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Walther on Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28

by pastorjuhl ~ February 22nd, 2010

The first kind of struggle which God wages against the Christian is, as we see from the Syro-Phoenician woman, usually temporal distress. If not always bodily torment by Satan then at least it is other bodily misery, be it one’s own sickness, or the sickness and death of a loved one, poverty, loss of one’s good name, the revelation of the faithlessness and falseness of friends whom one trusted, and all manner of other sorrow and misfortune. Far be it that God should keep those miraculously who are converted. It happens very often that as soon as a person leaves the world and becomes a true Christian nothing prospers; everything fails; it appears as if God were against him in everything and were his enemy from the time that he became a Christian. God’s Word says expressly, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:25). And again, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Such bodily afflictions, however, are the easiest struggles which God wages with his Christians. In the Syro-Phoenician woman we see there is still another, a more difficult struggle. God often does not answer the prayers of a Christian in trouble. He is silent. The distress not only continues but becomes the greater the more earnestly the Christian prays. The children of the world are often quickly freed from their trouble; they murmur against God, rage, and curse, while the Christians who in their misfortune take refuge in God often sink only deeper and deeper.

And at times God is not satisfied even with this. As Christi at first not only said nothing to the woman’s cry for help, but when He finally spoke uttered only angry words; as He said when the disciples interceded, that He was not sent to the heathen, yes, compared the woman to a dog to whom the bread of the children did not belong, so Christians often experience the same thing. Severe temptations of the soul often accompany the cross. God takes away all feeling of comfort. Their heart condemns them and says that they are sinners of whom God wants to know nothing; they are not elect but rejected; they do not belong to the children of the kingdom but to dogs of whom it is written that they are outside.

Whereas the godless suppose that they sit in God’s lap, whereas they stand as firmly as a palace and are scarcely frightened of hell, God on the other hand often acts toward one of His real children as if He had rejected them. You see, this is the way in which God struggles with Christians.
On what did she base her petition? She said, “Have mercy on me.” She did not base her prayer to be heard on the claim that she deserved it because of her faithfulness in the midst of heathen but only on Christ’s mercy. When she called Christ “Lord” she means to say: I know that you can help me; and when she says to Him, “Son of David,” she means to say: I know that you will help me also, for you are the Savior and Redeemer promised by the prophets….The woman did not admit defeat; she simply fell down before Christ and said, “Lord, help me!” She means to say: I will not search into nor dispute concerning God’s secret eternal counsel, whether I am elect or not. It appears as if I do not belong to the elect. But what do I care about appearances? I cling to the Word which offers grace to all sinners without exception. What, however, di she finally do when Christ assailed her even more fiercely and angrily…? She did two things. First she acknowledges the truth of Christ’s words; secondly, she availed herself of Christ’s own words. She says, “Truth, Lord.” She means to say: You are right. By nature I am a heathen. I am like a dog which can lay no claim to the right of a child. But at the same time she takes Christ at His own words and adds, “Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” She intends to say: You have not called me a child of the devil but a dog. So at least you mean to grant what one gives a dog, a little crumb of your grace which falls from the table of children. And behold! Christ was taken in His own words. He was conquered. Therefore, He cries out, “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”

There, my friends, you see in this example how Christians can be victorious over God Himself. The art of their warfare is very simple. 1. Patience and humility; 2. ardent and unceasing prayer; and finally 3. (and this is their chief weapon) a faith which holds firm in God’s Word in spite of their experience and the feelings of their heart.
Alas, many become Christians but as soon as temptation comes they fall like wormy fruit. If God sends them poverty, they do not bear it in patience with prayer and faith, but they become only the more zealous to seek ways, so to say, of becoming rich to spite God. And so instead of being exercised in faith by the temptation, they suffer shipwreck of their faith. Others from whom God takes the sweet feeling of grace, lose their Christian faith instead of learning to cling the more to God’s Word. They again surrender to the world.

Oh, my friends, do not deceive yourselves in regard to your salvation. Do not think that because Christianity preaches pure grace it is a restful and comfortable life. Learn rather that it is a continual struggle, a struggle not only with the flesh, the world, and the devil but with God Himself. Whoever does not engage in this struggle every day but wishes to make the Gospel of grace a comfortable pillow, his entire Christianity with all his Christian air and talk is nothing but an empty pretense. It is a frightening word which Christ says, “Strive to enter in at the straight gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). If many of those will not enter the kingdom of God who actually seek it, what will happen to those who do not once strive for it?

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