can see how many abortions have taken place worldwide already this year. And the number just keeps on going up. It doesn’t stop.

And Romans 8:18-22 reminds us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

Do you see what's happening? All of Creation is sighing. We are waiting for when abortion and euthanasia and sex trafficking and abuse and racism and genocide and death will be no more.

But until that day, we sigh. We lament. We pause to acknowledge the brokenness in our world. It’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s pausing. And I think that gives us license to do the same thing.

Did you know that the word, Selah, occurs 71 times in the book of Psalms? Do you know what Selah means? It means “to pause or reflect.” The Bible literally gives us time and space to pause and reflect on the brokenness around us. It’s OK to sigh. You have the freedom to sigh in church. This is a place where we can share our struggles and our pain and our difficulties with one another. It’s not for the perfect. It’s not for those who have it all together. It’s for those who sigh.

Verse 34 says, “And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

The crowd sees what just happened, and in verse 37, it says that they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Mark is drawing our attention here to Isaiah 35. In Isaiah 35, there is a beautiful description of what the Messiah, the Spirit-anointed Deliverer of God’s people, will come into this world to do. Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

What we’re seeing here is just a little glimpse, a little foretaste, of the work that Jesus has ultimately come to this world to do. Jesus has come to make a new creation, and ultimately a new heavens and a new earth. And there will be no deafness, and there will be no muteness, and there will be no pain, and there will be no suffering, and there will be no cancer, and there will be no heart disease, and there will be no crying, and there will be no sighing.

Jesus has come to restore us in Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And that new creation has already begun within us.

You see, Jesus meets our deepest need. Jesus would eventually go to the cross to bear the wrath of God against sin, dying the death we deserved to die. And through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf, we can live forever with Him in this new heavens and new earth.

That’s the good news of the gospel. Ephesians 2:12 says that we were at one time “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

We were in the same position as that woman. We were completely undeserving of anything good. We had no claim to entitlement. We couldn’t say that we were being treated, unfairly. But then, the next verse, Ephesians 2:13, says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Jesus cares for the outcasts. He cares for the woman whose daughter was demon-possessed. He cares for the man who was deaf and mute. He cares for me and you, regardless of who we are or what our background is. He cares for the woman who has had an abortion. He cares for the widow and the orphan. He cares for human life. Not because we deserve it, but because He is good.

We see a man healed, and we see the crowd respond. Verse 37 says that the crowd was astonished, but that astonishment leads to proclamation about how good God is. What is our response?

God has done all things well. Do I know why God doesn’t put a stop to that abortion counter? Do I know why God doesn’t put an end to the violence and the human trafficking and the oppression? Do I know why God doesn’t stand up and say, “Enough!” No, I don’t. But I know that God is good and does all things well.

There is a song in the hymn book that we use for the Remembrance Service that I thought was particularly pertinent here. It goes like this:

“Now, in a song of grateful praise, to Christ my Lord my voice I’ll raise. With all His saints I’ll join to tell. My Jesus has done all things well.”

“All worlds His glorious power confess. His wisdom all His works express. But O, His love what tongue can tell? My Jesus has done all things well.”

“How sovereign, wonderful and free has been His love to sinful me. He plucked me from the jaws of hell. My Saviour has done all things well.”

“I spurned His grace, I broke His laws, and yet He undertook my cause, to save me, though I did rebel. My Saviour has done all things well.”

“Though many a fiery, flaming dart, the tempter levels at my heart, with this I all his rage repel. My Jesus has done all things well.”

“And when to that bright world I rise, and join the anthems in the skies, above the rest this note shall swell. My Jesus has done all things well.”

Our Saviour values human life, regardless of who we are or what our background is. He has met our deepest need, by dying for us and rising from the grave so that we can be with Him, forever. And my hope for us is that we might respond with astonishment that leads to a proclamation of how God is good and how He does do all things well, even if we don’t understand it. Let’s pray…

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