A Dog, a Demon, and a New Daughter
Father, we are so grateful for this time to gather together, to be in your presence. One day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. It just seems like, Lord, you have through this whole pandemic just increased our gratefulness for the privilege of being together. We don’t want to ever take that for granted. The awkwardness, the uncomfortableness, the joy, the happiness — it all is so good for us. It de-centers us. It fixes our eyes on you. You are the sun and the shield. You shine brightly into our dark hearts, and you cause them to come alive. As we’ve seen the last couple of weeks in Mark, you go right for our hearts. You shine and then you shield. You are a shield. You purify, you protect. And we pray, Lord, that this morning you would draw us deeper into your story — a story full of life and love — and that our response would be two words, just like the Syrophoenician woman. We would say, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.” And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Well, it’s good to have each one of you here. Let’s turn to Mark 7. And all those watching, worshiping from home, Mark 7:24-30. We will be there in a moment.
One of the biggest, most gifted heretics in church history is named Marcion. He was born in 85 A.D., grew up in Sinope, Asia Minor, which is today in Turkey, on the coast of the Black Sea. Marcion was raised in a Christian home. His father was a very wealthy ship owner and also the local bishop, who tragically had to excommunicate his own son from the church. Right after being excommunicated, Marcion moved to Rome, joined the church there, gave a sizable gift to the church but began to form his heretical teachings. Five years later, he was excommunicated from the church in Rome as well, and his gift was returned to him. He then began using his communication skills, organizational skills, financial resources (which were all vast) to spread his own church known as Marcionism, a form of Gnosticism which was viewed as heresy by all the church leaders, but continued to grow for really several hundred years and then faded away.
Marcion’s main concern was the relationship between law and love. He could not imagine that the God of the Old Testament, the God of Mt. Sinai, in his thunderings and lightnings and law giving could be the same as the God of the New Testament — the Father of Jesus with his love and compassion. So, Marcion decided to disconnect them. He believed that the God of the Old Testament was a different God from the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament was a malicious demiurge. A demiurge was in Greek philosophy; he formed the universe. The God of the New Testament was a kind Creator, Savior. The God of the Old Testament was the author of evil, New Testament the author of good. Old Testament concern for Jewish people, New Testament, concerned for all people. The Old Testament God was a God of vengeance. The New Testament was a God of grace. This was according to Marcion.
He rejected the Old Testament and most of the New Testament books, formed his own Bible, which was very short, very sweet. He believed that the material world was defective. Jesus was not really human, only appeared to be human. Marriage was unlawful. Marital intimacy was wrong because of its connection to the material world. Historian Philip Schaff summarizes Marcion well. He says,
“He was utterly destitute of historical sense, and put Christianity into a radical conflict with all previous revelations of God; as if God had neglected the world for thousands of years until he suddenly appeared in Christ. He represents an extreme anti-Jewish … tendency and a magical supernaturalism, which, in fanatical zeal for a pure, primitive Christianity, nullifies all history, and turns the gospel into an abrupt, unnatural, phantom-like appearance.”
That statement, “utterly destitute of historical sense,” is really big. So, if Marcion was declared heretical very early (Marcion the man died in the 2nd century), why are we talking about him today? Well, unfortunately, modified forms of Marcionism continue to creep back into the church.
A couple of years ago, a well-known evangelical pastor created quite a reaction when he told his church that the New Testament needs to be “unhitched” from the Old Testament. He argued that unchurched people in our culture are going to be offended by all the Old Testament regulations which seem foreign, the Old Testament stories of conquest and judgment which seem offensive. In his words,
“It’s time that we face the facts and unhitch our faith and our practice from some of these Old Testament values that we can appreciate in their original context, but we really don’t have any business dragging them into a modern context.”
Now, let me be clear. That evangelical pastor is not advocating full-blown Marcionism. And also, we get it. I’m in the middle of the Book of Judges right now and just finished Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua. And there are days where you read a chapter from some of those books, and it’s like jumping into a cold pool on a hot day. It takes your breath away. It is culturally shocking, and we acknowledge that cultural shock. Yet, in light of that, the answer is not to eliminate the Old Testament or minimize the Old Testament. It is to learn to properly read the Old Testament and learn how to read the Old Testament with New Covenant eyes. It’s vital. The benefits we think we’ll get from ignoring or minimizing the Old Testament are merely cultural delusions and chronological snobbery. We’re like the guy sitting on the tree branch who’s cutting the branch off that’s holding him up.
And Jesus, I believe, communicates this in a very interesting way in this interaction we’ve come to in our study of Mark, Mark 7:24-30. Jesus does three things here: he tears down boundaries, he tells a story, and then he transforms a life. So, let’s look at each one of those.
