I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Matthew 15:24
You probably know that Jesus was speaking to a Canaanite (Gentile) woman when He made this statement.
If you read Matthew 15 carefully, I think there is a clue for us to understand the context of this verse that is often misused. It is important to remember that this woman was not only a Gentile but a Canaanite; an immoral race from Old Testament times, that had been marked for destruction because of their utter immorality. But there were survivors.
This Canaanite woman came to Jesus crying, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Son of David” is a Jewish title for Messiah. It isn’t a title that Gentiles would have used and certainly a Canaanite had no right to approach the Messiah Jesus on that basis. Positionally, a Gentile has no claim on the Jewish Messiah.
This was what Jesus was clarifying when He told her that the Jewish Messiah came only for the the sheep of Israel. Just as it had been prophesied.
Of course Jesus was speaking the truth. He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, meaning He came as a Jewish Messiah among Jews to seek and save the lost.
He was not sent as a Roman Messiah to the Romans or as a Canaanite Messiah to the Canaanites. He did not come as a Chinese or an Indian Messiah. He came as a Jew to the Jews! He was sent as the Messiah to “the sheep of Israel.”
He is simply connecting His presence with God’s purpose in Old Testament history. That is what He was telling her. But this does not man that he did not come for Gentiles as well. He came for the whole world. (John 3:16-17)
Even when His disciples urged Him to send the woman away, He did not. He was compassionate for her and wiling to teach her and prove her faith.
How will the woman respond to the test? Will she persist in faith or will she give up and get offended and turn away?
In fact, she understood what Jesus was saying to her and remarkably, she drops the title “Son of David, and “Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25)
“If she couldn’t come to Him as a Jew to her Messiah, she would come to Him as a creature to her Creator.”
William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Matt 15:25)
Not only did she pass the test, she passed it with flying colors!
Jesus answered her, “O woman, GREAT IS YOUR FAITH! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matt 15:28
Jesus praised her for her great faith!
What faith is that? Her faith in HIM!
Not a single time has Jesus refused to help someone who asked Him for healing. You can read it for yourselves throughout the gospel accounts. Not once.
When Jesus said He came only for Israel, that does not mean He DID NOT come for the Gentiles.
If you read the Bible, you will notice that Jesus had NUMEROUS encounters with many other Gentiles as well!
Let’s take a closer look…
A Roman centurion, who was not only a Gentile but a despised foreign power, asked Jesus for healing for his servant.
Did Jesus say: “Sorry, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”?
No. Jesus offered to immediately heal the servant. Jesus even PRAISED the faith of the Gentile centurion!
“Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Matthew 8:10
WHAT FAITH WAS THAT?
Why was Jesus praising a Gentile’s faith if He only came for the faith of the Jews? This means that the Gentile’s faith is valuable in His sight too. And in fact, this Gentile’s faith was even greater than any Jew in Israel, according to Jesus. Faith in who? If you read the passage, you will see it is faith in Jesus!
Another time, in John 4, we see that Jesus going out of His to way to talk to an outcast Samaritan woman.
He spoke kindly to the woman. In the end, the entire Samaritan village came to hear Him and even begged Him to stay with them in their village! Did Jesus tell them: “No, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel?”
No he didn’t. Jesus gladly obliged and stayed with the Samaritans for two days!
“So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.” John 4:40-42
Why did Jesus stay with them? They were not Jews. He stayed with them and preached and taught them and they became believers in Him! Why would He bother with them if He only came for the lost sheep of Israel?
Whenever you see this phrase, “…and Jesus crossed to the OTHER side…” that is often an indication that Jesus was going to the Gentiles. (e.g. Matt 8:28, Mark 5:1)
In the Gentile region of Gerasenes, we read of Jesus’ encounter with a crazy lunatic demon-possessed man. (Mark 5)
They came to the OTHER SIDE of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. (Mark 5:1)
The demoniac comes charging and screaming at Jesus. Did Jesus scream back at the demon-possessed Gentile: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel!”
No. Jesus healed the man and drove out his demons. With his sanity restored, the man asked to follow Jesus.
And Jesus instructs him: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19
Here we have the first Gentile missionary sent out by Jesus Himself! Even Christians miss this fact sometimes!
Why did Jesus bother with this Gentile if He had nothing to do with Gentiles? The man went and spread the message that Jesus gave him throughout the Gentile area known as Decapolis or TEN GENTILE cities!
Decapolis was pagan Greek Gentile region. Pigs were considered sacred there. (This was the incident where Jesus cast out the demons and they went into the pigs and rushed down a steep bank and drowned. The people there were upset and offended. “And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.” Mark 5:17)
The question is why was Jesus there in the first place? What was He doing in a pagan unclean Gentile region? He was there to heal and teach Gentiles! But they rejected Him.
What message did this “Gentile missionary” preach in those cities? The Bible records for us that he went and told everyone what Jesus had done for him!
Was his message effective? Yes!
How do we know?
Some time later, when Jesus came back to this same region, and a huge multitude turned up to hear him! No doubt some of them were there because they had heard the testimony of the formerly demon-possessed, now completely healed Gentile missionary!
In fact, this is when the feeding of the 4000 took place. In the very same Gentile region!
Many of the Gentile inhabitants of this “unclean place” followed Him for THREE days listening to His teachings and having Him heal their sick. Why did He eve bother to teach them for three days? Didn’t Jesus say to them: “Go away! I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”?
No. When they were hungry, Jesus fed the entire multitude. More than 4000 Gentiles. (He did the very same miracle for the Gentiles, that he had done for the Jews when He fed the 5000 Jews some time earlier!)
When Jesus said He came only for Israel, that does not mean He DID NOT come for the Gentiles.
Most Muslims know Matthew 15:24 but not many Muslims know John 10:16
“And I have OTHER sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Who are these OTHER sheep? During His limited three years of ministry, His PRIORITY was the Jews but this does not mean that He didn’t come for the other sheep (Gentiles) as well. The Jewish Messiah came for the lost sheep of Israel but He also had a universal role as well.
“a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)
The mission to reach the Gentiles was entrusted to His apostles as one of His final commandments to them. He had trained them by getting them to preach and teach and heal among the Jews FIRST. Now they were ready for a greater mission.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Did the apostles carry out His instructions.?
In Acts 8, we see that Philip begins preaching about Jesus in Samaria. (Jesus had already begun the work in John 4. Remember the Samaritan woman and how the Samaritan village became believers? The apostles were merely CARRYING ON the work of Jesus.)
Later on, Philip leads a Gentile Ethiopian official to faith in Jesus. (Acts 8:35)
In Acts 10, we learn that Peter himself goes to the house of a Gentile Roman centurion named Cornelius., and his whole family is converted and baptized as followers of Jesus Christ!
In Acts 11, we see the disciples begin preaching to Greeks as well.
So are Gentiles part of God’s kingdom? Yes! God is God of the whole world, both Jews and Gentiles!
Just because God is known by the title “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, does not mean that He is ONLY the God of those three individuals! He is also the God of Lee and Ahmad and Mugabe and Shanthi and Dimitri and Maria and Hitoshi….
“It (the message Jesus’ salvation) is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: FIRST to the Jew, THEN to the Gentile.” Romans 1:16
Revelation 5:9 tells us:
“For you (Jesus) were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from EVERY tribe and language and people and nation”
Read more here.