These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, teaching points, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Matthew 15:21-39 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Teaching Points
I. The Canaanite Woman (21-28)
II. Jesus Heals More People (29-31)
III. Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand (32-39)
I. The Canaanite Woman (21-28)
What do you know about the cities of Tyre and Sidon?
What can we learn about this woman from verse 22?
What can we learn about her attitude toward Jesus?
Why did Jesus not reply to her?
What did His disciples want Jesus to do? Why do you think Jesus did not send her away, but instead engaged with her in conversation?
Who is Jesus answering in verse 24?
Why did Jesus not help her the first time? What does He mean with the answer that He came only to the lost sheep of Israel?
What can learn about the woman from her reply?
Was Jesus being rude when He said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs?” How did the lady respond to this?
What did Jesus do finally? Why do you think He didn’t heal the child immediately?
Are there any lessons we can learn from this passage? How about related to prayer? How about related to perseverance?
Revelation 7:9 – People from all nations and tongues will be saved.
Isaiah 49:6 – Israel was intended to be a light to the Gentiles.
Matthew 3:15 – Jesus did certain things so that “all righteousness would be fulfilled.”
Luke 18:1-8 – The persistent widow.
Ephesians 6:18 – Keep alert with all perseverance making supplication for the saints.
Romans 12:12 – Be constant in prayer.
- Tyre was a Gentile city, which became part of the Roman Empire in 64BC. It sits on the ocean and acts as a major harbor for that area. Tyre and Sidon were locally rather important cities throughout Old Testament times. Hiram was the king of Tyre and floated cedar trees down to Joppa for building the temple. Tyre largely withstood Nebuchadnezzar’s 13 year attack on the city (since it was an island fortress.) Later Sidon would welcome Alexander the Great, but Tyre refused to let him in the city. Alexander used dirt and other items to build a causeway into the sea, then breached the walls and defeated it thoroughly after only seven months. After this point Tyre would lose its influence. This was predicted in Ezekiel 26 and 27 and was fulfilled. During Roman times Tyre regained some of its affluence and Sidon was a relatively free and prosperous city. Both of these are still populated today.
- A Canaanite woman came from that region – The area was occupied mostly by Gentiles. Though she was a Gentile, she expresses significant faith in Jesus, referring to Him as Lord and also by His Messianic title, Son of David. In addition, she asks Jesus to have mercy on her, thus acknowledging that she does not deserve His help.
- But He did not answer her a word – Jesus does not immediately reply to her. Naturally, we would ask, why wait? We must realize that Jesus is omniscient. He knows what He is going to do. From the beginning he plans to heal this child. However, it appears that He wants to test this ladies faith. It is to her benefit (and perhaps the surrounding peoples’ benefit) to have to persevere in her request before receiving an answer. It is also beneficial to the crowd and the disciples to see her persistence and faith. Application: God does not always answer our prayers right away. He may require us to wait to receive what we want. The reason is not that He enjoys making us wait. Rather, the process of waiting can be very beneficial for us. We can learn many lessons while waiting with the right attitude. What kind of lessons? A parent may often not give a child what they want immediately because he wants his child to learn patience or to learn to appreciate it more. The modern day curse of instant gratification has caused people to become discontent and spoiled, while destroying their attention spans.
- The disciples ask Jesus to send the woman away – The disciples were annoyed by her behavior. To them, she was like a pest. Her behavior and perhaps her ethnicity annoyed them. Application: Like the disciples, do we too sometimes lack compassion and seek to send “problem people” away instead of helping?
- Jesus did not send her away – Here we can perhaps get a clue of Jesus’ intention to finally grant this ladies’ request. He does not send away the woman like the disciples ask and like He could have done. Why not? It seems that the only reasonable answer is that He fully intended to do what this lady requested, AFTER she and His disciples had learned the lessons He wanted for them. The fact that Jesus would even engage with her and finally grant her request shows us that he was not racist or rude as some suggest when looking at what Jesus said about her.
- “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” – Luke 10. Jesus sends His disciples to the villages of Israel. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. He was the Jewish king. He was the fulfillment of many of prophecies given to the Jewish people. His first and immediate mission was to the Jews. We know that His end vision for the world is saved people from all tribes, peoples, and tongues. This long path which would end in this goal first took Jesus to the Jews. Everything has its purpose and its time (Ecclesiastes 3.) We know that Jesus’ earthly ministry was primarily focused on the Jews. Then His disciples, who were Jews, would be sent out to the Gentiles. But we also see Jesus’ compassion for the Gentiles, whom He helps and heals on several occasions. Here He wants His disciples to learn to be mission focused on what God has called them to do, while also showing compassion and going beyond that mission when it is necessary to do so. Application: What is the mission God has given to you? Do you know who you are sent to or what you are sent to do? If not, you need to prayerfully evaluate your calling through the lens of Scripture and the wise advice of godly friends and try to ascertain what God is calling you to do. Once you think you know start doing it and allow God to shift your direction a bit if necessary. But if you are not moving, you will not reach it and you will not be able to easily change direction! Are you wholeheartedly focused on this mission? Jesus did not let things, even good things, distract Him from His mission. Do you let unimportant, worldly things distract you from the mission God has given you? Are you getting closer to accomplishing your mission each month, each week, each day? Are you actively working toward it?
