Jesus’ Encounter with the Syrophoenician Woman
Jesus spent much of His ministry among the masses, but He also had several life-changing, one-on-one encounters with people who needed exactly what He offered. In part 3 of our three-week series, we’re examining Jesus’ radical encounter with the Syrophoenician woman found in Matthew 15.
This encounter may seem confusing and harsh to those of us who do not understand the context or surroundings of what was going on in this story. Chris walks us through verse-by-verse to explain how a plea for a daughter’s healing changed this woman’s life for eternity!
If you missed the first two parts of this series, be sure to check them out in our archives as well as all of our other shows!
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. And with me is our host and teacher Chris Katulka. While parts of the U.S are opening up, we are still producing this program from our homes. We're so thankful we've been able to communicate to you to continue to bring you new episodes of the Friends of Israel Today during this time of uncertainty. And it's in these times that we want to fellowship with you through prayer. Prayer is a gift from God that unites believers all over the world.
Perhaps you're feeling fearful or uncertain during these times, we want to pray for you. When you visit our website, foiradio.org, there's a prayer form there, and you can fill it out. And when we receive those prayer requests, we will pray privately for you. These prayers will not be mentioned on air, but our team will bring them before our heavenly father. And thank you to all of those that have contacted us and asked for prayer. It's been a real joy to bear these burdens with you.
Chris Katulka: Now today on the program, we are going to be wrapping up our series that we've been doing, Our Encountering Jesus series. We're even looking at one-on-one moments that Jesus has had with individuals in the gospels. Today, we're going to look at the Syrophoenician woman from Matthew chapter 15. Before we get to that. You podcast listeners. We love our podcast listeners. We want you to comment on our program. Be sure to comment and rate on the Friends of Israel Today Radio Program that can be heard on Apple, Spotify, Google, Tune-in, Stitcher.
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Steve Conover: But before we get to anything else, the news. Iran's parliament passed legislation banning any cooperation with Israel. Specifically, including the use of Israeli computer hardware and software as a crime against God. This comes ahead of its annual al-Quds Day, which is Jerusalem Day, when Iranians march against Israel, burn Israeli flags, and spew hatred toward the Jewish State. COVID-19 has prevented these gatherings, but that didn't stop the Ayatollah from calling for the "final solution to the Israel problem."
Chris Katulka: Steve, to me, this is a kind of... It's sad, but it's also a little hilarious. Because the Ayatollah just banned, think about this, it just banned cell phones, computers, healthcare technology, software that runs in computers, medicines, and treatments that can save lives. And even a potential coronavirus vaccine that could come out of Israel. Listen, Israel was influential in inventing all of those things that I just listed. Iran is already in the dark ages of governance.
It has Ayatollahs that rule over them. And it keeps them in this dark age. But now, the Ayatollah are putting them in the dark age of technology, setting them back 50 years or so. Let's continue to pray for the Iranian people who are crippled by Islamic regime that controls them.
Okay. We are wrapping up our series here, Encountering Jesus. And I really hope it's been an encouragement to you during this time to show you the more intimate side of Jesus from the gospels. I wanted us to see how Jesus was speaking to individuals. Because, sometimes, it can seem like Jesus is speaking to a large group, but really there's moments where Jesus is simply speaking one-on-one to encourage us that he wants to speak to us also one-on-one.
But I wanted to do this in an interesting way. As the book of Acts opens, Jesus commissions his disciples to take the good news of the gospel to the whole world. Jesus says this in Acts chapter eight, verse one: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea, and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth."
Jesus is telling the disciples that this message is starting in Jerusalem, the message of the gospel is starting in Jerusalem, like the center of a dartboard, and it's going to move outward in concentric circles from Jerusalem, Judea Samaria, to the ends of the earth. And here's what's amazing to me about Jesus' ministry. He did this. He did this in his own ministry while he walked this earth. Jesus on a very intimate, personal level, ministered to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the rest of the world.
Today, we're going to be introduced to the Syrophoenician woman, a woman from Tyre and Sidon. A place that represents really the ends of the world, outside of the land of Israel. Now, if you read the gospels, you might be thinking, when did Jesus step outside of the land of Israel? I don't remember him getting on a plane and going to the ends of the earth to preach the kingdom of God, to preach the gospel.
