A girl shuffles through the lunch room, clutching her lunch in her hands1. “Is anyone sitting here?” she asks at one table. “Yes, someone is sitting here,” is the quick response she gets. So she goes to an empty table by herself.
An employee peaks his head into his boss’s office. “Here are those ideas that I told you about the other day. You want to go over them now?” “No,” his boss says, “just leave it on the desk.” Later on, when it is clear that his ideas weren’t used, he is told that the management decided to “go in a different direction.”
A woman finds out that someone she considered a good friend is getting married. After talking to several other mutual friends she realizes that they all got an invitation to the wedding, but she didn’t.
Have you ever felt there was an IN crowd, but you weren’t in it? Some people get really frustrated and angry about it; they feel like they’re always trying to break through to that IN crowd but never quite get there. There always seems to be some group that won’t let you in, that isn’t interested in your company or what you have to say. Of course, what we may or may not realize at that times is that even the people already in the IN crowd can feel the same way about a different group. We live in a world where we often divide ourselves into groups. These groups are ways of making us feel together, but they can also divide us. They can leave us feeling isolated and alone.
I believe that there is one group — one IN crowd — that is the most dangerous group to be outside. I’m talking about the group that is confident of God’s love toward them. The most important IN crowd to be in is the one that has complete trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness, the group that is sure that their God is on their side no matter what.
Maybe you think, “Well, that’s easy! That’s what we’re here in church for, right? We’re here because God loves us, we’re here to celebrate the fact that he sent his Son to live and die for us, we’re here to rejoice because we have God’s love now and we will get to enjoy that love forever in heaven!” And if you feel that way, great! That is exactly why we’re here.
But just maybe you realize that not everyone feels that way all the time. Sometimes something happens — an accident, the loss of a job, a sickness — that makes us start to wonder. “If God loves me so much, then why did he let this happen?”
Or maybe we feel outside of God’s IN crowd because of a disagreement or getting offended by someone else. It could be a fellow member of our church or even a pastor. Something happened, and now we don’t want to go to God’s house. And soon the church starts to be an IN crowd that we just don’t feel a part of anymore.
Sometimes it’s our own mistakes that do it. We look at our past, we’re filled with regret, and we think, “God’s IN crowd is for people way better than me. It could never be for me.”
Today I want you to have confidence; I want you to have zero doubts about God’s love for you. When we look at ourselves, the doubts will come. When we look at people around us, we’ll start to wonder. The only way to be sure of God’s love is to look at Jesus. He is the reason we don’t have to doubt. He is the guarantee of God’s love and forgiveness now and forever. He doesn’t leave us on the outside, he brings us in. Jesus brings us into the IN crowd.
Our text starts with Jesus doing something that probably would’ve been pretty controversial when it first happened, something we might not even notice at first. Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. (Matt. 15:21) Jesus had been in the northern part of Galilee, and he left to go to the foreign nations of Tyre and Sidon.
The reason this is a big deal is that Jesus left the place full of God’s chosen people, the Jews, and he went to a place full of Gentiles. God had chosen the people of Israel, the Jews, to be his special people, the people from whom he would bring the Savior. Some people, though, thought that meant that God really loved the Jews, but he really didn’t love the Gentiles.
Besides this, the place where Jesus was going was notorious not just for having Gentiles, but Gentiles who worshiped all sorts of false gods. Jezebel, from the Old Testament, came from this same region2.
So what does Jesus find when he goes there? A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (Matt. 15:22) She’s a Canaanite woman, from the people that God had the Israelites push out of the promised land. She would be one of the last people you would expect to be a believer in Jesus.
But her words show otherwise. Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! We don’t know how she knew this, but she calls David the son of David. She seems to recognize that Jesus was the one to come in King David’s line who would be the Savior of the world. And not only that, but she trusts that this Jesus can actually help her with her problem!
What makes this particularly suprising is how Jesus was treated just before our text by the Pharisees. Earlier in this chapter of Matthew, the Pharisees got into a big fight with Jesus over things that were clean or unclean. (Matt. 15:1-20) They demonstrated just how much they didn’t trust Jesus. They were the “religious” people! They were the ones people would’ve expected to trust in the truth the most. Instead, they rejected Jesus, while the woman we’d expect to reject Jesus is the one who trusted in him.
Expectations can get us into trouble. Especially when those expectations involve who is and who isn’t really in God’s IN club. This Canaanite woman in our text wasn’t expected to be a believer, so even the disciples treated her like someone on the outside. After Jesus didn’t give her an answer, we read that the discipless came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” (Matt. 15:23) “Come on Jesus,” they were saying. “Get her out of here! She’s annoying! And besides, she’s a Canaanite, Gentile unbeliever!”