First, Jesus tears down boundaries. What kind of boundaries does he tear down? Well, first, geographical boundaries. Look at verse 24.
“And from there he rose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”
“From there” is the region of Galilee, to Tyre and Sidon, which is outside of the bounds of the nation of Israel. This is huge that the Jewish Messiah would go into a pagan region intentionally.
Second boundary, he tears down social boundaries. Verse 24, second half,
“He entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.”
So, the point there is, he’s not marketing himself. There’s no big flashing sign out front, “Miracle-working Messiah Inside.” He’s not marketing himself at all, but he is a people magnet, and he could not be hidden. Verse 25,
“Immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.”
So, he had crossed the boundary into her country, nation, and now she crosses social and personal boundaries, which are even more obvious in the Book of Matthew. The Matthew account describes the disciples trying to convince Jesus to get rid of this woman because she keeps crying out. She is quite persistent. She is breaking all sorts of personal and social boundaries.
Third and most important, ethnic and cultural boundaries are being torn down. Look at verse 26,
“Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”
Now, this verse reads, in Edwards’ words, like a “crescendo of demerit.” Humanly speaking, her resume guarantees she will not get the job. A woman in that day getting access to a rabbi is challenging. Secondly, a gentile viewed as unclean. Thirdly, a Syrophoenician in Tyre. Think of what Tyre, the region, represented. Jezebel (I Kings), Queen Jezebel was from Tyre. She was the one who hunted Israeli prophets. She slaughtered them. She sought to kill Elijah. There is a long history of antagonism with Tyre. In 2nd century B.C., Tyre fought against the Jews in the Maccabean Revolt. Jewish historian Josephus called the people of Tyre quote, “notoriously our bitterest enemies.” So, whether you want to think Serbs and Bosnians or Jews and Germans in World War II, it’s that level of antagonism. And this woman, if you picked up a directory of deficiencies, her picture would be in there. She had everything going against her, and yet she persists. You’ve got to love her. She keeps moving toward Jesus, pleading for her daughter. So, what does Jesus do?
Number 2, he tells a story. He tells a story. It’s actually a micro-parable. Verse 27,
“He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’”
So, Jesus’ response here hits us as deeply offensive, and it would have been in that culture as well.
One activist minister posted last month a TikTok video entitled, “Jesus a Racist?” Reverend Brandon Robertson said,
“Did you know that there’s a part of the gospel of Mark where Jesus uses a racial slur? He calls her a dog. What’s amazing about this account is that the woman doesn’t back down …. Her boldness and bravery to speak truth to power actually changes Jesus’ mind. Jesus repents of his racism and extends healing to the woman’s daughter. I love this story because it’s a reminder that Jesus is human. He had prejudices and bias. And when confronted with it, he was willing to do his work. And this woman was willing to stand up and speak truth.”
Yeah, this is a tragic example of trying to read the person of Jesus through a filter of “wokeness.” And when I read this, first began praying that this so-called reverend would come to know who Jesus really is, because Jesus never sinned. He doesn’t need to repent. He’s not prejudiced or bias. He’s actually the definition of the opposite. And also, when he encounters people in these situations, it is not random. He’s not caught off guard, “Oh wow, this woman!” and lets his prejudice seep out. That’s not it at all. He is always doing more than one thing at the same time. He is discipling his disciples while he is ministering to this woman.
So, why the dog comment? We can talk about a lot of different reasons. Like, he uses the different word for dog than the big street scavenger dog. He uses the little dog. I don’t think that’s the main point. I think the main point is this: Jesus is inviting this woman into a story that is foreign and offensive to her. Jesus is inviting this woman into a story that is foreign and offensive to her. Now, today, when we share the gospel, most of us try to make it as familiar and comfortable as possible to the person we’re sharing it with. And some of that makes sense. We need to contextualize; we need to meet people where they are.
But look at the way Jesus interacts with individuals. And it is stunning because he doesn’t just do this with this particular woman. He does this with everyone. He just did it with the religious leaders. What did the religious leaders take their greatest pride in? Their religious observances. And so, what does Jesus call them? Hypocrites. And that’s one of the nicest things he calls them. Think of the woman at the well. Could you go get your husband? Oh, you’ve had five husbands. Why does he do that? We’re about to see in a couple of chapters the rich young ruler. He doesn’t tell everyone to sell everything, give to the poor. Why does he do it with him? He is like an ER doc. When you go into the emergency room, and you have a gunshot wound, the doctor is not going to work on your acne or get the nurses to cut your fingernails. He’s going to go to the point of greatest vulnerability, the point of greatest need. And Jesus, unlike anyone in history, knows exactly our greatest point of vulnerability and need and culpability, and he goes right for that.
