This sermon is number 36 in a series of 57
Studies in Mark - Part 36
"A Harsh Lesson In Grace"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2008 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now I want you to turn with me to Mark chapter 7 please, as we continue our studies in this gospel of the Servant of Jehovah. Our title this morning, as we read from verse 24 through to 30, is: 'A Harsh Lesson In Grace' - now, that is what is called an 'anomaly'. Do you know what an anomaly is? It is a deviation from the common rule. 'A Harsh Lesson In Grace' is an anomaly because grace is not usually harsh, grace is accepting, grace is loving, grace is caring - so to describe it as 'harsh' is an anomaly, but it will become clear as we read the story why I have chosen this title, 'A Harsh Lesson In Grace'.
Chapter 7 verse 24 then: "And from thence he", the Lord Jesus, "arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed".
Now if you can remember two Sunday mornings ago, we looked at chapter 7 verses 1 to 23. We learnt there that as our Lord addressed many of the rules and regulations, man-made I hasten to add, of the Pharisees and Scribes, He was really laying down a line of demarcation that was pronouncing null and void the 'clean and unclean' system of the Mosaic law that we find in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, the Torah. What the Lord was doing was, He wasn't just critiquing these extra rules that the Pharisees and Scribes had added to God's law, but He was pronouncing that there was a new age beginning, a new dispensation that would open up God's way of salvation not just to Jews but to Gentiles, in effect the whole world.
At that time our Lord did not explain this radical truth in detail to the crowd, nor to His disciples - and we noted at that study that Peter, who was there in this address in Mark 7, it wasn't until after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came that he came to terms with the issue of the fact that Gentiles could be saved as well as Jews. We read of that in Acts chapter 10, where the Lord gave him a vision on that housetop of all unclean animals that the law of God in the Old Testament pronounced to be unclean and prohibited to the Jew; and the Lord was saying to him: 'What God has called clean, do not call unclean'. He wasn't speaking primarily of the animals, though that is part of the application, He was speaking of how the Gentiles would now be received - because that is what the lesson was the law was trying to teach the Jews: that they weren't to follow the Gentile ways, they weren't to follow the Gentile gods or lifestyles, they were to follow the Lord and His law. But now the Lord was saying that the Saviour would be the Saviour to the whole world.
Of course that lesson was taught to them in the midst of this issue where the Lord was telling them that the heart of the problem was the problem of the heart. That's why rules and regulations, conformity without in a religious ritualistic sense, could not affect the anarchy that was within - because it was out of the heart that all these sinful problems came, and therefore cosmetically doctoring the flesh was no good, something needed to be done in the heart. That was the case for the Jew, and that was the case for the Gentiles - the case for all humanity. It's the case for you, if you're here this morning and you're not saved: religion will do you no good - in fact, it will do you bad if your heart is not changed.
Now what we have here this morning in verses 24 to 30 is the Lord practically demonstrating that the way to God had been opened to the Gentiles. The next three miracles - four including this one - that we see in these next verses of Mark are performed in Gentile regions. The Lord is now going out of His usual remit of ministry geographically, and going into Gentile places and dealing with Gentile people. Therefore, when it says in verse 26 that the woman who is meeting the Lord now 'was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation', it's not a superfluous detail - this woman was a Gentile. She was a Greek, a Syrophenician, which spoke of the fact that she was a Canaanite. Remember that the Canaanites were the people who were driven out of the land in the Old Testament, to give the land to the people of God, the Jews. Now the Lord is dealing with a woman like this, and so there is what we would call a dispensational aspect to this story - now don't let that confuse you, I'll explain it later on - but it just means that something is changing now in how God is dealing with His creation.
