Friday, December 31, 2010

Did Abraham Tell Isaiah Something?

Reading: Isaiah 24-27  
In the previous post, commenting on Genesis 22, we saw that the account of Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac was teaching us that God will provide what is needed for our relationship to Him, not Abraham, or us. Genesis 22:14 says, “And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'” Apparently, that was the take away from that text, for they were still referencing that point, and I have to wonder if Isaiah had it in mind as he wrote these chapters, especially Isaiah 25:6-8.
6On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)
On this mountain, the mountain of the Lord, there is some serious provision going on for the peoples of the world. And on that mountain, the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations will be destroyed. I believe that this shroud speaks of the blindness that covers the nations of the world. The blindness that prevents us from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. The blindness of which Paul spoke when he said,
3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
Just prior to this, Paul had written in 3:14, “to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.” In Christ, the veil is taken away. In Christ, at the cross the provision was made for the veil to be taken away. And when Paul preached the Gospel, compared to when the Old Covenant was read in the synagogue, he largely expected for the veil to be removed. At least the words, “even if our gospel is veiled,” indicate that his expectation was that this veil had largely been removed as he is preaching the Gospel—and certainly is removed as people hearing the Gospel are given the gift of faith to believe it.
Back in Isaiah, in 24:21-23 we read,
21In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. 22They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days. 23The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously. (See also Isaiah 27:1)
Note the punishing of the heavenly powers, how they are bound together like prisoners in a dungeon (literally, a pit!), and how this binding of heavenly powers is connected to the idea of the moon being abashed (darkened?), and the sun ashamed (not showing its light?). This might help explain some of Peter's comments on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:19-20).
The mountain of the Lord, the cross of Christ, is certainly the place where the Lord has provided. And it is there, in the preaching of the cross that the veil is removed as the Lord gives faith. It is there at the cross where the enemy was bound and cast out (John 12:31; 16:11; Luke 10:18). It is because of the cross that then enemy is defeated (1 Corinthians 2:8). And now, ascended to the right hand of God, Christ is reigning before us gloriously. I can't help but wonder if this is what is being referred to in Revelation 20:1-3, when the ancient serpent, the dragon was bound in a pit, and could not deceive the nations any longer—i.e. the veil he had shrouded the nations with was removed such that the Gospel could go forth while Christ is reigning gloriously on His throne before the elders of His people. The world doesn't see Him, but we do.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Kind of God Would Tell Abraham to Sacrifice His Son?

Reading: Genesis 22  
Have you ever read the story of Abraham setting out to sacrifice Isaac and questioned the character of God that He would require someone to sacrifice his own child? Of course, we are all glad that the angel stopped him. Maybe you've heard believers refer to this story saying, “That was my Isaac,” meaning that God was calling them to sacrifice something in their life which they loved too much.

Is that what this story is all about? Is it about God requiring us to give up what we love too much? Possibly, but I'm not sure the text itself indicates that. I think we read that into the text (isogesis), more than we get that out of the text (exegesis). Let me propose a different take that I believe is more likely to come out of the text.

When reading narrative (stories) in the Scripture, it is important to pay attention to what is actually being said by the people in the story. Also, things that are repeated are important, and in Genesis, any time we see one of the names by which God reveals Himself, that is a hint at the key meaning of the section.

Abraham came out of a culture of idol worshippers and dwelling in a land of idol worshipers. The Israelites, the audience to whom this was first written, would live in a land of idol worshipers, some who sacrificed their children to Molech (see Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). The false religions of the nations were about gods who were angry at their followers and would require them to appease them. They would sacrifice to them, and it was evidently not unusual to require the sacrifice of their children. God set out to test Abraham, but it becomes apparent that in the process of testing Abraham, God is really going to teach Abraham something different about His nature, and the nature of His covenant.

While Yahweh, the real God, is worthy of love and devotion greater than any of the false gods of the nations, part of why He is worthy of such worship is because of how different He is than the idols of the nations, and how different is His worship. This is revealed in the dialogue between Abraham and Isaac. Let's look at this story, as Abraham and Isaac set out to Mount Moriah.

