To listen, click on the arrow (the white triangle) and wait until the message begins.  It takes about 30 seconds to load.

INI

Faith, the Natural Result of the Word

Second Sunday in Lent

March 12, 2017

Matthew 15:21–28

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Faith is the natural result of the Word of God. It’s not that you must come to faith. It’s not that you must generate faith or be born with it or even keep it going strong. Faith is a natural result. It is what comes forth naturally from God’s Word going forth. God doesn’t help us and then we come up with the faith to believe. Or the reverse, He doesn’t help us on the condition that we first believe.

Faith naturally flows forth from God’s Word and His blessings and help and salvation. And why would it be any different? Why would God require of you to produce something you cannot produce of your own power or will? The only thing we have faith in by nature is ourselves. Ultimately we are our own god. We go our own way.

It is not faith that is required from our own heart or strength or mind or will. How could we ever produce that? Those who do not have faith in Christ do not have it because they resist Christ and His gifts. What the Holy Spirit produces in us naturally from the Word of God is fought against and resisted by our sinful flesh.

The woman in the Gospel reading exhibited faith that she knew was not of herself. How could it be? She knew she didn’t deserve it, and she said so. She knew she had nothing to offer Jesus, so she said so.

The faith she exhibited was faith produced by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and that clung tenaciously to the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. Her plea was to the Messiah, the Savior. Jesus, Son of David. Her plea was of mercy. She had nothing of herself to claim anything in the presence of God. It was mercy she wanted. It was mercy she needed. That was her plea. She didn’t come with notions of what a good person she was or even what kind of faith she had. She simply focused on Christ and His mercy.

Faith that comes naturally by the Word clings to that Word, no matter what. Jesus ignored her. The disciples tried to get rid of her. Our own attempts at faith would crumble under such treatment. That’s why we must see that faith comes naturally from God’s Word, not naturally from our sinful heart or mind.

In the face of apparent apathy on the part of Jesus she pleaded all the more for mercy. She didn’t need Him to treat her in a particular way. She just needed mercy. Faith is like that. Faith clings to Christ, not what the sinful heart wishes. The sinful heart focuses on self.

At this second plea for mercy Jesus ups the ante. He doesn’t simply ignore her, He openly questions the validity of her plea. It is not right to give the food of the children to the dogs. What does the sinful flesh do? It recoils in the face of such arrogance. Who needs what Jesus is offering if He is going to demean me in such a way? The sinful flesh resists the Word of God.

True faith embraces it. Faith that flows naturally from the Word clings to that very Word. Yes, Lord, what you say is true. Does she like it that way? To faith it doesn’t matter. Is she offended? To faith, it’s immaterial. It is what it is and since it is from Christ Himself it is good and it is what is clinged to. What you say, Lord, is true, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

Faith that flows naturally from the Word is faith that doesn’t count or demand. It simply asks for what God gives in Jesus Christ. That is mercy. This is what the woman was asking for. Does it matter how the Lord wishes to give it? Does it matter if it’s a lot or a little? Does it matter if it’s according to the way you would like it to be or the way He desires it to be? If it’s mercy that He’s giving, isn’t that what we need? Isn’t that the whole point of faith? Isn’t that the opposite of what we think when we attempt to base our faith on ourselves rather than to clinging to Christ alone for mercy?

Consider again how utterly opposing our sinful flesh is to the doctrine that faith in Christ is given solely by the Holy Spirit and flows naturally from the Word of God. What do we do when we are faced with temptation? What do we do when we are tested by God? Our sinful flesh gives in to the temptation. Our sinful flesh resists the work of God in testing us.

But faith that flows from the Word? It rests in the Word. We saw that in the First Sunday in Lent. Jesus went to nothing other than the Word when He was tempted by Satan and tested by the Father. We saw last week the contrast between Adam and Eve resisting the Word of God and Jesus clinging solely to it.

Jesus alone has perfect faith. Jesus alone rests solely in His Father’s will. His Father’s will was that He suffer the guilt and punishment of sinners. Had Jesus desired only His own glory there would be no salvation. His delight was in His Father’s will and the giving of His life for us.

If we cling to anything but that, what kind of faith is that? It is not faith the Holy Spirit has produced. It is what comes from our sinful nature. Faith the Holy Spirit gives to us focuses not on ourselves but on Christ alone. He is the one who suffered and died. He is the one who rose from the grave. He is the one who ascended into heaven and has joined us to Himself in Baptism. He is the one who gives us His very body and blood in His Holy Supper.

Faith naturally clings to these things, not our own efforts or what we think we deserve. In fact, faith that flows naturally from the Word can’t help but give thanks and praise for the salvation and mercy given in Christ. Certainly God doesn’t need anything from us. Certainly there’s nothing we can do to repay Him. The faith He has produced in us continues to focus on Christ.

And the way that plays out in daily life is delighting in the Father’s will. Serving those who need mercy just as we do. Being patient with others and helping them in their needs. Faith is always looking outward, not inward. If you’re looking at what you do then there’s no room for focusing on Christ and on all those people in your life who need kind words and understanding and compassion.

Since you have been given faith by the work of God through the Word, don’t turn once again to your own sinful flesh. Don’t think that any progress you make as a Christian is your doing. It is all gift, it is all mercy. Faith rejoices in who Christ is and what He has done. Faith rejoices in Baptism and the strengthening food Christ gives you in His holy meal.

Because there is so much mercy God gives you there is so much opportunity to live in the new life of Christ, being merciful, being forgiving, being humble.

Consider this. When all is said and done, where is your focus going to be? On yourself? Or on Christ?

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Do you think she went away rejoicing about her great faith Jesus spoke of? Or rather, did she rejoice in Christ, in His mercy He granted to her, in the blessing of her daughter now restored. Yes, faith is exactly that. Amen.

SDG

Pastor Paul L. Willweber

Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California