Tim's Blog
"Jesus – on the Problem with Leaven" Mark 8:13-21 Matt. 16:5-12
June 20, 2019
Introduction
 
I wonder.  How many of you are fishermen?   My uncle taught me to fish.   He would take me out and show me how to bait my hook.   He showed me how to cast the line out.   He showed me all the best places to catch fish.   He taught me how to take the fish off the hook so that I didn't get stuck and I didn't kill the fish.
 
We had a lot of really good times, setting out there and fishing.  Sometimes, after a hard day of fishing, late in the afternoon we would get really sleepy.   But, there was something else that my uncle taught me about fishing that's extremely important.   Can anyone guess what it might be?   (Sandy never liked fishing because of it.)
 
You have to be quiet!  You can't be talking a lot, especially in a boat because the fish will hear and they won't bite!   Now, I don't know if this is really true, but just about every fisherman I know will testify to the fact that you have to be quiet.   I've seen guys sit there and fish and not say a thing for an hour or more, yet they will say that they really enjoy being there together!
 
Well, the reason I bring this up is that I want for us to go on a boat trip with Jesus.   Now, He isn't fishing in this account, and I don't think His disciples were either.  (It's possible they were, but the text doesn't say so.)
 
So, let me set the stage for you first.    Sit back and let your imagination loose a little bit.  He is on the Sea of Galilee.   Now the Sea of Galilee is a big lake.   It is about 13 miles long and eight miles wide.    Did you know that its surface is actually below sea level?   It is about 150 feet below sea level.   The lake is supplied with water from the Jordan River, which flows through it, and several under water springs.  It is surrounded by hills on every side and several towns dotted its shores in Jesus' day.
 
Early in the morning, Jesus boarded the boat and went to a small town called Dalmanutha.   Now, Dalmanutha was a small town on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee.   While there, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees.   They wanted Him to perform some miracle for them.   They wanted to see a sign from heaven.  
 
It says that Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit.   Why do you suppose He did that?   He had already performed many miracles and signs for them, yet they still did not believe.   So His sigh was probably one of weariness with these religious leaders.
 
How exasperating it must have been, even for God, to deal with such people!   How they must have tried His patience with their persistent attacks and denial of Him.  Do you remember what He said to them? 
 
But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation."                    Mark 8:12
 
Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.  He answered and said to them, "When it is evening you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red'; and in the morning, 'It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." And He left them and departed.                                                                         Matthew 16:1-4
 
He had just had another of those confrontations with the religious leaders.   They, in their intense and blind manner had insisted upon seeing something new.   In effect, what they were saying is that “unless I see signs, I will not believe.”   What is really ironic is that Jesus had just finished feeding over 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few fishes.    Soon after today’s passage He healed a blind man.   What more could these religious leaders want?
 
So Jesus left.   He got back into the boat and went to the "other side."   Now, I don't really know where He went from there, but suffice it to say that Jesus and His disciples got back in the boat and set sail.
 
So, here we are now.   Get your imaginations going.  Perhaps it’s in the afternoon.  Say about 2 PM.   The sun is still pretty high in the sky.   You have been up since early that morning.   The boat is rocking and you can hear the waves slapping the sides of the boat.   There is a nice breeze, so the sail is doing all the work.   The only one who has to do anything is the man at the tiller.   The rest just lie about.   Occasional conversation breaks out, only to die off.   These men are fishermen, remember?   Fishermen don't talk while they fish and though they aren't fishing, they are in a boat and, well, old habits die hard.
 
Can you see it?   It's a beautiful lake.   The waves, the sail flapping in the breeze.   An occasional sea gull flies over.   The gentle breeze.   It's nice out here on the lake.   Not like walking the dusty paths through the hills.    The boat is rocking.  Pretty soon you are getting sleepy and your head starts to fall.   Jesus is sitting in the front of the boat, looking out over the lake.   He seems deep in thought, so everyone leaves Him alone.

You realize suddenly that you are hungry.   Here it is in the middle of the afternoon and you haven't eaten since early morning.    You look around a little and discover that you and the others have forgotten to bring any food.   The only thing you have is a loaf of day old bread.   It's hardly enough for such hardy eaters as a bunch of fishermen.
 
As time goes by, your stomach starts growling and all you can think about is the pain in your middle.   You become impatient, wishing the trip was over so you can get something to eat.   You're nearly desperate!
 
Jesus turns and looks at you, at everyone.   Then He says this:  "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod."   Then He turns back to His study of the lake.   Up till now, it has been a nice trip!
 
What do you do?  How do you respond?   In my minds eye, I can imagine them accusing one another for not bringing food!    They missed the point all together until Jesus clarifies some.
 
Take a look at this passage and see if we might better understand it.   You know, it's always fun to try to imagine how things must have been, and we can create quite a story from this account.
 
