Some people fast and pray. I clean and pray.
For the past three years, I have noticed that during times of preparation for a new spiritual season, some series of events unfold that uncovers a hidden source of yeast in our home. Yes, by yeast, I also mean mold as they are one and the same, ya know.
In one instance it was the yeast in my daughter’s diet that was affecting her sleep; enter probiotics, enter sleep! In another, it was just a generally motivated cleaning frenzy preparing for COVID; where we did a Passover-style hunt for yeasts and molds and all other germs! Most recently it was uncovering a little overlooked seam in our bathtub that needed to be bleached. It was one of those, “Definitely would have been cleaning this if I knew this little gap was here, and I’m so grossed out that now everything gets bleach” kind of things! The timing of these gross finds always lines up with God showing me how I need to clean up things in my heart to be ready for what’s coming next.
It’s kind of embarrassing to talk about yeast spores and mold in your house, but I heard something great from Tomi Arayomi this week: “Embarrass your sin before it embarrasses you.”
The Bible talks a lot about clearing the leaven (yeast) from our lives. Leaven most generally symbolizes sin. More specifically pride. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus gives us an even more surgical description of what leaven is and how it rots our faith.
You have heard, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees,” Luke 12:1.
You have heard, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadduces” Matthew 16:6.
Have you heard, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod?” (Mark 8:15)
I first “heard” Mark 8:15 (I put “heard” in quotations to mean that I first processed what it was saying) a few days ago, in a prophetic word about the religious, anti-Christ spirits operating on the two sides of the political divide in the church today. I’d never noticed the nuanced phrase “and Herod” in Mark 8:15 before.
Since the 1970’s, the non-denominational American church has tried to shuck off the reputation of the Mainstream churches’ religiosity that has historically paraded itself in the form of stiffness and moralism. The non-denominational church embraced a way of being that has been more accessible to our culture. The non-denominational church has leaned into the ethos of Paul, rejecting mainstream traditionalism for an evangelistic style of church life that “is all things to all men,” while also rejecting most of the practices of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements that are deemed confusing to the unbelieving church visitor.
As a self-deprecating battle cry, we have preached, and taught, and finger-wagged concerning the leaven of the Pharisees by grouping all three of these verses into being a warning of just one thing: religiosity.
We’ve made it so that religiosity can mean whatever we want it to mean to suit the homiletic. A warning to the wise: whenever you make a word’s meaning over-reach its bounds, you can manipulate it to be a pejorative against anyone you don’t like or agree with. The same is true for defining a term too narrowly. Christians love denouncing and de-platforming other Christians as “religious” according to a standard of the accuser’s own devising.
We’ve pushed a culturally crafted definition of religiosity onto the conservative camp. However, religiosity has a biblical definition that applies to everyone in all camps– religious and irreligious alike, conservative and liberal alike. I don’t know about you, but when I think of Herod, his religiosity doesn’t really jump out at me. Yet, he had the same leaven as the Pharisees. How does Herod’s inclusion in a trifecta of verses on the leaven of the Pharisees inform us about what that leaven is?
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus turned a conversation about forgetting to pack bread into an operative doctrine to help his disciples discern when their faith was becoming polluted by the religious spirits of that day. What we’ll find is that “religiosity” is not a one-to-one synonym for religious practice or holiness. Ok, let’s turn it over to Matthew for a second:
“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.”
Matthew 16:12 specifies, “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.”
So the leaven of the Pharisees is false teaching. In the context of the bread conversation, Jesus was rebuking the disciples for forgetting about the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Therefore, I’d color this warning against the Pharisees false teaching with three specific components: forgetting your testimony, forgetting Jesus’ God nature, and forgetting about the miraculous.
When you forget what you’ve seen, who Jesus is, and how Jesus operates, you become a prime target for the leaven of the Pharisees– false teaching from within the church that burdens rather than frees people.
At the root is unbelief. Why couldn’t Jesus do many miracles in Nazareth? Because of their unbelief. Those in Jesus’ hometown couldn’t accept his God nature because they were overly familiar with the mundane aspect of Jesus’ person.
The Sadducees inclusion in this phrase also emphasizes the false teaching of rejecting the resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. The Book of Revelation says that anyone that adds or takes away from the prophecies recorded in Revelation will have no share in the tree of life and will be afflicted with all the judgments of the tribulation. In Revelation, two resurrections are described– the believers’ resurrection to assess what rewards will be given to the faithful servants based on the degree to which they sought to invest their lives into the Kingdom of Heaven, and the general resurrection for all to stand judgment for sin. Only those who stand behind Jesus, their sins washed by his blood and hidden under his grace, are deemed innocent.
Luke 12 gives a different dimension of the leaven of the Pharisees. Jesus does not include the Sadducees in this rebuke, but he adds a defining phrase. Luke 12:1: “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
We just established that the leaven of the Pharisees is a teaching style rooted in unbelief, and it is also hypocrisy.
In Luke 12:1-2, Jesus alludes to a day of reckoning saying: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”
I think this day of reckoning is two fold. One, it is the White Throne of Judgement I described above. None of us, not even Christians, gets off without giving a full account of how we spent our terrestrial lives. But, I think it is possible that Jesus was talking about how his death and resurrection was going to blow open the religious oppression that the Pharisees had laden the Jewish people with; and it was going to unmask them as people in complete opposition to God. In so doing, a spiritual highway would be cleared for the gospel to stream forth from Jerusalem.
