Leaven of False Teaching | Matthew 16:5-12
December 28, 2014 Series: Revelation of the King | Matthew Part III
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 16:5–16:12
Good morning! My name is Kevin Swartz and I’m an elder candidate here at Damascus Road and if you would, please open up your Bible to Matthew chapter 16, we are going to be going over verses 5-12 today.
In the past few weeks, in this section that we have called “The Revelation of the King,” we have seen Jesus performing miracles. We’ve seen him walking on water and feeding both 5000 people and 4000 people with only a small amount of food. We’ve seen him traveling all around the region from Galilee to Gennesaraet to Tyre and Sidon back to the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus has been preaching to a lot of people in a lot of different places, opening up their eyes and their hearts to Kingdom of Heaven.
It really is Jesus who enables our eyes to see. It really is Jesus who sets our hearts on things from God. Because we, as NT believers, could never understand God’s will apart from Jesus. He is the one who sets us on the right path and gives us the ability to see the things of God.
This text that we are going over today really demonstrates that concept quite well. So let’s read chapter 16, verses 5-12.
Matthew 16:5-12English Standard Version (ESV)
The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
This is God’s word.
Jesus’ ministry right now is really on the move. If you were to look at the beginning of most of the passages that we have been going over in Matthew recently, you will see that Jesus is constantly leaving one place and going to another. Back and forth he goes, bringing the gospel to different people in different areas with his disciples.
And when we are traveling, we always need to make sure we bring provisions with us, right?
When we go on a vacation we always make a list of items to bring: clothes, socks, toothbrush and soap, to name a few. But food might be the most important one, this was especially important back in the first century, and the disciples, it says in verse 5, forgot to bring bread.
Forgetting to bring bread on a journey is a problem because Jesus and the disciples didn’t have Taco Bell back in those days to swing by and grab chicken soft taco to eat before heading off to preach at the Sea of Galilee.
Which might be why the disciples’ minds are on food when Jesus mentioned “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Because their minds were on earthly problems and not on spiritual problems.
Their minds didn’t perceive that Jesus is trying to warn them about something and that he is not telling them something about food. They were blind, in that moment, to what Jesus was trying to tell them.
Why would Jesus, who miraculously fed both 4 and 5 thousand people, with just a few baskets of food just in the last 2 chapters of Matthew, worry about bread? The disciples were not exactly understanding what Jesus was saying here at all here. They are too focused in on the things of this world and not on things from God.
Now, it is easy to be judgmental of the spiritual absentmindedness of the disciples, it’s easy to be critical of them here and think “How could they not see what Jesus is talking about? It’s so obvious,” it’s easy until we take an honest look at our own selves.
They were only seeing the physical, much like we would do. And not the real, underlying matter of Jesus’ words. This is how we can easily misunderstand or even misinterpret what God is saying to us.
Just to give a quick illustration of what I mean by this, when my son was 4 or 5 years old, around Halloween time. We went to Haggen’s to get some groceries. While there, they were passing out little candy bars. They gave him a dark chocolate Hershey bar and he fell in love!
So I said, “Good, I’d rather you eat those than regular milk chocolate because dark chocolate has some good things in it, it’s much better for you than regular chocolate.” Fast forward a week or so and we were sitting down eating dinner. I asked him what he wants with his dinner: an apple, banana or carrot. And he said, “I think I’ll just have a dark chocolate candy bar.”
I said, “What?!” He said, “Well you said it was healthy.” No, that’s not exactly what I said. I said it had good things in it, but I never said it was health food. He heard what I said but did not listen to what I said. He misinterpreted something I said to mean something totally different. Dark chocolate does not equal broccoli.
Much in the same way that my son misinterpreted something I said, the disciples misinterpret something Jesus said. You would think after all this time of following him and listening to his preaching, they would have actually picked up on what he was saying. Which might be why Jesus was a little indignant when he said, “What made you think I was talking about bread?”
They weren’t exactly paying close attention. Which is why Jesus asked them, in verse 9, “Do you not yet perceive?” That sentence is key…”Do you not yet perceive?” Jesus is implying that they should be able to perceive by now. But for some reason, they do not…
We have a name for the condition in which we focus too much on things of this world and not of things from God, and that’s called Spiritual Blindness.
Spiritual blindness is defined as the inability to see God’s truth when presented to you. Its right in front of us but for some reason we can’t see it.
Now, there are 2 kinds of spiritual blindness that are in scripture. One, as we saw last week, is with the unbelievers who can’t see and will not see. They are the ones apart from God, the unsaved and the ones resistant to the gospel.