Could we ever write people off from God’s IN club like that? I think it can happen pretty easily. I’m not thinking of writing someone off due to their race or the town they came from (though that’s always possible, too.) I mean there’s something else about the person that makes assume something about their faith.
“Oh, so-and-so? I don’t think she’d be too interested in church. You heard about what happened with her, right?” “You mean that guy? I don’t think I’d bother with him; I mean, you know how his family is.” Certain people, for whatever reason, get written off from God’s love in our minds. We assume we know their faith, but we don’t.
The same thing can happen when someone has made us angry. We think, “well, the last time I dealt with this guy, he said all these things about me.” So we write him off. We might be treating people like God could never really love them or like Jesus didn’t die for them! In so doing, we can act more like those Pharisees who rejected Jesus because they thought they were so great, instead of trusting that Jesus’ love was so great.
It’s not surprising, then, why people start to assume that God couldn’t love them. People can start to assume they’re not in God’s IN crowd. That’s why it’s amazing that this woman in our text wouldn’t accept that. Despite some seemingly steep odds, she just kept trusting in Jesus.
First, Jesus said, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. (Matt. 15:24) Jesus wasn’t lying here. His salvation was for all people, but his actual ministry took place in Israel. He didn’t spend a lot of time in foreign countries during his earthly ministry.
But instead of that pushing her away, the woman came back to him. She knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. (Matt. 15:25)
And that’s when Jesus says something that might strike us as being on the verge of rude. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matt. 15:26) This just seems harsh, doesn’t it? And then we might start to think, “wait a minute, did he just call her a dog?”
First of all, let’s look at what Jesus is really saying here. He’s saying a general truth. If my family is sitting down, ready for a meal, and I come carrying the tray of food but instead of setting it on the table I put it in front of the dog who starts eating it, would that be a good thing for me to do? No! The food didn’t go to the one it was supposed to go to. In the same way, Jesus was saying that his earthly ministry was supposed to be done among the Jews.
We’d expect this woman to get offended. We might think she’d just walk off. People certainly get offended today. Happens pretty often, in fact. It’s a scary thought, but every time I open my mouth as a pastor, there’s a good chance I could offend someone. I might offend them because I genuinely said something wrong, or they might think I said something wrong whether I did or not.
I remember cases like that at my previous church. Someone got offended at something I’d said. And instead of actually talking to me about it, instead of just going and attending a different church even, this person and his family just stopped going to church altogether. This person moved himself, whether he realized it or not at the time, outside of the IN club.
In this sinful world, people are going to hurt us. Even people in a church. You might even say especially in a church, because the devil is working extra hard to keep people away from God’s Word. I might say or do something I shouldn’t. Someone else in our church might say or do something they shouldn’t. But here’s my plea to you. Don’t get offended and walk away from the Word. Don’t distance yourself from the very Savior you need, the very Savior who came to help.
That’s why this woman in our text is so great. She didn’t get discouraged; she didn’t storm off. She responded to Jesus. ”Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matt. 15:27) She also spoke a general truth. When I set food in front of my family to eat, that doesn’t mean the dog doesn’t get any. In fact, he parks himself under the table because he knows someone is likely to drop something. This woman was telling Jesus, “You can still help me! You came for the Jews, sure, but we Gentiles can get the benefits, too!”
She was right! Jesus told her so! ”Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matt. 15:28) Jesus recognized her great faith and healed her daughter.
The point of this for us is pretty simple. Keep going to Jesus! Keep looking to him for everything you need. Keep looking to him for help and God’s love and forgiveness and eternal life. He’s the one who gives it. Jesus brings us into the IN crowd, into God’s grace now and forever!
We can’t earn God’s love with our lives; Jesus doesn’t put us into the IN crowd because we’re so great. He brings us in because he loves us. He does it because he was perfect in our place. We can never assume that someone is just a sinner who doesn’t deserve Jesus’ love, because we are all sinners who don’t deserve Jesus’ love. But he loved us anyway. He proved it on the cross.
So keep going to Jesus! Don’t get offended when people sin against you. Don’t let something just plain dumb that comes out of my mouth or anyone else’s mouth keep you away from your Savior. His love is for you! Jesus brings us into the IN crowd!
So don’t let anything pull you away from him. Stay with him. Keep in his Word. Keep rejoicing in his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Because let’s face it; we all need help. We are sinners who should be outside of God’s family and outside of God’s heaven forever. But not with Jesus. He brings us in. His love stays with us. Jesus brings us into the IN crowd forever.