The Savior’s Silence
“But He answered her not a word.”
THE diary of a physician, one would think, must necessarily be deeply interesting. What a variety of cases must come under the doctor’s observation in the course of one year! And some of these must be very strange cases indeed. The details of their cures, if one could understand them, and if the doctor would only translate his hard Latin terms, might be of the greatest interest.
But you need not wish to read them, for you have here, in this Gospel according to Matthew, the diary of the greatest of all Physicians–Jesus Christ–who healed all manner of diseases and who met with cases of the most peculiar and eccentric kind. Our gracious Master always walked the hospital, for the whole world was that to Him and wherever He went, His supreme business here below was by touch, or look, or word to bestow healing on the soul and body. His cures were gratis–this was something to be admired, but He also journeyed to His patients! It is generous when the physician treats freely those who came crowding to his door, but our Master–the Beloved Physician–traveled to the utmost end of His all-embracing circuit that He might meet and bless all who dwelt therein. There were some who lived just over the edge and verge–just beyond the people to whom He was specially sent–and when He touched the borders of Tyre and Sidon, the Syro-Phoenician woman came and shared in the healing reserved for the Jews! This is great comfort for some of us. However sick we may be, it is Jesus Christ’s [Another Sermon by Mr. Spurgeon upon the same text is #2841, Volume 49–PRAYER–ITS DISCOURAGEMENTS AND ENCOURAGEMENTS–read/download the entire sermon free of charge at .] great office to heal–it is Hishonor to lay hold of the sorely wounded and helpless and restore health to them. And if by reason of infirmity we cannot come to Him, He is ready to come to us! And if we will not come by reason of impenitence, such is the force of His love that He comes unasked. Oh, Jesus Christ, Master, able to heal a soul impotent or willing, and to work fresh cures by Your amazing power, come to this great crowd–far mightier than ever gathered round Bethesda’s porch–and let Your healing Presence remain with us tonight!
Let us now come closely to the case before us. It is quite familiar to most of us. It was that of a poor woman whose daughter was plagued and who had come to ask Christ to heal her. In a few pathetic words she uttered her passionate desire. Our Lord was usually ready to answer at once–His generous heart overflowed with sympathy and was eager to gratify the longing soul–but on this occasion, “He answered her not a word.” He went on with His preaching and other works and this needy, distracted woman was apparently ignored–“He answered her not a word.” That is our topic for tonight.
We shall first, then, have a word to say on, The silence of the Savior. Then we shall notice in the second place, thatThough He was silent, He was not unkind. Though the answer was delayed, this good woman was not discouraged, and not denied. Let us think, then, on–
- THE SAVIOR’S SILENCE. Generally, our Lord was like the father in the parable, eagerly on the look-out for the returning sinner, but here He seems distant, reserved–and when appealed to, silent! Usually the tear was waiting to weep in sympathy with those that wept, but now His eyes are strangely dry and His soul seemed not to be stirred by the mother’s earnest entreaty. Generally, there was no need to ask–He looks upon distress and like the Good Samaritan is moved with pity and hastens to help! But here He is sought with tears, entreated with piteous perseverance, yet “He answered her not a word.”
This is more remarkable as we remind ourselves that this woman had a distinct sense of need. There is no vagueness or cloud as to her desire. She utters most precisely the yearning of her heart. She knew what she longed for, and that intensely, and yet–yet she had no immediate answer! Is not this the case with many of you? You need a Savior, have cried to Him for months. That little room can witness the prayers and tears. And since no answer has come, you have said, “It is because I do not feel my need enough.” But that may not be the real reason at all. Repentance is necessary, but much which is called by that name is not true repentance. Terrors of conscience are not repentance–though they may lead to it. And though you may never have been filled with alarm, yet if you are sorry for sin, hate sin and would be rid of it, root and branch, your repentance is genuine. The thing to be enquired of is not quantity but quality. For even deep repentance is not an absolute essential to salvation–
“All the fitness He requires,
Is to feel your need of Him.”
Your repentance may be true and your sense of need, deep, and yet you may have to wait, and wait, and still wait before His peace floods your soul.
Besides this, this poor woman knew where to come for help. She looked at the right door. She asked for “mercy,mercy.” This was her one plea! And if we come to God with any other, we know not who we are seeking, and to whom we are speaking. This woman was deeply humbled with a sense of unworthiness, but she turned even that into an argument for the Savior’s pity, for the mercy of God. I know there are some who fear that because they have not heard, “Your sins are forgiven you,” that they have not come to Christ aright. No! This woman came aright and yet for the present she is kept without a word. If we come to Christ at all, we do come aright. I have often said, “There is no true coming which can be wrong.” “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him.” So if God draws, He cannot draw the wrong way. Looking for the mercy of Christ, trusting the merits of His sacrificial death, then you have come and come aright to the door of mercy! And yet you may for a time not have a word to comfort you.
