“Gone to the Dogs”
We’ve all heard the saying, “Gone to the dogs.” If something has gone to the dogs, it has gone badly wrong and lost all the good things it had. I want to suggest that this is not the case in our passage this morning. I hope to show you that the title of this sermon reveals that gone to the dogs is something to celebrate.
Last Sunday, we witnessed the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders regarding tradition and the heart, and things clean and unclean. What I believe Jesus is doing (and what Mark is recording) is intentional. Jesus is beginning to instruct the disciples, the Pharisees, scribes, and the crowds how he is fulfilling the Law. He has been turning their world upside down. Jesus has been emphasizing that worship is an internal attitude rather than merely an external action. This week, Jesus will demonstrate how not only all things can be clean, but also people. Let’s read the text as we get under way. We are in Mark 7.24-37.
The last geographical place mentioned in the narrative is Gennesaret in 6.53. So it would seem as though this is the place where the Pharisees and scribes came in order to confront Jesus. After rebuking them and instructing the crowd and disciples, Jesus departs for Tyre and Sidon. This is about 65 kilometers as best I can tell.
The text indicates that Jesus entered a house and did not want anyone to know. One of the questions I had to ask as I looked at the text was, “Why would Jesus and the disciples travel all this distance and enter a house so as not to be noticed?” I think the issue is more curious when we see in verse 31 that Jesus departs from Tyre and goes even further north to get to Galilee in the region of the Decapolis. It is likely that Jesus is continuing to try to retreat and spend some quality time alone with his disciples so that they get some reprieve from the masses and further instructions about their ministry.
The first point we will look at is Mercy for the Humble. Jesus arrives in Tyre and enters this house. But he gets no reprieve. In typical Markan fashion, immediately a woman finds him! Wow! This was before the days of newscasts and webcams. There were no paparazzi tracking him through the dusty roads on the way to Tyre. Jesus rolls into town, into the house, and here we go again. We’ve seen Jesus demonstrate great mercy and compassion – looking on people as sheep without a shepherd. Although this time, his response doesn’t appear as compassionate. Hold that thought.
Though this short section contains a healing story, it is primarily a teaching opportunity. The healing is secondary. A woman approaches Jesus and pleads with him that he might heal her daughter who has a demon within her. Mark includes a description of the woman. And this is where it becomes significant. First, she was a Gentile. Gentiles were often viewed as unclean by the Jews. Secondly, she was a woman. A Jewish man was going to interact with a Gentile woman. Remember the account with the Samaritan woman in John 4? This was a radical breach of rigid social custom. Here Jesus is doing it again. And thirdly, she is from a city that was historically a wealthy and godless oppressor of Israel.
Humility is quite evident on the part of the woman as we shall see. First, she demonstrates great humility to seek – to seek out Jesus. Knowing the taboos regarding Gentiles and Jews, men and women, and Israel and Tyre, this woman puts all of this aside for the sake of her daughter. She is willing to deal with any consequences.
This nameless woman approaches the house that Jesus has retreated to and falls at the feet of Jesus and pleads with him to cast the demon out of her daughter. She also has humility to ask – to ask Jesus for help. Actually, she begs.
Now you might think Jesus would respond by saying something like, “precious woman, beloved by God, take heart! I have great mercy and compassion for people such as you. Of course your little daughter will be healed!” But what does he say, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Well, that doesn’t seem like our compassionate Jesus who looks on people as sheep without a shepherd! Why would Jesus be so rude? Or is he being rude?
There are three identifications in this saying. First, he compares Israel to children. He compares bread to the blessings bestowed on Israel. This could also mean more specifically the teachings or ministry of Jesus, or the gospel. And, here is where we all feel the tension, it is the Gentiles he refers to as dogs.
Some commentators try to soften the blow perhaps and indicate that the word “dog” here is diminutive and refers to a household pet rather than a scavenger dog. And so there is still affection directed toward the Gentiles. And this is part of it. But I think that Jesus is primarily after a test of faith here. Jesus is leading out the woman’s humility and faith. How would she respond to this? Would she rise up defensive and turn her back to Jesus? Would she be discouraged and walk away? Or would she respond in faith and humility?
Let’s look at the response. The woman answered, “Yes, Lord…” “Yes, Lord. I am a dog. And I beg for your mercy.” I was thinking of what this interchange might look like today. Here’s what came to mind. What does the Bible indicate that we are before we trust in Jesus Christ? Ephesians 2 says that we are dead in our trespasses, following the course of this world and Satan. We are sons of disobedience. We are sinners. Romans tells us that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. This has earned us eternal death.
