Archive for the ‘Matthew 15:21-28’ Category

On Little Sins and Big Sins

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

2nd Sunday in Lent-HL, February 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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People often find it easy to make a distinction between little sins and great sins.  I suppose that is to be expected because we all know that there are some sins that are pure scandal.  There’s always particularly bad people that all respectable people avoid and condemn.  It has always been this way; even in the time of Jesus.  Maybe you’ve heard this saying before, “There are little sins and big sins.  Your sins are big and mine are little.”  As humorous as that is, there is a degree of truth to that saying; truth that is, in how we like to judge our own sins.

Speaking of truth, here’s one, Jesus never classified sins.  Instead, He stressed that all sins were evil and enough to disqualify sinners from entering the Kingdom of God, and yet He showed His love for sinners by eating with tax collectors and prostitutes; by answering the prayer of a Canaanite woman, who in the eyes of the Jews, was the equivalent of a wild feral dog.

In our message this morning, we must remember three things: 1. People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. 2. There are no sins so great that they can’t be forgiven by grace and through faith in Christ. 3. There are no sins so little that they don’t need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. That is to say, just because someone seems to be living a blameless life according to a moral code, doesn’t mean that they have that same standing before God.  You see, God looks within the heart of sinners.  Those things that seem perfectly fine in the sight of men can many times be offensive to God.

When we say that God looks within the hearts of sinners, what we mean is that He looks to see if a sinner is in agony, sorrowing over their sins, any and all sins.  To bring sorrow to sinners, God determined long ago to use that portion of His Word we call the Law of God, which demands that men and women live holy and perfect lives as God is holy and perfect.  When the Law shows us how we fail to do that, then the Law of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit to become as a mirror to sinners.  This mirror of God shows sinners how utterly hideous they are on account of their sins, and then it shows them how lost within the grasp of the devil they are.  At this point, the point of despair, the Word of God then becomes like a brutal hammer that deliberately crushes all of the self reliance out of sinners.  When this happens, it is God’s will that the sinner would cry out to Him for mercy.

This cry for mercy then, is the only prayer that God will hear from a sinner who is not one of Jesus little lambs; it is a prayer that catches the ear of God so to speak, and through this cry of mercy, the heart of the sinner is being prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the gospel, that is the sinful heart has become fertile soil to receive a gospel seed that will grow, bloom, and bear much fruit.  This is then a picture of a sinner who has been prepared to hear the good news of a Champion, the Savior of the world Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is willing to be their Savior as well.

So the truth is that there can be no acknowledgment of sin by a sinner out side of the convicting power of God’s Law, and there can be no forgiveness out side of the Gospel Word, which is the message about forgiveness of sins completely through Jesus Christ alone.  But here is another truth worth remembering…

There are no sins so great that they cannot be forgiven by faith in Jesus. The penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is a classic example of this, and also the Canaanite woman in our gospel lesson. [Matthew 15:21–28]

Sins are a mysterious thing, even for Christian folks.  Sins have a tendency of clinging to us.  Even after we’ve heard the gospel, and received the sweet absolution of our Lord, many times those sins still seem to hound us.  Why do you suppose that is?  Could it be that we lack faith in God’s promise to forgive?  Or could it be that the devil or someone controlled by the devil has convinced us that some particular sin that we’ve committed just might be to big for grace to pardon; to terrible to be forgiven?  The truth is, even those great sins that seem to linger in our minds like the smell of death, they have to be released when this Gospel message is declared, “Believe in Jesus Christ, and all will be forgiven.”

All sinners, even baptized and redeemed sinners like you and me, we have this sinful tendency to want to do something, anything that will pay for our sins; like I said, that too is a sin.  It’s a sin because it sets aside the blood of Christ that was poured out to cover our sins, and treats it as if it’s nothing.  It sets aside the gift of God’s love that was poured out into our hearts in Holy Baptism, and calls that insufficient.

