Our Place at the Table

Our Place at the Table

“Our Place at the Table”
(Mark 7:24-30)
Series: Encounters with Christ (The Syro-Phoenician Woman)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

Before we turn to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, I invite you to first take a look at the passage we’ll be studying in a moment. It’s found in Chapter 7, of Mark’s Gospel; Mark 7. You’ll locate that in the church Bibles on page 679 (YouVersion app).

We have been studying in a series of messages entitled, “Encounters with Christ.” We have read together of different persons in the New Testament who encounter Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry—most recently, last week as Rich preached Peter’s encounter with Christ and his discovery of the Lord who wants to “make eye contact with us” that he may show us His love.

This morning’s encounter with Christ concerns a woman who is mentioned not by name, but by place and by race. Mark refers to her as the Syro-Phoenician woman. And I’d actually like to read the passage before we take of the Lord’s Supper this morning because the passage illustrates something of our admission to the table, the Christian’s admission to the Lord’s Supper.

When we observe the Supper here at Henderson’s First Baptist Church, we always review that this is an ordinance for Christians. It is not something to be done by everyone, but by those who are believers, who have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and have been baptized as believers in Christ.

The Christian participates in the Supper, eating the bread and drinking the cup, remembering the body and blood of Christ—specifically remembering that Jesus died for the sins of those who believe in Him. So this is very personal. Like the ordinance of baptism where the believer is immersed in water, under water, and rises up from the water, remembering Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, so the believer eats the bread and drinks the cup remembering that Christ gave His body and spilled His blood for our sins. He died in our place. He rose in our place.

So the Lord’s Supper is not for the unbeliever. In fact, if you are here as someone who has not yet placed your faith in Christ, while others take the bread and the cup, we invite you to take his time to think about the claims of Christ and whether you will receive Him as Lord and Savior.

And those of you who are believers in Christ, we will prepare in a moment to eat the bread and drink of the cup. And I want us to read about this Syro-Phoenician woman because, again, she illustrates the way believers are to approach the Lord in worship. She illustrates something of what it means to be a person who understands the Gospel.

Please stand in honor of the Word of God.

24 From there (Galilee) He arose and went (north) to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.
25 For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet.
26 The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
27 But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
28 And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”
30 And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.

Amen, and you may be seated.

Now we’re going to study this text in greater detail in a moment, but I want to call your attention to a statement this woman makes in her encounter with Christ. When she comes to Christ, pleading for Him to heal her daughter, Jesus responds with this puzzling statement about it’s not being good to take bread that belongs to the children and give to just anyone, like dogs under the table.

We’ll dig into this verbal exchange later and study the fuller meaning of this statement of our Lord’s. But for now, just note that this woman knows her place before the Lord and responds in such a way that demonstrates that she is approaching Christ not on the basis of her goodness, but on the basis of Christ’s goodness.

She says in response, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” She does not argue. She does not assert her rights. She simply says, “Yes, Lord. Yes, I will not argue that I have no right to claim any help from you, any food from your table. I come not because of my goodness, but because of Your goodness.”

So those of us who are saved this morning, those of us who are Christians, we come this morning to the table, remembering that we always and forever—not just at the point of our initial salvation—but always and forever, we approach Christ not on the basis of our goodness, but on the basis of His goodness.

Christians were once outside and we have been brought inside. We were once lost and outcasts and have been found and brought in, given access to Christ and allowed to sit at our Lord’s table.

For this reason this passage has been used for centuries in preparation for observing the Lord’s Supper. The Protestant Reformer Thomas Cranmer wrote a prayer in the 16th Century that is still used to today by many churches. It goes like this:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table. But Thou art the same Lord, whose [nature] is always to have mercy.

That’s how Christians approach the Supper, in humility. We confess our sins, and turn from our sins in repentance, and in so doing as we participate in the Supper we say, in effect, “We are not worthy to be here. We know our place here. We are not worthy to sit at the table, not even worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under the Lord’s table.”

So, those of you who are believers, who prepare now to take the bread and the cup, I invite you to join me in remembering our place before the Lord. We approach the Lord and we approach the Lord’s table in humility, remembering that it is only by God’s grace, through faith, that we are accepted by Him. We are accepted by Him today and every day because of Christ’s goodness in our place.

