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Even the Dogs Eat the Crumbs

Date: Sep. 22, 2019

Author: Michael Mark

Mark 7:24-30

Key Verse: Mark 7:24

"Lord," she replied, "even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs."

Has anyone here ever seen this phenomenon: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs?”  Sometimes you see it on TV, where a family will push their leftovers into the dog bowl for the dog to finish.  I know some people don’t like to give their dogs human food.  I’ve heard stories where a dog will sit watching and staring at the dining table, and as soon as there’s an opening, like if a child leaves the seat or turns around, the dog will jump up and snatch away a pancake or a pizza.  I used to have a dog in high school.  It was a long-haired chihuahua, so it looked like a very cute little fox.  When we would have dinner, he would just sit patiently about 2 feet away from the table, and watch everyone eat.  We never gave him human food, but he would always beg for it.  Whenever anyone made eye contact with him, he would tilt his head at a 45 degree angle.  I tried my hardest not to look at him.  This drove my uncle crazy because he was so cute.  When he would make eye contact with the dog, the dog would tilt his little head, and my uncle will jump out his chair, point at the dog and scream, “Look at him!  Look at him!”  He didn’t want to give the dog a bite, but deep down in his heart he did.  “Even the Dogs Eat the Crumbs,” has a nice ring to it.  On the surface, it seems like an obvious statement, but today we will see that these words uttered by a woman in need are full of wisdom and meaning.

Last week we learned about a confrontation Jesus had with the Pharisees.  On the surface, they looked and acted like pious, holy men, but Jesus revealed deep down they were full of vices and evil thoughts.  Just a few days prior to this, Jesus wanted to take his disciples to a quiet place to rest, but they were interrupted by over 5,000 people whom Jesus fed.  When this was over they crossed the lake to the other side, only to be met with more people throughout the region bringing their sick wherever he was.  Then after that the confrontation – so Jesus and his disciples now more than ever needed a rest.  They retreated about 50 miles north of the Sea of Galilee – look at v.24, “Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.  He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence a secret.”  Jesus went out this far probably to let the heat cool off from the conflict with the Pharisees, as well as to get that much needed rest.  However, as Mark mentioned, Jesus’ name had become well known.  His fame was spreading all over the region, even to the outskirts of Israel and overflowing into the bordering nation of Phoenicia, of which Tyre was a major city.  Even there he could not keep his presence a secret.

Look at v.25, “In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.”  Don’t you love how Mark writes?  It’s so action oriented.  “In fact, as soon as.”  He uses the word “Immediately” a lot too.  So in fact, as soon as she heard about Jesus, she sought him and found him.  What was her deal?  Her little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit.  I don’t know how long, but this woman must have suffered a lot, seeing her daughter suffer.  She must have heard about the works of Jesus, his feeding of the 5,000, and his marathon healing sessions all throughout Israel.  When she heard that he was nearby, she wasted no time in finding him.  See how much this mother cared for her daughter!  There was one time I drank a cup that wasn’t fully washed, and may have had a lot of dish soap.  It was around someone’s birthday, because I remember eating cake and drinking lots of pepto bismol, but I threw up almost non-stop from the afternoon to night.  That day I saw my mom cry because it hurt to see me suffer so much.  The intensity of this woman’s desire to see her daughter healed was so great that when she finally came to Jesus she flew at his feet and begged him to drive the demon out. 

We are also told in v.26 that this woman is a Greek, meaning, maybe obvious to you all, that she is not Jewish.  It is not very common that Gentiles (anyone who is not Jewish) did not associate with Jews.  We even learned last week that one of the reasons Jews practice ceremonial washing is because they might have touched a Gentile at the marketplace.  This woman must have been very persistent to be able to somehow get into the house, through the homeowner, through the disciples, and finally to Jesus.  How far would you go to get to Jesus?

