What is the Yeast of the Pharisees, and Why Did Jesus Warn Against It? #191
Hello friends and happy Monday! Shorter than normal episode tonight, as it is 221 A.M. Monday morning right now, and I’m just now getting started on the podcast! Why so late, I hear you asking? Great question – tonight we had a prowler come by our house and break into our back yard four times, trying to peek into the windows of our house. He is lucky our daughter Abbey didn’t stab him in the eye, because she is feisty, and likes to have a lot of knives. Fortunately, we were all gathered in the living room watching Psyche together, so the peeping prowler didn’t see anything. We came very, very close to catching him, however – within about two minutes. Unfortunately, I missed the Ring camera alerts, but we did get some pretty good video, so that’s nice. A friendly officer from the SPD just left our house about 15 minutes ago, so hopefully our unfriendly neighborhood prowling Tom will be caught and put under the jail. So – how has your day been so far?!
Today’s Bible readings include Joshua 8, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 3 and Matthew 16, which is our focus passage. Consider this a part two from yesterday’s pod that warned about the dangers of following human-made traditions. In Matthew 16, Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven or the yeast of the Pharisees. Directly after this – the disciples are kind of talking amongst themselves, probably in low tones, and they interpret Jesus’ warning to be a rebuke because they forgot to bring bread to eat. This is one of the funniest things in the Bible to me, and it shows that all of us, including the disciples, can be blockheads sometimes. I find that strangely comforting. As you might imagine, Jesus wasn’t actually talking about bread when He told the disciples to beware the leaven/yeast of the Pharisees, but something else much more dangerous. Let’s read the passage and see what!
So – we’ve learned that the teaching of the Pharisees was quite dangerous, and to be avoided. This warning brings us to an important question, which is the focus of the show today: What is the teaching of the Pharisees, and why should we beware/avoid it? Yesterday’s episode and the warning in Matthew 15 gave us a big portion of what Jesus was warning about: The Pharisees and Scribes had a tendency to add much detail and man-made commands to the commands of God, and then they elevated these traditions and man-made commands to a very high level of authority – even higher (in their eyes and practices) than the level of authority that the Word of God held. In other words, they cared more about their foolish and detailed and legalistic interpretations of God’s commands than what the commands actually said. This is certainly one aspect of the teaching of the Pharisees that must be avoided. Unfortunately, many Christians and churches still embrace the error of the Pharisees in this regard: holding their own denominational and personal religious traditions in higher esteem than the clear commands of God in the Scripture. This is a great danger! But it isn’t the only danger that Jesus is warning us about here. For more about the dangerous teachings of the Pharisees, let’s look at Matthew 23:
2 “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.
Takeaway: The leaven/teaching of the Pharisees here is that they add much to God’s commands, making them overly burdensome and crushing on people, and then they just let those extra traditions do the work of crushing without helping the people. And to top it all off – the Pharisees themselves don’t follow the man-made commands they added – they just burden other people with those commands.
5 They do everything to be seen by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people.8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 You are not to be called instructors either, because you have one Instructor, the Messiah.
Takeaway: The leaven/teaching of the Pharisees here is that they are big on appearances and on being honored and praised and possessing important titles. Jesus, however, forbids His followers from seeking out titles, and even tells them to not allow themselves to be called certain titles.
13 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in. 15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as you are! 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the temple, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gold of the temple is bound by his oath.’ 17 Blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 Also, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the altar, it means nothing; but whoever takes an oath by the gift that is on it is bound by his oath.’ 19 Blind people! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore, the one who takes an oath by the altar takes an oath by it and by everything on it. 21 The one who takes an oath by the temple takes an oath by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And the one who takes an oath by heaven takes an oath by God’s throne and by him who sits on it.
Takeaway: The leaven/teaching of the Pharisees here is that they twist the commands of God and add meaningless detail to them, and then try to get people to adhere to that meaningless and NON-God-Breathed detail, thus shutting the doors of Heaven by proclaiming and teaching a false Gospel – a false way of salvation by works and not by grace through faith.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. 24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, but gulp down a camel!
Takeaway: The leaven/teaching of the Pharisees here is that they adhere to some of the smaller and less weighty commands of God, in order to look righteous in the eyes of people, but they completely disregard the most important commands of God in regard to justice, mercy and faith.
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean.
Takeaway: The leaven/teaching of the Pharisees here is that they try to appear to look holy by outward deeds of holiness, but they are untransformed, greedy, and selfish on the inside, thus demonstrating that they do not fear or follow God at all.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. 28 In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Takeaway: The leaven/teaching of the Pharisees here is that they try to appear beautiful, holy, saintly and impressive, but they are utterly spiritually dead on the inside and their lives are characterized by disobedience and hypocrisy.
THIS is what Jesus was warning about – a religion of appearance, of focusing on meaningless human religious traditions rather than the word of God, a religion of impressive titles and accouterments, a religion that appears holy and good, but is instead wicked, selfish, and oppressive. Paul calls it, ‘having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.’ Avoid such as this, my friends!