Let’s thank God for this truth in prayer and after our prayer, our deacons, our servants of the church, will hand out the elements of the Lord’s Supper. If you are visiting today and not a member of Henderson’s First Baptist Church, but you are a Christian who is an active member of a church of similar faith and practice, we invite you to share in the Supper with us; you are a brother and a sister of the greater church family. So if you have been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, you may join us in this family meal as we remember Christ’s death in our place.
Let’s pray and after our prayer, our deacons will serve the Supper and you’ll take the bread and cup together and, just hold on to these cups until we all are served and I will guide us. Prayer.

Deacon’s Serve.

“The Bible says that on the same night in which Jesus was betrayed, that He took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).

“Then the Bible says that in the same manner, Jesus also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26).

Amen. Thank you, deacons, for serving us.

Well, again, find your place in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7, as we dig deeper into this passage of Scripture, Mark 7, page 679 of the church Bible, and verses 24-30.

Let’s read through this passage now, a verse at a time, and I’ll give you a little outline that helps us move through the text, just a simple descriptive outline, helping us through the three main movements in the story. In my notes, I found that this woman from Syria Phoenicia teaches us three main things. We’ll take them one at a time and then we’ll talk about some practical reminders that are important to take home today.

**As we Study the Syro-Phoenician Woman:

I. Consider Her Problem (24-25)

She has a problem and the problem is that her daughter has a demon, or as Mark puts it in verse 25, her daughter has an unclean spirit. And this woman hears that Jesus is in town and so she goes to Him that He may fix her problem and heal her daughter of demon possession. Let’s read it now a verse at at time.

24 From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon—

Mark identifies this woman later as a Syro-Phoenician, which means she is from Phoenicia, a place that included Tyre and Sidon. If you look this up on a map, you’ll see that Tyre and Sidon is Northeast of Galilee in Gentile territory. This is far away from Jerusalem and Galilee.

And what’s happening here in the greater context is that our Lord is teaching that while God has chosen the Jews as those who have initial access to the Gospel, the Gospel is for all people, all nations, all ethnicities. Israel was never meant to be the end of salvation, but the means by which salvation came to others.

And Israel largely failed to understand this stewardship of faith, that they were entrusted with the responsibility of sharing about the One True God of the Bible with all peoples. Israel was not meant to be the end of salvation, but the means of salvation to all peoples.

But the Jews had largely regarded those of other races as unclean and unfit for worship of the One True God. In fact, in the more immediate context of chapter 7 here, Jesus had just been teaching in Galilee about clean and unclean foods. And so he moves from Galilee, having just taught that all foods are clean, He now moves into Gentile territory to demonstrate that all peoples are clean through the power of the Gospel.

Paul will go on to stress the importance of sharing the Good News with all peoples. Many of us know Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (or the Gentile).”

Israel was never meant to the the end of the gospel, but the means. Jesus went first to the Jews, but the new believing Jewish Christians were then entrusted to take the Gospel to all peoples of all nations. And that stewardship continues today through all believers. We all are to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth—from our community to the continents.

24 From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.

Given the continuing pursuit by the scribes and Pharisees, it’s almost as if Jesus is trying to retreat for awhile. He goes north to get away from these religious legalists.

But Jesus’ showing up in town with the 12 is not something that stays a secret for very long. So Mark says, “He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.”

Matthew Henry says, “He could not be hidden because, though candle may be put under a bushel, the sun cannot.”

25 For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet.

So here we have this woman and her problem. She has a young daughter with an unclean spirit. She comes to Jesus and falls at His feet, bringing her problem to the Lord. She asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. In fact, verse 26 says, “She kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”

So as we have considered he problem—point 1—we now consider her persistence, point 2:

II. Consider Her Persistence (26-28)

She kept asking Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. She is persistent in prayer.

I’ve got to share with you this quote from JC Ryle. It’s kind of long, but it’s good. He writes this about the persistence of this woman for her daughter and how this illustrates the burden many parents have for the spiritual well-being of their children. Hear this and be encouraged. He writes:

Fathers and mothers are especially bound to remember the case of this woman. They cannot give their children new hearts. They can give them Christian education, and show them the way of life; but they cannot give them a will to choose Christ’s service, and a heart to love God. Yet there is one thing they can always do–they can pray for them. They can pray for the conversion of profligate sons, who will have their own way, and run greedily into sin. They can pray for the conversion of worldly daughters, who set their affections on things below, and love pleasure more than God. Such prayers are heard on high. Such prayers will often bring down blessings. Never, never let us forget that the children for whom many prayers have been offered, seldom finally perish. Let us pray more for our sons and daughters. Even when they will not let us speak to them about [Christian faith], they cannot prevent us speaking for them to God.

