Friday, July 2, 2010

Mark 8:14-21 Jesus Warns of the Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod

14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. 15 Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” 20 “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” 21 So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Jesus having left the Pharisees departs with the disciples in a small fishing boat and again crosses the Sea of Galilee with them. And so it is during their journey that the disciples realize they had forgotten to take sufficient bread with them (vs. 14). Now the word that the disciples use here for bread is the word commonly used to describe leavened bread; which itself was analogous to eating a whole meal; and was previously used by Jesus as a metaphor for His Person and His doctrine (John 6:35). And so with their declaration of having not taken enough bread; even though Jesus had previously fed the five thousand, and then the four thousand. Jesus now solemnly charges them saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Vs. 15 Now leaven itself was not just yeast mixed with flour, but rather “…old sour dough (stored and then used as a fermentation agent by adding juices), which was hidden in the new dough in order to permeate it and give it lightness.” NIDNNT

Therefore Jesus is taking the disciples concern for their having not taken sufficient bread, specifically leavened bread, and using it to warn them about the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod. And in this context Jesus makes it clear that His use of the metaphor of leaven is a warning for the disciples faith not to fall victim to the Pharisees or the Herodians (that is the followers of the Pharisees or Herod) doctrine or their manner of life, something that they themselves do not immediately perceive (vs. 16-21). What was immediately known to them, and not likely to us though is that the amount of leaven required to “leaven” a whole loaf was relatively small. For it’s not the quantity of the “old sour dough” that leavens (and in this context that means ruins) the whole loaf, it is the leaven itself. The Apostle Paul also employs the metaphor of leaven to warn believers whom he by the Holy Spirit draws analogy with the Passover bread. That is the unleavened bread God required of the Israelites in keeping the Passover feast, likewise becoming ruined by the infiltrating effects of leaven, which again is a Biblical metaphor for sin and or evil influences. Thus the Lord Jesus’ warning is a clear warning about the corrupting effects of unchecked sin and or false or legalistic doctrine, both on the individual believer and or the church congregation. (See 1 Cor. 5:1-13, vs. 6-7; Gal. 5:1-14, vs. 9). That is why the Apostle Paul warns us all: "A little leaven leavens the whole loaf." 1 Cor. 5:9

Now in both Matthew and Luke we are told what the leaven of the Pharisees is. Jesus says it is both their doctrine (Matt. 16:11-12) and their hypocrisy (Luke 12:1-2). For the two it are intertwined. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary gives this as their first definition for hypocrisy: "a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess." In other words though the Pharisees appear outwardly religious to all. They themselves do not have faith in God, nor do they live according to it. That is why they sought signs from Jesus’ not to verify His coming from God but rather because of their unbelief about Him. For as Jesus showed the Pharisees many signs yet their own hearts were not moved to believe in Him. Therefore Jesus’ warning to His disciples is in one sense a warning not to let their own hearts become hardened like them, for they having seen the many things Jesus did needed to trust Him. The reason for this as Jesus’ makes clear is that one’s spiritual sensitivity to the things of God can become calloused when one does not. Yes they believed in Jesus as coming from God but it seems here that they had not yet fully matured to place of trusting Him as God in all His fullness, as able to meet all their needs. We too as Christ’s disciples who believe in Jesus Christ must beware of our own lack of trust at times, because the leaven of doubt and unbelief is caustic to a life of faith. Nonetheless we have this promise from God who is changing us by His Spirit day by day because we believe in His Son, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Rom. 8:28

Therefore as we grow in our knowledge of God we must strive to grow in our trust of Him. That is one element of faith that requires our active participation. Sometimes this will require our actively pursuing Christ’s will in obedience to Him, and sometimes it will require us just waiting patiently on the Lord. The point is that if we have come to faith in Jesus Christ than we can trust God is working out all things together for our good. Our circumstances do not dictate our destiny, Jesus Christ does. Therefore let us always be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2

