Beware The Leaven


The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test Him, they asked Him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then He left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side (Mark 8:11-13).

Good move, Jesus! Get as far away as possible from these people. They are nothing but a hindrance.

These Pharisees had no interest in believing in Him. They already had all the signs they needed if they would just open their eyes and their hearts. Everything Jesus said and did were signs of His origin, His identity, and His mission. John recorded only seven miracles which he called “signs” and which he especially chose so that his readers would come to faith in Jesus as many of those who received His miracles did.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. ‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’ They discussed this with one another and said, ‘It is because we have no bread.’

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketsful of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketsful of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘Seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’ (Mark 8: 14-21).

How clearly the disciples displayed their “footpath” hearts! Using the exact words of Isaiah which Jesus had quoted in His explanation of the parable of the sower, He exposed the hardness of their hearts. The “signs” of the feeding of multitudes with a few loaves of bread and fish should have alerted them to the identity of their rabbi. These signs pointed to the truth that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Father’s authentic representative. If He had taken care of the physical needs of many thousands of people, surely He would take care of them as well.

What did He mean by His warning to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees? Leaven in Scripture was a symbol of the permeating power of evil. One whole feast was dedicated to this picture. After the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated for seven days. All leaven was removed from their homes and their bread was baked without yeast – symbolically speaking of an aspect of Messiah’s work – the removal of sin after the sacrifice for sin was made. Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

What was the leaven of the Pharisees? Their pernicious unbelief. Just like leaven in a lump of dough, their sin of unbelief not only affected them but it also infected others. The danger of unbelief was that it spread among the people like an infectious disease. The most glaring example is the story of the Israelites after the twelve spies had returned from the Promised Land. O yes, it was a good land alright. Didn’t they have the fruits of the land to prove it? But the giants! Ten of the spies were convinced that the giants stood in their way and they were too big and frightening to overcome.

Only two of the spies did not see the giants as obstacles but as opportunities because they had the promises of God. What an opportunity to put God’s promises to the test! They had many months of His faithfulness behind them as a sign of His intention. He was there to take them into the land because He had promised it to Abraham centuries before.

Wherever the Pharisees went, they sowed seeds of doubt by their questioning and arguing. No doubt the people around them were infected by their unbelief. Where were His supporters when the religious leaders were baying for His blood? In the end He died alone. Not even one of those He had healed or rescued from demons stood by Him to plead His innocence.

How important that we stay away from the sceptics and the critics. Their influence is as pernicious as the Pharisees. To remain hot, we must stay in the fire. Coals removed from the fire will soon cool off and die.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Luella Campbell

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