Series: Matthew: We Need a King

Jesus' Unlikely Disciple

November 20, 2022 | Jeff Crotts

Passage: Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus’ Unlikely Disciple – Matthew 15:21-28

Intro: One of the great lies we tell ourselves is: other people do not suffer the same circumstances we do.

  • We are all alone in or suffering and sins.
    • No one else can relate to:
      • what we have done.
      • what we are going through.


  • Verse 19, seven deadly sins are simply the issues of the heart.
  • Not just yours, everyone’s.


  • Sins are deep indictments but are common sins to everyone.

[Illus] I remember serving with a long time elder in my former church, who was well into his 80’. WW2 veteran medic, a renowned surgeon, a charter member of the church of 50 years, had brought Young Life and Bible Study Fellowship to Arkansas, founded a Christian conference center, married for well over 60 years, grown kids and grandkids etc. etc. This man was known for his godliness. So, what was his struggle? What was he openly confessing to us in his final lap of life and ministry, who had served Christ for what amounts to two lifetimes. He would regularly tell us that even up to the end of his days, he still would fight his flesh. His lusts.


  • Great leveler is the human heart.
    • Why we guard w/vigilance, where the true battle is waged.
    • Where you rise and fall by what you feed and starve.

[TRANS] At first blush, this passage looks like a departure from our theme, legalism. Is it? Is Matthew going in a new direction? What appears disconnected is the opposite.

  • This woman is truly an unlikely disciple for so many reasons.
    • Culturally speaking, Matthew injects here, the most unlikely convert imaginable.
    • “If she can be saved, anyone can be saved.”

[Question] “What does this have to do with addressing legalism?”         

  • First, this woman is the living illustration of what legalism is not.
    • “What she does not have.”
      • She has no recourse for saving herself with Jewish religion.
        • She has none.
        • Nothing to prop up to save.


  • No apparent access to God.


  • “What she does have.”
    • Same sinful heart, every religious person has.


  • Second, this woman is the living illustration the only solution to save.
    • One thing saves.
    • Grace through faith.


Prop: A conversion of an unlikely disciple from two perspectives.

  1. What made her salvation unlikely (vv. 21-24)


  1. No inhibitions

Jesus again, “went away…and withdrew” (v. 21) for rest.

  • Moving out from pressure of the religious leaders who had taken a toll.

[Illus] Alfred Edersheim [Life and Times of Jesus] said Jesus was saying distinctly un-Jewish things” meaning He was speaking in a way that would not compute in terms of the Law.

[Appl] We should never underestimate the power of spiritual pressure that comes from false teachers and false teaching. To fight the fight of faith is nothing less than a fight. So, where did Jesus go?

[Note] Retreats to an unlikely place, due northwest to district called “Tyre and Sidon” (v. 21).

  • Coastal region known as Phoenicia, colonized by Rome, pagan, Gentile region.
    • Modern day Lebanon.
    • Coastal cities on the Mediterranean Sea, a cooler environment than Galilee.


  • Where Jesus can find solace.
    • First time Jesus steps outside of the Jerusalem context.
    • Where Jesus finally arrives.
      • Christ’s witness less.
      • Rebuked “Chorazin and Bethsaida” for their rejection.
        • More miracles and revelation.
        • Compared with “Tyre and Sidon.”

ESV  Matthew 11:21 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Mat 11:21 ESV)

  • Reputation had preceded Him.

[KEY] Enter, Gentile woman boldly entreats Jesus for help and rescue.

  • This woman, “was crying” out to Jesus and she knew exactly who Jesus was!


[Appl] So much that happens in Jesus’ experience is for the purpose of spreading His witness. So much of our Christian experience is to do the same for Jesus and in unexpected ways and by unexpected people. Jesus received glory in this way.


  • First, in His humanity, Jesus was simply trying to get away and rest and even hide from the religious reach of others.
    • Where he finds himself, removed all the way to a pagan coastal town, an unsuspecting woman finds Him.
    • And this woman as no inhibitions whatsoever.
      • Why? She’s a mamma bear out to do whatever it takes to save her daughter!
      • She in desperation seeks to find rescue in Jesus.


  • This Gentile woman is an unlikely disciple; someone who readily acknowledges Jesus with her plea!
    • “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David…” (v. 22).
    • Her knowledge that Jesus is “Lord” and from the line of “David” is compelling, as this should have been a concern for the Jews and yet it is this woman from Gentile descent who shouts this as significant.
      • I want to shout out your credentials, in recognition that these credentials prove you powerful to help me!
      • This heart cry of desperation is where Jesus brings people to, when he is calling them to Himself.


