On whose terms do you live ? It’s a critical question.
In chapter 15 of the Gospel account of Matthew, we find events which illustrate that particular question, and answer it.
We find, for example, Jesus telling the Scribes and Pharisees:
Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition i.e. nullifying God’s ordinance with man’s own ideas about how God should be worshipped. Bending God to suit our conception of him !
Jesus then quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying:
This people draw nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
That is, going through religious motions which do not touch the heart, and in which the self centred heart of man remains unchanged.
In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Man will devise all sorts of religion to appease his instinct that God exists and that he should worship God. But man wants to worship on his own terms, and refuses to accept and live by God’s very clear, simple but challenging terms. As Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples,
those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
Thus Jesus rebukes the Religious who presented themselves as God’s ministers – men to whom is entrusted God’s truth and God’s authority to teach and correct the people.
Jesus was having none of it. God looks at the heart and the substance. If the externals don’t cause us to be honest and straight with God, then they are useless. If the teaching of the religious does not bring us closer to God, then it is useless. Indeed worse than useless, it is harmful.
And that was what Jesus had to point out and correct. God’s ministers must teach and live God’s terms – not man’s.
The final incident we find recorded here in chapter 15 of Matthew’s Gospel is the account of the woman from Canaan who begged Jesus to help her daughter.
This woman was at her wits ends. She had nowhere else to turn. She had heard tell of Jesus and what he could do. So she took herself off to find him.
Please note she did four things, and four things from the heart.
She acted out of love for her daughter – the apostle Paul told the Galatians, faith worketh by love.
Then she put her entire trust in Jesus to help – Paul told the Hebrews, without faith it is impossible to please God.
Even so, Jesus just ignored her !
However, she persisted in appealing to him. That’s the third thing – persistence. She had nowhere else to go. In persisting Jesus then responded, but it was only to tell her that she had no right to his help, and that she was asking for something beyond his remit. He tells her,
I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of Israel.
She still refused to be put off, and worshipped him. Again he tried to put her off, saying,
It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs.
She refuses to be humiliated or offended. Instead, she agrees. She continues by agreeing with his line of reproof but points out,
Truth Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.
At which point, Jesus completely caves in and grants her request, saying
Woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.
The account then says that her daughter was made well from that very moment.
God had responded to the woman’s intercession – ie her prayer on behalf of her daughter. He ceased to oppose her desire and instead now granted it.
Because she totally accepted God’s terms. She did not take offence. She did not insist on her rights ! She did not say God was unjust and unfair. No, she surrendered all her pride and humbled herself before Jesus Christ as God, accepting his terms and his conditions.
God will accept nothing less from any of us.
His terms – not ours.
We must stop being our own god.
If we can surrender and obey God, then we will see the miracle of his gracious and loving intervention in our lives evermore.