Matthew 15 may be divided into three different segments, which, on the surface seem unrelated. This apparent lack of relationship causes us to miss a great deal.
It is easy to watch Jesus move from one scenario to another as He goes along, but beware, all of these various scenes are put together for a reason, quite often to build upon each other to complete a thought.
With this in mind, let us look at the first scene.
“Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.” But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me has been dedicated to the temple’ – “is released from honoring his father or mother” Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”‘ Then He called the multitude and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.'”
The error of the Pharisees was one of trying to please God through works, by keeping the law. However, they had actually taken the Mosaic Law and added many traditions and interpretations to the original law as given by God.
In this manner, the law was twisted into something that should be kept if one were to get to heaven. This was not God’s intention, as Scripture tells us in the following verses.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19-20.
“…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified”, Galatians 2:16.
The law was intended to show men how far from God they actually were (and always will be without Christ), and thus they would come in simple faith to God and cast themselves at His feet, knowing this, that God is merciful.
You cannot do this if you are righteous in your own sight. As a result, this Jewish Law separated men from God, rather than drawing them nearer in faith, becoming an outward form rather than an inward relationship.
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1-2.
Christians too, often make the mistake of thinking that because our sins are forgiven in Christ we can do anything we want and not have it affect our relationship with God.
As seen above in Isaiah this is not so, the Christian must confess (to God, not to man) and forsake all known sin in order to maintain an intimate relationship with their Father in heaven.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
True faith is simply stated this way.
“And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness”, Genesis 15:6.
In another place Jesus is asked a question.
“Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’” John 6:28-29.
This is all the work we need to do, in the very words of God the Son, the ultimate authority, simply believe that Jesus died for our sins.
Matthew 15:7-9 however, shows the true hearts of these ungodly hypocrites who perverted the law.
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9.
Having created a god to their own liking they worshipped him in vain, for he was nothing more than an idol fashioned in man’s image. Jesus was nothing like this so they hated Him.
The real evil is that they led the common man astray and rather than feeding them, they robbed them, blinded them, and dragged them off to hell along with themselves.
Having said all this, the Lord went back to the original charge and corrected the thinking of the crowd.
“When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.’” Matthew 15:10-11.
We are not talking about etiquette or hygiene here, but a ritual that was supposed to keep you in favor with God.
To further show how ingrained this religious spirit was in the minds of the people let us look at Peter’s question later.
“Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Explain this parable to us.'” Matthew 15:15.
Even though the disciples had created this problem, by eating with unwashed hands, Matthew 15:2, they were so steeped in a religion of ritual that they still had not broken free of some of the Pharisaic thinking.
This attitude shows up again in Acts chapter 10, with the account of the Gentile Cornelius.
Peter was sent by God to give the gospel to this man and his household. When he entered the house he began by saying the following.
“Then he said to them, ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.'” Acts 10:28.
This was Jewish tradition; God’s intention was for Israel to be a testimony to all the earth as to who the true and living God was.
“And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”, Exodus 19:6a.
Instead Israel turned inward and built up many traditions and made the Mosaic Law into man’s law.
As such the nation became as steeped in superstition and confusion as the heathen nations around them; this in spite of the fact that they had the written word of God at their fingertips and that all Israelites were expected to be able to read and write.
The Christian too must cast aside superstitions and traditions as they take on the mind of Christ and leave the old worldly thought patterns behind.
No doubt, many of you are having this experience in your own lives; this can be quite frustrating, but do not be discouraged, all of us are in a continual fight against the world’s ways. You are not alone.
The Lord then in answer to Peter’s question “explain this parable to us” told him that the things that come out of the mouth come out of the heart and this defiles a man. He then gave a frightening list of these things in verse19.
“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Matthew 15:19.
The scene now changes and we go on to the second segment of this chapter.
“Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.’ But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she cries out after us.'” Matthew 15:21-23.
Have you ever wondered how someone as kind and gentle as Jesus could treat this woman so rudely? Even taking into account that she is a Gentile, it still seems wrong.
The answer to this episode will surprise you. Now I am sure that you already know that the obvious problem is that she is addressing the Lord incorrectly.
The title she refers to Him by is His Messianic title to the Jews, “Son of David”. In a way you might think of this as if someone were to persist in calling you by a name other than your own.
While this woman is addressing Jesus incorrectly, her error actually goes back to the beginning of this chapter.
“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” Matthew 15:2.
This woman was making the same mistake that the religious Pharisees were making, in other words, to approach God you must address Him in a certain way.