Since we have allowed 13 yr. old’s to define the word hypocrisy based on how they feel about their parents, an important feature of the meaning of hypocrisy has been lost. The full official denotation of hypocrisy is that you don’t actually believe what you say you believe. It’s not just, “you’re such a hypocrite because you fail at your own standards” or “you set standards for me that you don’t or can’t keep.” It’s that “you’re a hypocrite, and I know you are, because your actions reveal that you do not believe what you profess to believe.”
The leaven of the Pharisees is unbelief and feigned belief.
Suddenly, Christian hypocrisy isn’t just about parents and pastors, it is about anyone whose actions reveal that they are touting an allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven that they do not have. The Pharisees touted a severe allegiance to Torah and God. Their actions weren’t just missing the mark. Their actions were the fruit of being imposters parading as faithful men in order to attain the easiest access road to power, prestige, and social visibility.
Now there is a definition of hypocrisy that applies to both sides of the political aisle, people young and old, people in church and outside of it. Most people today jockey their “beliefs” for the sake of social standing and moral authority. On the right it’s called “truth” and on the left its called “narrative.”
We presume to be in possession of righteousness that we do not have in order to lord it over other people.
You see, hypocrisy is not just about failing the standards you set up for other people. It’s about not even being serious regarding the standards you set for yourself. It is less about “imposing” and more about being an imposter.
The biggest imposter of Jesus’ day is the target of our final verse, Mark 8:15. “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.”
King Herod was not the King of the Jews. Obviously, because Jesus was. But also, because he wasn’t a Jew. He was an Edomite.
In 2 Chronicles 21:8 we find out that the Edomites, who were descendants of Esau and consequently Ishmael, rebelled against the Kingdom of Judah and set up their own state. This was allowed to happen as a judgment against the king of Judah, Jehoram who was wicked. It was also really sad because it is the first time you become really aware of the “balkanization” of the Kingdom of Israel. First, split in two by the Tribes of Israel, now falling to groups without the right of inheritance to the Promised Land.
King Herod was installed as king of Judea by Rome as a mockery of the Jews. And that was his entire spirit– mockery.
Christians have largely come to believe that as long as you are relaxed, can take a joke, and don’t get too involved with holiness that you aren’t a hypocrite. But the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod includes mockery.
Right before the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, we see what’s happening backstage after the miracle of the loaves and fishes. After Jesus feeds the masses with a miracle, the Pharisees approach Jesus and start pestering him for a sign. Jesus says, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? None will be given to it.”
Immediately afterward, in the boat, Jesus’ disciples realize they only brought one loaf of bread. Jesus asks, “Do you still not understand?”
He had just done a miracle multiplying bread and they are still hung up on the amount of bread they had with them. They missed the sign! And so did the Pharisees. They asked for a sign because they were ignoring all the signs given. They wanted to dictate what sign would be good enough for them and therefore ignored every sign God gave them.
That is what mockers do. They rail against authorities. Trying to set the bar themselves, they become a law unto themselves.
Jesus uses two opposite personality profiles to encompass the breadth of this kind of leaven. First, the Pharisees with their unbelief and pride. Then, Herod with his lasciviousness and illegitimacy. Both, a law unto themselves mocking the supernatural and spiritual authority of Jesus.
Jesus asks the disciples in Mark 8:17-19: Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?
The questioning regarding hardness of heart and failing to understand what you see and hear should sound very familiar. In Matthew 13, Jesus explains that he speaks in parables about the Kingdom of Heaven so that those who are not inheritors of it won’t understand it. He said, “it is for you, but not them.” After each kingdom parable, Jesus says “let those who have ears to hear let them hear.”
When Jesus questions the disciples in Mark 8:17-19, he is asking them, “Are you like them? Are you not inheritors of the kingdom? Do you not have the spiritual faculties to sense the activity in the heavenlies?” In other words, “are you unfeeling?”
The leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod is a disregard for what God is working in the spirit. More than a lack of discernment, it is an unfeelingness. The leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod is a mold, a rot. It does what leprosy does– it is a rot that deadens your sense of touch.
Don’t store up treasure where things rust and get infested. Don’t cling to yesterday’s move of God, as even manna molds.
Have you become deadened in your ability to feel? Are you able to feel what is happening in the spirit while you mull over what you see in the flesh?
I heard a great quote from Jeremiah Johnson. I’m not sure if he originated it, but he said “Where are you getting your news from? Does the media tell you what’s happening in the world?” This insinuates that we know there is no such thing as an unbiased, unvested opinion, and nothing coming from the news networks is godly, so what is the source of true insight into our world? It’s your senses being sensitive to feel the spiritual consequence of what is happening.
The leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod is not two different kinds of leaven. It is one kind with two profiles. In the one, the leaven foments a passion that cries out, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist!” In the other, the leaven rises up and screams, “Crucify him!”
Both heads on the leaven coin are anti-Christ and anti-prophetic. Jesus was the Word of God. His entire being was prophecy. Jesus told the disciples that he said nothing unless he heard it from the Father. The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod says– “kill the prophetic.”
Let me tell you how the prophetic was killed in America. It was imitated, exaggerated, monetized, sensationalized, and then discredited. Imposters feigning belief for power and money silenced the prophetic in America.
This leaves us in a situation today, where God’s people are sitting in a boat full of miracles asking, “What about the bread?” We are worried about bread just like everyone else, when Jesus told us to go do all the miracles he did and more. But, we’re afraid to approach the prophetic and the power of God because when we look at it, all we see is leaven.
Discern what the leaven of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herod is, what hypocrisy is; so that you don’t pass on a portion of the Bread of Life because you think “all bread has leaven so all bread is bad.”
Our sense of touch is the prophetic. It is time for the American church TO FEEL again.