Have you ever met someone who is persistent? I recently received a call from the website where I ordered some airline tickets for work. The person on the phone told me he wasn’t calling to bother me but he just wanted me to know that I could upgrade my service for a small fee. He was rather persistent to help me in this way. But I still hung up the phone. In today’s passage, we will see two persistent people. One was honored for her persistence while the others were not.
- The healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24-30)
In this first passage, we will see the first persistent person. As we look at the Bible account, consider whether this person was right in being so persistent.
What does it say?
Jesus left his previous place and went to Tyre and Sidon. Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowds but he was unable to remain hidden. A woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon came into the house and fell at Jesus’ feet. This was “an expression of deep respect as well as personal grief over her daughter’ condition.”2 This woman was a Gentile from Syria in Phoenicia. She persistently asked Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus acted as if he didn’t want to heal the girl. He told the woman that the children should be fed first as it is not good to take their bread and give it to the little dogs. But the persistent woman reminded the Lord that even the little dogs under the table eat the crumbs dropped by the children. When Jesus heard her reply, He told her that because of what she said, she could go home because the demon had gone out of her daughter. When she got home, it was as Jesus had said. The demon was gone and her daughter was lying on the bed.
What does it mean?
There is a lot going on in this paragraph. We see Jesus going to a different location to get away from the crowds. We see a non-Jewish woman begging Him for help. And we see the interesting conversation between Him and the woman that eventually led to Him healing her daughter. But amid all the details, what does this passage mean?
It means that Jesus’ reputation had spread outside of Israel.
Tyre and Sidon are cities north of Israel. “Both are now located in Lebanon, with Tyre 20 mi south of Sidon and only 12 mi north of the Israel-Lebanon border.”1 The area was also referred to as Phoenicia. The fact that people had heard about Jesus outside of Israel is evidence that people were talking about Jesus’ miracles all over the place. It is also evidence that there were needs in other places besides Judah and Galilee. The reason Jesus had this reputation was because He actually could heal people who were sick. And that is why His reputation grew and is why people flocked to Him in crowds..
It means that Jesus was not currently focusing on ministering to Gentile people.
Several Bible commentators have mentioned that Jesus went to Phoenicia to get away from the crowds in Galilee. As you may recall, He had wanted the disciples to get away after their ministry travels but the crowds wouldn’t allow it. Hiebert suggests that “He needed relief from the pressure of the crowds as well as privacy in order to have uninterrupted time to instruct the disciples, a work which had been much hindered by the crowds.”4 So when this Gentile woman pushed in and begged for help, it was not what Jesus had intended.
But beyond the unwanted interruption, Jesus seems to indicate that there was more to His refusal to help this woman’s daughter. He used an illustration of feeding children first before giving anything to the family dogs under the table. If you have a dog, you know how eager they are to have anything you will give them while you are at the dinner table. But what does he mean? It seems that Jesus was referring to the Jewish people as children who were the current focus while referring to Gentiles as little dogs who were of secondary importance. His goal was to minister to the lost sheep of Israel at this point and not so much to the Gentiles. It wasn’t that He didn’t care about Gentile people, it was just that it wasn’t God’s time to do so. That time would come later.
It means that Jesus is willing to listen.
Isn’t the conversation between Jesus and this woman interesting? Even after showing her that the Jewish people were His primary focus at the moment, she still reasoned with Him to get help for her daughter. Jesus had told her by means of His analogy that it wasn’t the time for Him to help the daughter of a Gentile. But she was so concerned for her daughter and was so convinced that Jesus could help, that she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Instead, she reasoned with Him that even the little dogs were able to eat the crumbs that fell on the floor. Jesus was willing to listen and must have smiled when he heard that response. Thankfully, He chose to go outside the box of His primary purpose to help this woman’s daughter.
How does it apply?
We should be focused on God’s plan but also be ready for detours.
Jesus made it clear that He was focused on God’s plan and the people whom God had sent Him to. This is a good example for us to follow. When we are faithful to God’s plan, we will be doing God’s will. But we must also be open to detours that God sends our way. While God has brought us together as a church, can we also minister to others outside of it? Most certainly! However, we mustn’t get so focused on our own church, neighborhood, or friends and family that we are not ready when God sends us someone else to talk to.
During a recent airport layover, my wife and I met a man who told us about his odd religious beliefs. At first, I was not very interested in listening. But I later took the time to listen and talk with him about his need for Jesus. This was not what I had planned but it turned into an opportunity to give the gospel and give Bible reasons for why Christianity is the right choice.