Most likely Jesus came here to temporarily get away from the commotion in Galilee, he did not come here to begin Gentile ministry.  This woman however, is entreating Jesus for help.  At first glance, Jesus seems to be refusing her plea, but actually, he is teaching her about himself and the work he came to do.  Although Jesus didn’t simply just heal her as he did with thousands of Jewish people in Israel, we can learn a lot from what he is teaching here.  Remember, this woman is a Gentile, and her knowledge of Jesus is quite superficial.  Jesus is going to teach her about who he is, and what he came to do, for her benefit and for ours as well, because it is important that we know as accurately as possible about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.  It is important to rightly know God, to rightly know who you are worshipping so that you can also worship Him in the right way.

Look at v.27, “ ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’”  Let’s break this down.  First, he says “First.”  This means that he did not reject her request, but that she should wait.  This tells us something about the work he came to do.  We know that Jesus came to save the world, but first he came to give the children something to eat.  When he says “let the children eat,” who do you think is feeding them?  Jesus is the Shepherd, the provider of this food for the children.  And notice how much he wants to give them to eat: all they want!  It’s like taking your family to Old Country Buffet and letting them loose.  “Have at it kids, eat all you want!”  This shows us something of his generous, abundant and overflowing grace.  Jesus is the Shepherd who gives the children all they want to eat.

Then he says, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  Oooooh on the surface level this seems to sting.  Did he just call this woman a dog?  The disciples must have even been silent as a tense atmosphere filled the room.  And he seems to be rebuking her.  He says, “It is not right,” not so much that the woman was wrong for coming to him for help, but at this time Jesus had to be focused on the children.  And at the surface level, it makes sense, would you give a dog food that was meant for your child to eat?  Of course should take care of your child first, so in that sense it is not right to take from a child and give to a dog.  But in saying this Jesus is neither insulting her nor rejecting her, he is teaching her about Himself and His Work.  Who are the children Jesus is referring to?  At this point the children are the Jews, for they are the children of Abraham.  Who are the dogs?  They are the heathen, the pagans, the idolaters and unbelievers.  Anyone who did not worship the God of Israel.  It is unfortunate, but well known among the Jews to refer to the Gentiles as dogs in a derogatory way – because of their own nationalistic pride. 

So what was Jesus’ work?  It was to “first feed the children,” or “first, go to the lost sheep of Israel.”  His mission was to restore Israel first, not any other nation.  Why Israel?  Why is it important that he minister to the Jews first?  It is because they are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which God promised.  It is because Jesus himself is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Judah.  Now Jesus didn’t come exactly to restore the physical Israel, but to reconstitute a new Israel, starting with the Jews.  But why start with Israel?  Why start with the Jews?  Because they are the people who were set apart by God when he called Abraham out of paganism to make a nation and a people for himself.  The new Israel is to be a nation unlike any other nation, it was to be set apart as a nation of God’s people.  It can’t begin with any other nation, or more than one nation.  Only one nation was to be identified as God’s kingdom, and that’s Israel, based on the promises and covenants of God.  Who would constitute this new Israel?  Who would be the citizens of this new kingdom?  We will discuss that shortly.

But again, of all nations then, why Israel?  Why the Jews?  Because they had the Law of God, they had the prophets.  God had been with them ever since the calling of Abraham, and never left them.  They were supposed to be the springboard through which the whole world would learn about God.  God did not restore Israel for their sakes or for their own glory.  God restored Israel for the salvation of the world, for his glory.  The new Israel has a great responsibility: to go and make disciples of all nations.  That is why Jesus was so focused on his Mission to the Jews, because the salvation of the world depended on successfully discipling his Jewish followers.  Isn’t it crazy to think that God had a really great strategy to get his message, his good news, out to the world?!  Think about it – if you were God, who would you pick to teach the world about yourself?  Would you pick the nation with the most advanced technology? Would you pick the smartest nation?  Would you pick a nation that worshipped other gods?  Or would you pick the nation that you had been with for 2000 years (up to this point when Jesus arrived)?  You would probably go with the nation you had been with.  And see how wonderfully the plan has worked and continues to work.  The Twelve apostles were all Jews, and we read their teachings in our Bibles today.  Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles was a Hebrew of Hebrews, yet carried the gospel to all nations, applying the Old Testament prophets and Law to the New, and gave us some of the most eloquent works ever written, such as Romans 8, which gives you goosebumps when you hear it read with power.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law, God’s Law, his perfect, moral and holy Law.  He came to fulfill this on our behalf, for both Jews and Gentiles.

