“I have been thinking about that woman all day.”
Someone said this the other day after a sermon I preached Cornerstone Church of Knoxville on Sunday from Mark 7:24-30 titled “Humble Faith.” Who is this woman whose story is so captivating and provoking? In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, James Edwards informs us:
“Of all the people who approach Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, this individual has the most against her from a Jewish perspective. Even Levi the tax collector must have raised his eyebrows at this woman.”
Why the raised eyebrows?
Well, eyebrows were raised because she is a Gentile, and a Gentile woman at that, so the Pharisees would consider her unclean and unqualified in every way to approach Jesus but this woman will not be denied. She is a desperate mother, desperate for her demonized little daughter to be delivered and she will not be denied. Hearing that Jesus was in town created a new sensation in her soul: hope.
She is a compelling example of faith. She teaches us how to approach God. She teaches us how to pray. She teaches us how to trust God in the midst of suffering. Spurgeon said she was featured “so that the church through the ages might see how beautiful her faith was.”
Scripture provides us not only with definitions of faith and exhortations to faith, but also illustrations of faith. She is an unforgettable illustration of faith.
Here’s why. She acknowledges her unworthiness but she also affirms the generosity of God. And true faith involves both of these elements.
It’s all too easy to think of our unworthiness due to sin as disqualifying us from approaching God. Too often we are more aware of our unworthiness than we are his grace and generosity and therefore reluctant to approach God and plead his promises.
The Puritan pastor, hymn writer, and prolific letter writer John Newton addressed an individual for whom he shared this concern in the following letter that could be written to many of us:
“You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness? Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside yourself, but you may be, indeed you are, improperly controlled and affected by them. You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong.”
My friends, you don’t want to be guilty of having a low opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer. Our unworthiness must not eclipse his grace.
Tim Keller effectively captures this concern with these words:
“You are more wicked than you ever dared believe but you are more loved than you ever dared hope. Don’t be too proud to accept what the gospel say about your unworthiness. Don’t be too despondent to accept what the gospel says about how loved you are.”
This woman will teach you how to do this. You won’t forget her.