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:6-8)

Abraham may not have known He was being prophetic, but He was indeed being prophetic. It may well be like the time when Caiaphas, the high priest, unknowingly prophesied that Jesus would die in the place of the whole nation of Israel, and the scattered children of God throughout the world (John 11:49-52). “God Himself will provide the lamb...”

As we read what follows (Genesis 22:9-13), we discover that Abraham wasn't really going to have to sacrifice Isaac, but that God would provide a ram in his place. Then this key point is confirmed in the name of God which Abraham gave to that place.

So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14)

Yahweh, and the covenant He made with Abraham, is not about how we will appease God, or provide for Him (like the idols of the nations), but rather about how God will provide for us. We are the ones who need to be provided for. And on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided. Interestingly, based on the location from which Abraham set out from and how far he traveled, Mount Moriah is at or around the same place Christ was crucified. Indeed the Lord has provided, and He has provided the Lamb that takes away our sins through His Son, His only Son.

Of course, our God is worthy of any sacrifice, and is worthy of the love and devotion which is willing to give it to Him. However, our relationship to Him is not rooted in how we loved Him first, or even how Abraham loved Him first, but in how He loved us and gave His Son for us (1 John 4:10, 19). And devotion to God is to be shown largely in our love one for another (1 John 4:11).  And what this chapter tells us about God, is far more significant than what it tells us about Abraham, or man. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Was Wrong With Israel's Judges?

Reading: Judges 1-6  

There was only one problem with the judges in Israel. In Judges 2:18, we read how, after Joshua had died, and the people of Israel began to live in disobedience to the Lord, the Lord would raise up a judge for them. And the Lord would be with the judge, and deliver the people from their enemies as long as the judge lived. But the next verse tells us the problem.

18Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.  (Judges 2:18-19)  
The only problem with Israel's judges was that they died! God would raise up a judge and things would go great, until he died.
As we read on we find, the Lord raised up various deliverers.
9But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel..., who saved them. 10The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:9-11)
Notice, the Lord raised up a deliverer, who saved them, upon who the Spirit of the Lord rested. And things went great, until he died.
Then another deliver is brought on the scene.
Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man.... The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. (Judges 3:15)
Now Ehud had a great little secret sword he kept hidden on his thigh. The story of how he delivered Israel from the obese king of Moab is hilarious. It is the kind any ten-year-old boy would love to read (Judges 3:15-30). At the end of this account we read:
27When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. 28“Follow me,” he ordered, “for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him.... 30That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years. (Judges 3:27-30)
Here we have a deliverer who brings peace to Israel. After killing the king of Moab, when the Israelites meet up with him, he begins with two familiar words, “Follow me.” Familiar to those of us who know a future Deliverer who has defeated the strongman who held us captive to death, who comes bidding us to follow Him. Then, with Ehud, we find that one problem again:
After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. (Judges 4:1)
Eventually the Lord raises up Gideon who subdues Midian. Yet, again we read,
No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. (Judges 8:33)
All of these judges were speaking of the need for the people of God to be delivered or saved, and of the way that God will deliver or save His people by honoring the judge or deliverer. The people were saved because of him (Judges 2:18). The Spirit of the Lord was on the deliverer. The people were called to follow him, and be willing volunteers (Judges 3:28; 5:2, 9). But they also speak of a need which these deliverers could never fulfill—the need for a deliverer who would live forever. And that Deliverer has indeed come. And because of the resurrection from the dead, God now delivers His people from their enemy, on behalf of this Deliverer, and this time it is an unending Deliverance.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Does Paul Redefine Israel?

Reading: Romans 9, 10  

Did Paul believe the definition of Israel had changed? Does the New Testament teach that Israel has changed from a naturally defined people to a spiritually defined people? That depends on what you mean by changed!