Then there is the other kind, which we are looking at today that is modeled for us with the disciples. That is the people who are followers of Christ but yet still struggle with hearing him clearly sometimes. Hint: that’s just about all of us!
It’s something we all struggle with. It’s not like we have a direct hotline to God and after talking to him once we all of the sudden understand him completely. Sometimes it’s a real struggle for us to hear him and figure out his will for our lives.
Or maybe it’s just me that struggles with that.
The disciples, in this passage, quickly forget all the events that recently transpired. Just in the last few chapters, like I talked about earlier, they are with Jesus when he feeds the 5000. And then again when he feeds the 4000. The disciples even pick up baskets of leftovers.
How quickly we forget. How quickly we forget just exactly what God has done already for us.
We have a very short memory, don’t we? Instead, we tend to focus too much on the “right here, right now” and forget the many, many years that God blessed us tremendously.
We see that concept displayed in scripture all the time. God blesses his people. People forget. People sin against God. It’s a recurring theme and it hasn’t exactly stopped yet, either.
Because we can’t see. We don’t yet perceive.
So, just like Israel before Jesus’ time, the people quickly forgot God’s provision. The disciples quickly forget Jesus’ work. They forgot Jesus feeding the 4 and 5 thousand right in front of them. They became spiritual blind for a moment. And because of that, Jesus had to correct them and explain it to them plainly.
What causes spiritual blindness? What causes us to not perceive Christ properly?
One of the fastest ways to spiritual blindness is ignorance. Ignorance to his word. This is probably the greatest cause of spiritual blindness, actually. Ignorance can also be described as: unaware, unfamiliar, oblivious, lack of knowledge, you get the point. It’s kind of hard to know what someone is trying to tell you if you are not paying attention.
It means you are not focused on something so you can’t concentrate on it, and in turn, understand it. Like, for example, I am completely ignorant in Politics. That’s because I don’t like politics and I have no desire to follow them whatsoever.
Now, maybe I should follow them to know what’s going on in our world, but the point is I have no idea what I’m talking about in regards to politics because I’m not putting any effort into them. I’m not willing to read up on it and study it.
Becoming ignorant to something is usually from our desire to not want to know more about it. Ignorance can also come from a type of “casualness.” This, it seems, is what the disciples are suffering from.
Just a casual listening to Jesus talk is not enough for us to hear him, much less perceive him.
Just last week, my wife and I went out on a date to go see Handel’s Messiah at the Seattle Symphony. You’ve heard of that right? It’s a very popular Christmas musical that comes around every December.
Anyway, we knew of that famous chorus singing: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! That’s what we thought we were going to see. Unfortunately, that just was not the case. It was an opera.
A 2 ½ hour opera! A long, slow, drawn out 2 ½ hour opera! Now, neither of us are big fans of opera, so I hope I’m not offending any opera fans here…
But we had no idea what we were getting into. We heard one single line from the concert and decided to go. If we would have done our research, we would have known it was…a…long…opera!
And that’s where ignorance comes from. Not putting forth the effort. You could say the disciples might be a little bit ignorant here, in this passage. Why is that?
They just heard what Jesus said and instantly associated it with physical bread.
After all this time of following Jesus and listening to his preaching, they still can’t tell that Jesus talks in parables and metaphors?
Don’t you think by now they would have picked up on how Jesus talks?
Jesus already has a reputation of speaking in parables. In fact, back in Matthew 13:10, which we preached on a few months ago, the disciples even asked Jesus why he spoke in parables. So how come they couldn’t tell what Jesus was talking about here?
Well, Jesus gives us the answer as to why they couldn’t understand what he was talking about, in verse 8: “O you of little faith,” It all boils down to our faith doesn’t it?
Having little faith, produces ignorance. Having little faith causes us to not hear God’s word clearly, blinding us to his spirit.
Having little faith produces spiritual blindness.
Another way we can become spiritually blind is by sheer laziness, which I think is probably the most common way.
This is a condition, which I think I can safely assume, affects us all. I know it does to me. I can’t tell you how many times I put off reading or praying or doing something good for people out of my total laziness.
There is something good on TV, a different book to read, a movie to watch or someone to talk to…there’s always going to be an excuse. Always a reason to put off spending time with God. “I’ll do it later” seems to be the common thought process.
And we always rationalize it our own head’s don’t we? We somehow think, “God won’t mind, he understands, he’ll forgive me.” Those are words I have said, even recently.
And it comes from our “me first” type of mentality. We just naturally think of ourselves first, don’t we?
Being lazy actually leads to ignorance also.
These two are linked together and work in unison to blind us to things of God, which can be dangerous. Spiritual blindness can be dangerous because we can’t see or hear Jesus at that moment. What are we missing by not listening to him?