It’s like me coming up to you in presenting the gospel and saying, “You are a sinner. You are a follower of Satan and this pagan world’s system. You are dead in sin and in a constant state of disobedience.” How do you respond? Do you respond defensively and turn your back on God? “Who are you to judge me?”Do you try comparing with others and assert your own goodness? “At least I’m not like my neighbor. He abuses drugs, cheats on his wife and has wild parties.” You miss the gospel. You miss the opportunity for salvation. Do you get depressed and walk away? You miss the gospel.
This is truly the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. You will not understand the gospel unless you understand your complete unworthiness. You cannot know the good news without the bad. What good is a Savior if you don’t know what you need to be saved from? Jesus is often promoted these days as a solution for marital problems, or a means to a better life – without even a mention of sin or hell. Jesus doesn’t go seeker-sensitive on the woman. He challenges her understanding and her faith. He invites her to count the cost. (Read paragraph from God is the Gospel – p. 137).
Or do you respond, like the woman here, by admitting, “yes. I am dead in my sin and cannot solve this by myself. I am completely lost and I need a Savior. I beg for crumbs.” She somehow understood that the Jews were the primary recipients of the Gospel. Romans 1:16 says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” And somehow she knew that Jesus would also be offered to the Gentiles. This is implied in Jesus’ indication that the children be fed first. To the Jew first.
She responded by saying, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She understood her state and her dire need for Jesus. She expressed faith that Jesus could and would do something in her belief. She acknowledged him as Lord. And what was the result? For this statement, for your faith in me, you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.
This woman initially came looking for Jesus to heal her daughter. I believe she came away healed herself. She came looking for crumbs but got a feast. She came looking for a miracle and the miracle of the gospel found her.
There are plenty of folks who look for the feasts without understanding the need for crumbs. Remember Herod’s party that was intended to glorify himself. And then recall the multitudes gathered around Jesus. They sat at his feet, feasting the entire day on his teachings. Many look for the things that will benefit them the most. People focus on self-centered gifts and neglect the Giver of gifts.
We tend to get all wrapped up in fairness and what we deserve. I can assure that these are the last things that we should desire. Our sinful state has left us on the wrong team and what is fair is punishment. What we deserve is eternal death. The woman accepts the position of “dog” and begs for food. And for confirmation, the woman went home and found her daughter lying in bed and the demon gone. Jesus is the Lord.
From here, we go back on the road, and to our second point: Restoring the Senses. Jesus moves from Tyre to the region of the Decapolis on the Sea of Galilee. And he apparently takes the scenic route. According to my maps, Jesus and his disciples move north before they move south. If you’re familiar with the eastern states, this would have been like going from New York City to Chicago through Boston. Because it is not mentioned explicitly in the text, one can only assume the reasoning for this. I would suppose that, because Jesus is trying to avoid the crowds for a time, he returns to Galilee using the back roads. I also think that he was trying to have some more time to spend teaching the disciples. And in this particular case, he would have needed ample time to process the dealings with the Gentile woman and the teaching of crumbs and dogs. In addition, one commentator noted that it was important for Mark to show that Jesus spent some time in Gentile territory – also the Decapolis – in order to provide some justification for the Gentile mission in his own day.
It probably took them several days to arrive in the region of the Decapolis. This region was also largely inhabited by Gentiles. And when Jesus and his disciples arrive, some people bring a man to him who was deaf and having a speech impediment. And again they beg Jesus to do something. They ask him to lay his hand on the man in order to heal him. Mark indicates that Jesus took the man away from the crowd privately. Jesus is not interested in putting on a show, but to demonstrate compassion. He was doing what he could to avoid the acclaim.
And then Jesus does something peculiar. Whereas, he could have merely spoken a word or thought a thought, Jesus touches the man. He puts his fingers into his ears and spits and touches his tongue. Why did he do this? Perhaps it was because the man could not hear. And this is Jesus’ way of communicating that he was going to heal the man. We know that he sometimes touched people (or they touched him) and they were healed. Perhaps it was a way to make a personal connection with this man.
It is interesting that Jesus does things in ways that we might not consider. And he also does things differently. And couldn’t we also agree that he continues to do so today. Consider what J. C. Ryle has to say about this:
We see the same thing going on still in the Church of Christ. We see continual proof that the Lord is not tied to the use of any one means exclusively in conveying grace to the soul. Sometimes He is pleased to work by the word preached publicly, sometimes by the word read privately. Sometimes He awakens people by sickness and affliction, sometimes by the rebukes or counsel of friends. Sometimes He employs means of grace to turn people out of the way of sin. Sometimes He arrests their attention by some providence, without any means of grace at all. He will not have any means of grace made an idol and exalted, to the disparagement of other means. He will not have any means despised as useless, and neglected as of no value. All are good and valuable. All are in their turn employed for the same great end, the conversion of souls. All are in the hands of Him who "gives not account of His matters," and knows best which to use, in each separate case that He heals.