Romans 9 begins with Paul defining terms. He begins talking about Israel in terms of race, or natural decent.

3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans 9:3-5)

Where the NIV has, “those of my own race,” other translations read more literally like the ESV, “my kinsmen according to the flesh.” In other words, he is speaking of Israel as defined the same way I might say I am part Italian, or a large part Czech, etc. I've never been to Italy, or the Czech Republic; I don't know the languages or customs; in fact, no one there would recognize anything about me as being Czech or Italian. I am really American. But that is what I am according to the flesh. Paul begins Romans 9 defining Israel as those who are related according to the flesh.
But then, in verse six, he introduces another definition of Israel—a contrasting definition.
6It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children.  On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned."  8In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. (Romans 9:6-8)
By way of contrast, Paul now posits another definition of Israel: not those who are naturally descended from Abraham, or even Israel (Jacob and his twelve sons), but those who are the children of promise.
Who are these children of promise?
Paul's example of Isaac's birth (Romans 9:9) indicates those of a supernatural birth. They are further defined as the recipients of God's sovereign mercy (Romans 9:15-18). This is further described in vs. 23-24:
23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
So in this second definition, Israel is defined as the objects of His mercy, those whom He also called from both Jew and Gentile. When reading Romans 9-11 is it very important to keep both these definitions in mind, because Paul alternates between them.
Is Paul teaching a new definition of Israel?
Is Paul teaching that the definition of Israel has changed? Where does Paul go to prove his case? Is it not to the Old Testament itself? He quotes the Old Testament voraciously throughout this section as the evidence for this alternate, abiding definition of who makes up the people of God. So I suggest that Paul isn't changing the definition from Israel defined according to the flesh to Israel defined by promise, but rather is pointing out that Israel, according to promise, has always been the primary definition of who makes up the people of God!
Likewise, as you read chapter 10, notice that Paul's source for arguing for how we are saved, by trusting in Christ, comes from the Old Testament. Paul is not arguing for a different means of salvation than what the Old Testament taught, but for the real means of salvation which it taught rather than the substitute means which had been construed from it by those who did not submit to God's righteousness (Romans 10:3). Paul's proof for salvation by faith comes from Isaiah 28:16 (Romans 10:11).
In one sense, the Gospel is not a radical change in what we have in the Old Testament, but the original intention which was hidden in it all along. Of course, in other ways we could speak of it as a radical change, for it upended all their expectations.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Where Do You Go for Shade?

Reading: Ezekiel 31  

Are you tempted to put your trust in the strength of our nation, or in new leaders, or even the most glorious of world powers? Ezekiel 31 has a message that speaks to us today about this.  

The Lord speaks to Pharaoh king of Egypt. “Who can be compared with you in majesty?” Then the rest of the chapter, until you get to the last verse, is speaking about Assyria and what happened to it. Then, the last verse makes application to Pharaoh and Egypt. So everything spoken about the glorious past of Assyria is spoken with application to the present audience (Pharaoh and Egypt) in mind.

First, we are told the background of the once great Assyrian empire:

3Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon, with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest; it towered on high, its top above the thick foliage. 4The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall; their streams flowed all around its base and sent their channels to all the trees of the field. 5So it towered higher than all the trees of the field; its boughs increased and its branches grew long, spreading because of abundant waters. 6All the birds of the air nested in its boughs, all the beasts of the field gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade. 7It was majestic in beauty, with its spreading boughs, for its roots went down to abundant waters. 8The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor could the pine trees equal its boughs, nor could the plane trees compare with its branches—no tree in the garden of God could match its beauty. 9I made it beautiful with abundant branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God. (Ezekiel 31:3-9)

Assyria was once a great empire, like a tree providing shade for all living creatures. This may sound familiar.  This may sound familiar. Recall Jesus' description of the kingdom of God. We will get to that, but first let's examine this chapter as it provides the background for Jesus' comments.  Assyria was once an empire which provided safety and security for all those who dwelt in it. People put their confidence in, their trust in the shade it provided. Keep in mind that just as shade protects and provides, so this nation, in its heyday, in all its beauty, was a source of protection and provision.
Then, to remind Pharaoh of just how great Assyria was before its fall, the comparison is made to all the trees of the garden of Eden. Eden, of course, is the picture of perfection. Yet, if nations are trees, then Assyria, as a tree, is unmatched even in that greatest of tree gardens—Eden. It is as if to say, “If Assyria wasn't exempt from what befell it, neither are you, Egypt.”

