I’ve mentioned more than once in this blog the need to test everything that we hear, whether it’s from the pulpit, from the radio or a podcast, from a book, or from wherever you hear people teaching the Word of God. For that matter, you should be testing everything I say as well.
In these passages we see why. We see in the first part of these accounts a near repeat of Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5000. The details are different, however, in terms of the number of people fed, the amount of fish and bread used, as well as the amount of leftovers.
After this event, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to see Jesus. (It’s not clear whether the Herodians were also there as a separate group, or the Herodians mentioned in Mark were the Sadducees, who were well known as collaborators with the Romans. I take it as the latter).
After arguing with them and rebuffing yet another request for a sign, he told his disciples, “Be careful…Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6)
(Again, it’s possible that when he referred to the leaven of Herod in Mark 8, he was talking about the Sadducees).
The disciples, as usual, were confused and were perhaps wondering if Jesus was forbidding them from getting actual bread from these two groups.
But Jesus quickly corrected them, saying, “Why are you worrying about bread? Don’t you remember how I provided for the 5000 and the 4000? I’m not talking about that at all.”
At which point, Matthew says,
“Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:12).
What was the teaching of these two groups? For the Pharisees, it was a very devout legalism. They thought that they could earn their way to heaven by their works. Because of this, they devoted themselves to studying God’s law and keeping it. There were a few problems, however. First, they added things to God’s law that God never taught. And in doing so, they put burdens on the people that God never intended. What’s more, they criticized and looked down on anyone who didn’t keep those rules.
Furthermore, as we saw earlier, some of their rules based on tradition flat out contradicted God’s word.
In addition, in focusing on the minutia of the law, they missed its spirit completely, causing them to condemn people unjustly. They forgot things like justice and mercy in their pursuit of legalistic perfection. All these things, we have already seen or will see in later passages.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, tended to be focused more on wealth and power, thus their collaboration with the Romans. They also didn’t believe in a resurrection, which made it easier for them to focus on the things of this earth, rather than on eternal things.
Thus Jesus warns against both legalistic religiosity and worldliness. Both of them, like leaven, can spread throughout a church, and make it useless to the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, many people in Jesus’ day didn’t test what they were taught, and as a result, they either lived their lives feeling weighed down and condemned, or they put all their efforts into temporal things, rather than eternal ones.
How about you? Have you fallen into either of these traps?