Now, I don’t expect this woman to get all of that in one session.  I hope it is clear to you though, who Jesus is and what he came to do.  He is the Messiah, the Savior, sent to restore and reconstitute a new Israel beginning with the Jews reaching out to the whole world for salvation.  Again this woman may not have understood the full depth of his reply, but she did understand one thing.  Can we please read v.28, “ ‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”  She understood one thing – that Jesus is Lord.  Did she believe He was God?  Matthew says she worshipped him (Matt 15:25 KJV), so I would say so.  What Jesus did teach her is that the God of Israel is the one true God, the One who could Provide, and the One who could Protect, and she believed.  So even if you didn’t fully comprehend the necessity of Jesus’ Jewish ministry, you can begin with this: Jesus is Lord.  Rom 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God rasied him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Also note that this is the only time in Mark that Jesus is addressed as “Lord.”  Every other time he is called “Rabbi,” or “Teacher.”  It isn’t that the disciples did not believe as she did, but that shows the strong Jewish context Jesus worked in.  Of course, the woman could not call Jesus “Rabbi,” but she did say “Lord.”

Also notice what she says in v.28, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  When Jesus mentioned dogs, he used a very peculiar word.  Jesus did not use the word for wild, savage dog.  Jesus used the word for “little dog,” or “house dog.”  It’s almost as if Jesus was saying “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the puppies.”  Now that doesn’t sound as harsh as wild dog.  It’s still kind of derogatory, that was the unfortunate way the Jews referred to Gentiles, but Jesus toned down the language.  I believe he did this intentionally, kind of hinting at his grace.  This little “hint of grace” was the crumb she picked up on, and she re-used his word for dog in her reply.  Notice she says, “dogs under the table.”  These are not the wild dogs.  These are the dogs kept as pets, that usually stay in or around the house and eat the crumbs.  Here was her humility – that even if she can get just a little crumb off of the Lord’s table, that would be fine.  She picked up on the fact that Jesus did not place her outside the house, but under his table.  There was a chance, a hope of getting just a crumb.

This should give great comfort to all of us – that we are all near the Master’s table, near to God.  The children are the worshippers of God, the dogs are those who do not.  But all are fed.  The children are fed, and the dogs eat the crumbs from the table.  When the Lord breaks the bread for his children, inevitably delicious crumbs fall to the ground.  God feeds everyone physically – “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:45).”  But also spiritually.  You might prepare a hearty Bible study meal for your students, and some who overhear may get a sweet taste in their mouth and come for more.  I read that one time Spurgeon was testing out the acoustics of an assembly hall he was going to preach in, and shouted, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and a maintenance man who overheard it was converted that instant!  God’s children will do good works around the world, and everyone benefits.  The lowliness of a dog means that you can be in any state, rich, poor, strong or weak, happy or sad, no matter how near or far you are, you can turn to the Lord.  And even his crumbs are enough to satisfy.  We saw that after the feeding of 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two fish, that there were 12 basketfuls left over of bread and fish – these were just the crumbs!