Read Mark 8:13-21 then Matthew 16:5-12.   See if you can pick up what Jesus was meaning.   Also, see if there are some truths that we might apply to ourselves.
 
Remember the Truth 
 
In the confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus refused to give them any signs because His ministry had already provided all the signs that anyone could need.  The problem was that His disciples didn't remember.   So Jesus had to remind them.  He reminded them of the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand.   I don't know how anyone could possibly have forgotten such a miraculous event, but evidently the disciples at least forgot.  They forgot Jesus' power to perform miracles.   They forgot the sufficiency, even the abundance of the provision of Jesus.
 
I believe this is important to the Christian because it would be very easy for error to creep in if we did not look out for it.  It would be very easy for us to go off on tangents and put our own interpretation to what Jesus meant when He taught.  We could twist the doctrines to meet our own pet hobby horses.  Error could creep in. 
 
So, we must remember the Truth.  We must remember that this is God’s Word and it says exactly what He meant it to say.  We must remember that His Word is timeless and crosses cultural boundaries.  We must remember that it is absolute, not marginal and open to private interpretations. 
 
How sad it is when churches begin wrongly interpreting the truth for their own ends!
 
Understand the Truth
 
No doubt, the disciples, because of their upbringing had been taught to respect the Pharisees and the Sadducees.   The Pharisees were fundamentalists who clung to the Law and the Traditions.   The Sadducees were fundamentalists who denied the Traditions, claiming only the written Law as from God.     The Sadducees denied the resurrection while the Pharisees embraced it.    Jesus didn't mean that all that they taught was wrong, only parts of it.
 
What He meant was that the teaching that they believed that was contrary to the Word of God was to be suspect.    The reference to leaven is interesting.   How much yeast do you use in a loaf of bread?   Just a small amount, right?  Why?  Why not pour in a whole bunch?   Because a small amount is all that is needed.   Too much and the loaf is ruined.
 
Leaven, or yeast, was a common symbol for evil and could therefore be applied to different kinds of wickedness, but it always carried the idea that a little of it could have a far-reaching and insidious effect.
 
The leaven of the Pharisee was hypocrisy.  Jesus said in Luke 12:1, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”  One of the common complaints of the unsaved is that the church is full of hypocrites!
 
The leaven of the Sadducees was liberalism and compromise.  Acts 23:8 says, “For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection — and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.”   The Sadducee would deny the teaching of Christ and Scripture.  I have had people ask me why there are so many denominations.  It’s because of this very thing.  Denying or changing the clear teaching of Scripture is a dangerous thing, and it often begins very subtly!  (Denying the virgin birth, or miracles or special creation for example.)
 
The Herodians were a Jewish political party who sympathized with the Herodian rulers in their general policy of government, and in the social customs which they introduced from Rome.   Many of the Sadducees were Herodians.   The leaven of Herod was his “irreligious, immoral and corrupt conduct.”   Like our society.   Beware the leaven of the culture in which you live!  The Pharisees and the Herodians were allied against Jesus. 
 
Apply the Truth  (Matt. 16:12)
 
The teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees was an attitude of unbelief toward divine revelation that could not perceive Jesus to be the Messiah but that tried to control and tame the Messiah they claimed to await!   (Show us a sign!)
 
Jesus accused His disciples of spiritual blindness.   Not only must we apply the truth – we must accept it!  Let me quote from a commentary:
 
“Jesus’ charge against the disciples ran deep.   Jesus had already denounced the Pharisees and Sadducees for their particular "teaching" that demanded manipulative signs instead of believing in the bountiful evidence already supplied.   And now the disciples are perilously close to the same unbelief in Jesus’ person and miracles.  The miracles Jesus performs, unlike the signs the Pharisees demand, do not compel faith: but those with faith will perceive their significance.”
 
"Jesus is trying to train His disciples to think deeply about the revelation He is giving and is not content to keep on spoon feeding them."  
 
Conclusion
 
So, what application might we make of this passage?  
 
Well, don't tell me something and expect me to believe it without giving me chapter and verse.   To do so may lead to error and false teaching.   We must ever be on our guard against this.   
 
Some churches adopt false teaching and it becomes apostasy!   Some, because of some supposed revelation of their leaders, have even superseded the teaching in Scripture! 
 
We must beware the leaven of misled and misleading men.   We must remember the truth, understand the truth and finally apply the truth.   Only by doing this can we safeguard ourselves against the leaven of false teaching in the Christian community! 
 
Let’s always see what the Bible says! 
 
The boat ride is nearly over now, how do you feel?   Hungry?  No.   Reprimanded?  Yes.   And you have a lot to think about.   Maybe over dinner you will discuss it with the other disciples.   Maybe there is more to this that you need to investigate!   But, it's been a great boat ride and you have such great companions!
 
Blessings to you as you consider the Word of Truth!
Tim
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