Is he trying to tell us somewhere to go? Something to do? Or maybe he’s trying to reveal our sin to us so we can repent of it.
Because we can’t see our sin if we are spiritually blind and that is dangerous because if we don’t see it then how can we effectively deal with it.
The enemy would love nothing more than to keep us in the dark. If we can’t see our sin and can’t kill it then it’s gonna hang around and stay with us. It’s gonna continue to grow and fester until it starts to negatively affect us.
This is why recognizing our sin is an absolute must. It may not be fun, nobody said it would be. But it very important to our spiritual health.
Have you ever thought about exactly what your sins are? Can you list out your sins and try to recognize them? Can you name them?
If we can’t even begin to name our sins then chances are we are blind to it because I promise you we all have sin. Lots of it. And if we can’t name it or see it then you can bet we are blind to it.
This is important because sin’s natural result is guilt and separation from God. Just like in the garden. Adam was guilty and he hid from God. Sin is really good at separating us from God.
This is why spiritual blindness can be so destructive. We want and need a personal relationship with God and sin prevents that from happening. It puts a barrier between us and God. Sin blinds us to the things of God. Blinds us, to Jesus’ words.
But a good eye, one that can see well, is one that is fixed on Jesus and his word. A good eye is one that stops and pays attention to Jesus. A good eye seeks out God’s word.
We can do this by spending intentional and purposeful time with God.
I know just about every sermon can be summed up by saying, “Pray and read your Bible more.” But I’m not talking about praying more or reading more. In fact, I might even say to read your bible less.
Now, before you all get up and walk out on me, hear me out.
I used to be about more. Just read more. Just pray more. If I do it more then everything will be OK. And I did, I read a lot…but never really heard God.
Because I was so focused in on how much I was reading. I talked about this briefly in my last sermon, but I used to have a number of chapters I HAD to read that day. I always had to read 3 chapters.
No matter what, read 3. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible. If I read 3 a day then I can read the whole Bible in about a year. That was my goal. And I spent a lot of time doing this. But I rarely heard from God. Rarely got any direction because I spent my time to check a box that I spent time with him.
My heart was set on knowing the bible and the bible stories, and not really set on knowing God’s word and what he wanted for my life.
Just like the disciples, we can easily misunderstand what Jesus is trying to tell us by just casually reading his word. If we just gloss over it quickly then we can simply think he is saying something that in reality, he is not.
I would just cruise over passages I didn’t understand. Didn’t apply scripture to my life. I mostly just read for informational purposes. I wanted to learn a lot of facts and know the Bible inside out. I tried to use my intelligence to guide me in spiritual matters.
Just glossing over something doesn’t imprint it on our hearts. We can’t internalize God’s words if we just skim over scripture.
But if we were to slow down, be intentional in our prayer life and be intentional and focus on his word…I wonder how much his word would transform us and transform our hearts? And not only us, but those around us, as well. It’s kind of like a “ripple effect.”
For example, instead of instead of reading 3 chapters a day. Try one verse. Repeatedly. Read it over and over again. Let it sink into you. Let it change your heart, then you will see the transforming power of God’s word.
This is how he speaks to us. Not in how much we know or how much time we spend reading or praying.
In the book of Daniel, King Darius was tricked, by his servants, into signing a document saying that nobody can bow down and worship a god other than him (the King) for the next 30 days. When Daniel heard of this, he did the first thing that came to his mind.
Daniel 6:10 describes what happened next: “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”
Now, most people will look at this verse and think the solution is to pray more. Now, there is a great benefit in praying more, yes! But if our motivation is just “more” then we are going to start focusing in on how much time we are spending and not actually focusing on God himself.
We can say something like, “Wow, 20 minutes of prayer today…I’m pretty spiritual.” All the while our hearts are somewhere else. Our hearts are focused in on things of this world and not on things of God.
Instead of focusing in on “more” we should really be focusing in on being deliberate and seeking out God’s will and getting our hearts in the right place. And when we can do that, then our prayer life will naturally grow and increase because our desire will be to know the will of God instead of our desire being just longer devotional times.
You see the difference?
Daniel knew what he needed to do. He was so desiring the will of God that he wanted to pray 3 times a day. He kept going back to pray so he could figure out what God wanted him to do. Daniel kept going back to prayer because he knew he needed to know the will of God. Even if it meant something like leading him to the Lion’s den.
He went home. He went upstairs. He got down on his knees and then he prayed and gave thanks. This is intentional and this is what God desires for us. Not how many minutes we can spend praying, not how many chapters we can read a day.