So yes, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.  What gave her such wisdom, and faith not to be discouraged but to press on even harder in her prayer?  It was because she saw her great need, and found a great Savior.  The agony of her daughter is still fresh in her mind.  She saw the destructive and demoralizing power of Satan at work in her daughter, and she looked for relief.  In this way, she didn’t care if he called her a dog, a pig, or a cockroach – he has the power, and only a tiny bit of it was enough to save.  Of course, Jesus did not mean to insult, but expressed truth, a difficult truth, in the language they were familiar with.  To have this kind of humility and persistence in prayer, we need to see how deep our sin is, and we need to see how helpless we are in it.  Jesus gave us a glimpse of this in last week’s passage – “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)”  These things are like toxins, eating us from within, causing us guilt, grief, shame and pain.  We are worse than dogs, worse than house dogs even, because we do these things to each other as well.  But is being a child (in the sense of this passage) any better?  Jesus offered them the bread of life, but they reject him.  These children of God were plotting to kill Jesus!  Child or dog, Jew or Gentile, both are equally sinful and equally undeserving, but Christ, who is rich in grace and mercy, came to save!  He came for this very reason, to destroy the works of the devil.  He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isa 53:5).  On that day when he was wrongfully accused, and mocked and shamed by his own people, though he did no wrong, he did that on our behalf, so that God might count our sins against him, and credit his perfect righteousness to our account.  He came to fulfill the Law, God’s Law, perfectly, so he did everything for us, on our behalf.  He took our sin for us, and he fulfilled God’s Law for us (meaning, He lived a perfect life not breaking a single Law).  He came so that he could pay for our sins by his death on the cross, and then after doing so, He could give to us that righteousness, that perfect fulfillment of God’s Law, that He earned.  We receive this righteousness by faith in Him.  We need to look to Jesus, and trust in His Person and His Work – He is our Lord and Savior.

We see the fruits of faith in the last two verses.  Look at v.29, “Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’”  We can tell by these words, “for such a reply,” that Jesus was pleased and praised her response.  He acknowledged that it was a good response, “even the dogs eat the crumbs,” because it revealed a humble faith in Christ.  Heb 11:6 tells us without faith it is impossible to please God, and we see here God was pleased with her faith.  Jesus grants her all that she asked – the demon has left her daughter.  Can you feel the power and authority in those words?  Jesus did not so much as get up, but he told her then and there, the demon has left.  How did he know?  Because He is God, and the power of His word made it so.  He did not have to go to the demon, however far away it was.  He just said it, and it happened, instantly.

Verse 30 shows us faith in action – “She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”  She took Jesus at his word, and went home.  There was no asking him to go to her home or leave where he was, she believed, and left, and found things just as Jesus had said.  She found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. What a relief!  The woman must have praised and thanked God, when she saw her daughter at peace.  Jesus has authority over demons, and though he was sent first to the lost sheep of Israel, he happily obliged to minister to a Gentile woman who believed.

We can learn a lot from this Gentile woman.  We can learn her faith, which she was highly praised for.  Heb 11:1 defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Jesus is not here on earth physically, but His Holy Spirit is everywhere, and though we cannot see Him, we can trust in His power.  She demonstrated modesty, in asking only for crumbs.  So Jesus’ grace is sufficient for us.  We also saw her persistence in prayer – she felt her need for a Savior, and did not stop praying for what she needed until he granted it.  We saw the woman’s humility - she owned up to being a dog.  We should own up to our sins.  However, something remarkable also happened the moment she uttered those words, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  Though she acknowledged herself as a dog under the table, Jesus actually made her a child of God, and lifted her up to sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We may be living our lives worse than dogs, but when we turn to Christ, he makes us, he changes us, he transforms us, he gives us the very right to be called children of God, and when we get to heaven, we will dine at the table together with our Lord and with all of our brothers and sisters in a great heavenly banquet.  The Master is not far from any one of us, and he reminds us that we are all at his feet.  We can have a seat at the table if we turn to him, and we don’t need great faith, for even faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.  This is such an encouraging fact!  By faith, Jesus can change us from a dog who is under the table, to a child who sits at the table.  He came to restore and reconstitute a new Israel – and who are the citizens of the new Israel?  It is everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ, even this Gentile woman, even all Gentiles, all Jews and Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus become children of God.  The new Israel is the true church.  Paul writes in Gal 3:26-28: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

We learned today that even the dogs eat the crumbs – but how powerful and how satisfying are those crumbs when they are the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Even the tiny piece of bread we eat, and the little cup of juice we drink washes us clean.  His grace, his marvelous grace is sufficient, time and time again he has helped me perfectly in my need, even as my life has gotten busier, He gives me grace to serve Him and my family, ministry and work.  What wonderful grace is contained in every crumb, that even the dogs that eat the crumbs will be blessed, and be lifted up from under the table, to be seated at the table as children of God.

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