It is astonishing to us that our Lord's disciples should have been so slow to understand the simplest metaphors employed in the teaching of their Master. When he speaks of leaven, they think of baker's bread! The fact that the evangelists describe this singular backwardness is a strong evidence of the truthfulness of the Gospel writings; for it is not to be supposed that such humiliating circumstances would have been invented or imagined by a later generation which regarded the apostles with the greatest reverence. The backwardness itself must have been one of the trials of Christ; his efforts to meet it and overcome it reveal his wonderful patience and perseverance. By such means he succeeds in bringing his warning lesson home to the dullest comprehension (vers. 11, 12).
I. THE CHURCH IS INFECTED WITH DANGEROUS LEAVEN.
1. Evil influences in her midst. The leaven is plunged into the meal; it cannot produce any effect until it is thus mixed up with what it is to influence. We have to beware, not only of entirely external dangers, but of such as are found in the very teaching and practices of Christian people.
2. Subtle influences. The leaven is almost invisible. There is at first but "a little leaven." Obscure, unobserved influences may be the causes of much serious harm.
3. Spreading influences. The growing power of the leaven, its marvellous capacity for propagating itself, makes it a serious thing to admit but a little. Sinful ideas tend to spread and permeate Christian society when once they are permitted to exist unchecked.
II. THE LEAVEN OF EVIL MAY COME FROM RESPECTED AUTHORITIES, The Pharisees were the professed saints of their day; the Sadducces were the party of the priesthood and of the national council. Yet both of these were spoken of by our Lord as sources of evil influence. We can with difficulty picture to ourselves the immense significance of his words. It is as though the mediaeval Church were warned against the influence of the monks and priests; as though the Church of today were told that there was danger for her in the presence of the most pious looking of her communicants and the most respected of her ministers. Surely here is a warning against being misled by appearances in religion.
III. THE LEAVEN MAY ASSUME VARIOUS FORMS. It is startling to meet this conjunction of Pharisees and Sadducees, because we know that the two parties were bitterly opposed to one another; but then we also know that they were brought into a sort o partnership in their common enmity to Jesus Christ. Now, both of them are represented as constiuting the dangerous leaven.
1. Pretentious piety. This is one of the most dangerous of evil influences, because
(1) it ensnares with a show of religion, and
(2) it denies the true essence of religion. It is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
2. Worldly scepticism. The doubt of the typical Sadducee was not the perplexity of the serious student of truth; it was the scoffing indifference of the man of the world who did not believe in the spiritual because his whole life was absorbed in the earthly.
IV. THE DANGER OF THE LEAVEN NECESSITATES A WATCHFUL ATTITUDE. "Take heed and beware." It is not enough to cultivate Christian graces. The servant of Christ must be a soldier as well as a husbandman. He must stand as a sentry challenging all suspicious thoughts and influences. He must exercise the policeman's office in arresting the dangerous disturbers of the peace and purity of his soul. - W.F.A.
Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. I.
THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES. The most numerous and popular sect among the Jews. Their corruptions may, for the sake of distinction, be summed up under three heads. —
1. They were rigid predestinarians, or believers in what modern language calls philosophical necessity. Take heed.
2. They rejected the written Word of God as the only and sufficient standard of religious truth, and the guide of religious practice; and they observed the tradition of the elders, which often made this written law of node effect. Take heed, and beware of the very same leaven.
3. Their righteousness, though strict in its kind, was merely external; consisting chiefly in a multitude of ceremonious practices. How many are there like them? Beware!
II. THE LEAVEN OF THE SADDUCEES. Their heresy likewise may be described under three heads. —
1. They denied the fallen and depraved state of mankind; disputed the doctrine of hereditary corruption; and maintained that the will of man is, by nature, and without any special grace of God, as free to good as to evil
2. They not only rejected the traditions of the elders, but explained away much of the Old Testament, and thus rendered its teaching of none effect.
3. They denied the existence of angels and spirits, the resurrection of the dead, and a future state of rewards and punishments. Take heed, and beware!
in the following respects: —
1. They are, at first, slight and unimportant in appearance.
2. They are insinuated into the soul unawares and silently, and are difficult of detection.
3. They act gradually.
4. They act most certainly.
5. They will pervade all the soul, and bring all the faculties under their control.
Archbishop Whately has made reference to the remarkable fact that the caterpillars of moths and butterflies are often attacked by ichneumon flies, which pierce their skins and deposit their eggs in the caterpillar's body. No immediate result follows, and no injury seems to have been done until the period when the caterpillar becomes a chrysalis. Instead of a beautiful moth or butterfly emerging from the latter, only the parasitic insects appear. The hidden butterfly has been silently destroyed. The Archbishop's suggestive comment is — "May not a man have a kind of secret enemy within — destroying his soul without interfering with his well-being during the present stage of his existence, and whose presence may never be detected till the time arrives when the last great change should take place."I.
In this warning, it will be observed, Pharisaic and Sadducaic tendencies are identified. Jesus speaks not of the leavens, but of one common to both sects, as if they were two species of one genus, two branches from one stem. Superficially, the two parties were diverse — the one strict, the other easy, in morals. But here extremes meet. They were all hostile to the Divine kingdom. Thus to be a Christian it is not enough to differ superficially from either Pharisees or Sadducees, but to differ radically from both. A weighty truth not yet understood. To avoid Pharisaic strictness and superstition men run into Sadducaic scepticism, both equally far horn the truth. The spirit of unbelief which ruled in Jewish society Jesus described as leaven, with special reference to its diffusiveness.
II. Jesus next found new matter for annoyance in the stupidity of friends. The disciples misunderstood the warning word. "It is because we have no bread." Had they possessed more faith and spirituality they would not have put the earthly meaning into the words. How vain it is to discourse concerning Divine things to men whose minds are preoccupied with earthly cares Leaven makes them think of loaves.
TopicsBasketfuls, Baskets, Bread, Cakes, Carried, Full, Gathered, Hand-baskets, Loaves, Mind, Perceive, Picked, Remember, Thousand, Understand, Yet
Outline1. The Pharisees require a sign.5. Jesus warns his disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.13. The people's opinion of Jesus,16. and Peter's confession of him.21. Jesus foretells his death;23. reproves Peter for dissuading him from it;24. and admonishes those who will follow him, to bear the cross.
Dictionary of Bible ThemesMatthew 16:9
1652 numbers, 3-5
5135 blindness, spiritual
8319 perception, spiritual
8761 fools, in teaching of Christ
7552 Pharisees, attitudes to Christ
8744 faithlessness, as disobedience
2570 Christ, suffering
1655 hundreds and thousands
5854 experience, of God
8724 doubt, dealing with
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Frank G. Allen—Autobiography of Frank G. Allen, Minister of the Gospel
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