“Jesus pointed out various levels of faith during his earthly ministry. He remarked that people had no faith, little faith, unbelief, faith the size of a mustard seed, and great faith. “
Jesus pointed out various levels of faith during his earthly ministry. He remarked that people had no faith, little faith, unbelief, faith the size of a mustard seed, and great faith.
Twice in Jesus’ ministry, he pointed out great faith: He said to the Roman centurion, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (Matthew 8:10); He then said to the Syro-Phoenician woman, “ ‘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). It is interesting to note that both these people were Gentiles. They had no hope in partaking of the promises of God, nor were they included in the covenant that He had made with Israel through Abraham. Showing great faith in His ministry, however, these Gentiles received Him, while the Jews, to whom the promise of Messiah belonged, doubted and debated His identity. As we focus on the great faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, we want to examine why Jesus called her faith great.
The Greek woman of Syro-Phoenicia did not just appear out of nowhere without any knowledge of Jesus or faith in God. She lived in the region of Sidon, a country where faith seemed to dwell in the hearts of its citizens. God sent Elijah to Sidon to be cared for by a widow. Jesus mentioned this area in His rebukes to the cities that would not repent and receive His ministry. He told them that if He had worked miracles in Sidon, they would have repented long ago. People from many lands were counted in the multitudes that followed Jesus. Could this nameless Greek woman also have been in the Galilee area and heard Jesus speak and see the wonders He performed, or could she have been present on the day He fed the five thousand? Whatever her story may be, when Jesus arrived in Sidon, she heard of His visit, and in faith came to ask His help.
Even though she believed, her road of faith was not smooth. Jesus tested her faith at every turn of the road. In our prayer experience, events orchestrated by God also test our faith and desire. In this story of the Greek woman, we see the tests of faith clearly defined. If at any point she had failed the test, she would have not received the answer to her prayer. Like her, we may also have to pass the faith test in order to receive answers to prayer. We see her faith revealed by her believing that Jesus was the promised Messiah, her persistent asking, and her humility in worship.
The first test of faith she met was the silence of Jesus. He refused to answer her prayer. Silence is the greatest rejection. He did not even recognize her presence by a courtesy greeting. Even though she recognized Him as Messiah and this was more than the Jews would acknowledge, and even though her love and compassion for her daughter must have touched Jesus, yet He would not answer her. The silent rejection of Jesus can imbalance us, because we desire to feel His nearness as a sign that all is well. To seek after God and not receive His response deters us from further seeking. If we don’t desire greatly, we stop praying, never to receive our petition. The Syro-Phoenician woman passed the test of silent rejection. She persisted in asking.
Jesus taught that one of the principles of prayer was to keep asking, seeking, and knocking (Matthew 7:7). This is not only a principle of prayer, but one of faith. If you believe that someone has something that belongs to you, and that all you have to do is ask, you will keep asking until you receive it. Many times we don’t receive answers to prayer because we don’t know for sure God has it for us, or we’re not sure He wants to give it to us even if He does have it. At that point, our faith breaks down because we doubt. Consequently, we stop asking and break the principle of faith that says to persist.
Faith persists in asking because faith believes it will receive. The Greek woman, not receiving an answer from Jesus, turned to the disciples for help. Asking Jesus to turn her away, they verbally rejected her. What a great discouragement they were to her! They would not stand with her in prayer for her need. We, too, may have to stand alone in prayer in our hour of need. After long hours of seeking, it may seem that God is not aware of us. This is a crucial point in prayer. If we lose courage and give up asking, all will be lost. Praying past discouragement brings us another step closer to our answer. Like the Greek woman, if we will press on in prayer, pleading our cause, we will hear Jesus respond. She passed the test of discouragement. She continued asking, however, with a different approach.
She fell at His feet and worshipped. She was closer to her answer, but still had one more test to pass. Worship is a part of the equation of faith. We worship the One whom we consider worthy. She believed Him to be the Son of David, the one the Jews called Messiah. She understood that this title carried with it power, love, and compassion. She exalted and honored Jesus by falling at His feet in worship.
After she worshipped, Jesus began talking to her. Nevertheless, He did not answer her but faced her with a cold, unpleasant fact. Jesus told her that He only had bread for the children, and it was not right to throw it to the dogs. In other words, He said that the bread belonged to those who were worthy of it, for those to whom it had been promised. “You are not worthy to receive what I have to give,” was His statement of conclusion. This was her final test. What did she reply? “Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27)? In effect, she said, “Yes, I know I am unworthy, but even those who are unworthy receive from You.” When she made this statement, she won Jesus’ heart and His praise. She had touched His mercy, the essence of His nature. He could not resist her any longer. She passed the final test of faith when she admitted her unworthiness of His mercy.
In praying past silent rejection, discouragement, the cold unpleasant facts of a situation, we at last enter into humility, touching His mercy. We then can hear the echo of His voice speaking to us, “Great is your faith, let it be to you as you have desired.”
As Smith Wigglesworth said, “Great love produces great faith.”