Secondly, we are told that Assyria was lifted up in pride and therefore was cast down. Here is a symbolic description of its fall:

11I handed it over to the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside, 12and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it. Its boughs fell on the mountains and in all the valleys; its branches lay broken in all the ravines of the land. All the nations of the earth came out from under its shade and left it. (Ezekiel 31:11-12)

The empires of the world may be a source of protection and provision, but they won't last forever. When lifted up in pride, they will fall. Why? For just like every other nation, every other tree, everything in this world is destined for the grave. (Ezekiel 31:16-17)

Finally the question is posed to Pharaoh and all his mighty armies:

Which of the trees of Eden can be compared with you in splendor and majesty? Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below; you will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword. (Ezekiel 31:18)

What is the message to Pharaoh? No man and no nation is so great that it will escape the destiny of every tree—even the trees of Eden. Every nation, every empire, every emperor will end up in the earth below. Everyone stands in desperate need of resurrection.

Jesus presents an alternate source of protection and provision in Mark 4:30-32.

30"What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?   31It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade."

Jesus, knowing our propensity to find our security and provision in earthly structures pointed us in another direction. Jesus pointed us to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the only kingdom which will not end up in “the earth below.” It is the kingdom, as we read in Daniel 7:14, which will last forever. And the message to everyone of us, from Ezekiel 31, and clarified by Christ Himself, is that every earthly kingdom makes a lousy source of security and provision for it will end up buried in the rubble of the earth, buried in decay. Yet there is a kingdom to which we can look for security and provision: the Kingdom of God. And that kingdom is a kingdom in which we can truly rest in its shade. We come to know from Jesus' teaching that the kingdom of God is the kingdom which transcends the grave, for it exists on the other side of the grave. And the kingdom of God is centered in the King, Jesus Christ.

In a day when many are finding themselves exposed because of recession and fear of the future, this chapter raises important questions for us. Where are you looking for safety and provision? So many look to a new president, a new congress, or new leaders to solve the problems. But even they will make lousy trees to rest in. But there is a tree which provides the shade we need.

IN CHRIST ALONE my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Did You Get Yours Yet?

Reading: Joshua 21  

Some Get Their Inheritance After Everyone Else!

Joshua 19 ended with Joshua receiving his inheritance after everyone else in Israel had received theirs. And the last words are, “And so they finished dividing the land.” Then Joshua 20 designates the cities of refuge for those who commit manslaughter to run to in order to receive a fair trial. So I find it rather interesting that Joshua 21:1-3 reads:

Now the family heads of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the other tribal families of Israel 2at Shiloh in Canaan and said to them, "The LORD commanded through Moses that you give us towns to live in, with pasturelands for our livestock." 3So, as the LORD had commanded, the Israelites gave the Levites the following towns and pasturelands out of their own inheritance....

This may be yet one more reason Joshua is convinced the future is not good for Israel (Joshua 24:19-20). They hadn't exactly placed a high priority on the ministry of the Word and Tabernacle (God's dwelling amongst them). Throughout Israel's history, this is one of the things that seemed to fall by the wayside... setting aside from their own inheritance, what the Lord commanded for the Levites.

