This is a special message for our current toxic political and religious environment. Jesus has something to say about all of what is going on. We have political and religious elites making all kinds of wild claims. We are divided.
It is a wakeup call for the disciples of Jesus. Now is the time we all need to stand for Jesus and His Kingdom. We need to seek to live and grow in the Kingdom of God, not in the City of Man.
We are to be salt and light in the world, but do not cross over into being “of the world” or insinuate that Jesus is “of the world.
We need to pay attention here. Jesus is warning us. A little yeast in a lump of dough will cause it to rise and become larger. If one wishes to make unleavened bread, then yeast will defeat the purpose by causing the loaf to rise. When used in the Bible as metaphor, yeast is an undesirable thing.
Jesus commands us to be VERY careful! Jesus used the metaphor of yeast to signify that which posed a danger and a contaminant to those He warned.
We have been warned. Will we listen?
Jesus warned of a “yeast” that was both religious and political. He lumped together the yeast of hypocritical religious elites (the Pharisees) with that “of Herod,” referring undoubtedly to those who supported and put their faith and hope in Herod Antipas, who in turn represented politics and the secular State.
In referencing the “yeast of Herod,” Jesus may have referred to those who sought religious and social security and reform through political means and connections. The most likely purveyors of the “yeast of Herod” were the Sadducees and the Herodians. Would Jesus say today about the “yeast of Obama” or the “yeast of Trump”? What about the “yeast of the Baptists” or the “yeast of the Catholics”?
He then left them, got back in the boat, and headed for the other side. But the disciples forgot to pack a lunch. Except for a single loaf of bread, there wasn’t a crumb in the boat. Jesus warned,
Then he gave them strict orders: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” | Christian Standard Bible. (2020). (Mark 8:15). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- In a parallel passage in Matthew chapter 16, Jesus warns of the yeast of the “Pharisees and Sadducees”.
- The Sadducees were the wealthy ruling party in Jewish cultural life. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees were supporters of Herod and of the Roman establishment in Palestine. To a large extent, their political leanings and involvements were designed to protect their wealth and social position.
- The Herodians were another Jewish political party who, like the Sadducees, supported Herod. Given the fact that both the Sadducees and the Herodians supported Herod and the local Roman-installed, occupation government, Mark’s use of the phrase “yeast …of Herod” could just as easily have referred to Herodians as Sadducees.
- Matthew breaks any tie here by using “Pharisees and Sadducees,” and his reference to Sadducees is quite consistent with Mark’s use of the phrase “that of Herod.” Jesus is warning us about all religious and political elites. Warning He says.
In warning of the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod, Jesus issued a caution which is highly relevant in our day and time. Today we might state the warning this way:
- Religion and political activism make dangerous and destructive bedfellows. Seek to live and grow in the Kingdom of God, not in the City of Man. Be salt and light in the world, but do not cross over into being “of the world” or insinuate that Jesus is “of the world.”
- True discipleship seeks the Kingdom of God, which is not of this world, while political activism inevitably seeks to grow and shape the City of Man, which is entirely of this world. Elitist religion and secular politics are not primarily interested in Jesus or the Kingdom of God, but in the distribution and use of religious and political power.
- Our true and lasting hope is in Jesus, the Messiah, rather than in religion and politics. When disciples become political activists behind the banner of religion, it is easy for us to go way off track and ultimately to lose our connection with the Kingdom of God by identifying excessively with the City of Man. So, we must watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod, the religious elites and corrupt politicians.
In their great political “messiah watch,” inhabitants of first century Palestine were running from pillar to post, listening first to this one, then to that one. They were latching onto whoever seemed to dish out the most promises and perform the most marvelous works and shouting down those they considered shams.
- At first, many seemed convinced Jesus was the one who would take over the country and its political processes. Jesus would kick out the Romans, establish political control, and hand power back over to the people – sort of like a 1st century moral majority movement. However, when this proved not to be Jesus’ mission, they turned against the Master and crucified Him. Killed Him. They thought that would work. It didn’t. Jesus rose from the dead. He said He would and He did. Jesus established the Kingdom of God. Quite a feat.
