Matthew 16:1-12 ESV
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jesus had left an encounter with the religious leaders; the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They wanted him to perform signs from heaven to prove who he was. It’s not like he hadn’t already been doing miraculous things that they didn’t see. Jesus knew their hearts. He knew they wouldn’t believe him even if he made the earth quake and the sky fall. The religious leaders could tell you what the weather was going to be like based on what the sky looked like but they couldn’t see that Jesus was special.
Jesus knew that. He knew that they had an agenda. The religious leaders wanted power and wealth. They wanted control over the people. And they were willing to do and say anything to get the most approval from the people. By his crucifixion, many were convinced Jesus was a blasphemer and a false prophet thanks to the teaching of these religious leaders. The people cried out for Jesus’ death.
Jesus warned his disciples to watch out for the Pharisees and Sadducees leaven. The leaven or yeast of these religious leaders was toxic. While real leaven makes bread dough rise (which is what the disciples thought he was talking about), the religious leaders’ leaven caused many people to fall including the Pharisees and Sadducees themselves.
I see a very similar leaven today that is just as toxic. It’s easy to pick on the ultra-legalistic Pharisees because they are curmudgeons and don’t like anything that seems too enjoyable. So preaching against legalism today is easy. Legalism from the conservative side is not good (Did you know there is a legalistic liberal side too…I will save that for another time). What about the Sadducees? What did they do? We often overlook the leaven of the Sadducees except for a quick mention of their rejection of the resurrection.
The Sadducees were indeed rejectors of the resurrection. Thus, they lived their lives for the pleasure of the day. They advocated for living it up here on earth and growing in status, wealth, and having as much fun now before they die. Again, it seems that that would be easy to pick on and reject. It would seem, right?
In our churches today there are leaders who advocate things that we should be wary of. Many of our church leaders are involved with affirming sinful acts and advocating for worldly pleasure. Foul language, homosexuality, polyamory, transgenderism, hyper-ecumenicism, and promoting worldly social and political policies that move against anyone who disagrees with them.
I am witnessing a generation of our children (and even our 30 and 40-somethings) who believe that these behaviors are okay and maintain that Jesus died for us to allow these acts. Some going as far as advocating different gospels which call loving, committed homosexual relationships God-honoring(1) and ignore evangelizing for the Gospel of Jesus for social programs devoid of sharing His commands.
Also, while I don’t advocate that our fellowship is the only God-honoring fellowship, we have numerous members who are ready to throw out traditions and conscientious beliefs our heritage has worked hard for while these same members reject clear biblical precedents. Some of the things our faith heritage believes in are traditions, but some are based on the words in scripture. Even worse, there are members of our fellowship that believe in false teaching and preach that false doctrine is somehow acceptable. There are also members of our fellowship that believe ANY fellowship that calls itself a Christian church is now acceptable even when they are teaching false doctrine and even other gods, prophets, and messiahs. We also have parts of our own fellowship that are compromising the Gospel with numerous false teachings.
It is difficult. What do we do about it? Do we name names? Do we call them out online? Some would advocate that we go to them first. I think that is an acceptable step. I also know that many of those I am thinking of HAVE been spoken to and reject what I am saying here. I believe our fellowship; the Churches of Christ are in for some scary times. This is dire and troubling.
I believe that the end game is that we will see another major split within the Churches of Christ. I believe we are going to see lines drawn. It isn’t going to be on issues as “small” as instruments and women in leadership. I believe it will come when we see churches place actively unrepentant homosexuals into their elderships and pulpits.
Francis Schaeffer wrote in his book The Mark of the Christian, “The meaning of the word Christian has been reduced to practically nothing…because the word Christian as a symbol has been made to mean so little, it has come to mean everything and nothing”.
This leaven is killing the church. It isn’t raising the Bread Of Life in people’s lives. Our members are learning to believe that God doesn’t care what we believe as long as we are sincere and as long as we speak to our neighbors with kindness or are involved in social programs.
I get it. I hurt for this. I, like Paul, have “shed tears over the enemies of the cross of Christ”. If you also hurt for these things, I get it. It sure would feel good to have the world around us praise our deeds. It feels great to not have to tell someone that they are sinful and in need of a Savior. It can help us make a lot of friends if we let people continue living in their sinful ways. We gain the acceptance of the world around us when we aren’t held up to any standard of living so that everyone begins to live more like Christ. This leaven is popular today. It can be simple and easy to grow in number by not holding those we are trying to reach with the truth in God’s breathed-out word.
It is more difficult to grow in number when we decide that certain behaviors and attitudes are not honorable and that we won’t be a part of them. Letting sin continue to be active within our body and within the leadership of the church isn’t loving our neighbor. It isn’t loving, period. Withholding the truth of the Gospel is not loving. It is evil. It is a false gospel. The kind of false gospel Paul preached would put us into eternal condemnation.
So I say again, beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees!