Misunderstanding Jesus — Matthew 16:5–12

The surprise of Jesus — part 2

40 blogs of Lent — day 21

In my ESV Study Bible this passage is under the heading, “The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” I want to look at it from a different angle, that of the disciples and of bread.

A market bread stall showing an assortment of different loaves for sale.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 16:5–12 ESV UK

We have a thing in our house we refer to as station bread. When I worked in Leeds, I would get off the train in Huddersfield to find a trestle laden with lots of lovely bread, really good bread which cost more than supermarket bread, and I’m talking supermarket uncut loaves here, not the white sliced blotting-paper. It was worth it.

Sadly that outlet of great bread has been restricted along with a lot of other things in the Covid lockdown period.

Yeast was seen by the Jews as a symbol of bad things. When Jesus spoke about yeast, he was talking about something bad that like yeast starts small but ends up affecting everything. When Jesus said, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” he was not talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees and pointing out their problems but talking to the disciples and pointing out their problems. As followers of Jesus these are our problems.This is about you and me. Go back to the reading above and were you see the word “leaven” say the word “evil.” This is how the disciples, as good Jewish lads, would have understood it.

I have heard it said that the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was legalistic keeping to rules, but while this would apply to the conservative Pharisees it would not be true of the liberal Sadducees. It has to be something else. The only unifying thing between these rival groups is their opposition to Jesus. The disciples are not in opposition to Jesus. They declared that he was the Son of God after he had calmed a storm for the second time (Matthew 14:33). But here they were arguing amongst themselves over hot having any bread. They had forgotten the lessons learned in the two storms, they have forgotten about feeding 5000 men, plus women and children with five loaves and two fish with 12 baskets of leftovers and about feeding 4000 men, plus women and children with seven loaves and a few fish with an enormous quantity of food left over. What they had forgotten is to trust Jesus if Jesus could feed all these people he could be trusted to feed them.

It is like those Evangelical churches who are always going on about accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and saviour, but then never seem to go any deeper. Faith in Jesus is not a commitment. If often starts with a commitment, or has a crisis point leading to commitment along the way, but it is about trust in Jesus, relying on him for everything. My walk with Jesus started with the commitment to him in precisely that way, in accepting Jesus into my heart, and I would commend that to anyone who does not know Jesus, nut it did not stay there, but deepened, often through crises, as I’m a hard nut for even God to crack. I learned that the Christian life is about reliance and trust in Jesus every step of the way.

Not trusting Jesus can come from a misunderstanding. Not trusting in Jesus is like yeast. It is an evil that starts off small and grows larger and larger until it fills every part of you. The flip side of this is that there is no part of our lives that Jesus cannot fill by the Holy Spirit’s power.

The prayer is simple. If you wish the Holy Spirit to show you Jesus for the first time or to know Jesus on a deeper level, just find a quiet place and say so in your own words. Saying, “Come Holy Spirit,” is a good way to start.

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