What is hers? Well, this woman’s point of vulnerability at this point is she had no claim to the Jewish Messiah. And yet she was desperately crying out for him. And so, look how she responds. “She answered him, ‘Yes, Lord.’” Hmmm. Just stop there and take that in. When you think about what “The Reverend” just said about this woman correcting Jesus, confronting Jesus, this woman would not know what he was talking about because her response was, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” What does she do? She is climbing into Jesus’ story. As James Edwards writes,
“She is not distant and aloof, attempting to maintain her position and control. She does what Jesus commands of those who would receive the kingdom and experience the Word of God: she enters the parable and allows herself to be claimed by it.”
Okay, in your story, let’s say I’m a dog. I have no claim at all to what I am pleading for, but even the dogs eat crumbs. Do you see that humble, persistent, creative entering into the story? And not claiming because, “Yeah, I deserve grace.” Who does? I am a dog. And what’s communicated by that is not, Jesus is not humiliating her. It’s Ephesians 2:12. She knows she’s far away from the promises of the covenant. She’s without God and without hope in this world. She has no claims on her own. And so, she doesn’t come arguing her own story. Let me tell you my story to try to convince you. She comes and enters Jesus’ story. This is huge for us. Let’s just stay here for a second. You will never find Jesus by trying to get him into your story. You step into his, his story. Jared Wilson writes,
“When Jesus calls you a dog … you don’t argue with him — you own your dog-ness. It’s those who would find this admission beneath them, who think themselves above Christ and his gospel, actually, who will end up losing in the end.”
And it’s not a game with her. It’s not just, “Okay, I’ll call myself whatever.” The “Yes, Lord” communicates she really is acknowledging, “You know who I really am better than I know who I really am. So, I’m stepping into your story.”
So, Jesus tears down boundaries, tells a story, and then, finally, transforms a life. Verse 29,
“And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’ And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”
Amen. This scene at the end of this paragraph is … Think about it from a parental perspective. Even if you’ve just got a normal child, not a demon-possessed child, making it through the day (any day) is a miracle. These little kids’ heads are bigger than their bodies. They’re just designed to fall forward — face plants all day long. You’ve got the keys, ready to put them in the car and go to the emergency room at any moment. And so, at the end of the day, when you’ve finally tucked them in, prayed with them … My kids, I’d tell them a wolf-dog story, so they’re terrified. And then you turn the light out, and then you walk down the stairs, and there’s that, you know that [ahhh]! We survived another day!
Just try to take that feeling of [ahhh] and imagine what this would have been for this woman coming home. She has not slept through the night in who knows how long. She hasn’t said, “ahhh.” Her little girl has been dominated by a very dark being. It’s unimaginable. And yet, Jesus … Some people say, “Well, Jesus just was positive thinking and got people to be convinced they were healed.” Jesus wasn’t even there, and he set her free. And the mom came home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Brothers and sisters, anyone who thinks church is just about what happens here is missing this little point right here. We want to pray into this because when Jesus does a miracle, it goes home with us. It goes home with us. It changes the way we live, the way we treat one another. What we experience in private is not disconnected from what we experience in public. So, let’s review and apply, what is God teaching us here.
Three things Jesus did. First, he tears down boundaries. And we don’t want to just skate over this, because for most of us, this is obviously foreign. We’re not familiar with the conflict between Tyre and Israel. We don’t think of it in political, military, cultural, ethnic terms. But we need to. When Jesus crossed those boundaries, he was sending a clear message. And he did it with his disciples. He wanted them to experience all the tension of that event because he was going to call them to do the same thing. I’m calling you into a boundary-busting business. And that’s what Christians are called to. Illegitimate boundaries that need to be torn down.
So, what does that look like today in our country? Yikes. There’s so many examples we could talk about. So, let me give you perhaps the most controversial right now. One of the news narratives that continues to increase is this tension between black lives and blue lives. We are told in the news; you have to be for one or the other. Either you really believe black lives matter (not talking about the organization, talking about people), or you believe blue lives matter. And the further we go down this narrative the greater the tension and the greater the danger for both blue and black lives, which is so tragic. And so, let’s do an exercise here for a moment that will help us imagine what Jesus might be calling us into as his followers. Let’s just imagine hypothetically for a moment, you fall more on the blue lives side. You’re concerned about the danger police officers are in on an increasing manner because of the anti-police atmosphere.