Now I have never ceased to be amazed, as I've studied this book, at some of the opening verses of each of the incidents that we have met, because they're wonderful - and very easily we can pass by them to get to the nitty-gritty of the story. We find one of these wonderful verses in verse 24, it says that He 'entered into an house, and would have no man know it'. He entered incognito, but He could not be hidden. I think that's wonderful - the Lord Jesus could not be hidden, the Servant of Jehovah could not be hidden. Now, from whom could the Servant of Jehovah not be hid? We find out from whom in verse 25: 'a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet'. From whom could the Servant of Jehovah not be hid? From a person in need! We've seen that right throughout this gospel, haven't we? The Servant of the Lord has come to meet the needs of the needy, and the Servant always made Himself reachable to those who were in need.
So, even though we will see an unfamiliar harshness displayed by the Saviour here, at least that is the apparent thing that comes to us initially, here's a clue to the secret of understanding this incident: the Servant of the Lord always made Himself reachable to those who were in need. I think that will help you. She was 'a certain woman', Mark says. Now, being a woman, that went against her right away - simply because in those days men, obviously, were favoured to the women in how they were looked upon in society. In those days there was actually a sect of Pharisees called 'the bruised and bleeding Pharisees' - that's an interesting denominational name if we were to coin it today, 'the bruised and bleeding Baptists', 'the bruised and bleeding Presbyterians'. Imagine it, 'the bruised and bleeding Pharisees'! Now, why were they called that? Well, whenever they saw a woman in the street or in the marketplace, they would cover their eyes - so they bumped into everything that was around them when they covered their eyes. This is true! They actually took pride in their bruises and bumps as a sign of their sexual ethic. It's remarkable, isn't it?
So this was a woman, and really it wasn't the done thing for a rabbi to be seen talking or fraternising with a member of the opposite sex. But that wasn't her only problem, her sex; she had a daughter, and her daughter had an unclean spirit. Now imagine this, please, some of you who have daughters or sons, or children, any of you could enter into what it must have been like, in measure at least, to have a child, a little girl, tormented by the power of the devil. Try and conceive in your mind what it would be like to be the mother of such a child, and to look helplessly while your child's body is being pulled apart by the power of Satan. Not only was she oppressed, but verse 26 says she was possessed - because when the Lord healed her, He cast forth the devil out of little girl. So here is a child who was demon-possessed.
So there were a lot of things going against this woman. She was a woman speaking to a man, a rabbi as far as everybody was concerned; and she had a child who was oppressed and possessed by the devil. Now, I don't want to push this application too much, but I do feel that women - even in our society today - are often left to bear the greatest burdens. Whether they be the burdens of family life, the upbringing of children, or when husbands walk out on them - there are various things we could go into - but there are similar circumstances that prevail today in our own society. She was a woman with this child that was destroyed by the devil, but add to this that the disciples were against this woman as well! She was following them and the Lord Jesus, and wanting the Lord to help her, and the disciples were saying: 'Look, Lord, sort her out!', in effect, 'Deal with her because she is getting on our nerves, she follows us everywhere shouting after us! Deal with her so that we can have peace!'.
If that wasn't enough, it seemed that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was against this woman. Yet what I do want you to see, that is another wonderful aspect of these opening verses of this incident, is that it says in verse 25 at the end that when she had heard of Him, she came and fell at His feet. Now that's vital, and you remember this because it will help you in the rest of this exposition this morning: when she had heard of Him - she had heard about His reputation. What was His reputation? He was a Saviour who said: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest', 'Him that comes unto me I will in no wise cast out'. So she had heard about this miracle Man who was healing and teaching, and the common people were hearing Him, and coming and approaching to Him for help, and getting it! When she heard of this in her predicament, with everything against her, she came and fell at His feet. That's beautiful, isn't it? When I thought of that, it came to me - the words of a hymn Joseph Hart wrote, we don't hear it sung too often today:
'I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Saviour,
O there are ten thousand charms.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity love and power.
Let not conscience make you linger' - what a verse!
'Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him'.
She felt her need of Him. She wasn't fit, she wasn't even a Jew - and yet she came, and that was her qualification: her great need drove her to Jesus. Now some of you might have some hurdles to faith in your mind and in your heart, but I would say to you this morning - I believe it's a word from the Lord to you - that if you feel your need of Christ, forget about all those things and just come to Him. Just come to Him!
