Who is the Gospel for? Who gets to benefit from the work of Jesus? Who gets to call themselves the sons of God? Better yet, who is the Church for? The Church is the community of those who have been saved by the Gospel. It is the collection of all those who have been set apart as God’s children. When we ask who the Gospel is for we are asking who the Church is for. The Church is a Gospel community.
So who do you want this church to be for? Be honest. Who would you most like to see walk in the front door? Would you be more excited to see an upper-middle class family of 4 walk in the door in dress clothes and with MacArthur Study Bibles, OR a poorly dressed single mom who speaks broken English? Be careful how you answer that because whoever the Church is for that is who the Gospel is for. When we discriminate who we want in the Church we are discriminating who we think should get the Gospel. Unfortunately this happens all too often. I know of a church plant that intentionally chose an affluent area of town because it would help their budget to reach out to rich people. In my own ministry, I’ve frequently been told that we need to grow the church, but “with the right kind of people”. So the question is, who are the right people?
To find the answer to this question, we must turn to the Bible specifically. I’d like to turn your attention to the words of Mark 7:24-8:10.
This passage records an important transition in Mark’s Gospel and Jesus’ ministry. In this passage, we find Jesus extending His ministry to the Gentiles. The Jews, led by the Pharisees were now opposing Jesus. So, in contrast to where Jesus had been ministering, Jesus went to the Gentiles. Jesus had previously, and briefly, been in Gentile influenced areas (cf. 5:1-20), however this would prove to be different. This time Jesus is going to go on an extended, month’s long, journey deep into Gentile territory. On this journey, Jesus replicated the deeds he had done for the Jews among the Gentiles. In doing this, Jesus shows us who the Gospel is for. Specifically, this passage shows us 2 kinds of people that the Gospel is for.
I. The Gospel is for anyone with Faith. (7:24-30)
We see the first kind of person that the Gospel is for in 7:24-30. Here we see that the Gospel is for anyone with faith. We see this through the story of the Syrophonenician woman. This account begins in a much different location than Jesus had previously been ministering. Mark tells us that Jesus “arose and went away” from Galilee where he had been laboring. Given the reception he was getting from the religious elite it is not surprising that he would leave. What is surprising is where he went. Mark says he went “to the region of Tyre and Sidon”.
The region of Tyre and Sidon was northwest of Galilee and well beyond the borders of Jewish settlement. In previous times, this region was known as Phoenicia and at this point was politically connected with Syria. For reference, it is located within the borders of modern day Lebanon. This particular region has a long history of hostility with the Jews. This area was the home of wicked Queen Jezebel who helped introduce Baal worship to the Israelites. Additionally, during the Maccabean Revolt, Tyre sided against the Jews. It is no wonder then that Josephus referred to them as “notoriously our bitterest enemies”. On top of all this, Tyre was the recipient of a number of scathing prophesies (Isa, 23, Ezek, 26-28). The most pointed of these prophecies is found in Ezek 28:17-19.
With a history like this, it is surprising that Jesus would go to such an area. Could the Gospel really be for people who have opposed God? As we will see, the answer is yes, if they have faith. Remember what Romans 5:10 says, before our salvation we were all opposed to God. They may have been idol worshipers, but so were the Jews (they were worshipping the idol of tradition). In fact, if the previous section demonstrated that all foods are clean then this section demonstrates that all people are clean if they have faith.
But what does this mean, “if they have faith”? We see what this faith looks like as we see Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician woman. Her faith is why she benefitted from the work of Christ. Look at the kind of faith that she had.
A. Persistent Faith
This woman had a persistent faith. Mark tells us that when he came to the region “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know”. This was not all that unusual, and can be attributed to the fact that Jesus needed the privacy to instruct his disciples. However, deep in the heart of Gentile country, he still couldn’t find any solitude. This was Jesus’ first trip into this region, so how do we account for his popularity? Mark 3:8 tells us that people from this region had traveled south to see him. In other words, his reputation preceded him! Thus, as Mark says, “he could not be hidden”.