A large portion of Jesus's ministry took place in the Galilee region, in the Northern part of Israel. And he traveled often to Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals of Israel. But maybe you're thinking, I don't remember Jesus venturing outside the borders of Israel to enter the ends of the earth. Well, Israel, in Jesus's day, wasn't as unified as a location as it is today. There were certain jurisdictions that were controlled by different ruling powers.
For instance, Pontius Pilate, a name you'd probably know very well, ruled over Judea. So when Jesus was in Jerusalem, it would have been ruled by the Romans under Pontius Pilate. But when Jesus left Jerusalem and traveled east toward the Jordan River, he would have been in the region ruled by Herod Antipas to get from the Galilee region to Caesarea Philippi, he would have had to have gone through the region of Tyre and Sidon. Most Jewish people didn't make it a custom to go into these extremely Gentile areas. But sometimes they had to travel through these areas to get from one place to another. And that's what we see here.
Listen to what Matthew writes in Matthew chapter 15 verses 21 through 28, about the Syrophoenician woman. Listen to this: “After going out from there, Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that area came and cried out, "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David. My daughter is horribly demon-possessed." But he did not answer her a word. Then his disciples came and begged him, "Send her away because she keeps on crying out after us." So he answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But she came and bowed down before him and said, "Lord, help me." "It's not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs," He said." Yes, Lord." She replied, "But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." And then Jesus answered her, "Woman, your faith is great. Let what you want be done for you." And her daughter was healed from that hour.”
Okay. So let's start with verse 22. A Canaanite woman. We have to stop there for a moment. This would have made the skin on a Jewish person in the days of Jesus crawl. The very thought of a Canaanite woman would bring flashbacks to Israel's enemies of the past and the Old Testament. So we have to ask ourselves a question; first, were there still Canaanites in the first century A.D? Well, many Canaanites from the Old Testament who survived the conquests, were actually driven northward into Phoenicia, into the area of Tyre and Sidon.
So her lineage, probably, could have been that of a Canaanite. But it's what she says that defines her here. The Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon cries out to Jesus, "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David." Listen, this is an amazing statement. The non-Jewish woman from the world, as we've been talking about here, from Tyre and Sidon, outside of the land of Israel, is crying out to Jesus, "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David."
This woman from a pagan region is claiming that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is the son of David. It's interesting, because in chapter 16, the next chapter, Jesus will make his way to Caesarea Philippi. And he will ask the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" And Peter will say, "You're the Messiah, the son of the living God." To say that you are the son of David, or the son of man, or the son of God. These are titles that are used for Jesus in the gospels. It's almost like saying president, or commander-in-chief, or leader of the free world.
The son of David is the son of God. In second Samuel chapter seven, God promises King David a son who will rule over his throne forever. And in that passage, God says to David, "He will be as a son to me, and I will be as a father to him." So the son of David is the son of God. Now think about this, a Syrophoenician woman is saying to Jesus, "You are the Messiah. I believe it." Her request to, "Heal my daughter..." She says to Jesus, "My daughter is horribly demon-possessed." Her request is based on a belief that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus can heal her.
Then something interesting happens here though. Jesus says nothing to her. The woman doesn't relent though. Then the disciples step in and plead with Jesus to send her away, "Get this woman out of here, please. She's crying out to us constantly." And then Jesus responds with a simple sentence, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Now, Jesus is right. His mission was for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He came to redeem Israel. To turn them back to God. To usher in the kingdom of God. And through that kingdom, Gentiles, non-Jewish people would be blessed. Jesus' mission is reinforced when he sent the disciples. Think about this. He sent the disciples in Matthew chapter 10. And he said, "Go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This isn't the first time Jesus says this. Jesus' mission to Israel is a matter of God's faithfulness to Israel. A point that must have been extremely important for Matthew to communicate.
The woman pleads one more time. And the text says in verse 25, "But she came and bowed down before him and said, Lord, help me." Now listen. She actually enters into a position of worship here when she bows down, pleading with the son of David. Matthew is showing us that this woman believes, she is convinced Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel, who can heal her daughter. But see, Jesus's response is a bit shocking to the modern ear.
Verse 26: “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” Listen, this is very harsh, it sounds to us in the 21st century. Jewish people actually, frequently, insulted Gentiles in Jesus's day by calling them dogs, the wild, homeless scavenger dogs that roam freely throughout the land. But here Jesus actually uses an interesting Greek word. Because it's not the wild dog that Jesus is mentioning here. It's actually... Or that is homeless and dangerous and roaming free. The word that Jesus uses here is actually a domesticated dog.