She heard that this Man was in the country of Tyre and Sidon. Now she probably had tried many other salves to help her problem: quack doctors, exorcists - I don't know what they might have been - but now she had come to the Lord Jesus, as far as she was concerned He was her only hope. Now up to this point we're very familiar with this type of scene: someone in need coming to Jesus, someone in need coming to get help...
'What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear'.
But now we encounter something that is very unfamiliar to us: the Lord Jesus, God, has instructed us to pour out our hearts before Him; and this little woman comes before this Man who she has heard so much about, and she pours her heart out to Him - and what else could she have felt, what would you have felt, except disappointment? She doesn't even receive a word, initially, from the Lord Jesus. Now for that we need to look at Matthew 15: 'He answered her not a word', Matthew says, 'And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us'. All she received from this mighty miracle Man, who was full of compassion supposedly, was a silence - a praying mother, and a silent Jesus. Now imagine this please: here was One who, at least, had the reputation of being able to help; and yet at first, at least, for her it seemed that the One who was able to help her need didn't want to. It's staggering, isn't it?
The disciples wanted the Lord to help - now, I know they wanted the Lord to help her to get rid of her, but even they wanted to help her in a strange sort of way! They were anxious to get rid of her because she kept calling after them. But what does it matter if men, even holy men of God, are for us, if Christ is against us and is silent to us - it doesn't matter. The One who was able to help, it seemed, refused to help. If that was only insinuated in His silence, it seemed to become very clear when He spoke. Now we have to go to Matthew to fill in the gaps here, in Matthew 15:24 He said to the woman: 'I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. So after the disciples said: 'Look, help her so that we can get rid of her', the Lord Jesus said 'I'm not sent to you Gentile people, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'.
Now what was she going to do now? Well, let me ask you: what would you do? I think most of us, myself included, would probably say: 'Well, it's obviously not God's will for my daughter to be healed', and you would go home and give up. In fact, you would even have grounds to say, would you not: 'The Lord has told me, the Lord has refused me, I heard it with my own ears from His own lips' - but did she give up? No! We read that she continued to implore Him, because true need cannot be repressed - because when you're in a predicament like this woman was, there's nowhere else you can go but to the Lord. So if you ever hear anyone say: 'Well, I've prayed about a situation enough already, and so I've decided to stop praying, nothing's happened', the only thing that that indicates, to me at least, is that the burden of their need isn't strong enough to keep them praying. For if you have a need like this woman had, you can't do anything but keep going to the Lord - those with a true need cannot stop! Like this woman, you would rather die at the feet of Christ than stop praying.
So what did she do? Well, she kept praying, in a roundabout way, speaking to the Lord Jesus - but she did a little bit more than that. Verse 25, now in Mark's account, shows us that she came and fell at His feet. Now I know that speaks of worship, but practically what she was doing was stopping the Lord Jesus in His tracks. I hope you can see that. She was becoming a physical obstacle to Him. Now I don't know whether you have ever come to the position in your prayer life where you just don't know what to say any more, you don't know how to pray any more, you become exhausted even for words, and you just cry out. Matthew tells us that as she fell before the Lord as a bundle at His feet, she cried out - Matthew 15:25 - 'Lord, help me!'. Some of you are there right now: you don't know what else to pray, what else to say, other than to cry 'Lord, help me!'.
Now you would imagine we could conclude the story now - how could the Lord refuse such a supplication from such a woman? Well, one writer put it like this: 'We would expect that the greater than Joseph' - remember Joseph, who couldn't control himself when he saw his brothers and he was incognito - 'We would imagine that a greater than Joseph could not control Himself any longer, and must reveal Himself to her. Could He who wept at Lazarus' grave, and who was moved with inner compassion over the multitude, refuse this woman any longer?'. But do you know what happened for her? Verse 27: the more she implored, the more she begged, the more she prayed, the worse it got! In verse 27: 'Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet', it's not fitting, 'to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs'.