  • Jesus’ status could be compared to this precious woman’s non-status.


[Illus] Think of the woman who approached Jesus with her issue of blood. Another unlikely disciple, who by law had been forbidden fellowship with the Jewish covenant community for over a decade but made clean by coming to Jesus. Seeing Jesus as whom the Law points, was made clean.


  • This woman, a Gentile was one step farther from being acceptable, but she did not care.


[Illus] As when the LORD, 900 years before sent Elijah to sojourn to the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9-24). Elijah, like Jesus came to the region called Sidon to provide bread through the drought he had declared. Through this provision and through healing the widow’s son, this widow, an equally unlikely disciple confirmed as the LORD’s witness that this prophet spoke the truth.

ESV  1 Kings 17:24 And the woman said to Elijah, a"Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth." (1Ki 17:24 ESV)

[TRANS] “What makes this this uninhibited woman such a unique witness?”

First, she had no inhibitions and now:

  1. No status

First, she is a “Canaanite,” which in terms of Israel’s history, makes her a historic enemy.

  • Israel marched on the Canaan as it’s Promised Land.
    • By divine right.
    • Her lineage reaches back there.


  • Second, as a woman puts her in a different class then men of the day.
    • The ancient caste system was cultural cruelty.
    • Equality unknown in that day.
      • Jesus resets the narrative on women.
        • In, Christ there is neither male nor female in terms of a difference of equality.
        • Co-equal heirs of Christ, equal in the image of God, while maintaining God’s unique design for a man and for a woman.


[Appl] Status is not the same as design and even roles within the church or marriage. Where there is this healthy distinction, there is still the command to treat each other with equity.

  • Woman lobbying for Christ’s rescue, deliverance for demonized-daughter.

[KEY] In terms of status, this woman had none; what she had was a demonized daughter.

  • Her daughter had come under demonic exposure and influence.
    • Within religious circles another strike against this mother.
      • “Why is she under this curse?”
      • “Was mother involved in occult?
        • “Judgment on mother?”
        • “Daughter demonized by paganism?”


  • These were the stigma?
    • Answer to questions:
    • “We do not know.”


  • Know nothing other than what’s conveyed on surface.
    • A mother’s daughter terrorized.
    • Only recourse, to throw herself on the mercy of Jesus.

[KEY] How this woman knew how to find Jesus and how Jesus came to be in a proximity of this woman must be left completely to the mysterious providence of God.  

First, she had no inhibitions and second, no status, now:


  1. No priority

Verse 23 further makes the statement on this woman’s non-status.

  • Both Jesus’ response and the disciples’ response, make case that this woman has nothing to warrant merit from Jesus.

[Illus] Often communication comes in dual fashion, by what you say and by what you do not say. This is at least how it works within marital communication. Sometimes when you say something where there is no return, the silence can become deafening.

  • The case with Jesus.
    • “But he did not answer her a word” (v. 23). Why?
    • Don’t assume Jesus is being outright cruel!
      • Cannot be the case because Jesus is gentle, sympathetic, loving, and has a mission to draw all who seek Him to Himself.
      • “All who come to me, I will in no wise cast out” (cf. John 6:37; cf. John 6:44).

ESV  John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me adraws him. And bI will raise him up on the last day. (Joh 6:44 ESV)

  • Coming to Jesus, by de facto, means Jesus was involved!


  • Jesus wanted rest as when in desert side of the Sea of Galilee.
    • Jesus took rest in concert with performing His Father’s will.
      • This woman was here for a reason and Jesus is taking His time to make clear the full dynamic of what this means.
      • “What is the full message with God providing this moment?”


  • Jesus’ silence begged the disciples’ response: “Send her away, for she is crying out after us” (v. 23).


  • Disciples annoyed as when children were brought.
    • They tried to turn parents away.
    • All while Jesus intended to bless them.


  • Where disciples are annoyed, Jesus is not.
    • Jesus’ silence, nevertheless, provocative.
    • For the sake of clarity.

Verse 24 is Jesus’ response to His disciples: “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v. 24).

  • Jesus not doubling down, joining disciple’s dismissive attitude.
    • Making clear, his priority mission, first to His people.
    • Jesus originally commissioned the 12 to seek Jews!


  • Jesus’ mission-priority should not be surprising.