- The woman is persistent – She is a great example of perseverance. Though she is seemingly rebuffed at the first attempt, she keeps at it. If she had given up on the first try perhaps she never would have seen what Jesus would do for her daughter. Matthew 7:7. Later in verse 27 we see that she persists again in her request even after it looks like she was refused the second time.
- It is not good to throw the children’s bread to dogs – People naturally question if Jesus was being rude to this woman. It is natural question, because in our modern day culture and the English language usage it does appear to be that. In fact, Jews did rudely refer to Gentiles as dogs during the time of Jesus. However, the word they used was “kuon,” which was used to un-spiritual people or unclean animals. The word Jesus used was “kunarion,” which is the word used for small dog or a pet dog. It is more of an endearing term more similar to our usage of the word “puppy.” Jesus is simply using terms which they would understand to explain that His mission was focused on the Jews. Remember that Jesus was extraordinarily busy. Thousands of people followed Him around. They came with constant requests, questions, and favors. He legitimately had very little time available. As such, His obligation was first to His own “clients” or His own “patients.” At the same time, I believer Jesus was testing/challenging her faith like He often did with people. He wanted her to keep persisting until she got a favorable response. And His final agreement to help her proves this.
- Verse 28 – Jesus finally agrees to heal her daughter. And she is healed immediately. This text is not clear, but in Mark 7:30 it tells us that the daughter was left at home and when the lady returned (having believed Jesus’ word) she found out that the daughter had been healed just as Jesus said. Jesus found the perfect solution to this problem. He taught His disciples compassion even for “problem people” outside of their mission. He taught this lady the importance of persistent faith. He healed the girl who was tortured by this demon. And he was not distracted or pulled away from his primary mission, which was preaching to the Jews.
II. Jesus Heals More People (29-31)
How did Jesus meet these crowds again (they followed Him up the mountain?)
Did He send them away so He could rest?
What did He do?
How did the people respond?
How can you glorify God and how can help the people around you glorify Him?
III. Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
Some of the below notes are from the parallel passage in Mark 8.
How is this story similar to the feeding of the five thousand? How is it different? Are there any additional insights/lessons you can learn from it? Compare and contrast the disciples’ attitudes in Mark 6 and here.
- This was likely in Decapolis (Mark 7:31), which was primarily a Gentile region. This is the same region Jesus healed the man possessed by legion. Because it was a Gentile region, we see God’s grace and Jesus’ ministry extended beyond the Jews.
- It is likely that many of the people coming heard about Jesus from that man and now had an opportunity to meet Jesus for Himself. It seems Jesus was following a similar strategy as Paul did later, which is to visit places, preach and teach, and then go back again for more encouragement and follow-up.
- Once again, Jesus’ compassion is highlighted. The people had mostly not eaten for days. Obviously Jesus’ teachings were very powerful, which made them want to keep staying and listening to Him.
- The disciples still didn’t seem to get it. You would think they might just immediately say, “Here’s some bread. Do another miracle like last time.” This idea was so foreign to their normal human logic that none of them said this and perhaps even thought about it. While it is only two chapters apart, we are not sure how much time has elapsed. If a month or two or more had gone by that could also help explain why they didn’t immediately think about it.
- The crowds were commanded to sit on the ground. No record is shown of an explanation. They needed to obey without necessarily knowing why.
- This time, there were seven loaves and a few fish. The exact number is not important. What’s more the fact that a different number is reported each time shows us that the number is real (and not an allegory) and that the reporting and writing is very accurate and precise down to the simplest details. Each loaf then needed to feed about 600 people (not counting women and children) and then fill up a very large basket (the word means something like hamper, which a person could fit into).
- Jesus blessed the food again, reminding us of the principle of giving thanks before eating.
- People ate, were satisfied, and there was lots leftover. His miracle was more than sufficient. It was abundant.
- Jesus knows our needs.
- He can abundantly supply our needs.
- We have a responsibility to obey His commands even when we don’t know why and trust that He has a good reason for them.
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