So, as a Christian, and still having that concern, when you hear an announcement made (like this week, the verdict, former officer Derek Chauvin charged with second degree murder), can you exercise, can you for a moment set aside what all the politicians are saying, what all the pundits are saying on both sides, not pretending to be the jury, but just receiving that verdict and imagining what would that mean to my black brothers and sisters who have wondered over a long history whether there is justice in our country for them? How significant would that be? How meaningful would that be? How miraculous in some ways does that seem? Can you go there and appreciate that moment? And are you in relationship with people to where you can affirm that? Not talking about pretending to be judge and jury, I’m just talking on a human level with your brothers and sisters, not a political level. Remember, when Jesus went into Tyre, he did not go with a political agenda; he went with a redemptive one. It’s why he was there.
Or let’s flip to the other side for a moment. You’re deeply concerned about black lives and that black lives matter. But then this week you watch on the news a scene where an officer comes to a crime perhaps about to be committed, where a knife is being raised by one person attacking another person, and you get two seconds to decide what you’re going to do. Two seconds to decide, are you going to save a life? Are you going to take a life? Are you going to destroy your own life? Because the two-second decision you make will put your picture all across the nation on every media. Your family will go into hiding. Your life will be destroyed. So, make that two-second decision wisely. And if you can’t feel what that is like for that officer who’s not getting paid very much money to make that decision and try to protect our communities …
So, what am I talking about here? I’m not talking about the political discussion at all, I’m talking about on a human level, can you get down where people live — like Jesus face-to-face with this woman from Tyre, who’s supposed to be her enemy — and see miracles happen? I really believe if we’re going to move forward as a country, it’s going to happen because of the brothers and sisters in Christ who humble their hearts and tear down boundaries that the news media and the politicians are determined to keep fostering and building. It’s going to come down to us, which takes a huge amount of humility, and it takes an agenda that’s way bigger than just winning a political argument.
So, this week you’re going to have an opportunity to do that. This is what Jesus calls us to. He puts us in awkward situations with people we differ with. If I had thirty minutes, I could give you just bunches of examples even from this week, beautiful examples of people learning other languages just to be able to cross those boundaries. Of people, like one young man ministering to a homeless man, crossing huge economic boundaries and mental illness boundaries just to love him in Jesus’ name. There will be people at your work who drive you crazy. You will have an opportunity to step toward them this week. Jesus tears down boundaries.
But don’t forget — hence the dog story — he didn’t do it compromising who he was or why he came. He did it in love and in truth. That’s the second big thing we see from Jesus, Jesus tells a story. He tells THE story. And the question for all of us this morning is, will we enter his story, or will we tried to get him squished into our story? This is something Marcion never understood, that the story of redemption reveals the greatness and goodness of God. And we are not the center of the story, Jesus is. When he rose from the dead, he was walking down the road to Emmaus. And he said in Luke 24:27,
“Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning [who? whom?] himself.”
Jesus had no desire to unhitch the Old Testament from the New Testament, but to fill up the Old Testament in the New Testament. All redemptive history is swept into Jesus, and he is asking us this question: Will you step into my story, or do you prefer your own?
This woman could have easily been offended and held on to bitterness and tried to convince Jesus what he doesn’t understand about her or her culture or her unique story. And she doesn’t do that. She did the same thing the Psalmist did in Psalm 84:10,
“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
I would rather be a mutt in your story than a monarch of my own. I would rather eat crumbs with you than feast without you. Are you to that point? This is the call to the kingdom. Jesus, I would rather live a life of soup with you than have steak without you.
And third, we saw in this little story, Jesus transforms a life. In the end of the story, the demon is gone, and the child is resting, and the woman has peace. Some of you need a miracle like that today. We would love to pray with you while we’re singing or after the service or grab someone near you. Jesus is still doing this. Homes that are characterized by darkness, division, sin, hurt, he can transform. He can set us free.
Let’s pray. Thank you, Jesus, that you seek us out, you find us. We are strangers to the covenants of promise. We have no hope without you in this world. You are the one who draws us near by your blood. You tore down the dividing wall of hostility. You are our peace. So, Father, you can set us free from the addiction to protect our way of life, to protect our identity. You can liberate us through your story, who you are and who we are in you.
We acknowledge we have no claim to your promises on our own. We own our dog-ness. We turn from all our religious and cultural markers that give us meaning or status, or we think will make us something or someone. May we follow the Syrophoenician woman’s example, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.” Father, even quietly in your presence now, we pray that there would be hundreds of “Yes, Lords” coming up from our hearts today.
Lord, we don’t want to write our own story. We will mess it up. But you are sweeping us into yours, and you show us who we really are. And you not only transform our hearts, but you allow us to take it home and take it to work, take it to the streets, to school. Fill us with your Spirit, Lord, as we continue to cry out to you now. In Jesus’ name, amen.