But God’s Word gives each of us the ability to put to death these sinful thoughts and desires, listen: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.  Through Christ Jesus we have access to the Father.” [Romans 5:1-2]  You see, God wants you to believe in the work of Jesus, that is He desires that you receive that work as a certainty that your sins, all of them are forgiven on account of Christ, the atoning sacrifice, “who God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement for YOU. [Romans 3:25]  And even more amazing, this promise of forgiveness from God becomes effective for you, when you place all of your faith in the mercy of God as poured out for you through Christ.  In other words, this atoning sacrifice for sin, was and is done for you by Christ who is your Great High Priest, simply so that you can approach God in prayer with great confidence.  Not confidence in your own works, but confidence in the work of Christ alone! [Hebrews 4:14-16]

In other words, God works to empty our hearts of all self righteousness, so that He can enlarge them and fill them with faith and love that can come only through the ministry and work of Christ alone.  So, I hope by now you can see that…

There are no sins so little that they do not need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

The truth is, each idle word that we speak in anger, jealousy, or pride, is liable for God’s judgment, and it has to be accounted for.  [Matthew 5:22-28]  Our “little” stinging remarks, our lustful looks, our eagerness to be noticed when we do something good, our stubborn unwillingness to forgive—all these things are under the judgment of God until they are included in the forgiveness which we find in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him alone.  That forgiveness includes small and great sins, conscious and unconscious sins, those sins that have tortured us for years, and those that we have forgotten long ago.

Like Jacob in our Old Testament lesson, God wants us to be grieved by these sins, because they separate us from His love.  And then God wants those sins, all of them, to move our hearts to call out to Him in prayer, in Jesus name seeking the forgiveness and change that only He can bring.  Jacob was struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involved a spiritual striving with God for his blessing, which is God’s gift of grace, but it also involved a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, referred to as “the man,” later identified himself as actually being God.

Jacob’s wrestling with God continued all night long, until with merely a touch, God threw Jacob’s hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob couldn’t continue the painful struggle any longer; so God was telling Jacob to cease striving and simply trust Him and surrendered to His will.  And what did Jacob do?  He threw his arms around God and held on to him. And when God said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak” He was delighted to hear Jacob’s answer, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You see, God didn’t want Jacob (and he doesn’t want us either) to be timid with him. He wants to give us great victories, especially over things like sin.  Like Jacob, we are simply to be humble and call out to God in prayer.

Jacob clung in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he received the blessing he desired.  Listen: “What is your name?” the Lord asked him, not because he had forgotten but because he wanted to remind Jacob that his name meant “heal grabber” or cheater.  Jacob was known as a sinner who took unfair advantage of his rival. But that old name no longer fit this man, and so God gave him a new one. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

No longer would Jacob rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposed him. Instead, he would put his trust in God’s promises of blessing and forgiveness. He had learned to lean on God; to trust Him.

Each of us needs to learn and remember this as well.  We so often need to be reminded that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in our holding firmly to what God has promised.  When we desire to live out that truth, God reminds us that in our baptism, like Jacob, we too were blessed with a new name; we were called Christian.

You know the truth is, sometimes it can feel like God’s angry with us; as if He were our opponent. Each of us has known times in our lives when we were unable to feel God’s mercy, as if He was only showing us His angry face. Jacob felt that way, but he held on to God even when God seemed like his enemy, and because of his tenacity, Jacob won a blessing. We will have that same experience too, when by faith we learn to say, “My Savior Jesus, I will not let you go unless you bless me and teach me to live out your sweet gift of forgiveness, which you won for me upon your cross and then gave to me in my baptism.”  And wonders upon wonders, He does that very thing as He daily reinforces our faith when we hear and study His Word, and receive His Holy meal at His altar.”

May God continue to forgive all of our sins, big and small, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Great is Our Faith!

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Ninth Sunday in Pentecost, August 14th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.””[Matthew 15:28a]

INTRODUCTION: Perhaps our gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) reading this morning may leave some of us a little unsettled; the reason is that we aren’t used to hearing Jesus say “No”!  And yet it seems that He’s doing that very thing!  Now He didn’t actually say no, but instead he was silent; He spoke to His disciples instead of answering the Canaanite woman?  Why did He do that?  Isn’t He the savior and God for all sinful men and women?  Doesn’t He care about everyone?  Well, yes He is, but we must remember His mission, the mission that was given to Him by His Father.  He was sent first to be the Messiah for the people of Israel, after all God promised this very thing to them.  