Nowhere in scripture does it say a certain amount of time we should pray. How many hours or how many minutes. There is no litmus test for time spent with God.
But it does say that it’s highly important. In fact, Jesus even gives us instructions on how and when to pray in Matthew 6:6, in it he says: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Being intentional about going into your room and shutting your door is what God truly wants from you. Not just “trying to fit it in” whenever we can.
Or just praying as we drive down the road. Now, it’s a good thing to pray while driving but if that is our only time we spend with God then we are missing the purpose of prayer. Trust me, we can’t hear God properly if we are paying attention to the road and signs instead of his word.
Because being intentional about something shows how desperately serious you are about it.
Guys, if you were to be intentional about spending time with your wife, how do you think she would react? It doesn’t even have to be big thing like planning a date night with babysitting and dinner and a movie, although, that might be a good thing as well.
But if you were to just sit down and talk to her, check in on her, see how she’s doing and if there is anything you can do for her…how do you think she’d react to that? I’m willing to bet she might actually appreciate it.
Why? Because that would show you are thinking about her. It would show that you are intentional about wanting to develop your relationship with her, no matter how long you two have been married. It would show that you care about her and you want to know how she is doing.
It would demonstrate to her where your heart belongs.
If that’s the case, how much more, would our Father in Heaven, appreciate it and love it if we set aside time for him? How much would God love it if we set aside a certain time of day just for him and nothing else?
And it doesn’t have to be the first thing in the morning, although if you can, I highly recommend that. But let’s not get legalistic about having to do it in the morning. I know some Boeing guys here that have to wake up at 4 am. I’m not asking them to get up even earlier. They might not like it.
But what if some of them said to themselves, “When I get home, that’s when I talk to God.” Or even after dinner, or whatever. The point is not what time of day it is, it’s about setting aside intentional time to spend with him.
We set aside time for many other things, don’t we? How many people set an alarm on their phone to remind them of their favorite TV show? You know exactly what day and what time that show is coming on TV and you won’t miss it, will you?
We know exactly what time the Seahawks play at and we usually plan our whole day around the game, don’t we?
The point is, we make plans for a lot of things but we just try to “fit in” our time with God.
We are rarely intentional about our time with Him. Again, it’s not about more praying or more reading. It’s not about more time. It’s about setting aside more purposeful time with him on a regular and constant basis.
What is the purpose of spending time in prayer with God? Why is this so important? Prayer is not a “laundry list” of things you want. It’s not about what God can do for you, it’s about bending your own will to God’s will.
That’s why in the Lord’s Prayer it says: “Your will be done.” That’s what we desire. We desire for God to impart his will onto ours.
John 14:13 says, “Whatever you ask for in my name, this I will do.”
This does not mean that if you ask for a nicer car or a bigger house in Jesus’ name he will give it to you automatically. No, the purpose of prayer is to know the will of God and then if we know the will of God, then that is what we are going to ask for and that is what he will give us.
What does this have to do with spiritual blindness?
Spiritual blindness will cause us to not see or hear God’s will for our lives. It will cause us to see prayer in a different way. It will cause us to list off things we want from God. You are to come to him with prayer requests, yes! But seek out God’s will for those requests, don’t just ask to get stuff.
Spiritual blindness will also cause us to be susceptible to false teachings or highly destructive theology, which is exactly what Jesus is telling his disciples in this passage.
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” which was really, “Beware of the teaching of the Pharisees.”
But because the disciples were so focused in on things of this world they couldn’t quite understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. They were thinking about food when Jesus was talking to them, trying to warn them about spiritual matters. They were blind to it for a time.
Jesus was saying, “Don’t be concerned about bread; be concerned about false teaching.”
Because there really is a “correct” teaching of the things of God and there really is a “wrong” teaching of the things of God. And Jesus is trying to warn them here.
Jesus referred to the teaching of the Pharisees as “leaven” of the Pharisees and warned the disciples of it. Why is that? Because if you are a baker you know, only a little tiny bit of leaven affects the whole batch. If the teaching of the Pharisees is leaven, only a little bit of their teaching will affect the whole person. And not in the positive way, either.
And a little bit of false teaching will affect your whole being. Because false teaching leads you into a “me” first theology instead of a God first theology. This is backwards of what it should be and it’s dangerous. And this is exactly what Jesus was trying to warn the disciples of.
The Pharisees and Sadducees believed you could do things to get right with God. They believed you could earn your way into God’s good grace by performing a certain amount of rituals. By doing something good.
This is not the case at all. We see continually throughout scripture that it is a heart issue and not a “works” issue. So Jesus warns the disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees.