Now hypocrisy also has another element for us to understand in light of the Scriptures placing us all under sin and thus making the only way for us to be justified (or declared righteous) in the sight of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:22-25). That is of self-righteousness or justifying oneself before God or man, whether by one’s own obedience to the Law of God, or by the works of man, which in God’s sight is unjustifiable (See Luke 18:9-14; Rom. 4:4-5; Gal. 5:1, 4-6). Since it is only our faith in the Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead that justifies us (Rom. 3:19-28). Now in regards to this type of hypocrisy in several passages in the gospel the Lord Jesus Christ takes great offense at the Pharisees who were particularly proud of their own righteousness which they thought they earned for themselves, often by their devoutly adhering to the traditions of their elders, which ironically only caused them to nullify God’s commands for them (Matt. 15:1-9). Even while their own hearts and lives were full of greed and lawlessness (Luke 16:14-18). They seem to be unaware of their own wickedness. Matthew chapter twenty three is the definitive chapter of their ways, and the Lord Jesus’ censure of them. Now in regards to their doctrine it is legalism. The essence of which is giving greater weight to relatively insignificant things as Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matt. 23:23-24

Equally in regards to the Sabbath the Pharisees laid great weight on its observance according to their very strict ideals. Yet it was in adhering to their own commandments on how the Sabbath was to be observed that they themselves were both hypocritical and often cruel. Yet they were blind to these things in their lives. But that is what legalism does; it distorts faith in God, and ultimately you, if you remain loyal to it. For through it you will justify great evils in defense of its unjust ideals. And that is what Jesus exposed when He first challenged the Pharisees by declaring Himself Lord of the Sabbath and thus their ideals about it nullified and void, for having done so they only sought to kill Him (Matt. 12:9-14; Mark 2:23-27; Mark 3:1-6).

Therefore legalism always fails because it grieves the human spirit of life, by adhering to what is not essential to it. In contrast Jesus comes into our world and lives bringing life in all its fullness. By first restoring us back to God the Father, the Giver of Life, by fulfilling God’s justice for us on the cross. Jesus makes a way for God’s mercy to find us all. Then He fills us with His Life by the Holy Spirit, who not only gives us eternal life the moment we believe, but Jesus Christ’s Person and life within us and thus God removes all that could ever again separate us from Himself and Life again (John 10:27-30; Eph. 1:13-14).

In contrast to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the bread of life, who brings abundant life in every aspect of life, by opening the door to a relationship with God the Father for us (John 10:9-10). The Pharisees leaven though will only bring you into “dead religion”. Binding your soul and conforming your mind and life to the doctrines and commandments of men that they themselves weave into the fabric of faith, as if essential to it. Instead of just believing, and letting the transforming Power of God work in people’s lives. They turn the grace of God into dead works, and try to do what only God can. Both atone for our sins and regenerate us from them (Titus 3:4-7). For that is what Jesus Christ said the work of God for us is… “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:29 That is Jesus Christ crucified and Risen from the dead for the salvation of everyone who believes. That is how we enter into God’s grace and commanded rest, by faith in Jesus Christ’s Person (Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 4). Therefore adhere to the petty traditions and insignificant doctrines of men as the Pharisees did and you will pass by the love and justice of God for them (Consider Hosea 12:6; Micah 6:8; Luke 11:42-43). For that is what is at stake. All such things then are simply that old sour leaven that invades the whole new loaf; that is the unleavened bread of the gospel, and thus ruins the holy and pure faith by seeking to be justified by the Law, or by the works of man; all which is only to fall from grace, as the Apostle Paul said, rather than eagerly wait for the righteousness by faith (See Gal. 5:1, 4-5). Yet the Pharisees’ leaven comes in so many forms, and often is so ingrained as if it were essential to the faith, that to try to name it all would wear out even the most zealous and dogmatic.