But what's interesting is, this isn't Jesus' first interaction with a Gentile. Jesus has already ministered to the Centurion. So, this response could be Jesus, not so much speaking rudely to the Syrophoenician woman, but maybe testing the disciples, or maybe even testing her faith. Either way, her response is spot on. She says this, "But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Her response, whether she knows it or not, encapsulates the important theology of Israel's election. Israel's election wasn't for their own benefit alone. But to be a means of blessing the nations, a light to the Gentiles, according to Genesis chapter 12, verse three and Isaiah 49, verse six. This woman knew that Jesus is coming, and being the Messiah of Israel, was not only to bless Israel, but to bless the whole world. That's what the prophets had promised. And it's this woman's faith that leads to her daughter's healing. It says this, "Then Jesus answered her, “woman, your faith is great. Let what you want be done for you."” And her daughter was healed from that hour. Now listen, when we return, we're going to talk a bit about healing, the healing hand of Christ and what it means for us to be sure to stick around.
Steve Conover: As we've been learning about Jesus and his time here on earth, we wanted to share with you a way to walk with Jesus and to see for yourself where he journeyed. Knowing the rich background and details of the land of Israel deepens their meaning.
Chris Katulka: Charlie Dyer's book, 30 Days in the Land with Jesus, will take you through the land of Israel and give you insights into Jesus's point of reference, to better appreciate the ways of our Messiah while he was here on earth.
Steve Conover: To purchase your copy of 30 Days in the Land with Jesus, visit us at foiradio.org. That's F-O-I radio dot O-R-G. We'll have the link on our homepage. Or, you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940, and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's (888) 343-6940.
Chris Katulka: So we've been studying the Syrophoenician woman from Matthew chapter 15, who is a Gentile, she's called a Canaanite, which is an enemy of Israel. But she is a Gentile who recognizes that Christ is the Messiah of Israel yet she had to plead with him to heal her daughter. And Christ did heal her daughter based on her faith, on the basis of her faith in him. I want to focus for a moment on the healing power of Christ.
Friends, Jesus Christ is a part of the Godhead. He's the Alpha and Omega. He spoke the world into creation at his word. Anything is possible. When this woman exuded the right faith, in the kingship of Christ, in who he is, Jesus said the word and it was done. Her daughter was healed. Look, the truth is God can heal. There's no disease or sickness God can't fix. If he's the creator of everything, the creator can heal anything. And I believe he does.
I hear stories of people who were suffering from stage four cancer, the outlook was grim, people started praying, and a miracle happened. The cancer disappeared. It stunned doctors. It stunned the people praying. But really, God is glorified because they realize it's because of the prayers and the work of God that there's healing there.
But there's also stories of faithful believers who have exuded faith their whole life, with people fervently praying, and yet they still succumb to cancer or a disease. And they lose their life. I'm just thinking of someone like Ravi Zacharias, the apologist who just passed into the glory of Christ, who defended Jesus for most of his life, who had Christians all around the world praying for him, for healing. And yet within months, he died. Did he not show enough faith? Personally, I don't think that that's the way God works. I don't believe God is a gumball machine of faith. Put faith in and get the results out that I want.
Look, when it comes to physical healing from Christ, I always like to go to the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Christ was faced with the reality of his impending death, and all that would come with it. And it's there that Jesus says "My father, if possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Listen, Jesus is saying, “God, Father, I know that you can stop this. I know that you can heal this. I know that you can fix this. Nothing is out of your reach. I believe it. But not what I will, but what you will.”
So that's really important. That's the way that I look at healing. I don't think God simply heals us just because we pray. It's not what I will, but what you will, Father. But there is healing for Christ, for everyone. It's important to understand that everyone who places their faith in Christ, everyone who trusts in Christ, finds spiritual healing in their life. Healing from the ravages of sin.
Listen to what Peter says in 1st Peter 2:24, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin, and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed." Peter is quoting right from Isaiah chapter 53, "Through your faith, in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, you have been healed from sin that once separated you from God." And yes, there is spiritual healing available today for everyone who trusts in Christ.
The daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, wasn't healed from a physical sickness, but from a spiritual one in that moment. The greatest sickness that exists in this world is the spiritual death that we have prior to knowing Christ. And it's by his wounds that we have been healed. It's by his wounds that we find salvation. It's by his wounds that we find restoration. It's by his wounds, our relationship with God is reconciled. It's by his wounds that we find shalom peace. And it's by his wounds that we have hope of eternal life.
Over the past few weeks, we have looked at Nicodemus, the Jewish Pharisee, the Samaritan woman at the well. And today we looked at the Syrophoenician woman, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. I want you to know, on an individual basis, Christ is where we find salvation. Christ is where we find forgiveness. Christ is where we find reconciliation. And Christ, on an individual basis, one-on-one, is where we find healing.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kelogg: Once every two months, I'd take my wife to the hospital for a checkup on her eye, following her cornea transplant. The last time we were there, two Russian priests sat next to us. We began conversing and our discussion quickly turned to the matter of faith. They were very sure of themselves and showed me their commentaries which they were positive contained the root of faith. They reminded me of the many ultra-Orthodox Jews I've spoken to over the years, trusting in the words of men, rather than in God's word.
I showed them my small Bible and asked, "Which book is of greater value?" When we began to speak about Christ, the priests were sure they were in their own element. I told them, we must believe in Jesus Christ, not according to your commentaries, but according to the Bible. The new Russian immigrants in the waiting room also listened attentively to our conversation. And most of them agreed that true faith in God comes only according to the Bible.
And the priests said, "We do not believe what they say." I told them, "This is not the belief of Jews only. For the millions of genuine Christians, the most important book is the Bible. These people are walking in darkness because they've never found the true way to faith in Christ." I was not surprised when one of the priests asked, "How did you, a Jew, come to believe in Christ?" I replied, "I can tell from your question how blind you are. You do not even know from which people Jesus came. You must read the Bible, not your fictitious books."
They asked where in the Bible it was written that Jesus was Jewish. I said, "Moses spoke of Jesus coming from the Jewish people." I then read Deuteronomy 18, verses 15 and 18: “The Lord, your God will raise up for you”, meaning the Jewish people, “a prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren, him you shall hear. I will put my words in his mouth. And he shall speak to them, all that I command him.”
After further conversation, one of the immigrants said, "How can a Jew be so faithful to another religion?" I responded, "I know you call yourselves good Jews because you follow the Rabbinical traditions, but read the Bible and see what the Lord truly wants from us. He wants us to obey his commandments. In God's Word, we speak of the faith of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the words of our prophets. This book has been hidden from you in Russia for a long time. Even here in Israel, you are only told about the Old Testament. But if you would study that carefully, especially Isaiah 53, which is never read in the synagogues, you would see for yourselves, it speaks of Jesus Christ."
They were very surprised. "That is impossible!" One exclaimed. I replied, "It is true. I then read and explained Isaiah 53. This was a wonderful witnessing opportunity. As it is written in Isaiah 9:2, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them, a light has shined."
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us today. Chris, next week we're focused on our latest issue of Israel My Glory magazine.
Chris Katulka: That's right. We're going to have a special guest come on and talk about his most recent article. But we're also going to be looking at what our most recent issue is of Israel My Glory magazine. Which is, Can Israel Survive? It's a fantastic issue. I hope that you come back next week and listen to how you can actually, if you've not already subscribed to Israel My Glory, ways that you can get a year free subscription to our award winning Christian magazine.
Also, if you would love prayer, and we want to pray for you, I want to encourage you to go to foiradio.org. That's FOI, as in, Friends of Israel radio.org. And there, you can type up your prayer request. And our team here at the Friends of Israel will be sure to pray for you.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern, Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer.
The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
30 Days in the Land with Jesus
By Charles H. Dyer
Walk with Jesus and see for yourself where He journeyed! Knowing the rich background and details of the land of Israel, deepens their meaning.
30 Days in the Land with Jesus by Israel expert Charlie Dyer will take you through the land of Israel and give you insights into Jesus’ points of reference to better appreciate the ways of our Messiah while he was here on earth.
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Apples of Gold: Upon Them a Light has Shined
Once every two months, Zvi would take his wife to the hospital for a checkup on her eye following her cornea transplant. During one visit, they sat next to two Russian priests and began conversing. The discussion quickly turned to the matter of faith. Zvi realized how little the priests knew of Christ and considered it his duty to share God’s Word with them. Listen to find out what happened when he brought the light of the gospel to these spiritually darkened men.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.