Wouldn’t it be nice if all leavening was labeled with clear wording? Instead of “potassium bicarbonate”, wouldn’t it be nice if it were plainly labeled as “leavening”?
Of course, wouldn’t it be nice if spiritual leavening was clearly labeled as well? You know, leaven of malice and wickedness, leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and then there’s the leaven of Herod. I want you to think about that last facet as I try to connect the dots.
Pharisees, Sadducees, Herod – this is all ancient history, right? Do we even have any of this type of leaven around us today? Jesus identified in a very familiar verse, Lk 12:1, that the leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. Does our society have hypocrisy today? In another familiar passage, Mt 16:11-12, Jesus tells us the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is their doctrine. Do we have false doctrines around us today? It is important to note that the Pharisees and Sadducees actually had different doctrines. They did not see eye-to-eye, for example, on the resurrection. The Pharisees were considered the blue-collar conservatives of their day, while the Sadducees were the elitists that brought in Hellenistic ideas into the Jewish religion. However, both had false ideas that they promoted as truth.
One of these passages ties hypocrisy and false doctrine together. And you know, it is difficult to have hypocrisy without false doctrine and it is difficult to have false doctrine without hypocrisy. Both involve a type of falsehood. Both involve deceiving and being deceived.What is hypocrisy, anyhow? Greeks used to love plays. They would engage in play acting, that is, hypokrisis. Acting involves a certain amount of interpretation or judgment, so the actors were called hypokrites. Often, they used masks that would exaggerate features of the characters they were emulating. In other words, they were trying to appear as something other than what they really were.
What is doctrine? Loosely defined, “doctrine” just means “teaching”. Sometimes, it is defined as “that which is taught”.
The customs of the world overtake the commanded days that God instituted in the Bible. It is similar to what the Pharisees did by replacing the commandments of God with the traditions of men. Do the world’s religions teach certain things? Do they push a worldview? Does the world teach our youth to think and act a certain way? Does it teach that God, if He even exists, is irrelevant?
Brethren, can this type of thinking affect us? Can this type of thinking invade the Church? Can we become lax about God’s way of life? Can we become too comfortable with what the world does and the messages it sends?
Leaven represents sin. We hear this year after year. Yet, it can become a catch phrase to say, “Leaven is sin”, and totally gloss over what that really means. Can we go through this season so many times and not really meditate upon its meaning?
Leavening involves a chemical or biological action. Yeast eats sugar and expels carbon dioxide. This action is called fermentation. It destroys the sugar in order to create something else. The people of Jesus’ day would have understood a little about this, even though they may not have understood that yeast was a living organism. They would have viewed the process as a type of corruption. They would have understood the concept that spiritual leaven is a type of moral corruption. What corrupts spiritually? Sin. There is the connection. Physical corruption symbolizes moral corruption.
Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees on two different occasions. On one occasion, he mentioned the Sadducees as well. Jesus also identified the third facet that I really want to focus in on. I hadn’t heard as much about this one, so maybe you aren’t as familiar with it either.
Mark 8:15 (King James Version)
15And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.
What does Herod have to do with this? The Pharisees and Sadducees, after all, were religious leaders. They had doctrine. They had hypocrisy. Is the leaven of Herod the same thing? Is it really any different?
When you look at the history of Herod Antipas and his father, Herod the Great, you cannot come away without the feeling that there was something really, really wrong here. There is a definite moral depravity that even secular historians cannot deny.
Herod the Great had ten wives, one of whom he executed. Later, he killed three of his sons because of his paranoia. One of the murdered sons, Aristobulus, had a daughter named Herodias, who was still a minor at the time. Herod had her engaged to his son Herod Philip, who was Herodias’ half uncle and Herod the Great’s pick for heir to the throne. However, after Herod the Great’s death, Herod Antipas successfully lobbied to have the will contested, and so he was awarded the tetrarchy instead of Herod Philip. Herodias divorced Herod Philip in order to marry Herod Antipas. This was unusual even in that society to marry a woman who was both ex-sister-in-law and niece.
It gets even more bizarre, though. Herodias and Herod Philip had a daughter named Salome. She also married a half-uncle named Philip the Tetrarch or Herod Philip II, which made Herodias and Salome both mother and daughter as well as sisters-in-law.
And, that was only part of the intrigue and evil that occurred.
When you get the opportunity, read through Mk 6. It points out that Herod knew John was a just and holy man, yet he had John executed anyhow. Does that not make Herod guilty of hypocrisy?
Did the Pharisees do the same thing? Did they know Jesus was a just and holy man? John 3 records the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus, a pretty familiar passage.
John 3:1-2 (King James Version)
1There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Yet, Mark’s account that names the leaven of Herod lumps him in with the Pharisees’ doctrine. Did Herod have a doctrine?
There are commentaries out there that point out that the Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders while Herod was a leader through the government. Does a government have something to teach? Does a government have a doctrine? Does a government enforce its beliefs upon those who are governed?
The people of this world try to get their person into power so they can get what they desire. They try to effect change through politics. Soon, we will once again be witnessing in this country just how much of a religion that politics has become in this country. Our attitude in the Church should be for the good of all and to the glory of God, rather than the pursuit of our own agenda.
Yet, I’ve been surprised in past church gatherings to hear actual arguments over politics. It’s shocking to read things that advocate military and political involvement, even amongst people associated with various COGs. We are supposed to become unspotted from the world, are we not?
What of church politics, anyhow? Is that how God wants his Kingdom to be run with competing factions vying for power? I think not.
Wikipedia says of “Pharisees” that one definition is of them being a political party.
If you think politics and religion cannot mix at least temporarily, I’d like to point out Mark 3 to you. There are quasi-religious establishments even in this country that involve themselves in politics. Anyone remember the “Moral Majority”?
Mark 3:1-6 (King James Version)
1And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.
2And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.
3And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.
4And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.
5And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.
6And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
So, here we see cooperation between the followers of the Pharisees and the followers of Herod. We see religion blending with government in order to achieve a desired end and to meet their agenda, even if were to be a temporary alliance to get what each party wants.
Ask yourselves these questions as the Days of Unleavened Bread approach:
Should we be involving ourselves in this world’s affairs? Who really runs this world’s governments, anyhow? What government should we be trusting in? What Kingdom should we be asking for, yearning for, trying to get into? Is it not the Kingdom of God? Shouldn’t our leaders be God the Father and Jesus Christ?
So, let us put out the leaven of trying to do get our own way, whether it is within the church or within the affairs of the world. Let’s not entangle ourselves in the false ideas of this society. Let’s not play act or hide behind a mask. Instead, let’s take in the unleavened bread of sincerity, truth and total submission to God’s authority in all things and at all times.
After all, if we take in spiritual leaven, we will be the ones morally corrupted, and it will become our disease to deal with. Jesus said to “beware” of certain types of leaven, so beware we must.