Yet again, this woman had some clear idea of our Lord’s Character. She calls Him, “Lord.” Her first appeal is,“Have mercy.” Her second, “Help me.” But in both it is to the Lord she appeals. She had some idea of His Deity, His Omnipotence, even more than some of His disciples. Nor need this surprise us. A deep sense of need often reveals to us Christ’s All-Sufficiency. And yet with all this insight into our Lord, “He answered her not a word.” So you may know the Master, sit at the foot of His Cross and view the flowing of the precious blood. Your eyes may be familiar with His marred visage, your faith may have beheld Him exalted on high, and you may have no doubt as to the might of His Deity, the sympathy of His Manhood and yet though saved, may have no joy of salvation! Doubtless you shall never see death, but as yet you have no exhilaration of life.
This woman, too, had a humble but determined faith. Our Lord admired and extolled this, for He said, “Oh, woman, great is your faith!” She had faith before her wishes were granted–and we may have faith that saves and yet have no sweet assurance. There are, I believe, multitudes who have trusted Christ, who are described by the Prophet Isaiah as, “walking in darkness, and seeing no light.” Many there are who, believing, have eternal life, but have not yet entered into the peace and joy that are its fruits. They are saved. They have their title-deeds, but they do not read them clearly. Heaven is theirs, but their eyesight is imperfect and so, “the mansion in the skies” is still in the land of far distances. Christ may have heard you in His heart, without having answered you in your ear! He may have filed your prayer in Heaven, but for some reason He may permit you for a time to struggle without comfort and without light.
Yet once again, notwithstanding all this, she was a soul Christ meant to bless. There was never a question in Hisheart whether He would heal her daughter. He had ordained to give her what she sought–had never for an instant meant to deny it! It had always been stored for her on high. He willed once and for all that she should go away in peace. And so, wearisome nights may have been appointed for you, strong crying and tears–but keep on, for if God has given you genuine faith, He must give you eternal salvation unless He breaks His promises–which He can never do! He must save them who come unto Him through Jesus Christ! Your business is with His command and when you have obeyed, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, then, even if you weep in the dark, your tears will be for your spiritual strengthening!
This was my own case for nearly five years. If ever a soul did pray with anguish, I know I did. I could never rest. God had put the desire after His son into my heart, and I could never rest satisfied until I had heard the Father whisper, “You are Mine.” Some drops of mercy fell, but the next day they were all dried up. Sometimes I seized hold of a promise, but it appeared to melt away in my hands. Though but a child I turned over His Word, seeking for something to suit my case, but nothing would come until God’s appointed day had struck–and then the darkness vanished and light came and I rejoiced in Jesus and the light which only He can give! Many who are ordained unto eternal life, are yet held back, as John Bunyan was, for many a day and even years in doubt and perplexity and trouble! “He answered her not a word.” In the second place we see that–
II. THOUGH THE SAVIOR WAS SILENT, HE WAS NOT UNKIND. He had good reasons for refusing to give her a word. Here is one. It is His delight to put faith to the test. Great kings have always had exploits performed before themfor their pleasure. And in order to prove faith’s mighty power, the Lord God even sends it upon strange errands. He delights to see the daring it can display when relying on His power. He said to it when but a stripling, “Go and cut off the giant’s head!” And faith did it. He said, “Go and conquer the city and destroy it, and rush rejoicing over the ruined walls.” And faith did it. Again He said, “Go, and for My sake enter the burning fiery furnace”–and faith did it and came out unscathed. “Go to the lions' den,” said the king–and faith went and shut the lions' mouths! And our Lord, finding faith incarnate in this poor woman, puts it to the test. Her faith now has to struggle with the King, Himself! Be not alarmed! Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” And she answered, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their Master’s table.” And so the King tests faith and puts the crown upon its head as He answers, “Oh, woman, great is your faith!” So with some of you–seeking Jesus, but not yet finding Him. He knows your faith but He delays comfort to let men see what that faith will do! And when that is done, He will disperse the clouds and fill your soul with rejoicing! I have no doubt the Savior did this, not for His pleasure, but for her profit. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in the youth of his faith. The Spartans would never have been a nation of conquerors if they had not been trained in the school of hardness in their childhood. They had to smart, struggle and sometimes feel the pangs of hunger, that in the day of battle they should never retreat from the strongest foe. So we may have sore temptations to meet before reaching Heaven and He is hardening us. As the florist takes the plants from the hothouse into the open air to harden them, so the Lord removes us from the light and warmth of His loving Countenance and hardens us so that frosts shall not wither us if they come, by-and-by.