ESV  Matthew 10:5-6 aThese twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of fthe Samaritans, 6 abut go rather to bthe lost sheep of cthe house of Israel. (Mat 10:5-6 ESV)

[Question] “Was Jesus playing some kind of a game of reverse psychology, to manipulate the woman to faith?” “No!”


[TRANS] What woman did next, left no room to do anything other than what she did.   

  1. What made her salvation likely (vv. 25-27)


  1. She confessed Jesus’ Lordship (v. 25)

[KEY] No matter, Jesus’ need for rest, Jesus’ silent treatment, the disciples’ dismissal, or His priority-mission, this woman’s desire for help would not be thwarted.

  • This is holy boldness.

[Illus] Jesus’ parable of the man who came knocking until he would be helped by the man sleeping. We ask, seek, and knock, erring on the side of outright presumption on our Lord.

ESV  Luke 11:5-10 And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves,

6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him';

7 and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'?

8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything abecause he is his friend, yet because of his impudence1 he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

9 And I tell you, abask, and bit will be given to you; cseek, and you will find; dknock, and it will be opened to you.

10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Luk 11:5-10 ESV)


[Illus] When we are this desperate, we lay aside as of our pride and go boldly into the throne room of God. Eternal God is our Father.


[Illus] If you have had the privilege of being raised by a father who gave you unconditional love, then you know there really is no priority this will not trump. This is the presumption that this woman based her actions upon.


[Illus] Still, as is was when Esther of old, humbly approached King Ahasuerus, her approach was in humility. We come to God in light of His Fatherhood but not to the exclusion of His divine position. He is still God; He is still King; He is still Lord. This woman models the correct posture to take within boldness.


[Illus] I believe it was the rich young ruler who was portrayed as sliding on his knees to get to Jesus.

[KEY] Her confession strikes the right balance of boldness and reverence.

  • “Lord, help me” (v. 25).
    • Acknowledging Christ’s Lordship is the key to receiving saving grace (cf. Rom. 10:9-10).


ESV  Romans 10:9-10 because, if ayou confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and bbelieve in your heart cthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom 10:9-10 ESV)


  • Why confession is prerequisite for God to move on someone’s behalf.
    • Simply, if we have anything to do with ourselves being saved, we forfeit grace.
    • Being saved by grace alone is the only way to protect God’s glory in the saving.
      • The one being saved would inadvertently take false credit for being saved.
        • Sin disqualifies and incapacitates anyone from being able to save himself.
        • The only recourse is to be “helped” by Jesus by confessing, “Jesus as Lord.”
      • He is Master, we are slave.
        • This acknowledgement accomplishes two things at the same time.
          • Protects the one needing saving from contaminating the process, from rendering salvation null and void.
            • Religious works blocks grace (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).


  • Second, this confession gives all the glory to God for salvation.

[TRANS] Jesus ensures both realities at play by what He says next.   

  1. She acknowledged her unworthiness (vv. 26-27)

[KEY] What He says on the surface and within our culture appears unforgivable.

  • Is Jesus calling this woman a “dog?”
    • Jesus is implying that this woman is on the level of a dog.
    • Dogs in that day were not pets but scavengers.

[Illus] The word for “dog” [κυναρίοις] means “puppy” which puts this in a family context. Jesus was being less derogatory and possibly making an offer!


  • Jesus’ priority mission (the Jews) is portrayed as His “children” and Jesus’ message as the “children’s bread” (v. 26).
    • Jesus clarifies, “throwing it to the dogs” would be “wrong!”
    • Difficult to understand from our perspective.

[KEY] Be less concerned with Jesus calling this Gentile woman a “dog” and more concerned with what makes helping her, “not right” (v. 26).

  • Why this is “not right” is not this woman’s ethnicity nor any Gentile’s ethnicity.
    • Christ’s witness, while being rejected by unbelieving Gentiles is what was not right.

ESV  Matthew 7:6 a"Do not give bdogs what is holy, and do not throw your cpearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Mat 7:6 ESV)

  • Understand Jesus’ statement, in view of His concern for the heart (cf. v. 19).
    • Matthew’s reference to the heart just a few verses earlier make the point that everyone’s heart is thoroughly wicked and deadly to the soul.


  • Jesus’ shocking statement on the woman was on all Gentiles, as a referendum on the heart.
    • Rejecting Jesus as Lord makes you unworthy of “the children’s bread” (v. 26).


[Appl] Seeing the sins of your heart as the source of “what’s wrong” is the difference between receiving saving grace or not.

