Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Commands of Jesus: Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees

The Commands of Jesus: Be careful…Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod (Mark 8.14-21)

Context: Jesus had just fed 4000 people, of which bread was the major staple (8.1-10).
The Pharisees ask him for a sign from heaven to test him (vv. 11-13; he just gave them a sign). Jesus refuses and leaves.
Jesus and the disciples are on a boat (with only one loaf of bread between them).
Jesus issues his command: Be careful… Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod (v. 15).

What does Jesus mean by yeast? – What is yeast and what is its purpose?
Positive – Matt. 13.33 - The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough
Seemingly negative – 1 Cor. 5.6-7 – things that corrupt.
The yeast had nothing to do with literal bread (which is what the disciples heard).
Yeast in those days was used at times as a symbol of corruption (in Greek understanding and Jewish understanding). In those days, with not the greatest preservation techniques and containers, yeast could go bad and if it did, it could infect a whole batch of dough and poison it.

The disciples don’t get it. They think he is telling them not to buy bread from the Pharisees and from Herod. Perhaps they begin debating whose fault it is?

Jesus is not talking about bread. Jesus was asking his disciples to not be infected with the same attitude of the Pharisees and Herod. Here the Pharisees demand a sign from Jesus, as they had elsewhere (even though they had observed Jesus perform miracles in front of them). Jesus needs to act the way they want him to. We have Pharisees (or teachers of the Law) present when Jesus heals the paralytic (Mark 2.6-12; 3.1-6).
Herod had shown a curiosity in Jesus as well, mostly in his signs and wonders ability than his teaching (Mark. 6.14; Luke 23.8).
Matt. 16.12 - 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.
Luke 12.1 - “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

It seems as if the signs and wonders are never enough. They’ve seen several examples already. What were they looking for? Was it incontrovertible truth? If that was the case, they were trying to dictate to God the conditions they needed in order to believe in Jesus. Even then, I don’t think it would have been enough because it would not have fit the profile that they had of how God would act in history. They would have analyzed it, debated it and probably explained it away.

Where is the “yeast” that we need to avoid today? Who are the people and/or what are the thoughts that infect our whole being and our faith? How do we guard against such people/thoughts?

Do we find ourselves without faith and demanding signs? What signs do we demand from Jesus? Are we swayed by those who ask the same things as well? Do we wish that Jesus would just make things clear and obvious so that everyone would believe in him? (What would that do with our faith? Does John 20.29 say anything about this?)
What are we so dull about? Have we ever experienced God’s provision in Christ yet later wondered how we were going to provide for ourselves at another point?
When Jesus speaks clearly to us in context, do we understand it? What do we find so hard to accept? Have we ever experienced Jesus so clearly yet later on we wonder if he really is who he says he is? Have we even doubted that he has ever worked among us?

Do we need any sign from Jesus? We need one, which is the resurrection. If we have that one sign, then our faith in Jesus is warranted, no matter whether he provides anything else for us or not. He is worthy to be worshiped and followed on the basis of that.

In Mark, the disciples are portrayed as having a special relationship with Jesus, yet, despite their presence with Jesus and their sharing in his ministry, they appear to miss the significance of who Jesus is and what he is doing. They have an excuse, haven’t experienced the resurrections and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Do we understand how significant Jesus is and what he did (and is doing)? What do we need help with? What do you not yet understand? How can we help?

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