Not only could Jesus not stay hidden, but verse 25 tells us “immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet”. This woman who was in great need was one of the persistent people who wouldn’t stop until they saw Jesus. It is interesting that Mark describes this woman’s actions exactly the same way that he described Jairus’ actions in 5:22. Remember Jairus? He was the synagogue ruler, the community leader, who came to Jesus when his daughter was near death. Mark describes this woman’s actions as being the same as Jairus’. However, that is where the similarities ended. You see, Mark goes on to describe her as a “Gentile, a syrophoenician by birth”. From a Jewish perspective she couldn’t be more opposite than Jairus. She was a woman. A good Jewish rabbi wouldn’t even address a woman. She was a Gentile. Literally, Mark says she was a “GREEK” meaning that as a Gentile she was of the Greek culture and spoke Greek. On top of this she was Syrophoenician; this referring to her ethnicity. Add to this that Matthew calls her a Canaanite (Mt. 15:22) and the fact that she had a demon-possessed daughter. As one author put it, her description “reads like a crescendo of demerit” (Edwards, 218). If we were ranking people who should be able to speak to Jesus, this woman would bring up the rear, at least from a Jewish perspective. To put it into modern church parlance, this woman was the scantly clad single mom who only speaks broken English and her kids are always in trouble. How excited are you to see that person walk in the back door? Well, that is essentially who we are talking about here. She doesn’t belong, except, she does! She belongs because of her persistent faith. Look at the end of verse 26: “And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter”.
According to Mark’s description, this woman was begging for help. She literally just kept asking. The verb tense Mark uses (imperfect) pictures continuous pleading. Matthew 15:22-25 gives us a little more detail. The begging was so incessant that the disciples asked Jesus to send her away! This is a stark contrast to the questioning of the Pharisees (v.5 uses same word) and it reveals the difference between this woman and the Pharisees faith. This woman had such faith that she was certain Jesus could help if only he would. This woman’s faith was similar to what Jesus encouraged in the parable of Luke 18:1-8.
Nothing was going to derail this woman’s faith in Jesus even if her prayer wasn’t immediately answered. How convicting this should be for us. So frequently we allow our faith to diminish because of a trial, or we become impatient when our prayers aren’t immediately answered. This woman, however, was persistent. Much like Abraham in Gen. 18, she refused to be detracted from her intercessory prayer. Despite the accumulative fatigue of having a demon possessed daughter and the refusal of Jesus to respond to her request, this woman persisted in her faith.
B. Humble Faith
It wasn’t just that her faith was persistent, it was also a humble faith. We see this in the way she interacts with Jesus in verses 27-28. Here Jesus responds to her by saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. This abrupt response from Jesus seems quite harsh and needs a little explaining. In this parabolic response, the children represent the people of Israel, the bread represents the benefits of Jesus’ ministry, and the dogs represent the Gentiles. To call this woman a “dog” was certainly not the favorable response we would expect from our compassionate Lord. However, the response is not as harsh as it seems at first glance. To begin with, Jesus is simply being faithful to his Father’s plan as it is laid out in Scripture. Scripture is clear that salvation and the benefits of the Messiah’s ministry were intended for the Jews first then the Gentiles (Rom 1:16). Jesus is expounding upon that principle for this woman, and if we are careful to notice he does not leave her without hope. Notice that Jesus says that the children are to be fed “first” NOT “only”. The message of salvation would be offered to the Jews first, and when they rejected Christ by crucifying him, that would open up this salvation to all men (Mt 22:1-10). As Paul said in Romans 11:11, “through their trespass, salvation has come to the Gentiles”. This is why Jesus said “first” not “only”. Furthermore, the word Jesus uses here for “dog” is not the normal term for a wild dog. The word he uses is the term for a household dog. It is not the most becoming title, however it may have been a little softer than it first appeared. You see, the point of this parable is NOT that this woman had no hope of ever benefitting from Jesus. The point is simply that you don’t treat your pet dog the same way you treat your children. We all know people who are a little too attached to “Fido” and it’s strange. When I see a dog being pushed around in a stroller, it’s disturbing. That is the picture Jesus is drawing for this woman. It would be inappropriate at this point in redemptive history for her to benefit from his ministry in the same fashion as the Jewish people. He does not, however, say that she can’t benefit at all. What seemed like a dismissive response was actually filled with hope, and this woman understood that.
