Leaven & Lies

April 6, 2021

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees" (Matthew 16:5-6).

Yeast is what makes bread rise. When added to a lump of dough, the yeast ferments the starches in the dough and causes it to swell up. Without yeast the loaf of bread comes out of the oven flat. It doesn’t take a lot of yeast to make dough rise. A small amount is all it takes to ‘leaven’ dough thoroughly.

Jesus alluded to this effect yeast has in making dough rise as a metaphor to teach a spiritual truth. It was only natural to use it because He had just fed four thousand people with seven loaves of bread. After crossing the Sea of Galilee back into Gentile territory, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring enough bread with them to eat (Mark 8:1–10,14–15). Jesus issued a warning: “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees (and Herod; Mark 8:15).”

Since it only takes a small amount of yeast (or leaven) to transform an entire lump of dough, Jesus was saying it takes only a little bit of the sin of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod to ruin a person’s life. In fact, leaven almost always represents sin in the New Testament. Only in His Parable of the Leaven did He use leaven in a positive way (Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:20–21).

Just a small amount of the ‘leaven’ (sin; false teaching; hypocrisy) of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod transforms what is good and useful into something bad and useless. The Pharisees were devoted to their study of the Mosaic law. Herod Antipas was a ruthless hypocrite (Mark 6:14–29). Jesus referred to the contentment the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod had with Roman rule. Herod enjoyed political power because of Rome, and though many Jews wanted Rome overthrown, the Pharisees and Sadducees were basically fine with the Romans as long as Caesar allowed them to study the law in peace.

But contentment with Roman rule didn’t fully explain what Jesus meant by leaven. Rejecting Jesus as the Christ was the leaven of the Pharisees, Scribes, and Herod. Their unbelief was motivated in part by fear of Roman reprisal against the Jews if Jesus had been accepted as the Messiah. But their rejection of Jesus was ultimately due to their ‘hard hearts’ (John 12:36b–43). By that the Bible means they had no love for God, therefore they had no love for God’s Son.

“Father, make us aware of the leaven of modern-day theological liberalism that teaches that the Bible is full of myth and legend, that there are many ways to heaven, and that Your love will eventually allow all people into heaven, regardless of their beliefs, or lack thereof. May we always uphold the truth of Scripture in all that it teaches. To Your honor and glory I ask, Amen.”


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