We should be persistent in prayer.
The Syro-Phoenician woman’s persistence with Jesus is an example for us to follow. When we are talking to God about something, we should talk as if we are trying to convince God that what we are asking is important. The woman in this story did that. She talked with and begged Jesus to do something for her daughter because it actually was important. We should talk with God about the reasons why He should answer our prayers. But let’s make sure that we are asking something that really does matter. This doesn’t mean that we try to strong arm God into doing what we want. But prayer should be like a conversation. We should consider what God has said in the Bible and then explain to Him why we think He should answer our prayer.
- The healing of the deaf man (Mark 7:31-37)
In this passage, we will see another persistent person (or group of people). As we look through the paragraph, consider whether the persistent people were right or wrong.
What does it say?
Jesus left Tyre and Sidon and traveled through Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and had trouble speaking. They begged Him to put His hand on the man so that he could be healed. Jesus took the man away from the multitude. He then put his fingers in his ears and spat and touched the man’s tongue. Then he looked up to heaven and sighed. Then he spoke to the man the words “Ephphatha” which means “Be opened.” Immediately, the man’s ears were opened and the problem with his tongue was removed so that he could speak plainly. Jesus told the people not to tell anyone. But the more he told them to stop the more they talked about it. The people were astonished at what Jesus had done and proclaimed that Jesus did everything well and noted that he had healed this man of being deaf and mute.
What does it mean?
It means that Jesus is able to heal people.
While the way that Jesus healed this man is interesting and different than usual, this story shows us something about Jesus. If you have not noticed by now, this is more evidence that Jesus was no ordinary man. His ability to cast out a demon earlier and now to heal this deaf man with a speech impediment is further evidence that Jesus is God in the flesh and that He is able to heal people.
It means that Jesus cared about sick people.
There were many times when Jesus shied away from attention. Notice that He took the man away from the crowds and dealt with him privately. But He also dealt with the man. He did this because Jesus cares about people. He cares not only about their souls and relationship to God but also for their needs. He showed this by taking time out of his busy schedule to help him.
It means that Jesus didn’t want attention.
While many people would like to be noticed when they do things, Jesus was not that way. “He wanted to minister in the Decapolis region without being regarded as a popular “Miracle-worker.'”3 He wanted to do God’s will, care for people, and teach the truth. But God’s will was not for Jesus to become popular at this point. Because of that, Jesus didn’t want the extra attention that the people brought to Him. he truly was humble.
How does it apply?
We should care for people and bring them to Jesus.
“Jesus was now in an area where people knew about Him, and when His presence became known, these individuals took advantage of it to bring their needy friend to Him for help. … Except for their active concern, this deaf man with limited speaking ability might never have been healed.”5
We have to remember that what Jesus wants is more important than what we think should be done.
Wen the people acclaimed Jesus as a great healer and told many people about Him, they probably thought they were doing Him a favor. Wouldn’t Jesus want others to know about Him? Wouldn’t Jesus appreciate the attention? Wasn’t it a good thing to be thankful for what Jesus had done? These questions were probably what caused the people to disobey what Jesus had told them not to do. While those actions were meant to do good, they were wrong because they were done against Jesus’ wishes.
We need to do God’s will God’s way. Instead of thinking about how we can do things the way we think is best, we need to consider what God says is best. This is one of the problems in modern Christianity. Many people do things the way they think is best instead of submitting to God’s will as revealed in the Bible. Wouldn’t it be better to find God’s will and obey it instead of rushing ahead with what we think should be done? Yes. It would be good to know and do God’s will even when we think our ideas would accomplish more.
As we have seen in these two paragraphs, there were two people who were persistent. In the first paragraph, the Gentile woman’s persistence paid off. She persistently begged Jesus to heal her daughter and was rewarded for her faith and persistence. In the second paragraph, the persistence of the crowd to praise Jesus (despite his desire for them to stop) was not acceptable. They actually caused problems by disobeying Jesus and doing what He has told them not to do. As you can see, persistence can be good or bad. Let us be people who are persistent in doing what is good but also obedient to do what God says for us to do.
1 “Biblical Cities of Tyre and Sidon”
2 Grassmick 135.
3 Grassmick 136.
4 Hiebert 208.
5 Hiebert 213.
“Biblical Cities Of Tyre And Sidon” as viewed at https://www.biblearchaeology.org/research/divided-kingdom/4180-the-biblical-cities-of-tyre-and-sidon on 1/27/2024.
Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.
Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.