The Yeast Also Rises (Matthew 16:5-12)
Doctrinal sermons are largely becoming a thing of the past. You see, many people think, we preachers are supposed to encourage and uplift. There is a time and place for encouraging and uplifting, but that is far from the work of preaching. “Preach the word!” (2 Tim 4:2). If encouragement comes from that preaching of Scripture, that’s great. But, many passages aren’t in Scripture to uplift.
Doctrinal sermons are largely becoming a thing of the past, because you see we preachers are supposed to be inclusive. In the eyes of many, preachers shouldn’t preach sermons which say that God isn’t pleased with a segment of the population. We shouldn’t exclude people that way. A funny thing is that Jesus had no problem preaching that God wasn’t pleased with certain people.
In a host of congregations, preachers seldom, if ever, discuss doctrinal matters. Some well-known theologians and preachers thought discussing doctrinal matters was important. Notice these quotes:
- A. W. Tozer wrote, “Great saints have always been dogmatic.”
- J. I. Packer wrote, “There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge.”
- D. Martyn Lloyd Jones write, “We cannot have the benefits of Christianity if we shed its doctrines.”
- Phillips Brooks wrote, “The truth is, no preacher ever had any strong power that was not the preaching of doctrine.”
I’m sure I would have doctrinal difficulties with every man I just quoted, but each one valued the preaching of eternal truth.
In our passage this evening, Jesus warns the disciples against trading eternal truth for the doctrines of men. In a pluralistic society, we need that message anew: we need to be on our guard, lest we trade eternal truth for the doctrines of men.
Be Careful, vv 5-6, 11b-12
When the disciples crossed the lake and forgot to take bread, Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” The disciples forgot to take bread on their journey. Jesus uses the occasion of their forgetting bread to teach a lesson. In that lesson, Jesus warned his disciples against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jewish tradition often used the image of yeast for evil. Notice what Paul does in speaking of disfellowshiping the brother in sin: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor 5:6). The disciples, therefore, should have understood Jesus’ metaphor, for it was common in that day. But, as you know, they miss the boat completely.
Some have thought it odd that Jesus lumps together the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Many have rightly pointed out how different the two groups were. The Pharisees valued the oral traditions concerning the Law, but the Sadducees only accepted the Five Books of Moses as authoritative. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees denied a resurrection.
Therefore, why would Jesus put the Pharisees and Sadducees in the same category? I think to a large extent the answer lies in this chapter. “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven” (Matt 16:1). The Pharisees and Sadducees can be lumped together, for they put aside their differences to trap Jesus. But, another issue is that the Pharisees and Sadducees–as widely as they differed doctrinally–were both miles apart from what God wanted doctrinally. Neither group was right doctrinally, so both needed to be avoided.
When the disciples do not understand Jesus’ point about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, He makes His point abundantly clear. Then the disciples understood that He was speaking against “the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
We need to be on the guard against the yeast of error. I like that ancient Jewish imagery of yeast for evil, for evil often acts just like yeast. It doesn’t take much yeast to work its way through dough and cause the whole loaf to rise; it doesn’t take much evil to work its way through the church and cause the whole church to fall. Think about the influence one individual can have on a congregation. If I were to “discover” some great new truth, I could go to a few individual and convince them of that “truth.” Those individuals I’ve convinced of my truth go and convince a few of their friends; they, in turn, convince a few of their friends. Before you know it, whole congregations are corrupted by heresy.
We need to be on our guard against error.
- Guarding a congregation against error is one of the main obligations of the elders. Notice what Paul told the Ephesian elders: Acts 20:29-31. In speaking of the qualifications of elders, notice what Paul told Titus: An elder must be “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Tit 1:9).
- Yet, we dare not believe that because elders are to guard the doctrine in a congregation that we have no obligation for ourselves. All of us need to be cautious against error. Guarding ourselves against false doctrine will prevent the church from becoming divided (1 Cor 1:10). If we practice error ourselves, individually, God will judge us. Notice what Jesus said to the church in Thyatira: Revelation 2:20-25. This woman called Jezebel was encouraging pagan practices among the Christians in Thyatira. Notice what Jesus said He would do with those who followed her teaching: “I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds” (Rev 2:22).
In Brisbane, Australia, a 30-year-old man by the name of Douglas Birch dabbled in the cult of the Yoga until it cost him both of his feet. Believing he had heard the voice of the Yogi commanding him to do so, Birch stood barefoot in a bed of hot coals until his feet were cooked to the bone. Then he crawled quite a distance to a main road, where someone saw him and summoned an ambulance. After his feet were amputated, Birch told a friend, “I am through with that stuff. I can see now how silly it was.” But, how many others are following some false doctrine and will never realize how silly it was until they stand before God? Let us not be in that number!
Be Confident, vv 7-11a
The disciples said amongst themselves, “It is because we have taken no bread.” In the Gospels, the disciples often appear quite incompetent to do much, and this is one of those occasions. The disciples really thought Jesus was rebuking them for forgetting bread.
Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?” (v 8). Jesus, of course, had supernatural knowledge; therefore, He knew what the disciples were thinking. On many occasions, we read that Jesus had knowledge that no ordinary man could have had. Jesus would use that knowledge to His benefit, as He does here.
Jesus refers to the disciples as having little faith. The disciples had faith that Jesus was the Messiah. After Jesus walked on the water, the disciples “worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). Immediately after the passage we’re studying tonight, Peter makes that great confession that Jesus is the Son of God, and I wonder if Matthew–under the guidance of the Spirit–doesn’t purposefully put these two narratives together in order to make the point that although the disciples believed, their faith wasn’t always strong.
How strong is our faith? Aren’t there times that we, like the disciples themselves, could say to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Lk 17:5)? Perhaps our faith is weak because we’ve faced some trial or because we don’t study as we should or because we don’t get our prayers answered the way we want or some other reason.
We know why Jesus referred to the disciples as men with little faith. They had seen Jesus feed five thousand, and on another occasion, they had seen Jesus feed four thousand, yet they were worried about bread. When Jesus fed the five thousand, He used five loaves and two fish to feed the multitude. Twelve basketfuls of broken pieces were collected after everyone had eaten his feel (Matt 14:13-21). When Jesus fed the four thousand, Jesus used seven loaves and a few small fish, and seven basketfuls were left over (Matt 15:29-39). Jesus basically says, “Look, guys, I’m not worried that you don’t have bread. I’ve fed 9,000 men miraculously. Don’t you think I can feed the thirteen of us?”
Why did the disciples, after they had seen God provide for individuals as dramatically as He had, worry about not having bread? The disciples had witnessed God provide for individuals, and God has promised to provide for us (Matt 6:26; Acts 14:17). God, in His goodness, will provide what we need in this life. He may do so through the skills He gave us to earn a living, He may do so through the church when we can’t care for ourselves, and He may do so through a multitude of other methods. Yet, we dare not forget that everything we have ultimately comes from God. Since God provides us with everything we have, we don’t have to worry about where our necessities will come from, for God will provide. We can be confident in God!
To celebrate an old man’s seventy-fifth birthday, an aviation enthusiast offered to take him for a plane ride over the little Kentucky town where he spent all of his life. The old man accepted the offer. Back on the ground, after circling over the town for twenty minutes, a friend asked, “Were you scared, Uncle Dudley?” “No-o-o,” was the hesitant reply. “But I never did put my full weight down!” What a blessing it is to know that we can put our full weight down on God and know that we can have confidence in Him! Do you have a great amount of confidence in God? Do you need to come this evening and put confidence in God?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.