3-5-23 Reminiscere

Bible Text: Matthew 15:21-28 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Lent 2023 | The mother knows her daughter has a demon. It doesn’t matter what exactly the demon is doing to the poor girl – we’re not told that – what matters is that it’s a demon doing it. So the woman doesn’t run to a doctor or a shrink or a pill. She needs Jesus, needs divine help, because her daughter is oppressed by hell. This is a view of the world that our time needs to rediscover because it’s how the world actually is. There is a fight taking place between God and the devil and the fight is over us. The woman knows this. She’s seen it. If we don’t see it in our lives it’s only because we aren’t looking for it. Our eyes are instead glued to screens and a thousand other distractions where God and the devil are neatly set to the side, unmentioned. This is the great danger of a secular society, not simply in government schools but everywhere in our media and our businesses and far too often in our homes, and that is the non-mention of God, the presentation of a world that seems to run just fine without Him and where everything bad is either ignored or explained away as a medical issue, or a political one, or a sociological one, but neither God nor the devil make their way into the equation. The Bible presents a very different picture of reality. In the Bible men wrestle with God. In the Bible mothers see the devil’s attack and cry out to God for help. In the Bible we’re not fighting against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness in the spiritual places. It should not seem strange in the least, it should not seem foreign to our lives, what this woman in our Gospel sees and does. She knows what she’s dealing with, the devil, and she knows there is only one Savior who can crush him. If her concern and her pleas seem foreign to our life and our struggles, it’s only because we’ve surrounded ourselves with fakeness and allowed ourselves to see a world where God and the devil play no role.

Anyone can understand and sympathize with this woman’s love and care for her daughter’s welfare. That at least is natural to us, still something we’re used to seeing. Jesus says it, “Which of you, if his child asks for bread will give him a stone, or if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent?” Parents care for their children – that’s becoming less common, but it’s still common enough. We at least do it every day, we do it gladly, and the people who don’t we don’t think kindly of. What makes this woman’s actions so beautiful and so strange to the secular mindset is that she wants to free her child from the devil. Her goal is not simply for the body, not simply the education of her girl so she can make it in the world, not simply that she be well fed and well clothed and healthy. She has identified the problem and the problem is the devil, and so her struggle is with God Himself who is the only One who can give deliverance from the wicked one.

Your job as a Christian is to keep yourself from the devil. And your job as a Christian father or mother is to protect your children from the devil. And you won’t be able to do that if you imagine the world as our screens and our secular education present it. It’s not that they tell you that God doesn’t exist. It’s not that they tell you the devil isn’t active. They don’t have to. They just have to not ever mention God or the evils of the devil and then get you to spend most of your time living in this fake world they make up. We have to see the devil’s influence just as clearly in our day as that woman saw and knew without a doubt that her poor daughter was oppressed by a demon. And it shouldn’t be so hard for us Christians to see the devil at work today. It shouldn’t. The industry of baby killing is so obviously demonic. Politicians and teachers unions plotting to get as many boys as possible to turn themselves into girls and girls to turn themselves into boys, obviously this is demonic. Whatever was happening to this poor woman’s daughter cannot have been worse than what a Christian father or mother today are facing when the devil convinces their precious girl that she is a boy, when he torments her precious soul and mutilates her precious body.

But we don’t even need to go there to see the devil in action. I bring the extreme up to set the scene, to make it impossible for us to worm away from the obvious – the devil is active. But Jesus calls the devil the prince of this world. When Jesus tells us to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” the word is actually, “the evil one,” “deliver us from the devil.” The devil is behind every evil of body and soul, possession and reputation. Sickness, death, unbelief and doubt, the lust of the flesh.

So this woman’s faith, this woman’s wrestling with Jesus, it is the most relevant thing possible to your life. You need to struggle like she did. You need it. That’s why God gives it. We imagine that the struggle is needless, just something God does to make being a Christian unnecessarily difficult. But no, faith is such a thing that it doesn’t survive without testing. You will begin imagining the devil away, imagining your sin away, imagining God into the background, unless God tests your faith.

It is one thing to pray to God, say for your parents – I do that every night, of course, I love them and I want them to live long on this earth and go to heaven to be with Jesus when they die, so I pray for them every night – but it is another thing if I hear that Dad isn’t doing well or that he’s in the hospital, and I think of the very real possibility of me never seeing him again on this earth, and my spirit is made to feel the vanity and despair of death, and my soul prays fervently to God to strengthen his faith and keep the devil far from him and forgive him all his sins and grant him recovery, but if not, please, dear God, a blessed death and an eternity with Christ, where I will see him in glory. The testing is there to make it so that praying and living the Christian life cannot turn into a mere routine, a soulless confession, it’s there to strengthen faith in a world where we very easily forget what actually matters, forget that God is fighting for our soul, to keep us from sin and the evil one.

The struggle of this woman is exactly the struggle of every Christian. There are three ways God tests our faith as we cry out to Him for deliverance from the devil.

The first is that He seems to totally ignore us, to be totally absent from even considering our request. She cries out to Him and He says nothing. Silence. And this is the experience, very literally, of every Christian. I cry out and there is silence. Not once has God answered me from heaven. Not even in a dream. Every experience I have ever had of praying to God has been followed by silence from Him. And then the silence seems all the quieter because He seems to be absent from this world’s affairs, as the wicked triumph everywhere.