[KEY] What Jesus said is shocking but more shocking is what the woman said in response to what Jesus’ said.

  • Instead of sticking up for herself and rejecting Jesus’ stereo-type, she embraced it.

[Appl] This woman would not be respected and would be outright rejected by liberal agendas.

  • She says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v. 27).
    • This is how you know there is amazing grace!
      • True transformation from the heart.
      • Humility that is supernaturally given.


  • This woman was submissive to God’s sovereign plan and will.
    • She had discernment to see and know God’s greater plan.
    • Opposite of being entitled.
      • Sees herself as unworthy of anything.
      • Recognizing she is outside of the covenant community.


  • Matthew labels her a Canaanite, which puts her in the history of being adversarial to the Jews.
    • Affirming her unworthiness and Gentile status, begs the bigger picture of God’s plan.
      • God sent Jesus as the light of the world.
      • He is the light to the nations.
        • The plan targets the Jews.
        • Intended to spill over to truth to the world.

[KEY] Remnant of Israel manifests faith and Gentiles are compelled by what they have.

[KEY] When unbelieving Israel rejects Jesus outright, then the Gentiles are compelled to receive what they know they do not deserve!

  • Believers grateful to be grafted into the vine; Sown into the fabric of God’s over-arching plan.

[POINT] Posture of woman, applauded by Christ as saving faith!

  • Christ alone is Savior, Christ is not ecumenical.
    • Jesus cannot be an option but must be the option.
    • The Gentiles would have many options in addition to Christ for salvation.

[Appl] This is the modern times we live in.

  • Why Jesus made the call for commitment at the level of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood (cf. John 6:51ff).
    • The crowds fled this level of commitment.
    • Peter remained, saying, “Where else have we to go when you alone have words of eternal life?” (cf. John 6:68).

[TRANS] What makes this woman a likely disciple is that she both, acknowledged her unworthiness, and yielded to Christ’ Lordship. 


  1. She exercised saving faith (v. 28)

Verse 28 informs all of Jesus prior treatment of this woman.

  • What Jesus was deducing in this exchange was the condition of her heart.
    • “Did she pass the test?”
      • Oh, did she!
      • Jesus answered, “O woman, great is your faith!” (v. 28).
        • Same commendation Jesus gives to the Gentile Centurion (cf. Matt. 8:10; here to this woman.

ESV  Matthew 8:10 When Jesus heard this, ahe marveled and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I tell you, with bno one in Israel1 have I found such faith.

                                    (Mat 8:10 ESV)

  • Great [mega] is your faith!
    • This woman is a genuine born-again believer. In concert with this affirmation comes the blessing of her request being answered.
    • “Be it done for you as you desire” (v. 28).


  • I do not believe this mother’s daughter was present, but just like the Centurion’s sick and dying servant, Jesus did not need to be in close proximity to heal this daughter from demon-oppression.


  • She was “healed instantly” (v. 28).
    • Without some kind of divination, or coercion.
    • Jesus is Lord over everything supernatural and this was done “that hour” (v. 28).


  • Why was this daughter healed of this demon?
    • Simply as trophy of the deeper and deepest need and that is to have saving faith.
      • What we all need, Jesus will answer. We all need the gift of faith.
      • The saving grace of God.
    • Yes, her daughter was healed but this trying circumstance was the catalyst for unlikely disciple to express “great…faith!” (v. 28).


  • And she did so and the desire of her heart was likewise answered.   


[Conclusion] This woman makes the point of Matthew 15 in that she is the epitome of non-legalism.

  • She had no religious help for her daughter’s predicament.
    • Woman had no claim whatsoever on Jesus according to her complex status.


  • No claim in terms of religion, ethnicity, spirituality and the list goes on.


  • Having nothing, she gained everything!
    • She had everything against her.
    • She could claim nothing.


  • Her only claim was for grace! Exactly what Jesus gave her.
    • With everything against her, she found everything.
    • She understood the condition of her own heart, Jesus described in verse 19.


  • She finds herself within the understanding of Jesus’ parable.
    • No religious tradition would save her.
    • Only humble faith would get her to grace.

James Edwards: “She answers Jesus within the parable” (cf. v. 19).

The only way she could have answer the way she did!

John Newton: You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness? Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside yourself, but you may be, indeed you are, improperly controlled and affected by them.

You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong.

You complain about sin, but when I look at your complaints, they are so full of self-righteousness, unbelief, pride, and impatience that they are little better than the worst evils you complain of.


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