Have you ever experienced that? You're praying about something and the more you pray, maybe even fast, things seem to get worse rather than better - and you think: 'What's the point? I'd be better not praying'. In effect, what the Lord Jesus was saying to this woman was: 'My healing power, it's for others, but it's not for you'. Just imagine it! This isn't 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild', that we are used to from the children's storybooks and the hymns, it's very strange to us. She could have pleaded her rights, but the fact of the matter is: she didn't have any. She was outside God's people, as far as being an Israelite was concerned. She hadn't the covenants of God, she wasn't related to God the way the Jews were. So she had nothing to plead before Him, so what did she do? Did she say: 'Well, some Saviour you are!', and turn on her heels? Do you know what she did? Verse 28 says she agreed with the Lord! He said: 'It's not right to give the bread for the children to the dogs', and in verse 28 she says 'Yes, Lord'. Matthew's account says she said: 'Truth, Lord'. She didn't become bitter, she didn't let pride rise its head in her breast, she didn't say: 'Look, I'm no worse than any of the rest of the people that You've been healing', she agreed with Christ! Do you know what that is? That is the attitude of prayer: humbly agreeing with the Lord regarding our own disposition, our own sinfulness, our own unworthiness - and agreeing with Christ as far as everything that God's word says. That is the place God wants His people to be: where they will speak well of God and much to God, even when everything seems a loss to them, even God Himself.
So, if you're in that position, that's where God wants us. That's where Job got to when he said: 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust him'. That's exactly what she did. It seemed that Christ was slaying her, kicking her while she was down, but she held on, she agreed with Him. Now what did she do next? Well, look with me, she didn't give up - what a woman! She held on - now what did she have to hold on to? It would seem very little at an initial glance, but the Lord said: 'It's not meet, it's not fitting, to give the children's bread to dogs' - so she held onto one of those crumbs that, per chance, would have fallen off from the children's table and fallen into the dog's mouth. She hoped that that would be hers. 'Yes, Lord', verse 28, 'yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs'.
Now what had this woman done? She had caught the Lord Jesus Christ by what He said to her! Now we're getting close to the secret of this story. Let me put it in more understandable words: she took hold of Christ in His own words. She never mentioned bread, she never mentioned table, she never mentioned anything related to that - it was He who mentioned it first. He mentioned the dogs under the table, and she grabbed hold of it. Now before I expound that, let me ask the question that should be glaringly obvious to you: is this a different Lord Jesus Christ here in Mark 7 than we find throughout the whole of the gospel records? He certainly seems a bit different, but is He different? Is He different to the Lord Jesus who said to the man, who you remember was sick 38 years lying by the pool of Bethesda - a man, by the way, who never sought for healing, never asked for healing - and this Lord Jesus said: 'Wilt thou be made whole? What do you want? Do you want to be made whole?'. Here it might appear that He just ignores this poor woman, and even refuses her. When He does hear what she's saying, He looks to be reluctant, to be begrudging in His grace and healing toward her.
Now here's the key in understanding this passage, it's understanding what I said at the very beginning of this message: there is a dispensational significance to this event. God is now starting to do something different, not just towards the Jews but the whole world. He's using this woman to teach that very lesson - a new chapter in His ministry is opening up. Up until this point He's been dealing with Israel primarily, now He's going to these Gentile regions. He has been rejected in Capernaum, He has had a delegation - we read of it in chapter 7, the first 23 verses - a delegation of religious hit men coming down from Jerusalem to try and trap Him in how He and His disciples adhered to the law. Now He has drawn a line as far as the Jews are concerned, and He's going out to reach out to the Gentiles.
Many people read this portion and think the Lord is reluctant towards this wee woman. Now that's how it seems initially - and incidentally, that's often how it seems to us, does it not, in our prayers. That's how the disciples read the situation, I guarantee it; that's how this woman, initially I'm sure, read the situation - but the word that is coming to us is:
'Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
There hides a smiling face'.
