Lent Two Sermon 2002
ďWhy wonít you
help her? Sheís crying
out after us. Everyone can
hear her pleas, and you ignore her.
Canít you just give her what she wants and send her away?
The woman is clearly an embarrassment.Ē
Jesus appears to be oblivious to her need or utterly uncaring.
Why wonít he at least acknowledge her cries? But Jesus pays her no mind at all.
Do you believe that? Do you
think that Jesus was ignoring her?
How could he do such a thing!
She cried out to him, ďHave mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is severely demon-possessed.Ē
Do you believe that Jesus was ignoring her?
He didnít answer her. But
as we just sang, ďThough he answers not, he hears; Pray with faith,
for though He try you, no good thing can God deny you.Ē
He doesnít appear to hear or to know or to care.
But donít you judge him by appearances.
He knows what you need. He
knows better than you do. Prayer
is the exercise of faith. True
prayer is prayed out of our need. Whenever
we pray we pray because we need what only God can give.
And every answer to prayer is found in Jesus.
This is why we always pray in Jesusí name.
We pray out of our need. The
Canaanite woman knew what she needed.
Her daughter was possessed by a demon.
She had no control over her own body.
She suffered from a power that was far greater than any power she
possessed. And that power
literally possessed her. She
couldnít control her own words or actions.
Does this sort of thing happen today?
Most people have heard of exorcisms taking place today, but few
people have actually witnessed one.
There is no question that demon possession was common in Jesusí
day, and there is good reason for that.
When the Son of God joined the human race, the demons shuddered
in fear and rage. They know
the true meaning of Genesis 3:15 far better than the fallen children of
men know it. God said to
the devil, who had taken control of the serpent, ďI will put enmity
between you and the woman, between your seed and her Seed.
He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal.Ē
The meaning was crystal clear.
A virgin would conceive and have a Son who would be both true man
and true God. He would
become a man in order to destroy the devil and all his power.
Just as the devil led our first parents into sin and thereby took
control over sinners, the promised Seed of the woman would live an
innocent life in the stead of all sinners and in this way take control
away from the devil. When
Jesus was born, the devil pulled out all of the stops and gathered all
the hordes of hell for a final defiant stand against God.
At no time in the history of the world was demon possession so
common. The final battle
between good and evil was taking place.
The devil was flexing his muscles.
And the poor daughter of the woman from Canaan was suffering.
She was being tormented and she was powerless to resist. Her mind and her body were under constant attack.
The Canaanite woman needed help for her daughter.
She needed Godís help. Only
God could help her.
The devil is real. Whether
or not demon possession is common or rare in our day doesnít change
the fact that the devil is, as the apostle says, walking about as a
roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Satan and his demons do real harm to real people.
The strategy is always to keep people away from Christ.
This happens in a multitude of ways.
Satanism has become a real threat to young people today.
They fall into it on account of the power it promises.
But it never delivers on its promises.
It only enslaves. Jesus is the only one who can set sinners free.
The devil can only enslave people in lies.
Satan cannot give you what isnít his to give.
He can give you nothing. He
can only take away. Only
God can give you what is good. The
devil can only distort, destroy, and pervert what God has given.
In our day the most effective tool of the devil is not in the more
dramatic displays of power that he showed during our Lordís earthly
ministry. Today the father
of lies and murderer of souls works through respected and respectable
clergymen who advocate very reasonable ideas.
They are reasonable, but false. St.
Paul warns Timothy about ďdeceiving spirits and doctrines of
demons.Ē (1 Timothy 4:1) The
power of the devil is in the power of the lie.
The lie is exceptionally powerful.
It fueled one of the most efficiently tyrannical governments in
the history of the world, the Communist Party of the former Soviet
Union. Who can deny that
the devil himself was behind the sustained state sponsored mass murder
of the Soviet Union with its vicious persecution of Christís church?
Satan is today the power behind Islam, a religion that rejects
Christís suffering and death for sinners.
Only the suffering and death of Jesus can set sinners free.
So Islam is nothing more than a vast satanic delusion, enslaving
the hearts and minds of untold millions of devotees throughout the world
during the past several centuries.
The devilís primary point of attack, however, is within
Christís holy church. The object of his attack is always Jesus.
He doesnít want sinners to find refuge in Jesus.
He wants us to look elsewhere for the assurance that we are
forgiven of our sins and have everlasting life.
He attacks the biblical teaching that Jesus has taken away all
our sins by his holy life and death and that we receive forgiveness of
sins only by trusting in the gospel of Christ.
Of course when people actually believe this the devil loses power
over them. So he attacks
this gospel. He misleads
millions. He attacks the
Bible because this gospel truth is taught plainly in the Bible. The devil will argue that the Bible is not enough, that we
must also submit to the authority of the bishop at Rome and only those
who submit to him can know the truth the Bible teaches.
He leads Protestants who reject the false claims of the papacy
into error as well. He
taught Zwingli and Calvin that the Lordís Supper wasnít really the
body and the blood of Jesus and this lie has been passed down for
hundreds of years now, depriving millions of people of this precious and
life giving sacrament. Once the devil leads people away from trusting in the
sacraments of Jesus itís easy enough for him to lead them to trust in
their own decisions for Jesus. Of
course, there is a fine line between trusting in our decisions and
trusting in ourselves. The
devil knows this full well. This
is why he always directs attention away from Jesus dying for us and
focuses instead on what we do for Jesus.
