Beware: The Yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees

Beware: The Yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees

Beware: The Yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

“Take heed and 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.” (Matthew 16:6, 12).

Jesus wasn’t afraid to give fair warning. He openly declared to His listeners to Watch out! Be careful! Beware! Be on guard! Jesus would warn his disciples about various dangers, different trapdoors in the world. He said to watch out at least as much as He said to fear not. This series of articles will examine each warning and seek to apply it to our discipleship experience today. What should we beware of as we seek to follow Jesus? The first warning to be discussed is the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Yeast, or leaven, is something that can affect a whole batch of dough even when in small amounts. As symbols go, throughout biblical history leaven has been a symbol of evil, of something that has a corrupting influence. To the Jewish mind, it was something to get rid of, to throw out, to hate. During Passover, for instance, homes were to be purged of all leaven (Ex. 12:15-2). Leaven too was never to be seen anywhere near the holy sacrifice (Ex. 34:25) or the altar (Lev. 10:13). Yeast was understood to be something impure down through Jewish history, and was to be avoided at all costs and considered dangerous.

The New Testament continued this traditional reference to leaven, and it was noted as the symbol of malice and wickedness (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Unleavened bread was considered the bread of sincerity and truth. “Therefore, purge out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.

Jesus believed that the teaching and the example of the Pharisees and Sadducees had a corrupting influence on Jewish life. The Pharisees considered themselves separatists for God, and so they were separate from the common people, the Jewish people. They were religious zealots who considered themselves the final authority on the keeping of the Mosaic Law. There were roughly 6,000 Pharisees during Jesus’ day, and thus had a lot of potential to impact religious life in Israel. The yeast of the Pharisees, what Jesus warned others about, was their puffed-up self-righteousness, their hypocrisy. Jesus had little patience with their love of of money and attention, their focus on external legalisms while their hearts were actually far from God. He hated that they would care¬† more about the details of the Law than the spiritual needs of people in their midst. Jesus saw the Pharisees as more concerned with their veneer of respectability and holiness than with their love for Yahweh and His people. They were called religious frauds by Jesus, and thus a real danger to the Jews in their quest to follow Scripture.

Jesus also warned the people of the corrupting influence of the Sadducees. They tended to be wealthy aristocrats, aloof, and separate from the needs of the common religious Jew. They were politically connected to Rome and they loved the Greek culture instead of the Jewish faith. They did not believe in the afterlife, in miracles, in anything supernatural such as angels or demons. Their corrupting influence led people away from the God of Scripture, and thus away from Jesus and His ministry.

If Jesus was giving us fair warning today about the spirit of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that we should watch out for their corrupting influence, what might He say? Perhaps He would warn us about such dangers as this…

Aloof and Unaware. It might be that if you consider yourself above the common people and separate from their needs, you might find yourself separate from God Himself.

Divided Life. Make sure your outer, public life is consistent with your inner spiritual life, and your relations with others is determined by your growing relationship with God.

Respectability. If you are too worried about looking respectable, you probably are less worried about being faithful.

Self-Righteous. If you see yourself as righteous and pure, go back to square one and worship the Righteous and Pure One, the Almighty God. It’s difficult to remain puffed-up when you are confronted by a holy Lord.

Rules. Simply obeying the letter of the law might distract you from understanding the spirit of that law.

Piety. Maintaining a holy image with other people remains superficial unless you grow deep roots of humility before God.

Being Connected. Worry less about networking in church and more about connecting with God and His people.

Supernatural. God is in the business of miracles, and in fact you yourself are supernatural, a living miracle.

The Afterlife. Life with God after we die is our greatest hope, which is based on the eternal love of God.

Of Substance. Don’t pursue wealth, style and status as much as faith, mercy and justice.

We are just as much in danger of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees today in the modern world than the followers of Jesus in 1st Century Israel. Watch out! Be careful! Be on your guard against their corrupting influence in your personal and community life.