- The problem was that they really did not want Jesus. They weren’t seeking the Kingdom of God. Instead they sought relief from political oppression, and they believed it would come through a religious figure who would turn away the Roman occupiers and “straighten things out” by cleaning up the political situation.
- Jesus did not come to launch a political movement. He is not interested in any “moral majority” or the “religious right or left”. Jesus did not come to reform politics or to set the government straight.
- Jesus did not make political promises, and He did not seek to mix His message of redemption and hope with any political reforms.
- Jesus came as a suffering servant, Messiah and redeemer, hardly what many were looking for. His message did not satisfy the longings of those who sought a political solution – in fact, in their religiously charged zeal to be liberated from Roman domination and occupation, and in their disappointment that Jesus was not the one they thought they were looking for, they soon turned on Jesus and murdered the Master of Glory.
This is yeast worth being warned about!
Religious establishment elites and leaders of the early first century were driven by desires for secular power and religious control. Sound familiar?
The talking heads of our own day are driven by ratings, advertising dollars, ideology, power and sometimes religious zeal. Whether it is this “Christian spokesman” or that famous “spiritual leader” or this leftist politician or that conservative talk show host, or this “reverend” or that one, we are bombarded daily and hourly by the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. It is insidious and dangerous. Jesus has warned us.
The terrible result, if we don’t watch out, it is a distraction from the Bread of Life.
- Distraction in this sense does not mean that we are in danger of merely having our attention drawn away from the Master in a particular moment – it means we are in peril of having our entire mindset and worldview drawn away permanently. Yeast causes the bread to expand and change its original shape. Religious and political distraction does something like that to the mind and attitude.
- There is a large difference between despair and longing, and a huge gap between fear and hope. The news media, as it serves up the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod, can bend our minds and hearts to fear and despair, pulling us away from the message of:
- Longing “Blessed (aka happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
- “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Master Jesus the Messiah, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the stunning beauty (aka glory) of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
- “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
- I can hear someone say, “you are telling me to put my head in the sand!” Nope! In fact, many of us need to pull our heads out of the quicksand and get them back into the Bible and back into a worldview that is marked by truth and by primary hope in the Good News of the Messiah.
- Jesus came that we might have life. That means abundant, fulfilled, wholesome, victorious life in Him, and the truth is that our ultimate and final deliverance is in Him and no other.
- Jesus, the eternal Son of God and King of God’s world. Proclaimed it. Shout it out. Avoid the elitist rhetoric and conversations.
We must understand that we are living in a “now and later” reality in the Messiah Jesus. “Now” meaning that He has given us His Holy Spirit and His written word by which to grow in Him and form our views and attitudes about everything, and “later” meaning He will return at the appointed time to complete the changes and the redemption we long for.
- Jesus will make EVERYTHING new! This is JESUS we are talking about – not our favorite television evangelist with a political ax to grind, and not any other yeast peddler. Our real hope is in the Messiah, both now and later.
- Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
- Notice that Jesus did NOT say, “…be of good cheer, with me on your side, you can transform and straighten up the world around you, so get out there and use my name to fix politics and society.”
- The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19).
- When the Master of masters returns to claim His people and His Kingdom, all the words of the talking heads, politicians, pundits and religious gurus put together WILL NOT MATTER! Not a single iota. Nada. Zip. Squadul.
- Every bit of such distracting nonsense should be permanently set aside. Many of us will look back in horror and regret at how much time and attention we devoted to supposedly “transforming society” and all the physical and emotional energy we wasted on it.
Jesus never taught us to be stupid, nor to shirk our reasonable responsibilities as citizens. In fact, He famously said we are to give to the government (aka Caesar) what belongs to the government.
- He did command us not to worry, and to trust Him rather than man, politics or religion for our redemption, deliverance and security. He assured us by both miracles and promises that His supply is always sufficient.
- Immediately before Jesus warned His disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod, He miraculously fed thousands of people with a few small loaves of bread and some small fish (Mark 8:1-9).
- Right afterwards, the disciples worried because they had forgotten to pack bread! This is the context within which Jesus warned of the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod. The “yeast” He warned of was a yeast of unbelief and misplaced hope.
- Our hope does not come through politics, religion or social reform. Let’s remind one another of this, and let’s set our hope on Jesus alone.
- The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in the Messiah Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:6-8).