The Savior, too, may have had an eye to the onlookers. Towards us who this day are the onlookers upon the fine exhibition of this woman’s faith, surely He had a gracious purpose. Surely He did it that there might be a well of comfort and instruction to troubled souls in ages past, in this age, and in ages yet to come! Who knows? This woman was kept for a time in suspense, for your comfort, poor woman, for you, young man, with your poor despairing soul. “There,” He seems to say, “in this one case I will set an example to all who do not at once get comfort, that they may see that their faith shall yet prevail. If they still believe and continue to plead until I come, then shall the answer be peace.” Jesus was not unkind, even in His silence. The last point for our reverent study is this–
III. THOUGH THE ANSWER WAS DELAYED, THIS WOMAN WAS NOT DISCOURAGED NOR DENIED.
When she could not get a word, she did not go away and sulk, as some professed penitents do, but gathered more boldness. She appears to have come nearer to the Lord, for we read in the 25 th verse, “then she came and worshippedHim.” As if standing in the outer circle, she now pushed through the crowd and came nearer–but not irreverently–shecame to worship. Herein she reads us all a lesson. If we have had no answer to our pleading, do not give up, but go nearerto Christ! Make it more solemnly the resolve of your soul that you have real dealings with Him. Some persons rest satisfied with saying a number of phrases beginning one way, and ending with, “Amen.” I do not like to rise from my knees until I have had assured dealings with the Master. There are fifty words to the air, but it is the one word with the Master which effects our soul’s purpose! Lay hold upon the Cross. Put your fingers by faith into the print of the nails. Thrust your hand in His side and realize that He is really there! And this shall be your way of obtaining true comfort. Nor was this all. When she thus came nearer, she cried more earnestly. The disciples said, “Send her away, for she cries after us."But her cry came to Him with a plaintive pathos in her words. She wept. She cried such a cry as a mother wails out over her dying child! It seemed to hold in it these words, "I must have this blessing! Give it to me or I die, You Son of David! I am not one who speaks with the lips, only–my heart cries to You! Hear a woman’s heart that breaks unless You speak the comfortable words to her.”
Ah, cold prayers will never open the gates of Heaven–you must go and knock, and knock, and knock, and knock again if you would make swing open the celestial portals! You must use the golden knocker not with a languid tap, but with the loud stroke of one who must get entrance, for the cold street of the everlasting storm is already falling and if shut out, there will be “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Remember how powerfully the Savior, Himself, exhorted to this in His parable of the importunate friend who needed bread for his friend who came to him after a journey, and who never rested until he secured it from his neighbor, though he roused him out of bed at midnight to obtain it! Homely is the picture, but notable is the meaning and lesson of it. You must knock, and knock, and knock, and redouble your blows–take Heaven by storm–for as our Lord declared, “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence,” so be numbered with the violent who “take it by force.” The longer you are made to wait, the more earnestly must you pray–and your prayers will yet prevail!
But I want us particularly to notice that the longer she prayed, the shorter became the prayer. You may generallymeasure the worth of prayer by this rule–the longer the worse, the shorter the better. She began, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, You Son of David. My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” That is a good prayer, but the next is shorter. “Lord, help me!” It is just those prayers that win the day! It would be well if we remembered to let our words be few when we come before the Most High. When we get intensely and solemnly earnest before God, we generally have more thoughts than words, more intensity than sentences. Some may say, “I cannot pray at all,” but if God has given you desire for His mercy, you can surely pray, “Lord, help me!” That is not too long for memory or for time. “Lord, help me!” You can pray that before going to work in the morning, pray it at night, however late you may return. Some say the Lord’s prayer, but I beg you not to do so if unconverted. How can you say, “Our Father,” unless you are saved and belong to the family of God? What right have you to call Him, “Father,” unless you have passed from death unto life? Use it when the Spirit of adoption is yours, but not until then! This is an infinitely better prayer for you, “Lord, help me!” It makes no profession but of helplessness. It confesses, “I cannot help myself. I am most unworthy and most needy. Lord, help me to repent! Break my heart for me. Help me to believe! To keep me from sin. To serve You and to be like Jesus Christ Himself.” I cannot suggest a prayer shorter or more full of meaning.
It was not, however, the prayer, but her faith that captured the heart and commanded the blessing of the Lord! Shewould not let go her hold of Him and she would not take, “No,” even out of His own mouth! She knew He must be true. Now, Sinner, Christ has said, “He that believes on Me is not condemned.” If you believe in Christ you are not condemned. And though the delays to your prayers may seem to say you are condemned, believe it is seeming only, and that He must and will keep His promise to save every sinner that trusts Him! Do not let even your conscience fill you with fear. Would to God you would say, “I will believe that Jesus Christ died for me. I will cast myself upon Him. I am black–I believe that He will wash me. I am foul and evil, but I will believe in Him to create me anew. I have nothing, but I take Christ to be my All-in-All. Here, tonight, I trust Him, just as I am. I trust Him to bring me where He is–to dwell with Him forever.”
If God enables you to do this, depend upon it, your eternal life is sure! God help you thus to pray and believe, and before long you shall go your way and, “according to your faith, so shall it be done unto you.” The Lord dismiss you with His blessing for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.