Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees :: by Gene Lawley

You have heard—no doubt, the play on words from the phonetics of the labels of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees are “fair-I-see” because of their self-defined righteousness, as shown in the parable Jesus told of that one going down to the temple to pray, at the same time a publican was there also. He prayed “with himself” that he was thankful that he was not like that publican, but kept the law, paid his tithes, etc. (Luke 18:9-14).

The Sadducees were “sad-you-see” because they did not believe in the resurrection. Jesus did not address that issue in this parable, or at least directly, however. I must add this observation, though, that it is interesting that every false doctrine promoted has at its final ending only hopelessness that comes from attempting to establish a relationship with God by works of the flesh and not solely by faith.

When Jesus warned His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees,” they thought He was referring to their having not brought any bread from the leftovers of that feeding of the five thousand He had just accomplished. However, Jesus had something else in mind, something that reaches out to all believers down through the centuries to today and the future. Following is the discussion from Matthew 16:5-12, revealing their grasp of His warning:

“Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have taken no bread.’

But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, ‘O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up?

Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

After that scenario, Jesus asked who were people saying He was. Peter was quick to answer that “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus reveals a great truth that is, I would submit, most often missed when conversion to Christianity is considered. It is this: No mortal person is able to recognize Jesus Christ for who He really is without revelation by the Spirit of God. That is the essence of the new birth, being born-again.

Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven: (Matthew 16:17).

This is to say, frankly, that no mortal man has any access into the spiritual realm of God’s presence and reality unless he is led there by revelation of the Spirit of God through conviction of sin and repentance before God.

On the Rock of that declaration is built the whole of the gospel message. We can see in 1 Corinthians 3:11, that Jesus Christ is the foundation on which Christianity is built.

Having established that fact with the disciples, He began telling them of His coming death, burial and resurrection in Jerusalem. Again Peter was quick to respond, taking Him aside and saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22).

Here is where, in this context, the reality of the leaven of the religious leaders seems to show up. It could be phrased several different ways, like “there are more ways to heaven than Jesus only,” or “You must be baptized to be saved,” or “you have to be a member of our church,” or “you must keep the Sabbath,” or “you must keep the commandments,” or …

The religious system that had developed over the centuries in Israel had been turned into a political system of central control and authority. It was not unlike that which is coming to light in the United States currently. It gives a perspective of how an outsider, Jesus Christ, began to challenge the insiders who ran things and did not want them changed.

In this secular scenario being displayed in America, candidates who are not from the historic political profession are challenging the insiders, the “establishment,” and it is disrupting the status quo where always in times past—that controlling shadow group could pick candidates for both sides of the political spectrum. No doubt, those who see this happening and know the truth are quietly wondering if the final outsider candidate, having been nominated—will suffer a like rejection as did Jesus that day long ago.

But I digress from the discussion of the leaven or doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. A close inspection of any of the world’s religions and the false doctrines that are attached to Christianity and even are in Christianity, will reveal that in some manner they all fall back on Man doing in his own self-righteousness what he thinks will get him to that eternal bliss. I call it the “Tower of Babel Syndrome” where the people got together and decided they did not need God and began to build a tower that would reach the heavens.

But the idea of a Man picking his own way to heaven started with Cain. It is quite unlikely that he did not know that a blood sacrifice was the only acceptable offering before God for forgiveness of sins—even then a foreshadow of that Lamb of God who was to come in the form of a perfect man and a perfect sacrifice.

After Saul of Tarsus found out who Jesus really is that day on the road to Damascus, and became known as the apostle Paul, he had some words to define his tenure under the influence of that leaven of that religious establishment:

“For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which isthrough faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:3-9).

He says in net summary, his righteousness in the law was mere refuse. Another translation uses the word “dung” to characterize that religious system and identify it as a work of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to Him must believer that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him,” and Romans 14:23b says, “…for whateveris not from faith is sin.”

Of course, this means that when one who has sought right standing with God by his own works and appears before the Lord and enters his plea, Jesus will say, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” A paraphrase of the first of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3 expands it this way:

“The truly happy are those who realize their own depth of spiritual poverty, for only then can they enter in and enjoy the blessings of the kingdom of heaven.”

A certainty which Jesus spoke of to Peter ( as well as all of those coming after His time), and also echoed in the words of Paul: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50).

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