Yet this is the Lord's plan. Everyone receives their inheritance first, and then, from that the Levites receive theirs. It is an evidence of faith, or faithlessness. Will the people take from what God gave them, and set aside for the work of ministry? Paul and the apostles experienced this being at the end of the line in a unique way:

7...What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 8Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. 14I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (1 Corinthians 4:7-16)

Christ came and took the lowest place, and gave His life as a ransom for many. Paul took a certain joy in being dishonored, that others might gain. And what is his admonition for the rest of us? “I urge you to imitate me.” We might accurately add, as Paul himself does later, “as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Ministry is about being at the end of the line... I forget that too often. Ministry is about a cross. This is a privileged place. Ministry is about “not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”  (1 Corinthians 10:33) And this is why those who preach the Gospel also line up at the end, and receive their earthly inheritance after everyone else (1 Corinthians 9:13-14; Galatians 6:6).

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Does Your Worship Need Cleaning Up?

Reading: Matthew 15

You may be familiar with the statement Jesus made, “What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'” (Matthew 15:11) Jesus offended the Pharisees because He was talking about their worship. It was their unclean worship coming out of their mouth that was causing them to be unclean.

I just noticed that today. This statement follows an interchange about their worship of God.

7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

So when Jesus calls the crowd, in the next verse and talks about “what comes out of the mouth,” he is talking about worship, specifically, the worship of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. In effect, He is saying, “These Pharisees are telling you about what will make you clean and unclean if you eat it, or touch it. But I am telling you, that their very worship is unclean.” No wonder the next verse reads,

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12)

Then they ask Jesus to explain the parable. I always found that funny because it didn't seem like parable to me. But it was. So Jesus explains that more familiar portion of the chapter,

17"Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:17-20)

The parallel is striking: What was coming out of the Pharisees mouth was making them unclean... their false worship. And in the explanation, what comes out of the mouth, proceeds from the heart and it is, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Their false worship was the equivalent of evil thoughts, murder, etc.! No wonder Jesus could say, as we recently saw on Sunday Morning in John 16:8, that the world (including the Jews) needed to be convicted of their guilt in regard to not only their sin, but also their righteousness (John 16:8). The Jewish leaders believed they were doing God a service to crucify Jesus.

But so far, we have only learned what makes us unclean (the inside of us), and what cannot make us unclean (dirty hands, or different foods). We haven't yet learned how to get clean!

How are unclean people to get clean?

Jesus leaves this place and goes to a place that smacks with outward uncleaness... and apparently inward uncleanness too!

21Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A 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." (Matthew 15:21-22)

Now here is someone who is unclean (both externally, by the Pharisees' standards, and internally because she is demonized, or as Mark writes in his Gospel, “an unclean spirit”. (I find that Matthew's Gospel seems to often be more subtle than Mark or Luke.) Now, if ever a heart were unclean, this would be it. Is there any hope for the unclean heart of this little girl? The disciples apparently didn't think so. They wanted to get rid of her as a nuisance. After Jesus tells them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,”1 the woman gets through to Jesus and he tells her, “"It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." (Matthew 15:26) It seems as if Jesus is accenting the fact that this woman and her daughter are unclean, by referencing her status as a “dog” (an unclean Gentile). Never mind there may be some irony in the fact that she is not offended at being called a dog, while the Pharisees were offended when Jesus said their worship was unclean.

Her response reveals how unclean hearts are made clean.

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 15:27-28)

This Gentile woman believed there was enough provision at Christ's table for the crumbs to be sufficient to cure her daughter. Her faith was great because the object of her faith was the abundant provision of God's mercy in Christ. And it is from hearts that are cleaned by Christ that true worship comes.

29Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31)

After Christ healed them, true worship could come. This was different than the false worship of the Pharisees that this chapter began with.

And we know there is plenty of these crumbs to go around for all of us who need to be made clean. There is no limit here. For Jesus takes but seven loaves of bread, a few small fish, feeds 4,000 plus women and children. And the disciples pick up seven huge basketfuls of crumbs! There are plenty of crumbs of God's mercy availble for all of us who need it!

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1Since he said this to the disciples, it causes me wonder if he was testing whether or not they would even think it possible that this woman and her unclean daughter could possibly be one of those lost sheep.