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 (Hebrews 11:6).
Today’s passage from Matthew is one of those passages that leave many either offended or scratching their heads. But there is much to learn here, and much by which to be encouraged.
The request of this mother to Jesus is highly instructive, and encouraging. She approaches Jesus with a request that he heal her daughter, a request he seems to deny, at least initially, saying that he was sent to Israel, the implication being that, as a Canaanite gentile, she has no claim upon him. But the woman persists: “Lord, help me.” Again, Jesus says roughly the same thing: “it is not right to take children’s [i.e. Israel’s] bread and throw it to the dogs [i.e. gentiles]. Undeterred, and showing remarkable strength, her response is tremendous. She does not deny Israel’s claim as God’s special people. Nor does she seek to put herself on that level. She knows she is a gentile. But she makes a claim upon him nonetheless. She is not an Israelite, but she neither is she a worthless gentile. She does not apologize for being a “dog,” but rather expects that God would have mercy on them also. And so she persists. There may be nothing more urgent than the prayer of a mother for her sick child.
True humility does not mean that one thinks oneself worthless in the sight of God. She is not humiliated by Jesus (for only the proud are ever truly humiliated), not because she thinks she is a “somebody,” but rather because she believes that God would have concern for her as well. And therefore she persists, believing that they too have worth in his sight. And her daughter was healed instantly.
Jesus commends her as a woman of great faith. She has shown great humility, and great strength. And perhaps even a great understanding of the gospel. After all, Israel was chosen not just for herself, but for the sake of the world, that in her all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3; cf. Exodus 19:4-6).
Along these lines, please be in prayer for Faye Kelley, as she recovers from childbirth and deals with the anxiety of little Jimmy’s health, for Jimmy’s healing, and for Josh, Levi, and Barb and Dave.
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt 5:45).
Notice how the wicked are described in Psalm 17. They are those whose womb is filled with treasure, who are satisfied with children, and leave an inheritance to their children. All these things are, Biblically speaking, a blessing from God (see, for example, Psalms 112 and 127, which speak of both wealth and children being a blessing from the Lord). Yet these are they “whose portion is in this life.”
David will have none of it. “As for me. I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied in your likeness.” David’s portion is not in this life, but rather in the life “when I awake.” There the blessings he has received in this life will retreat before the satisfaction he will have in beholding the likeness of God.
Riches and abundance can be deceiving, and even dangerous. Deceiving in that we may think we are at peace with God based upon having received many of the good things He gives. Dangerous in that we may begin to love the good gifts of God above God Himself. Hence Jesus’ words “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). In the end, while we are thankful for whatever blessings God gives in this life, our portion is never here.
Beware of confusing God’s blessings with God’s favor, and let your hope be in Him.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12). Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you (1 John 3:13). Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
In times of persecution, it is normal for God’s people to cry out “how long?” or to ask the question “where is God?” The psalms are full of these kinds of questions, for suffering is not alien to the people of God. In fact, it appears to be an expectation of the people of God, and part of how God handles His people. The following are several gleanings from Psalm 11, that we might not be surprised, but rather prepared, for persecution.
First, the psalm claims that persecution is a means by which the Lord tests His people. In other words, the Lord is not absent in times of persecution, but rather has His own good purposes for His people. That the Lord works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, a word written to a suffering church (Romans 8:28), is not just true in certain circumstances, but is true of how the Lord deals with His people generally.
Secondly, the Lord tests his people from His holy temple. One clear implication is that the Lord remains sovereign and in charge of all that happens to His people, even in times of persecution, when it might appear that the Lord is either unable or unwilling to intervene. This truth is of unspeakable comfort and strength for a suffering people.
Thirdly, the wicked hate the righteous for no other reason than they are righteous. The Gospel of John makes this clear throughout. “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). To incur the wrath of the world, the church needs do nothing save be herself.
Fourthly, the Lord will deal with both the righteous and the wicked. Concerning the wicked, “his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fir and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” Concerning the righteous, “for the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.”