In fact, I think the opposite was the case - do you know what the Lord was actually doing here? Well, two things you need to know: first of all, see this woman's desire. She desired to invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus to help her in her predicament - so don't miss that. She had a great desire, in her need, to know the grace of God. But verse 27 gives us a glimpse into the Lord's heart, the Lord pointed out: 'I've been sent to the Jews first' - that's right, salvation is of the Jews, the Messiah came from the Jews, all promises of Messiah were from the Jews. He speaks of dogs, and the Jews understood the Gentiles to be dogs - that's how they saw them: unclean, outside the camp of religious ritual cleanliness and acceptance with God. But please don't read in any tone to these verses that is not there! I believe the tone of our Lord Jesus was not harsh, it was not cruel. Here's the way I think He said these words: in an inquisitive manner. What I mean by that is: when He says, 'Let the children first be filled', he's not saying 'Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs!'. I think He said it like this: 'Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs, is it? Is it not?' - it's almost posed, not literally, but with inference as a question to open up these people's minds. All these religious Jews round about, and this little Gentile woman - now you might say: 'You're reading a lot into this'. Well, the word for 'dog' is the word in Greek for 'pet dog', it's not the word used for the 'scavenger', the unclean dog - it's the word used for a little dog that sits under the table, or that lies at the bottom of the bed. It's the word for a dog who has been accepted in the house!
Do you know what the Lord is doing here? He is wanting to evoke, indeed provoke in the minds and hearts of these Jews and even this woman, that God is now reaching out in grace to the Gentiles. That's what He's doing. So rather than shutting the door to this woman, the Lord is leaving the door ajar. He wants them to see that this accepted wisdom that they had taken as an inference of the law of Moses was not the way God was working now. He wanted this woman, by faith, to walk through this open door that He now was opening. It's wonderful, isn't it?
So this story is not about the reluctance of the Lord, it's in fact the antithesis: it's about His willingness. It's misunderstood, isn't it? It's misunderstood like Luke 18:1-8, you know the parable where the Lord was teaching His disciples to pray always and not to faint, and He tells them about an unjust judge and a widow who knocks the door and gets him up, and is continually, importunately, trying to get him to avenge her adversaries - and he says: 'Look, I'm going to get rid of this woman', a bit like the disciples, 'I'm going to silence her, I'm fed up with her, and give her what she's asking'. Then the Lord applies the parable, and we have often this vision of God that He's like that, He's like that unjust judge - that's not what the Lord was meaning. He's meaning that God is the opposite of that. If the unjust judge gave that woman what she was asking for because he was fed up with her, how much more shall your heavenly Father avenge the cries of His own elect, which cry unto Him day and night without ceasing? He is the opposite of all that, He wants to give us our need!
So many misunderstand this event as well. Now you've heard the expression 'Playing the devil's advocate', haven't you? You know what it means: it means to pretend against an idea, to take on a role that you don't really believe in, but to make a point. You understand what it means? Well, here the Lord Jesus is playing the law's advocate, that's what He's doing. He's playing the law's advocate, He's standing in the place of what these religious, self-righteous Pharisees would say, and how they would behave. He wants to show the exclusiveness of the law in order to display the wonderful glory of His grace, as a contrast to it - that He was going to do something new. Ironically, through what seemed to be initially great harshness, the Lord Jesus is inviting this ostracised woman through the open door of His grace.
Now I can't go on any further - I have a lot to say, and I'll say it, don't you worry - but I can't go on any further without saying: have you gone through that door? Have you? It's open for you today. You might have a load of hurdles in your mind and heart that you feel you've got to get over, those aren't in God's mind or heart - as far as He is concerned, the door is open wide. The Lord Jesus was going to Calvary as the Servant of the Lord to lay down His life, to shed His blood for your sins - there's nothing more for you to do, for Jesus did it all. Just come through the door. It would be wonderful if someone here this morning came through that door.