In essence just name an “ism” in Christendom and you will have hit one form or another; either the Pharisees leaven or its antitheses the Sadducee's, which Matthews parallel passage likewise warns about (See Matt. 16:5-12). However Biblical Christianity has no “isms”. Neither the Lord Jesus Christ nor the Biblical Apostles ever commended us to any of them. Why then to believers make “orthodoxy” such things?
Holding dearly to the traditions and ideals of men rather than to the Word of God and justification by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone; all which only divides the visible Body of Christ into various theological camps. Therefore wisely consider the Word of God which declares there is one body, one Spirit, one hope and one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all who believe (My paraphrase of Eph. 4:3-6). Therefore religious leaven is not harmless. When sown into the gospel it not only undermines the unity of the Spirit but it will permeate your faith and thinking and distort your faith in Jesus Christ making you a spiritual slave and servant of it, and not the gospel. And thus it will hinder the Holy Spirit’s working most effectively in your own as well as your congregations life. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Rom. 10:3-4
Thus the leaven of the Pharisees is dangerous since those who live by it ultimately will decide for themselves who is acceptable to the Lord Jesus Christ and who is not. And by what standards they are acceptable to the Lord, or are not. Rather than letting Jesus Christ crucified and ones faith in Him and thus the Holy Spirit within us, who gifts us according to His will, decide. Thus when they do that they only supplant the Holy Spirit's electing work in their congregations with their own (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
Inevitably then you will see people through the clouded lenses of whatever your “ism” holds onto as fundamental to it. Yet there is nothing more foundational than the cross of Christ, and thus repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ who alone brings us into eternal life. Who commands us that we keep His commandments, not mans. Therefore look at how Jesus relates to people in their lives circumstances and how the Pharisees constantly found fault with His dealings with people (Matt. 9:9-13; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-12). In contrast to the Pharisees elitism and their separating themselves from the "common" people, Jesus Christ finds common ground with all people. For in Jesus Christ’s Kingdom there are no social or religious barriers to overcome, no mountains to climb, no theological hoops to jump through (Gal. 3:26-29), for the Son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost, offering God’s grace to all without partiality through the gospel (Luke 19:1-10).
Therefore even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins (both sins we have committed and our sinful nature) and thus separated from God and true life. Jesus Christ made us alive together with Himself; having forgiven us all our trespasses when we believed in Him. He also baptized us into His Body and sealed us with His Holy Spirit and thus brought us into the New Covenant community and new and everlasting life with Himself. Are you then holding onto Jesus Christ the Head of the Body and Lord of All or something or someone less? (Please Read Col. 2:1-23). For if it is not exclusively Jesus Christ’s Person, crucified and risen from the dead and your faith in Him, than your living outside of the true faith. That looks only to the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to obey Him through His and the Biblical Apostles commands, by grace and truth. “For the Law was given through Moses but grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17

And thus where there was once Biblical stipulations for Old Covenant Israel to keep saying: do not touch, do not taste, do not eat etc. There is now the glorious liberty of the children of God (Read Acts 15; 2 Cor. 3; Col. 2). For in Christ Jesus it is faith working through love, as what matters to God. Not idle faith, but faith working through love (Gal. 5:6). Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ gives every believer the freedom to decide for themselves to eat whatever foods they will eat, or drink whatever they will drink (Col. 2:20-22). Yes God now gives us all liberty to enjoy heartily whatever types of food we like to enjoy, or even to abstain from them. For we are all at liberty to eat or not to eat, fast or not to fast. For belonging to Jesus Christ, God gives no one the right to impose man made regulations and restrictions on us. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Rom. 14:17-19 Only in regards to offending or harming another believer’s conscience are warned against exercising our liberty (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8, 10). Yes in belonging to Jesus Christ God gives us all liberty to live in Him freely and abundantly without observing the endless constraints and ideals of men who exalt days, weeks, years, Sabbath’s or whatever else they try to exalt as incumbent upon believers (Gal. 4:9-11). Therefore we are free to enjoy and explore God's creation in all of its diversity, wonders and mysteries on any day or time we deem it appropriate to do so. Yes Jesus gives us liberty to enjoy and excel at whatever sports, hobbies, arts, crafts, literature, music we enjoy, as long as these do not choke out the Word of God and thus ones faith in Him. Though it is impossible to touch on every aspect of life that the leaven of the Pharisees sadly infiltrates, hopefully the overall principal of liberty will be concordant with you who know and obey the truth, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. For we know that “we walk by faith not by sight” 2 Cor. 5:7