This woman is persistent in taking her problem to the Lord.

Now, if we had time we would read the parallel account of this encounter as reported by Matthew in his Gospel in Matthew 15:21-28. You may wish to just make a note of that an you can turn to it later and read it, but Matthew provides added detail to the encounter that is interesting.

Matthew tells us, for example, that the woman cries out to Jesus and says, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” and that Jesus does not answer. Matthew puts it like this in Matthew 23, “But He answers her not a word.” And Matthew adds the detail that “his disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

So Jesus is just silent. Now silence is not the same thing as ignoring. The Bible paraphrase, The Message, says, “Jesus ignored her.” I disagree. That’s why paraphrases are helpful to us to some extent, but we must take care not to preach from them.

Silence is not necessarily ignoring.

Silence allows a conversation to deepen. Silence draws out information that otherwise may remain hidden. Silence allows for reflection. Otherwise, conversation may be only on the surface, superficial conversation, not necessarily bad, but just never getting down to deeper things— like when two people meet each other for the first time on an airplane, sitting next to each other, chatting energetically and rapidly about work, family, favorite sports teams, but largely superficial conversation.

Contrast that conversation with two people meeting elsewhere where they can sit across from one another and see each other, face to face, where body language can be observed, maybe having a coffee together, able to look across the table at one another, reading each other’s facial expressions, listening thoughtfully.

And often it’s helpful to allow periods of silence in the conversation. Mahatma Ghandi said, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” I think sometimes we rush to fill the silence when it may have been helpful to allow silence in order to take the conversation to a deeper level.

You ask someone a probing question like, “What do you believe about spiritual things?” resist the temptation to fill the silence by suggesting answers. Silence allows time to reflect.

So Matthew tells us that Jesus is silent. And I think it is helpful to us to think of the so-called times of God’s silence as opportunities for us to go deeper in our understanding of the Lord and to grow in Christian maturity.

Joel Beeke has helped us appreciate silence by thinking about the importance of both printed text and white space in a book. For example, think of the Bible you hold in your hands–whether a paper Bible or an electronic Bible; either one–the Bible is not solely words, black letters all jammed up against one another. There is space around the printed Word of God. You have the text there, verses, words, God’s very words–and then you have space, white space, silence, silent space at the top, at the bottom, in the margins, spaces of silence between the words allowing you to pause, to breathe, to reflect.

So live life like you thoughtfully read the Bible, allowing God to work through periods of silence, allowing Him to use the silence to mature and deepen your understanding of His word.

Well, after some time, Jesus speaks to the woman and He says something we never could have imagined! Verse 27:

27 But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

And the first time we read that we may be like, “Wait—what?! Did Jesus just refer to this woman as a dog?!”

And in some sense, He does. I mean, we’ve got to allow for tensions in the biblical texts. We’ve got to allow them to breathe and stand on their own.

Yes, Jesus says, “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And He says that in response to the woman’s asking Him for help. He’s like, “Let the children be filled first,” let the Jews receive bread first. They are My children. They get first place at the table.”

Remember Romans 1:16? Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (or the Gentile).”

Let the children be filled first. Let the Jews receive the bread. They get first place at the table.

And you’ve got to love the woman’s witty reply in verse 28:

28 And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

She’s like, “Yes, I know I have no place at the table. Just give me some table scraps, scraps that the little dogs might get under the table.”

Remember that in the ancient near east that dogs weren’t the cute, little, pets that we think of in the modern west.

I read a statistic last week that said Christians are giving close to 90% of missions dollars to go to people groups who already have access to the gospel while only 1% of total mission dollars goes to the unreached peoples of the world. To drive the point home, the statistic said that Americans spend the same amount of money each year on halloween costumes—for their pets.

But dogs in the ancient near east are like dogs in many parts of the undeveloped world today. They were mangy and ugly—and calling someone a dog was an insult. Greeks, Gentiles, non-Jews, were often called dogs as a term of contempt.

So commentators are quick to point out that when Jesus says this to the woman, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs,” that Jesus uses the diminutive word “little,” softening the statement, little dog—but you know, you get called a dog, does it really matter how big?!