Look at the woman’s response in v. 28. “But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs’”. This woman got it. In fact, she is the first person in the book of Mark to understand one of Jesus’ parables without any explanation. She had been given “ears to hear” (4:9). Her response proves this. Jesus called her a dog and even though it was a pet dog, I would imagine that was hard to hear. And yet, she didn’t argue with it. She accepted her status as a dog. She didn’t argue with God’s plan, or God’s assessment of her. She humbly accepted it with faith. She knew she was a dog, but she also knew that Jesus was powerful enough to provide for the children and the family dog. At Jesus’ table, there is an abundance of bread (6:42). At my house, under my 9 month old daughter’s highchair, there is enough food on the floor after diner to feed an entire pack of dogs. How much more so at the Great Banquet Table of Christ. Jesus had to fulfill his ministry to the Jews first, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t help this woman out. She knew that, because she had a humble faith. As one commentator put it, “Her god-given faith was strong enough to realize that Jesus was not turning her away” (Hendriksen, 299).
This kind of humble faith is always what illicits God’s grace. James 4:6, among other places, says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. When you are willing to humble yourself in submission to God’s plan and his assessment of your life he will pour out his grace upon you. What is God’s plan? Before the foundations of the earth were formed, God planned to glorify himself by saving sinners. He accomplished this plan by sending his eternal Son, Jesus, into this world. Through his perfect life, Jesus provided the righteousness that was necessary to enter God’s Kingdom. Through his death, he satisfied the wrath of God and atoned for our sins. This is God’s plan of salvation. This is the Gospel to which we must humbly submit. As for God’s assessment of us, if this woman was a dog, then we are no better. There is not one who is good in comparison with God (Rom 3:10). Our best crack at righteousness is vileness according to God’s holy standard. Everyone of us is a sinner, That is God’s assessment of us. His assessment is that we must put our faith in the person and work of Jesus to be saved. If we are trusting in anything within ourselves to be saved, we are doomed. We, like this woman, must have a humble faith in the plan of God and his assessment of us.
C. Effective Faith
Because this woman’s faith was humble and persistent, it was also effective. We see this in verses 29-30. “And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’ And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.” Jesus provides this woman with a crumb of his power. That was all that was needed to separate this demon from the girl. Can you imagine this woman’s elation when she went home to discover her daughter in bed and the demon no where to be found? Jesus did this. He poured out his powerful grace into this woman’s life. Verse 29 tells us why. It had nothing to do with what kind of person she was, where she came from, or her good works. Jesus said he did it because of her “statement”. Literally it was “because of these words” which she spoke. Does that mean that the woman had discovered a secret formula to say if you want a blessing? No. This woman’s words reflected her great faith. In Matthew 15:28 Jesus exclaimed to the woman “O woman, great is your faith!” This woman possessed a god-given faith that was persistent, humble, and great. That is why Jesus healed her daughter.
Jesus uses his power to benefit anyone who will come to him in faith. This is why the Pharisees received a rebuke from Jesus (7:6) and this Gentile woman received blessing. She came to Jesus in faith; they came in pride. They thought that their fraternity earned them God’s favor. She understood that faith is the means by which we receive grace. Just as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith was the key for this woman, and for all mankind. When we repent from faith in ourselves to place our faith in Christ, he will reward that. As Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The effective faith of this woman reminds us that we will never be disappointed by putting our faith in Christ.
Who is the Gospel for? Who is it that benefits from the work of Jesus? The answer is anyone. That is, anyone who has faith. Spurgeon, commenting on these verses, said, “Our Lord had a very quick eye for spying faith… Lord Jesus was charmed with the fair jewel of this woman’s faith, and watching it and delighting in it he resolved to turn it round and set it in other lights, that the various facets of this priceless diamond might each one flash its brilliance and delight his soul.” (Quoted in Hughes, ‘Mark’, p. 171)
Our savior is not delighted by our works of righteousness, our pedigree or any other human achievement. What delights him and brings about his blessing is a life altering faith in him. The story of the Syrophoenician woman demonstrated this truth. The only question left is what about you? If you’ve not put your faith in Christ then you are not benefitting from the power of the Gospel. Showing up to church and reading your Bible won’t make up for a lack of faith. You must believe to benefit from the Gospel because the Gospel is for anyone with faith. Maybe you already know that and you’ve put your faith in Christ. But somewhere along the way you stopped living like the Gospel is for anyone with faith. You began to look down upon other people or hope that the church would fill up with the right kind of people. Let this passage be a reminder to us all that the Gospel did not benefit the Pharisees. It benefitted the lowly woman with great faith. Let us be reminded that the Gospel, and our church, is for anyone; anyone who will put their faith in Jesus. After all, this is HIS church and the kind of people who please him should be the kind of people who please us.
The Gospel is not for everyone, but it is for anyone who has faith.
[Sermon Audio of this message is available HERE]