The Other Side - Matthew 15:21–39

You’ve probably heard the old phrase, “the wrong side of the tracks.” One definition says, “The expression alludes to the fact that when a railroad ran through a town, it often divided the prosperous neighborhoods from the poor ones. This division was a common occurrence in the development of America. The train tracks either drew lines that separated folks or marked the lines of separation that were already there but unmarked. Over time, the people on the so-called “the right side of the tracks” are less and less willing to go to the other side. This is the nature of people, and it was the case even in the first-century Roman Empire during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.

The Other Side - Matthew 15:21–39

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This section of Matthew’s gospel highlights this reality, that we are naturally less sympathetic to those on the other side, who are not like us. But Jesus crossed over to the other side to save those not like him. And because Jesus went over to the other side, and, in fact, he is still doing so today, his followers must be willing to join Him in crossing man-made boundaries to minister to those who are not like us. We should be willing to go to the other side with God.

Matthew’s gospel was aimed largely at the Jewish Christian community. And so, he begins, in Matthew 1, with the genealogy of Jesus. Jesus’ family tree was important to ethic Jews. It showed that Jesus descended not only from Abraham, but from their great king David. Matthew also fills his gospel account with OT quotes about the coming Messiah. As a result, Jews were able to see that Jesus adequately fulfilled each Messianic prophecy. And Matthew describes how Jesus corrected the wrong teaching about the law of Moses, the laws given in the OT which were the bedrock of their nation. This too was aimed especially at the Jews.

But in this chapter, Matthew addresses something else that held special meaning for the Jews. They needed to understand that God’s covenant with their beloved Father Abraham guaranteed the blessing of not only the nation of Israel, but for all nations. The family of faith, Revelation 7 says, would be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes,” clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Every ethnicity - one Savior, one faith, one love, one hope, one family of God. Here in Matthew 15, Jesus goes over to the other side of the tracks, and we see examples of what he is still doing today on the other side - things we must join him in doing.

But what is God doing on the other side? Three things we see in the passage of Scripture,

which you can find listed on pages 6 and 7 in the Worship Guide. God is calling His people to the other side, glorifying His name on the other side, and pouring out His compassion on the other side. So let’s look together at each of these.

Jesus and the disciples go to Gentile country, “to the district of Tyre and Sidon.” This likely is not striking to you because you probably are not familiar with the map. But for a Jew, this was “the wrong side of the tracks.” In fact, Matthew says that Jesus encountered “a Canaanite woman from that region.” “Canaanite” is distinctly OT; Interestingly, the word is used nowhere else in the NT. It refers to the ancient enemies of the Israellites, the people who had occupied the land

that God promised to give to Israel. They worshipped false gods. Fast forward to the ministry of Jesus, and the people living there were distinctly non-Jewish in their ethnicity, religion, and culture. These people were viewed as dirty, hopeless, godless.

But there was historical precedent for the work of God in this geographical area. God had done something significant in that place before. 1 Kings 17 in the OT, God sends the prophet Elijah there, when, as judgment on Israel for their idolatry, God removed His Word from them in the person of his prophet Elijah. God spoke during that time through Elijah, and the people rejected him, so he told Elijah to leave Israel. And he sent Elijah to Sidon, to Canaanite country, and Elijah brought a blessing to a non-Israelite widow and her son who were natives there.

See, God cared for those on the other side and sent his servant to them. In a similar way, we see Jesus here bringing a blessing to a non-Israelite woman, perhaps a widow. And though she is not a Jew, notice how the woman speaks to Jesus. Verse 22 says, she “was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” Who is King David to her? As we read her dialogue with Jesus, we see that she knows something of Israelite history and of the Messiah. She says to Jesus, “my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” She needed the supernatural help that Jesus had given to so many people already.

But Jesus does not respond at first. He lets his Jewish disciples respond. Verse 23 says that they “begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” They are not sympathetic. More like annoyed. But notice the way Jesus responds now. Verse [24] He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He may seem, at first glance, to also be unsympathetic. But what he is saying is true.If you trace out the ministry of Jesus, all the way from his first miracle to cross, Jesus does not launch the full-on ministry to the nations while he is on earth. You might say he dabbles; he does set an example by ministering to them here and there. No one can say that Jesus rejected Gentiles, which is important. But in the plans of God, the Son of David began with the people of David.

And yet, here is this woman, not a Jew, who believes in the eternal king who will descend from David. And she is persistent. Verse [25] But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Jesus has done two things to this point: he has been silent, and he has stated a fact. But he has not rejected her.

Now look at verse [26] he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” Back in Matthew 7, Jesus made a similar statement. He said, [6] “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Jesus told his disciples this to help them discern when they should move onto the next person or town with the gospel. Not everyone would believe, even among the Jews. Just because people went to the synagogue and kept the rituals did not mean they truly believe. Jesus just pointed out in the first part of Matthew 15 that rituals don’t make you clean because rituals cannot take away sin. Those who would reject the gospel would remain unclean in the eyes of God.