Now the leaven of Herod outside of the cunning ruthlessness and licentiousness of that family dynasty and their followers is that by which one seeks to maintain the status quo. That is what the disciples of Herod were, fierce defenders of that status quo. *** Therefore in one sense the leaven of Herod is manifested by those who seek to maintain the status quo and themselves secure within it, even when there is clearly injustice and or unrighteousness present. That is what the Herod family legacy could be summed up as. For by all historical accounts the Herod’s were a politically astute family who ascended to power, and kept themselves there, by both cunning and ruthlessness. They knew how to appease Rome and or quell the various factions in Israel, both political and religious. As well their lifestyle was typically Greco-Roman and thus they like the Sadducee's lived only for their own pleasures. Though they were by all accounts "religious" in that their father began Temple reconstruction to appease his Jewish subjects; and the ruling Herod at the time of Jesus willingly listened to John the Baptist preach, they all were anything but Godly. For their primary focus was on power, primarily political power, and to attain this they aligned themselves with Rome (the controlling state regime) while eliminating whatever factions hindered their ends as Rome's appointed Governor's over the Jews. In that sense the leaven of Herod could be summed up as to beware of the seduction of power. For through it one will commit great atrocities. As Herod did in having John the Baptist beheaded so as not to appear weak before his powerful guests. Therefore please consider that the Lord Jesus never told His disciples to seek either positions or privileges for themselves. The call of the disciple is ultimately service, not “lordship” (See Mark 10:32-45, vs. 42-45).
Now in regards to maintaining the status quo the Holy Spirit’s work always entails forward change as He brings new believers into the faith and Spiritually equips them according to His will. There will be inevitable changes to the status quo. For the Lord Jesus came to not only remove sins corruption within the individual heart and transform it into His hearts likeness, but also institutionalized corruption as well, which made Him an enemy of all the various factions of religious and political powers in Israel (Matt. 21:12-14; John 2:13-22). Now this point may best be made by a Scriptural contrast. In John 3:16 we read: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Consider, God loves us and He gave His Son, for the eternal benefit of us all. That is what God is like. In contrast to John 3:16 the Apostle James had to write believers about self seeking ambition and the demonic evil that works through people's lives because of it. There James poignantly warned about the “wisdom” which is earthly, sensual, demonic… before commending the wisdom that is from above. (See Bellow)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-16

Believers then are to never envy another believers Spirit gifts or calling. For was that not the root sin of Korah, the cousin of Aaron and Moses, who was also a Levite as they were and thus he envied Aaron's and Moses calling and positions given them by God. Yet rather then serving God in the position God gave him he exalted himself and his company against them (See Num. 16:1-50). Therefore believers who are motivated by envy or self seeking ambition are as the Apostle James warns going to be suspect to the enemy’s schemes. For the church is not to be a place for men (or women) to practice their own ambitious desires. If God has equipped you and called into a certain area of service than humbly pursue it. But if He has not then don’t let envy or selfish ambition drive you to try to attain to something that He Himself is not endorsed or equipped you for. For Spiritual leadership in the Body, comes by the Holy Spirit who He selects and equips. It does not come through the desires and will of man either for themselves or others (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 12:11).
Now in regards to trying to maintain the status quo believers need to be on guard against resisting change in how the gospel is presented or worship music is composed and performed. For though the gospel does not change, underline that thought. The mediums through which it is presented to people inevitably will. As both technology and culture inevitably change, both the mediums and the methods will need to adapt. As the Apostle Paul said of his own evangelistic ministry: "...I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you." (See 1 Cor. 9:19-23). Yesterday radio and TV were widely and effectively used, today there is also the Internet and text messaging, tomorrow there will another new medium. Therefore we must be willing to adapt to societal and culture changes (not their morals or values, Rom. 12:1-2). But whatever current technologies are available to us, we must be willing to employ if we hope to stay in touch with where people are going and how they are communicating and seeking information. Now this does not disavow previous methods, nor does it change the message, it simply expands and looks for the opportunities where they exist. The leaven of Herod though will resist that sort of change. It will seek to keep the status quo (whatever that may be) and seek to conform people to it, as if that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet that is only the leaven of Herod that Jesus warned the disciples about. Therefore think of new and creative ways (through whatever mediums are available to you) to present the gospel of the grace of God so all might hear and be given a chance to believe.

Scripture Quotations
The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

Additional Resources
NIDNNT: New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Abridged Edition) page 226, Verlyn D. Verbrugge, Editor

Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.

*** Notion gleaned from: Word in Life Study Bible . Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1996.

*For insights on legalism see earlier blog tittled "Legalism Exposed"

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