The devil understands that Jesus sets sinners free.
He knows, even better than the most pious and faithful Christians
know, that the soul resting in Christís wounds and clinging in simple
faith to Christís crucifixion, is the soul that cannot be harmed.
The devil knows his power. The
only power of the devil is to lie about Jesus.
For when we have the truth about Jesus, when we trust in it, the
devil cannot touch us.
The Canaanite woman trusted in the truth about Jesus.
She knew it. She
believed it. And on it she
took her stand. And what a
wonderful expression of faith it was!
She prayed to Jesus and Jesus appeared to ignore her.
He did not answer her. When
his disciples urged him to send her away he acted as if he wanted
nothing to do with her. It
was as if Jesus were doing precisely what the devil himself says about
him. Isnít it the devil
who would persuade you not to put your confidence in Jesus?
Isnít it the devilís lie that Jesus wonít help you unless
you first do all sorts of things that you just cannot do?
Isnít that how the devil works?
The very idea that Jesus would not help this poor woman is
satanic. And yet, what does
Jesus himself say? He says,
ďI was not sent except to the lost sheep of Israel.Ē
Well, she was a Canaanite. She
was not an Israelite. She
didnít belong. She had no
claim on being a sheep, lost or found.
She was a foreigner, an outsider, and thatís what everybody
knew and taught and believed.
But she refused to believe that. Fine,
Iíll take you at your word, Jesus.
You say that you were sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.
She then came to him and worshipped him and called him Lord. Only an Israelite could do that!
Only a true daughter of Abraham could call Jesus Lord.
She would claim a status that no one would give her and she would
do so on the grounds of her dire need and his boundless mercy.
And then Jesus speaks words that must have sounded like the final
rejection. ďIt is not
good to take the childrenís bread and throw it to the little dogs.Ē
Thatís what you are, lady: a little dog.
A family pet, maybe, but not a member of the family.
There you have it. It is as
if Jesus Christ Himself is agreeing with the devil.
For isnít it the devilís doctrine that Jesus cares nothing
for you and either will not or cannot help you?
Isnít it the devilís doctrine to drive you to trust in
something or someone other than Jesus?
And here from Jesusí own lips are words that sound like a
crushing rejection. Itís
as if Jesus is promoting heresy! It
sounds as if Jesus himself is promoting the doctrine that this desperate
and helpless woman is beyond the care of a gracious and loving God.
What does faith do when it sounds as if God is talking like the
This is what faith does. It
takes God literally at his word! It
lives on every single syllable and holds God to everything God says.
ďYes, LordĒ the woman replies, ďYet even the little dogs
eat the crumbs which fall from their mastersí table.Ē
There! Jesus is
trapped in his own words! He
calls her a little dog and so as a little dog she tells Jesus the way it
must be. The little family
pet gets to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.
So sheíll be that little family pet and make no more claim on
Jesus than a dog would make.
ďThough you deem he hears you not, still you wants are neíer forgot;
cry to him when storms assail you, let your courage never fail you.Ē
Jesus replied, ďO woman, great is your faith!
Let it be to you as you desire.Ē
And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
The demon left her and she was set free.
She was set free by the almighty power of Jesus.
She was set free from the liar and murder of souls.
She was set free by the act of Jesus, by his will, by his
decision to help.
Prayer is grounded in this simple fact that Jesus loves sinners who are
weak and helpless and that he will surely give us what we ask of him.
If we donít feel our need we arenít going to pray. If our need is not for what Jesus gives us we wonít pray in
his name. The power of
prayer is not the power of the one who prays.
It is always the power of Christ who by his innocent life and his
suffering and death has destroyed the power of the devil.
The power of Christ comes to us in our weakness.
There isnít a
pain or loss or sorrow in life that doesnít bear the stamp of satanic
influence. The simple fact
that the devil led our first parents into sin should make this clear
enough for us to see. A
lingering illness, a pain that wonít go away, a failed marriage, a
personal habit that is grounded in sin and keeps on bringing us back to
the same old sins again and again Ė these and many other things bring
us pain that would belie Godís promises. We experience the very opposite of what God promises.
God promises us victory and watches us as we suffer defeat.
The illness doesnít go away.
The pain intensifies. The
marriage ends in divorce. The
temptation to sin grows stronger and stronger.
It looks like the devil is winning and we are losing.
Thereís a song in which the singer says to God that he hasnít prayed
in a while because he was too sick to pray.
Now thatís just not so. Nobody
is too sick to pray. Prayer
comes from two simple things: our true need and the true faith.
Our true need is that God will deliver us from sin, death, and
the power of the devil. The
true faith is that Jesus Christ is our deliverer, our redeemer, the one
who sets us free and gives us victory in every defeat.
Prayer is when we ask Jesus to meet our need.
Todayís Gospel Lesson teaches us that Jesus never fails to do
so. He may try us but he
will never deny us.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus
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