Matthew 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Acts 15:10, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”
There is so much material in the Gospels (and really, in the whole Bible) about the false religion of the Jewish religious leaders and rulers, that we must conclude that the Lord is giving us a sober warning about its danger. Jesus specifically warned His disciples, and therefore He warns us –
Matthew 16:6, “Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees….. 6:12 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.”
What is this leaven? What did the Pharisees and Sadducees teach and practice? Whatever it was, and is, it’s ability to quickly spread throughout the entire church is inherent in it. It is a highly infectious spiritual disease. How possible is it that we ourselves as conservative, Bible-believing Christians have been “leavened”? Watch! Beware! Those are pretty strong words of warning. If you hear someone say aloud – “Watch out! Beware!” – you would be snapped to full attention immediately, right? This leaven, whatever it is, is something our Lord considered to be extremely dangerous.
And it is something that we don’t easily see. Perhaps herein lies much of its danger. Jesus gave this warning to the disciples and they, like us, were characteristically rather, well, stupid? –
Matthew 16:11, “How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
This, then, is our first introduction to the religion of the Pharisees. Watch out! Beware! This stuff is as contagious of a plague as you will find. It has the ability to spread throughout Christ’s people like yeast in dough. And to make things worse, we tend to be blind to it, until one day we wake up and find that it has locked a heavy yoke on our necks. Paul’s words to the Galatian believers is an admonishment to us today –
Galatians 3:1-3, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Next time we will look at Matthew 3. In the very opening of Jesus’ earthly ministry, John the Baptist comes face to face with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Where the true religion of Christ appears, you can bet that this “brood of vipers” will not be far behind.
One of our friends made this observation:
Leaven and tradition have a lot of similarities. I think in Biblical times, the leaven was used over and over again, something like a sourdough batter is used today, where part of the fermented dough was set aside to use in the next batch of dough, refreshed with a bit of new dough, and used pretty well indefinitely, on loaf after loaf of bread. The leaven would change now and then, but results were similar.
Tradition is something like this…the unscriptural traditions of the Pharisees have grown like leaven through the centuries, and new generations have experienced changes here and there…some traditions taken away, others added. But the basic beliefs remain, and people adhere to and support them. They like the bread.