Two things we need to notice from this incident: one, the desire of this woman to receive His grace. You've got to have a desire to receive God's grace - but two, hallelujah, the willingness! That's what the story is all about, not reluctance, the willingness of the Lord Jesus to administer God's grace to all men. The lesson is: God's grace is available to all the Gentiles, all the people who want it! I thought of the words of the hymn:
'From age to age the theme is telling:
Grace is free, grace is free.
From shore to shore the strains are swelling:
Grace is free, grace is free.
When that time shall cease to be,
And faith is crowned with victory,
T'will sound through all eternity:
Grace is free, grace is free'.
That's the main point of this story: God's grace has been made free! The Lord had to behave in this seemingly harsh way to illustrate it in a shocking manner, that all men everywhere, if they repent and believe, will be saved. Now: what made her hold on in spite of the apparent unwillingness of Christ? This is very important - I wouldn't have held on, I'll be honest with you, I would have given up. I'm sure many of you, if not all of you, would have been the same. Well, here, I believe, is the answer to this question: the secret of her holding on was that she had got a glimpse of Christ's heart. You remember that she had heard about Him before, and she had understood the heart of this Man who received sinful men and women, and the outcasts all over Palestine. So she was interpreting His words, even His harsh words, in the light of what she already knew about Him. In other words, she had seen His grace displayed and heard about it before, and so she knew that no matter how harsh these words sounded, there had to be a gracious loophole in them somewhere. There had to be! If this was the same Lord Jesus there wouldn't be no grace for her.
Now there is a secondary point, and it relates to prayer. If we're going to know God's grace in our lives, can I say this: we've got to get to know the Lord's heart. It's alright knowing His word, and a lot of you folk know His word well - and that's wonderful, that's not to be despised - but that's not where it ends: 'Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord'. Gary Culberson said: 'One of the reasons people find it hard to be obedient to the commands of Christ is that they are uncomfortable taking orders from a stranger'. We've got to get to know Him.
So there are many lessons on prayer, and let me leave them with you very briefly. In prayer we come to a throne of grace, don't we? It has been opened up to us by the new and living way of the Saviour. So in this story the Lord was allowing Himself to be caught in His words by this woman, and the Lord still does this. He let us first of all see our impossibility from our side, and then He shows us the possibility from His side. It's not that He's reluctant, He wants us to get to that place where our self-sufficiency is gone, so that we are completely dependent upon Him. As Philip Brooks, the Puritan, said: 'Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness' - not overcoming His reluctance, but laying hold on His willingness. So the lesson for us in prayer in this incident is: God's delays are not His denials. Do you know what they are? God's delays are His encouragements to increase our faith - that's why God is delaying in answering your prayers. He wants to increase your faith. We see that in Matthew 15, in his record of this story: 'Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour'.
Now let me say this, two points: it's significant, first of all, that the two and only two times our Lord Jesus speaks of 'great faith' in the Gospels, it was of Gentiles - the other one was the Roman Centurion. It is also significant that on both those occasions the Lord Jesus healed those that were in need from a distance, speaking of the distance that was between the Jew and Gentile, and the Lord was now going into that space and bringing the Gentiles to God. The Lord is teaching that faith in Him, faith in His word, can span any distance. But often the Lord has to delay, and it might seem that He denies, to increase our faith, to cause us to grow in our faith. You see, the Lord's delays are His way of training us in persevering prayer - so that we get to the point where we can be sure to obtain the answer of the Lord.
Do you know something? For many of our needs, only persevering faith expressed in prayer will avail and bring us the answer - that's why we don't often see as many answers to prayer as we would like, because we're not prepared to importunately persist, and prevail, and persevere in faith. You see, generally speaking, we are a generation of quitters today - there is a generational aspect to that. Things were harder years ago in an everyday sense, people had to strive for their bread, and work with the sweat of their brow for everything they had. Things come a lot easier today, and so this has really become part of our makeup. That striving spirit that was even a human thing years ago isn't the same, and it is identical in the spiritual realm: there are very few people who strive in prayer. Do you know something? Satan trembles when he sees a striving saint upon their knees. I think he has a way of resisting our ordinary prayers at times, we see that in the book of Daniel. He can resist our prayers, but Daniel's victory came because he persevered, and he prevailed! Satan seems to lose his power, like he lost his power in this wee girl in this story, when we hold onto God and won't let go until He blesses.