But it is precisely this silence that drives us to His Word, where He is not silent, where God speaks loud and clear and promises us that He will work all to good for us, that He will answer our prayers for Jesus’ sake, that whatever we ask in His name, He will give, because we are His children. I have never heard God speak to me out of heaven, but I have heard Him speak my forgiveness here in His Church, I have heard Him put His name on me in the benediction, I have heard the Son of God tell me take eat, this is my body, drink of it, this is my blood. And that has answered most every prayer I’ve ever prayed and besides that it’s made me sure that He will answer every other prayer I ask.

The second struggle is the struggle of seeming rejection from God. This isn’t the thought that God doesn’t exist or doesn’t hear, but that He hears and simply doesn’t like you. He says to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This is the deeper test, what happens to all mature Christians, because it touches on your predestination, your election to eternal life. It would be hard to find a clearer teaching in the Bible than that God has chosen His own from eternity. He has written their names in the Book of Life. He knows His own. No one will snatch them out of His hand. Are you one of them? In the struggle of faith with God, the thought will come, what if I am not one of them, what if He didn’t choose me, what if my own faith isn’t really sincere – I’ve certainly done enough to make myself doubt whether I really believe in this God. Why else would I think so many selfish thoughts, why else would I care so much about the stuff of this world and my own stinking pride, why else would I have fallen into that nasty sin? So maybe He doesn’t answer me because I’m not His at all.

But faith does exactly what this woman does. She totally ignores Jesus’ seeming rejection. He says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” she’s not of the house of Israel, she doesn’t care. She’s going to plead with Him anyway. Because the teaching of predestination, of God choosing you for eternal life, God does not tell you this so that you will doubt whether you really are the chosen. He says it to make you confident, make you sure, no one will snatch you away, your name is written, don’t be afraid. When the thought of God choosing you or not choosing you makes you doubt instead, ignore it, leave it behind, and cling to Christ Jesus, do as the woman does, who simply sets Jesus’ words aside and instead of walking away from Him at the words, “I didn’t come for you,” comes closer, and gets down on her knees, and begs still louder, “Lord, help me.” And you will realize that Jesus is the Book of Life and everyone who trusts in Him is found written on His heart and there is no snatching you from Him – His bitter agony on the cross proves it and His body and blood put into your mouth guarantee it. No one found in Him will be cast aside, everyone who trusts in Him is by definition the one the Father has chosen and called by His Spirit to belong to His Son.

The final test of faith is the insult. It’s common to every Christian. Those who won’t be insulted by God won’t be blessed by Him either. The saddest thing in the world is to see a church or a pastor that is afraid to tell sinners they’re sinners, out of fear of offending them. That will only ruin faith. Look at your Lord Jesus. He calls the woman a dog. He insults her. And she takes it. It hurt. That insult hurt. It all hurt. The ignoring, the rejection, the insult. But it was all to strengthen her against the devil, all to make her faith fight for what is more precious even than her own pride. Fine, I’ll be the dog, but even the dogs receive the scraps that fall from the table.

So God insults us. But the insult lands. It hits the mark. He tells you you’re a sinner. And that better hurt. If it doesn’t you don’t know what it means to be a sinner. God is telling you that you’ve thought and desired and done absolutely filthy things, things He knows and you’d be embarrassed to admit to anyone, things that have deserved His eternal anger, that have separated you from Him like refuse and dung are relegated to the sewer. Sinner was the word applied to the prostitute, to the tax collecting thief, to the homewrecker, and He applies it to you. He insults you. And the test of faith is to take it, believe it, know it. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. God insults you and you must take the insult. That is the final test. Yes, I am a sinner, more than this, I will say it with Paul, I am chief of sinners, and I know it, but I know what you have said, that you have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, that this is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

And faith gets what it came for. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!” What she desired was deliverance from the devil. For her daughter and for herself. What she desired was to see God’s love and see it conquer the devil in her life. What she desired was to be able to look to this God and say, He is mine and I am His, and He won’t let the devil have his way with me or mine, and so I love Him, because He first loved me.

This is what we desire. Pray God open your eyes and see what the devil has done on this earth, to your own soul, to your country, your community, your family, see his wicked dealings everywhere. And you will not turn first to politicians or to doctors or to the elite of this world. You will turn to the One who has crushed the devil under His foot. And He will test you. He will test you to make you strong not in yourself but in His Word. When He is silent, hear Him speak in His Word. Why do you think this woman was so bold? Why do you think she persisted? Because Jesus had already spoken and she had heard His voice and she would not let Him go back on the words He had spoken – come unto Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. No matter if she wasn’t a Jew, wasn’t the chosen, no matter if He was silent now and now calling her a filthy dog, she had His Word and she would not let go. She knew His promise. And so He was never silent to her. And when you treasure His Word, and hide it deep in your heart, and listen to it daily, God will never be silent to you. He will always speak, and His words will always convince you that no matter what you have done, no matter how great a sinner you have been, no matter how the devil has oppressed you, He has suffered for you, He has borne your sins, He has claimed you as His own, washed you clean in His blood, fed you with the bread of life, written your name in the Book of Life, crushed the head of the devil under you. He loves you.

And through the testing, you will see that this is not after all the devil’s world. It’s God’s, His Kingdom does come, and Jesus does reign, and not simply in heaven, but here in His Church and so in your heart. And that means you reign with Him, because He is yours and you are His. Amen.

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