Having Great Faith

Matthew 15:1-3

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

I really like this dialogue and especially Jesus’ response. They said to him, “What do you break our traditions?” And Jesus answered them with a question, “Why do you break God’s commands with your traditions?” What a great response!

This really is the key message of Christ–stop relying on your traditions to make you right with God and get to know God’s true righteousness. It’s the message of grace!

In verse 8, he sums up this dialogue using a prophecy from Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

I think Jesus hated religion–those man-made traditions that people came to rely on for their relationship with God. Just pray this way, or give this amount, or do these things, and God will be pleased. It’s not the way to true righteousness. People can say and even do those things to appear holy, but it’s really all about the heart.

It’s not what you do–it’s what you believe.

Matthew 15:19-20

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

What defiles a person? It’s not eating with unwashed hands. In other words, it’s not the things you do outwardly, but it’s the matters of the heart.

The message of grace is laid on the foundation that religion can’t save you. Before you can truly understand grace, you have to understand that the Law will not save you. Following rules was never God’s intention. God gave the Law, because the people wanted it, not because God wanted it. God’s desire is that we live feeding from the “tree of life”, not the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Grace says that he alone is our one and only source. Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing.

Do you feel better about yourself when you do good and avoid evil? You shouldn’t. It just means you’re feeding from the wrong tree. You should feel better about yourself because Christ gives you life! He is our righteousness! He is what makes us holy and right with God, and it has nothing to do with our actions, decisions, or abilities.

Apart from him, we can do nothing.

Mathew 15:21-28

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.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 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.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus was amazed at her faith. “Great is your faith!” he exclaimed. What is that she did to receive such acknowledgement? What is it that made her faith great?

I’ve heard some teachings saying it was her persistence, that Jesus was testing her perseverance. That’s why he first ignored her and then told her that healing was for the Jews only. But, she persevered. And, there may be some truth to that, but in that understanding, the weight of healing was on her, not on Christ. The perseverance she had was to persevere towards Christ, not towards healing.

But, I think the key really is in the first paragraph. She was a Canaanite woman. She was not a Jew. She did not follow the Law. She was a Gentile. She came to Jesus seeking healing not based on her own abilities, her own rule-keeping nor her own righteousness. She came to Christ simply believing that he held the power to bring healing to her daughter. She believed in him, not in her ability.

The only two times Jesus calls people’s faith “great” is to two non-Jews, people not under the requirements of the Law. It takes great faith to believe in Christ and Christ alone.

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