After His death and resurrection, after He announced the completion of His mission with the Words, “It is finished’ , then and only then would His disciples would be sent, they would be propelled out into the entire world to announce God’s mercy and salvation; the forgiveness of sins to all who would receive Jesus Christ as “their” savior.  But that time hadn’t come yet.  Jesus was required to focus first on the Jewish people, the children of Abraham, so that He could fulfill the promise made to them by their faithful God.  Listen to that promise restated over and over again by God: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” [Genesis 17:4-4]  “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” [Exodus 2:24-25]  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Exodus 19:5-6]  “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” [Deuteronomy 4:31]  “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” [Isaiah 42:6-7] “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” [Isaiah 60:3]  you see, it is within this context that Jesus encounters this poor Canaanite woman. 

I. “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” [Matthew 15:21, 22] Why was Jesus going to a different district, which was essentially another country.  Well He was trying to find a place of safety, a place where the Jewish authorities couldn’t find Him.  But why did He need a safe place?  Was Jesus, who is God in human flesh hiding from the very people He had created?  Yes!  You see, the Jewish authorities were trying to trap, capture and kill Him.  So was Jesus, the Son of God afraid of men?  No, but Jesus’ time, the time appointed by His Father had not yet come.  Jesus would indeed give His life as a ransom for many, even for these stiff neck people, but it would be in His time and not theirs! 

So where did He go?  He went to the border of another nation; a nation that was once known as Canaan.  He was laying low, trying to avoid the public lime-light; if people knew where He was it would be blabbed throughout the region, and sooner or later the religious authorities would be hot on His trail again.  If this were happening today, it might be the Paparazzi that Jesus  would be running from! 

Well you can’t get much safer than the regions of Tyre and Sidon; that was  a place full of gentiles, a god-less people who cared a less about God’s covenant, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the forgiveness of sins.  Surely no one would care that Jesus there, right?  Wrong!  Behold… there was this one woman… a Canaanite woman… a gentile woman who had a divine appointment to keep!  She had to get to Jesus no matter what!  Now how did she know about Jesus?  How does she know anything about the Jewish Messiah?  Well, she found out about Him the same way you and I did, through the Word of God!  Somehow, through God’s design, this woman heard about Jesus, His mission and His divine power to not just heal but to drive out demons and forgive sins!  So when she discovered that He was in her area, she dropped everything she was doing so that she could get to Him!  Why?  Because she needed God’s touch!  You see, sin had invaded her life and the life of her daughter and she knew by faith that the only way to defeat that sin was to turn to Jesus! 

We aren’t so different today are we?  Jesus is here with us right now and you didn’t have to come here but you did.  There are probably a lot of other things you could be doing with your time, but you chose to come here.  Why?  Because you know, by faith that you need Jesus; you need the forgiveness of sins that only He can give.  You gather to hear even one word of hope; one word of peace.  Maybe like the Canaanite woman you keep trying to get God’s attention, but sometimes, maybe it seems like He isn’t listening.  Maybe you’ve had people try to influence you to quit going to church and encountering Jesus.  This may come as a surprise to you, but you’re not the only one to experience that.  Listen to what the Canaanite woman had to deal with: 

II. “But (Jesus) did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  [Matthew 15:23] Has it ever seemed that the God who never sleeps and is always watching and working was silent in your life?  Have you ever had friends or family members try to discourage you from going to church “every” Sunday?  Maybe you’ve even had them ridicule you for your faith, a faith that they think is a waste of time?  And maybe, just maybe you’ve been close to agreeing with them.  Maybe, even now you’re considering taking a break from you regular attendance at divine service, because it seems that there are other things… better things you could be doing with your time?  Well if that’s the case, remember the Canaanite woman and the audacity of her faith! 

