Welcome to the STC Foundations podcast on Wednesday 24th October. Today’s passage is Matthew 16:1-12.
We’re still around the Sea of Galilee and right at the start of the chapter we see Jesus being tested by the Pharisees and Sadducees, who are asking Him for a sign from Heaven. Jesus refuses, as you might imagine He would., He’s been pulling out miracles left, right and centre, never to entertain or to prove Himself, but always to minister to the people that come to Him. You can imagine that to reduce these incredible acts of grace and love to the level of a party trick would be an insult not just to God, but to each of the individuals who had been on the receiving end of these miraculous signs. Those who had put themselves in a vulnerable place with Jesus, pinning all their hopes and dreams on Him. We’re going to pick up the passage a little later, when Jesus is talking with His disciples. Here are verses 5-6 and 11-12.
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [The disciples then get confused over the idea of yeast and bread before Jesus goes on to explain further…] How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 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.
Sometimes the Bible is plain as day straight away in what it is saying to us. Other times I’m glad that Jesus often takes the time to clarify what He has said and what He meant. It is both utterly genius and a genuine miracle that Jesus is able to speak into highly specific situations 2000 years ago in such a way that His words are of complete and total relevance to us today.
Here we see Him warning His disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Why is Jesus talking about yeast? A brief history lesson is helpful here. Do you remember the story of how God used Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt? Maybe you’ve read the story in Exodus, the second book of the Bible, or perhaps you’ve seen it in film, the classic films of ‘the ten commandments’ and ‘the prince of Egypt’ come to mind. Well when the Pharaoh finally let the Israelites leave Egypt, they were taking no chances, there was no time to cook some tasty treats for the journey, they had to leave in a rush in case he changed his mind. So they made unleavened bread, bread with no yeast or raising agents, to save time. It wouldn’t win a handshake from Paul Hollywood of the great British bake off, but it got them out of there, pronto. This whole chapter was a defining moment for Israel, a key part of the story of God leading them to the promised land. The celebration of this came to be known as Passover and as part of the Passover traditions people would bake unleavened bread to remind them of what God had done. Over time, yeast took on more symbolism as well. It came to denote impurity, something that corrupts and was removed from homes entirely during Passover. It was used as a metaphor for something that starts small but eventually takes over the whole of something. The symbolism extended to yeast being like sin. It can grow, it can consume, it can cause the whole to take on new characteristics. It can dilute what was there before.
When Jesus talks about the yeast of the Pharisees this is not a neutral phrase. He is talking about the teachings that do not align with the Kingdom of God. He is talking about the way that they misled people, intentionally or otherwise. The rules and regulations that they put in place that grew and expanded and came to define the relationship that people had with God. This is relevant for us today. What are the things, the people, the places that hinder our walk with God? Which tv programs sow seeds that do not produce good fruits in our lives? Which are the social media platforms or accounts that throw barbs our way that are hard to shake off? And what are the sins in our lives that we have allowed to gain a foothold? That have perhaps become habits that need to be broken? In short, what are the things that dilute the voice of God in our lives? What causes us to feel like we have less of God in our lives?
Before we pray for the day let’s give our final thought to our central theme this week, the generosity of God. God is generous. Jesus does not leave us with just part of our lives changed. He didn’t give part of Himself for us on the cross, but He gave us everything. All of Himself. Our generous God is ready to step into any situation where we need His wholeness. In any of the places we’ve just mentioned, He can bring change. He has already paved the way for that to happen! And He has already given us His Holy Spirit. So let’s offer a simple prayer in response to that now.
Thank you God that you are generous. We pray that you would fill us with your Holy Spirit today. Amen.
READING: Matthew 16:1-12
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
He replied, ‘When evening comes, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,” and in the morning, “Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.’ Jesus then left them and went away.
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. ‘Be careful,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’
They discussed this among themselves and said, ‘It is because we didn’t bring any bread.’
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ 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.