Finally, the Lord tests His people so that they will trust Him. David does not appear to be interested in fleeing. This does not mean that it is always wrong to flee persecution. Indeed, Jesus even instructed His disciples to do so (Matthew 10:23; cf. Acts 8). But it does mean that, in whatever ways we respond to persecution, we trust that “the upright shall behold His face.”
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
Sometimes the little words, like “so” and “therefore,” make all the difference in understanding a passage.
So it is with the Scripture for today. Jesus offers what must amount to one of the most encouraging and comforting words in all of the Scripture. Ask, seek, and knock, and our Father in heaven will answer. Why? Because He is our Father. If we give good gifts to our children, how much more will our Father in heaven give us good when we ask?
Then he gives what has become known as the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” Notice the “so.” What is it there for? Jesus is connecting the two thoughts, God’s generosity and our call to love, essentially showing us how to love others by trusting that our Father is for us, and will give us good things in asking. How else will we be able to be truly generous toward others, if we don’t believe that God will be generous toward us? But if we do believe that God is generous, we won’t be so fearful of doing good to others. In other words, we won’t limit our generosity to what we can give comfortably, whether time, treasure, or talent.
The Golden Rule is tremendously towering, and severe. Truly keeping it is a narrow way—a way that is hard, which few find. But it leads to life. The wide way is giving what we can comfortably give, for the wide way is easy, and is a road which many find. And it leads to destruction. Thanks be to God that we are not called to love our neighbors apart from the promise of God’s lavish generosity toward his children.
Whether we choose the wide or the narrow road will be determined by how convinced we are that God is our Father. Not the Father, but our Father.
For those of you who are especially weary and heavy laden, consider David’s cry that is Psalm 6.
David is troubled, both physically (6:2) and in spirit (6:3). Why? If David knows, he doesn’t say. But perhaps he doesn’t. There is much in David’s life that caused him trouble and heartache. He appears to have been forsaken by his own parents (Psalm 27), and we know his brothers didn’t receive him warmly when he showed up during the debacle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17). He was stalked by Saul and spent years running for his life. His sin with Bathsheba and Uriah surely troubled him (2 Samuel 11; Psalm 51). He lost the baby conceived during that hour of sin, and had family troubles throughout his adult life, particularly the rebellion of his sons. He called for a census, bringing Israel under judgment and killing many. David’s life was far from smooth. We would not be surprised if David could not put a finger in his troubled spirit.
He opens his prayer by asking the Lord not to rebuke him in His wrath. He does not shun rebuke, but only that the Lord would rebuke him in grace and love. As we have seen above, there were certainly occasions when David provoked the Lord’s anger. But also many times when David suffered when he apparently did not. Perhaps he was aware that the Lord disciplines those who he loves, as spoken much later in Hebrews 12, and that trouble and suffering are not necessarily a sign of the Lord’s displeasure. Whatever happens to him, he seeks grace: “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing” (6:2).
Such is the prayer of one who, as the Scriptures say, was a man after God’s own heart. J
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
To those of you who come to the New Year and instinctively search for resolutions (I am one of those people), let me offer one. For the last two years, I have periodically written meditations on the Scriptures, following a Bible plan that takes the reader through the Bible in a year, and the Psalms twice. If you don’t have one already, I want to commend a consistent—daily—practice of seeking the Lord in His word to you, and offer some encouragement from Psalm 1.
Psalm 1 describes one whose life is like a tree, planted by water, yielding good fruit. How does this happen? The psalm gives us two characteristics of the one who bears such fruit. First, he delights in the word of God. He doesn’t simply read it, learn it, or even memorize it (as crucial as those things are). He delights in it. And this makes all the difference. One who delights in the word of the Lord delights in the Lord Himself, and therefore does not delight in those things that deaden his affections or draw him from Christ. Secondly, he obeys the word, his life having nothing to do with the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers. He is a doer of the word, not a hearer only. He seeks practical instruction from the word in which he delights, and does it.
Do you have any desire greater than the desire to bear fruit like a tree planted by living waters? If not consider the promise of the psalm. Find a time and a place, consistently, and attend the Word of God. If you want to read it through in a year, slowly, consider the plan on the church website. But make a plan. It won’t just happen. Then determine, with God’s help, to delight in it and to obey it.