You see, she knew that Jesus had been sent for the Jews; a people she would never, could never be a part of.  She heard the words of the apostles, and she knew why they wanted to send her away!  She was born a gentile, but in her heart she knew that the God of the Jews was the true and only God.  She knew that if there was to be any help or hope for her and her daughter it could only come from this man, the Son of David; this man who was somehow also God’s own Son!  So putting all of the reasons why Jesus wouldn’t help her aside; tuning out all of the criticism about her misplaced faith she fell at Jesus feet and she simply worshiped Him and cried out: Lord have mercy on me; pity me, Son of David… Son of the Living and most high God! 

III. And now here comes the part we find difficult.  Jesus seems to be discouraging her.  “He answered, ““I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  [Matthew 15:24-27]

In her heart she knew that she had no right to expect God to hear her plea; after all she truly was a gentile sinner, or as the Jews called her a wild gentile dog.  But in Jesus own Words she heard the possibility of hope; and in His Words she had the audacity to have faith!  You see, Jesus didn’t call her a dirty gentile dog, instead He called her a little dog, the kind that you keep as a pet in your home!  So she wouldn’t try to discourage Jesus from fulfilling His mission to the Jews and she wouldn’t try to convince Him that she wasn’t a little dog.  Instead she would repeat back to Jesus the very Word He used to describe her.  Why?  Because she understood the mission that Jesus was on was essentially a mission to save sinners; by faith she knew that she was part of that mission, because she was a sinner.  She only wanted a bit of God’s mercy, a crumb of compassion! 

Here friends is faith in all of its glory!  Here is how mighty God’s Word and Spirit work within the heart of a sinner who has been given the audacity of faith!  Knowing full well that God could and should say no, she is moved by God Himself to ask any how!  Here friends is a picture of you and me; we are beggars at the thrown of God asking for mercy; asking for forgiveness.  When God’s Word calls us sinners, we repeat that Word back to Him; we agree with Him and we ask for forgiveness!  When others wouldn’t even bother, or when they might turn away discouraged, we are moved by the power of God through the Word of God to call out for mercy.  Why?  Because it is God’s will! 

Yes, it was Jesus intention to move quietly out of harm’s way.  Yes, He was on a mission to save the faithful people of Israel.  Yes, it was not time yet to send His church out into the world offering God’s forgiveness, comfort, and joy to the non-Jewish people, but there in that moment, in that one heart the Kingdom of God was breaking out in a mighty way.  So the God who seems to have been distant and silent, stops and receives the worship of one heart and the need of a mother and daughter and He speaks the Holy absolution; He speaks the gospel Word of forgiveness: “Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” [Matthew 15:28] 

CONCLUSION: Friends that is a picture of you and me.  We too were once separated from God because we were not His people.  We weren’t His people because of our many sins.  Yet somehow God’s Word entered our hearts and gave us great faith.  Somehow He came near to us and gave us forgiveness.  Somehow God’s kingdom broke into our lives and recreated us.  We who were once not a part of His people have been made His people!  Oh thank the Lord and sing His praise and tell everyone what Jesus has done for you!  God has made a way out of no way to save you.  He has called you out of darkness into light, and by faith you heard Him call and you responded.  Oh happy day!  Oh happy day when Jesus gave me great faith and in the waters of my baptism washed my sins away!  Friends, we are holy because God is Holy; through Jesus Christ He has made us holy!  But not only that, He has called us with a purpose; we are to share His love and grace with as many people as possible!  Why?  Because now as part of His people, His church, we are to take His Gospel Word with us and be His light in a dark sinful world. We are to explain to all who will hear that God loves the whole world, even them!  

Yes friends, you are here this morning because by faith you see all of this happening within you and around you, and it is marvelous in your sight.  It is so marvelous that you know that you must never lose this faith that God has given to you; so every week here in this little church, you throw yourself at Jesus feet and simply cry out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of the Living God!”  And Jesus hears your cry of faith each and every time, and He responds, “Great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire!”  And because He answers you this way, you are healed, you are forgiven instantly!  Thank you Jesus for your grace and faith, and may we always be bold to share these things with whoever you put in our path.  In Jesus name… AMEN!