George Mueller knew all about that. There are many instances in his life we could recite. At one point he said: 'The great point in prayer is never to give up until the answer comes'. He gives an anecdote from his own experience. He says: 'I've been praying 63 years and 8 months for one man's conversion' - 63 years, this is George Mueller, a great man of faith, 63 years and 8 months - 'He is not saved yet, but he will be. How can it be otherwise? I am praying!'. The day came when Mueller's friend did receive the Lord Jesus, but it didn't come until Mueller's coffin was being lowered into the ground - yet it came. Beside that open grave that man, prayed for 63 years and 8 months, trusted Christ at the grave of the man who was praying for him all those years. Persevering prayer won the battle. Mueller's prayer saw success just for four simple words: he did not quit.
What is the Lord teaching? He's teaching the willingness to give His grace. What is He teaching? He's teaching the need for us to desire enough to surrender ourselves before God in importunate, persevering, prevailing prayer - to realise that any delays to answer our prayers, and seeming refusals, are often tests of our faith for us to grow stronger, and pray harder, and see greater wonders done for Almighty God's glory.
It almost seems too good to be true, doesn't it? But the saints of God of old have testified to it, I'll leave you with one quote of the great missionary Adoniram Judson - listen to these words, these are profound: 'I never prayed sincerely and earnestly for anything, but it came at some time'. Now there's qualification there: sincerely and earnestly - and, of course, he was praying according to the will of God, not against it. 'No matter at how distant a day, somehow', he goes on, 'in some shape, probably the last I would have devised it, it came'. Grace receives us, and we must continue to receive that grace even in the midst of seemingly answered prayers that we think are God's refusals.
There's a hymn I introduced the folk to here on a Thursday night, and we're going to sing it. It goes like this, just listen to it:
'Unanswered yet? The prayer your lips have pleaded
In agony of heart these many years?
Does faith begin to fail, is hope departing,
And think you all in vain those falling tears?
Say not the Father hath not heard your prayer;
You shall have your desire, sometime, somewhere'.
Let me just say: I feel I have to qualify what I have said this morning. There are certain circumstances where, in God's sovereignty, He doesn't give us what we are asking, because it's not according to His will. There is often a mystery in that, we cannot understand why He doesn't. So there are things like that in our lives, I'm not suggesting that those can be necessarily overcome by our prevailing - but what I will say is this: those, I think, according to Scripture, are the exception rather than the rule. When Paul came and said: 'Lord, take this thorn away from my flesh', three times he said it, he prevailed; the Lord said, 'No, my grace is sufficient for thee' - that is the exception, the rule is 'Ask, and it shall be given unto thee; seek, and ye shall find'. So there are many circumstances, perhaps, we have surrendered to, and said: 'That's the will of God' - but what we need to do is prevail more, and pray more.
Father, say to folk what You are saying, and unjumble any confusion that might be in folk's minds from what is a very difficult passage of Scripture that confronts us with things we're not used to seeing in our Saviour - and yet, He brings to us in such a graphic way things that we need to hear this morning. People who are here without Christ, the door is open and they can enter in now by a simple act of faith. Yet all of us, Lord, have a new and living way to come to, to find grace and help in time of our need. May we all enter in, may we hold onto God until we hear the answer, whatever that answer may be - the answer may be 'No', the answer may be 'Wait', the answer may be 'Yes' - but Lord, let us hold on until we hear Your voice. Lord, thank You for Your word, and may it rest in every heart now. We say: 'Lord, increase our faith, and teach us to pray'. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirty-sixth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "A Harsh Lesson In Grace" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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