It helps to understand the proverbial nature of Jesus’ statement and the way He spoke. William Barclay says:

Without a doubt his tone of voice made all the difference. The same word can be a deadly insult and an affectionate address, according to the tone of voice. We can call a man “an old rascal” in a voice of contempt or a voice of affection. Jesus’ tone took all the poison out of the word.

In our weekly staff meeting a couple weeks ago, we were discussing those occasions when a phone call is better than a text message or email. One of the major benefits is that you can communicate feelings more accurately and more directly; you can communicate so much by mere tone of voice. We noted, for example, that people can hear your smile when you talk.

So, Barclay concludes:

She saw at once that Jesus was speaking with a smile. She knew that the door was swinging on its hinges. In those days people did not have either knives or forks or table-napkins. They ate with their hands; they wiped the soiled hands on chunks of bread and then flung the bread away and the house-dogs ate it. So the woman said, “I know the children are fed first, but can’t I even get the scraps the children throw away?” And Jesus loved it. Here was a sunny faith that would not take no for an answer, here was a woman with the tragedy of an ill daughter at home, and there was still light enough in her heart to reply with a smile. Her faith was tested and her faith was real, and her prayer was answered. Symbolically she stands for the Gentile world which so eagerly seized on the bread of heaven which the Jews rejected and threw away.

This woman recognizes that Jesus is not making a racial statement but a theological statement. And she passes the test.

28 And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

She is persistent! She’s like a NT Jacob who wrestled with God and said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

We have considered her problem, and her persistence, and this leads to her provision:

III. Consider Her Provision (29-30)

29 Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”
30 And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.

She would settle for the children’s crumbs under the table, but in healing her daughter, Jesus has given her a whole loaf.

**Three Words to Take Home: Place, Grace, and Race

1) Learn Your Place

Like the Syro-Phoenican woman, Humble yourself before the Lord.

She knew her place before Christ, nothing to offer Him but her pleas. That’s it. No boastings, no rights to claim, no merit to bring, just her humble cries.

Modern readers are offended by Jesus’ reply to the woman, but she is not! Why do you think that is?

Why do you suppose this woman is not offended by what Jesus said—“it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

It’s because she knows her place before the Lord. She knows she has no rights to claim.

I mentioned Thomas Cranmer earlier. Another great name in the Protestant Reformation, if not the most popular—Martin Luther—was also stirred by this passage and saw the gospel in it. Luther writes:

Very well, she says, if I am a dog, I ask no more than a dog’s rights. I am not a child nor am I of Abraham’s seed, but you are a rich Lord and set a lavish table. Give your children the bread and a place at the table; I do not wish that. Let me, merely like a dog, pick up the crumbs under the table, allowing me that which the children don’t need or even miss, the crumbs, and I will be content therewith.

Isn’t that great?! The gospel is here in this woman’s actions.

We have to understand that we have NO RIGHT to sit at the table. Only then can we sit at the table. We do not deserve a place at the table. We are under the table. We have to say with this woman, “Yes, Lord.”

So we too must learn our place. This action is tied closely to the second action. Learn your place, number two:

2) Live by Grace

The Syro-Phoenician woman comes to Christ not on the basis of her goodness but on the basis of His goodness.

Remember that Jesus became the outcast for us so that we who are dogs could receive the bread of life.

He became a dog so we could become a son or a daughter.

This is grace. This is God’s giving us what we don’t deserve, God’s giving of His unlimited, unmerited favor when all we deserve is His wrath.

Jerry Bridges: “To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ.—Transforming Grace

Learn your place, live by grace, and thirdly:

3) Love each Race

God’s love for the Syro-Phoenican woman reminds us God loves all people and is building a kingdom of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.

Derek Thomas provides us with a thoughtful reflection here. He writes:

This passage is….a rebuke to those of us who are Christians. It’s a rebuke for what is often our prejudice about people who are not like us, and not of us…from a different race, who smell, whose clothes are funny, who speak with a funny accent and we dismiss them. And tell me if this is not so: tell me that we don’t say with the disciples from time to time, ‘Lord, send them away. Send them away, because they’re just a nuisance.’

May we never look at others this way. As we look at other people—no matter their race, no matter their ethnicity—may we see God’s love for them, His love for all people. We are just as they. None of us deserves a place at the table. We are all under that table.

And it is Jesus who exchanges places with us. He becomes the outcast, He becomes the dog so that we can become a son or a daughter.

Let’s pray.

Anyone may come…

“Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”

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