Or you must wash your hands in a certain way, if you do not approach this little plastic god in a ritualistic way, he will not hear you.
She was approaching Jesus in the same way any religionist would ritually approach God or an idol. This is not the God we serve.
She needed to learn that for herself, it was not something He could tell her. As a result, the Lord did not answer her. However, He was not through with her, nor she with Him.
The disciples asked Jesus to send her away. Doubtless the woman heard His answer when He told them.
“I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, Matthew 15:24b.
What were her thoughts as she heard these words, “Lost? I am lost!”, if the sheep of Israel were lost, what must be her condition – lost!
True faith takes over now as it would when a person encounters our loving and merciful God, and sees a gentle and loving Savior.
“Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'” Matthew 15:25.
“Lord, help me”, no more pretenses, no more manipulating, just a humble sinner falling down before Jesus, crying out for help.
However, the lesson is not over yet!
“But He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.'” Matthew 15:26.
The “little dogs” here is a much better phrase than the King James Version, which says “and cast it to dogs.”
Dogs in the east were not loved as they are in this country, but rather they were scavengers and often dangerous and Gentiles were referred to as dogs as a show of contempt.
Jesus might have used this term in this manner, but He did not, here the comparison is to little puppies, which conjures up a much more endearing picture.
Just as the Lord compares Himself to a shepherd caring for his sheep, so here we see Him as lovingly feeding the puppies that belong to him.
The woman understood this.
“And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.'” Matthew 15:27.
Perhaps, she, like so many parents since, had often scolded her daughter for feeding the puppies under the table during dinner.
This woman came to Jesus in faith, and in utter humility, she took the place of a little puppy.
Faith and humility, the only way to come before God; not in pomp and ceremony, nor in the keeping of traditions and superstitious beliefs, or in your own righteousness; but in coming before Him as utterly helpless creatures cast upon Him for everything. This is the only way of salvation and it is the only attitude for the Christian.
The Lord’s reply is a joyful exclamation.
“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” Matthew 15:28.
This is what Jesus had been waiting for. How different this was from the Pharisees dead formality!
Too many churches today have taken on that same dead Pharisaic formality and have lost the blessings that come with having a right relationship with our Father in heaven.
In this last scene we see what a right relationship would be for Israel and Christ’s church.
“Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel”, Matthew 15:29-31.
Jesus having left the region of Tyre and Sidon, we are now about to witness the unfolding of the third section of this chapter.
There are no Pharisees seen here (in fact not since verse 20), no religiosity, no pretense, just people in need; multitudes come before Him seeking only His mercy.
Faith and humility, seated at the feet of Jesus, out of this comes great joy as people are healed and can now see, or walk, even the maimed are made like new. They could only wonder at God’s power and out of this came worship, “they glorified the God of Israel.”
Ephesians 3:20, tells us that God, “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think”, and Jesus does just that.
He feeds this multitude of four thousand men plus women and children with only seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.
This is the right relationship between God and His people; they are to be cast upon Him at all times.
The error of the Pharisees and many Christians is the belief that they can bring something to God, specifically, good works of sorts, and this somehow ingratiates Him to them. While Christians do good works, it is out of love, not debt.
Now the Christian knows that works do not bring salvation, yet there is a need to please God somehow. After all if you are not working for God how can you ask Him for help when you are in trouble.
Try to comprehend the danger in this, if you must please God somehow or approach Him in a certain fashion this limits His availability to you.
In a sense, God now becomes austere and distant; which in turn makes Him appear severe and cold. This whole cycle snowballs and further causes you to be less likely to call on Him for just anything.
Let the term, “just anything”, sink down into your heart. “Lord help me to pick the best vegetables at the supermarket”, “Lord guide me as I drive”, “Lord please help me as I mow the lawn, keep me from injury”, just anything.
God is actually that close. He even wants us to call Him Father, even Abba (Romans 8:14-16); which is Daddy or Papa.
Keeping rituals, rules, or some perceived conditions will keep you from availing yourself of the privilege of being seated at the feet of Jesus, which is a place of peace, some even climb onto His lap, so great is their need of comfort in this life.
God in Christ welcomes you with open arms, you cannot overwhelm Him, nor will you find Him too busy to listen to your troubles or requests.
Simple faith and humility is befitting the adopted children of God Himself.
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16.
Faith and Humility taken from godisrevealed.com posted on 9-7-15 and updated on 5-31-19.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission, all rights reserved.