To contrast though, Jesus says, in John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Jesus is our bread, Jesus is our leaven and where our heart should be at.
We need to put God first, in our hearts, above everything so that we can clearly hear and understand him.
Of course we are all going to agree on that statement, right? But how many of us are really doing that? How many of us can say we are putting God before ourselves? I know I’m not and it’s a constant battle. But we need to be aware of it. We need to know that our sight isn’t good.
And when we recognize how much we need his help, then we are on the right road to making some changes in our walk.
In fact, the name of our church, Damascus Road, is the road where the apostle Paul received his sight. This is where he met Jesus. This is where he was brought into the light out of the darkness, by the grace of God, this is where he received his vision.
Acts 9:3-4 says this. “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Notice the direct connection here between seeing and hearing Jesus. There was a light that shone from Heaven and when he fell to the ground he heard Jesus for the first time. This was Saul’s turning point from accuser and persecutor of the Christians into a man after God’s own heart.
This is when he saw and heard Jesus.
There is that line in the old hymn Amazing Grace, that says: “I was blind but now I see.” This is where Paul is at.
This was his pivot point. This was the time he finally repented and turned to Jesus because he saw the light. If we continue on in the narrative to verse 17, there was a disciple named Ananias, who was told from Jesus about this incident and what he should do.
Acts 9:17-18 says this,
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;
Now Saul could see. The scales on his eyes represent his old life. His old habits, his old way of doing things. No more would he persecute the Christians, instead he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen.
Because he had his eyes opened to things of Christ and not to the things of man. He was able to see clearly now because the grace of Jesus shone upon him. So now this is Paul’s task. Now that his eyes are opened, he wants to open the eyes of others.
This is clearly illustrated, again, by Paul when he was talking to King Agrippa in Acts 26:18 when he writes of the mission he has received he says to the King, in verse 18 he says of his mission: to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
That was Paul’s mission, to take spiritually blind people and give them spiritual sight. So that they could turn from the dark into the light, from sin and bondage to a life of forgiveness and repentance in Christ.
We can turn from our old ways of doing things, like Paul. We can begin to see the light more clearly the more we intentionally turn ourselves towards the cross.
We need to seek the light because we can’t see on our own. We need help. We need to be able to see the things of God. We need Jesus’ help to see and perceive the things of God or we may miss it.
And it is through repentance that we have this gift of sight. The word repentance literally means “to change your mind or change your ways.” This is how we see Jesus more clearly. Through repentance. This is how we get our sight, through repentance.
But repentance is a constant thing. This is not just a one-time thing we do at conversion. It is a constant, continuous action that we must practice all the time if want to continue to walk in the light.
Because sin keeps us in the dark and repenting of it and bringing it out into the light will kill our sin.
Bringing sin out into the light then, not only destroys sin, but destroys that separation between us and God so we can be in spiritual union with him. So that we can properly understand him when he speaks to us.
But what about those times we don’t desire God? We all have them. We all have times when our hearts just aren’t into it…so don’t despair. Because this is where the grace of Jesus comes in. The grace of Jesus Christ gives us rest in him who already accomplished everything.
He’s already done all the work and we need to rest knowing that the bread of life has finished it all already.
Just imagine. Imagine what we could do, what we could accomplish, if we put our time with God first, over and above anything. Imagine if all of us spent intentional time with God, what could we do? What lives could we change?
Imagine what we could do if we knew the will of God.
And not just in our own lives, but in the lives of others around us?
Imagine if we practiced repentance on a continual basis. Our ways would then become God’s ways, and what could we do for the mission of Christ then?
There is where the cross comes in. The cross of Jesus gives us forgiveness of our sins. The cross is where we go to, to admit we have been selfish, prideful, arrogant and sinful. We get to lay our sins before the cross of Christ and admit that we don’t have it all together.
The cross is where we go to, to be able to discern the will of God.
And in so doing, coming into a right relationship with our Savior, through repentance.
This is how we see the things of God and not see the things of man.
And in coming to the cross, we take communion here at Damascus Road every week. Communion is just one of 3 main ways we worship Christ. Communion is a reminder of the blood shed by Christ on the cross and of the body that was broken, when he was crucified.
We also worship by our giving, of our tithes and offerings. There are offering earns up front here and one in the back. Because everything we have, we recognize that it comes from God and giving back to God and his church is one other way that we worship him.
We also sing songs of Worship. In a moment, the band will come up here and play 4 songs. And during that time of worship is when we come up, as individuals, to the table and take the elements, the bread and the juice, and we participate in communion with the Spirit’s prompting to remind of us of why we worship Christ our Savior.