Sunday, January 18, 2015

Leaven alert

Yeast cells

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'" Matthew 16:6

We can't help but smile at the little comedy of misunderstanding near the beginning of today's reading. Jesus had just had an encounter with the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducess where they goaded Him for a heavenly sign. His reply cut to the bone: "Hypocrites...a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign..."

Then He and the disciples got into a boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee. When they reached the other side, the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread.

Into that setting Jesus interjected, "'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'"

I can just see the wheels trying to turn in the disciples' heads: What does that have to do with anything? They tried, among themselves, to connect Jesus' statement with their present lack of bread.

But that wasn't the connection Jesus wanted them to make. So what was He talking about?

Not physical bread. His words in Matthew 16:8-11 show us that. Even the literal-minded disciples realized by the end of that conversation that Jesus was warning them not about some literal brand of leaven to avoid, but false doctrine.

It wasn't a specific teaching that Jesus was referring to either. Because the Pharisees and Sadducees beliefs contradicted each other. According to the study notes in my Bible:

"The Pharisees had a strong commitment to the Law as interpreted by 'the tradition of the elders.' They were strong ritualists and were legalistic.

The Sadducees came from leading social families and were rationalists and materialists. They rejected "the tradition of the elders" and denied the supernatural, including the possibility of a bodily resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees are best known for their mutual hostility" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1320.

Jesus was, it seems to me, warning them about the leaven of false doctrine of any kind.

Leaven or yeast, is a fungus that we add to bread dough. In the right conditions just a little grows in a matter of several hours to permeate a large lump of dough. Its presence is evident by the air bubbles that make the bread light and fluffy.

False doctrine is like that. Just a little imbalance or false teaching can quickly work its way through our whole teaching about God, resulting in aberrations as dissimilar as the cults and Christian liberalism.

How do we know when truth has been mixed with leaven? By getting familiar with teaching that is pure—that is, by immersing ourselves in the Bible. As we get to know its message from cover to cover, we will not be easily lured away by doctrines of a bloodless atonement, or angelic guides or any other leaven-permeated diversion from what Peter confessed later in the chapter: "You are the Christ the Son of the living God," or the simple gospel that Paul preached: "...Jesus Christ and Him crucified" 1 Corinthians 2:2.

PRAYER: Dear God, please sharpen my spiritual awareness so I will recognize the leaven of false teaching. Please guide me into truth by Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

Today is the day the church celebrates the Confession of Saint Peter. It begins with this prayer:

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Liturgy for this day

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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