Jesus looks heavenward to acknowledge the source of the power. He also did this before the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. But why did he sigh? This was also a gesture of prayer and, as one commentator believes, this “indicates the strong emotion of Jesus as he wages war against the power of Satan, and has to seek divine aid in urgent prayer.”
And then Jesus says, “Ephphatha, be opened.” And immediately the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released so that he spoke plainly. And then Jesus tells him to keep his mouth shut?? I’m not sure if this would be a realistic command. We’re not sure how long he suffered these impairments. But could you imagine having these senses restored and not being able to tell anyone?
These physical limitations are also indicative of spiritual handicaps. And this would have invoked their knowledge in Isaiah 35 “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Recall some of Mark’s earlier remarks indicating that we need eyes to see and ears to hear. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4.4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And referring to unbelieving Jews in Romans 11.8, “as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”
But is it possible that spiritual deafness can pertain to the people of God? Listen to what David Garland writes, “Today God’s people still do not always open their ears to God. They may only hear muffled vibrations and speak in inarticulate grunts. Perhaps in our culture we are deafened to God’s voice by the ceaseless droning of televisions and the blaring of radios. Perhaps the hurry and bustle of modern life drowns out God’s voice for us. Christians need to hear more clearly and to remedy their slurred speech. Mark’s narrative shows that Jesus seeks to cure his disciples’ blindness and deafness by taking them away from the madding crowd and teaching them. Modern Christians may need to have times when they retreat and allow the miracle of Jesus’ power to penetrate plugged-up ears so that we may hear God’s word afresh and speak it to others more clearly.
“The more zealously they proclaimed it”. I find it interesting and often convicting that it is the new believers in Jesus Christ that are the ones who most zealously proclaim him. It almost seems as though they believe it more than the seasoned Christians. Verse 37 says they were astonished beyond measure. Do you recall the time you heard the gospel and responded to it? Weren’t you astonished beyond measure?
If you are one of the veteran believers who have lost the zeal, take heart. We can have our senses restored by retreating to Jesus and allowing him to deal with them in his great power. We need to be vigilante to not let the many other distractions drown out his word. It is when we prioritize our time with him that we are once again recalibrated. You know what I’m talking about don’t you? You have times when you are walking in the Spirit. You have poured yourself over the Word of God and in prayer. You have allowed the Spirit to carve out those deep-seated sins in your life. You’ve ministered to those in need. You’ve taught these great truths to others. You pray without ceasing. Walking with him brings you deep joy.
As you know this takes discipline. It is not too long before the distractions come. We are, without a doubt, the most distracted people in history. Think of all the options that we choose from on a daily basis. We can open a computer and the world is at our fingertips. We can search for any information you want. We spend hours on social networks. We can waste hours on Wiis, Xbox’s, Dsi’s, watching hockey games, . Living here, we can spend our time on the snow hill, hiking and biking the mountains, climbing rocks, kayaking, kite boarding, softball, soccer. You get the idea.
But the senses get dull. And when we don’t hear clearly, we don’t zealously proclaim Jesus Christ. Our minds and lives are consumed with other things. We are no longer astonished beyond measure at the cross of Jesus. A friend of mine recently challenged many of us to focus on the cross the other day – by way of Twitter (I know the irony!). So we submitted our thoughts and Scripture and quotes on the cross of Jesus. That was a powerful day as I read the many brief testimonies and great truths of the cross. I was once again astonished beyond measure.
Let’s also learn from the woman. Have you come to the place where you can fall at the feet of Jesus in humility and beg for crumbs? Have you laid aside your pride and defensiveness and accepted your state as a sinner in need of a Savior? Are you offended by this? One commentator makes this remark, “"We will turn to gods of our own making who will not offend us, because we convince ourselves that we are special and truly worthy of God's grace and help. Only when we are truly desperate are we willing to do anything it takes, including humbling ourselves, to find God's help.” This is true for salvation and for living the Christian life.
There is a tremendous thing that happens when we beg for crumbs. We get a feast. The greatest factor about salvation is that we spend eternity in the presence of our great God. And beyond this, we experience an abundant life of blessing on earth and fellowship with him now.