So again, Jesus states a fact, but notice: he has not rejected the woman. But still, she persists. Verse [27] She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Apart from the Lord Jesus, could you find greater humility in the Scriptures than this? Psalm 123 says, [2] Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us. What this woman displays is sincere faith - the assurance of things hoped for - and no, the world does not understand it or appreciate it. In fact, they mock it. But not Jesus. Verse [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.

In 1785, in England, there was a meeting of ministers. At that point in history, the era of modern missionary work as we know it today had not yet begun. One young pastor present at the meeting was invited to propose a topic for the pastors to discuss. And he proposed his understanding of the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28 - that making followers of Jesus all nations was the obligation of all believers. At that time in England, that was not a popular belief. Many had wrongly understood the biblical doctrine of election as a reason not to boldly share the gospel with people.

But some rightly saw that the doctrine of election does not squash evangelism; rather, encourages us and gives us confidence as we do it, because we know for sure that God will certainly call His people to himself. One senior minister disapproving called that young pastor a “miserable enthusiast,” and in an effort to stomp out his evangelistic zeal, the elder minister arrogantly said, “When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.” In other words, “if God wants to save someone on the other side, he will take care of it. We don’t need to be involved. So just calm down, son.”

Those harsh words might be enough to discourage many young believers. But they were not enough to discourage that young pastor, a man named William Carey, who today is widely-considered the father of modern missions. Carey knew that God was calling His people to the other side, and for Carey, the other side was India.

We are called to carry the gospel to people. Jesus models it here. Yes, God can reveal himself in dreams and other ways if he chooses, but God ordains not only the ends but also the means to the ends. And most often, folks hear the gospel and trust in Jesus Christ through God’s people. Why? Because God has people on the other side who will believe. Just like this Canaanite woman.

Let me ask you, are you as persistent as her? Are you persistent when God is silent? Are you persistent when God hasn’t specifically promised to do exactly what you’ve asked for? Are you so faithful? There is true faith on the wrong side of the tracks, among the dirty and the hopeless, that would put the so-called faith on the so-called right side of the tracks to shame.

Listen closely: we are all hopeless causes apart from mercy and grace of the living God. Your “side of the tracks” is irrelevant.

Now in these next verses, Matthew moves from the faith of one person on the other side to a whole crowd. Jesus is still in Gentile country, “beside the Sea of Galilee.” He went up on the mountain and sat down there. And verse [30] says “great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them.” Jesus bestows on these Gentile people the blessings that the Messiah would bring, as described in Isaiah 35 in the OT. Blessings not only for the Jews, but for all nations.

Verse [31] says that when the Gentile crowd saw the supernatural works of Jesus, “they glorified the God of Israel.” This language is further evidence that these were people on the wrong side of the tracks, in a land where pagan gods were the norm. But these people “glorified” or “praised” Israel’s God. They praised Yahweh, the one true God, the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They glorified the God of David. Who would have thought that Jesus would find true faith over there?

In Acts 18, when the apostle Paul is in the city of Corinth, Jesus tells Paul not to fear, “for I have many in this city who are my people.” Jesus was talking about Gentiles there who had not yet professed faith in him. They were like Gentiles Paul had preached to in the city of Antioch,

Paul quoted the prophet Isaiah to them, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” And listen to how these people on the other side responded: when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. God was glorifying his name on the other side. And he still is. Would you follow God to the other side if he called you? If not, it says a lot about your faith and your heart. Notice these final verses.

The crowd stayed with Jesus for three days. Similar to the Jewish crowds that came to him. This next event looks familiar, doesn’t it? Notice in verse 32, Jesus says he has “compassion” on the crowd. Matthew uses this same language when stating that Jesus was moved deeply within when he looked out on a Jewish crowd and saw that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus was moved deeply with a desire to feed these Gentile people. Interesting response from the disciples, verse [33], they “said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?”

It seems that the disciples don’t think that Jesus will do for this crowd what he did previously for a Jewish crowd. That may have been the case, and also, there was likely still some unbelief in the disciples, what Mark calls “hardness of heart.” Not only has Jesus healed Gentiles, but notice here that he is bringing them, like the Jews, to his banqueting table. The Jews had been instructed in the law of Moses to no longer have table fellowship with the other nations. This is why God restricted them from eating certain foods. But that was not intended to be the rule of life forever. Ultimately, fellowship at the Savior’s table is for all people. In Revelation 3, Jesus says, [20] Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Jesus was pouring out his compassion on the other side. And he still is today.

When come to break bread today with the Lord at his table, we should remember that we were on the other side. I don’t see many ethnic Jews here today. Jesus humbled himself, and became like us in order to come and save us from sin and death. If you are born again - if you know and enjoy peace with God - it is only because Jesus came to the other side, bringing glory to his name and pouring out his compassion on a lost person like you.

If you have not been born again, is Jesus calling you today? You must understand that he is your King. The King left his throne to come to you with terms of peace. He offers to take away your sin and shame and give you his righteousness. You should accept his terms; because one day, it will be too late. One day, every knee, every tongue, every nation will bow before him. Let’s pray together.