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Beware of the Bad Yeast

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

Mark 8:15

In Mark 8:11, the Pharisees began arguing with Jesus. “Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.” Even though Jesus had been doing plenty of miracles, apparently he had not satisfied the Pharisaic demand for a true sign from God.

Later, when he was with his disciples in a boat on the lake, Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (8:15). By now, we’re not surprised to discover that the disciples didn’t get Jesus’ point and began to argue about real bread or the lack of it.

But I want to step in and defend the disciples here. Jesus' statement about the “yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” is not altogether easy to decipher. “Yeast” or “leaven,” literally speaking, was something added to bread dough to cause it to rise. But obviously Jesus was not referring to the baking practices of the Pharisees and Herod. Elsewhere in the Gospels, yeast can stand for “deceptive teaching” (Matt. 16:12) or “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Like actual yeast, the false teaching and false living of the Pharisees can impact all of life. But what would be the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod?

Herod, as you may recall, appeared in Mark 6, a story focused mainly on the death of John the Baptist. In that account, when Herod Antipas heard about Jesus, he thought that Jesus was John the Baptist “come back from the dead” (Mark 6:16). Herod was obviously impressed by Jesus, yet he did not believe in him or his message of the kingdom of God.

So, the “yeast” common to both the Pharisees and Herod is unbelief. They were unwilling to accept the good news of the kingdom. Though struck by Jesus’ power, they were not willing to believe in him. They lacked faith in God and God’s work in Jesus.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Does the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod ever infect your life? When do you struggle most with unbelief? Why? What helps you to grow in your trust in Jesus?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I heard your warning today as a word to me. I need to beware of the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod. I need to watch out for unbelief.

My problem, Lord, is not unbelief in the largest sense. I do trust you as my Savior. I have put my life in your hands. So the biggest questions of faith have been answered in your favor.

But I struggle to trust you with smaller things. Will you bless and guide my children, helping them to walk with you their whole lives? Will you keep me healthy so I can live a long, fruitful life? Will you be faithful when it comes to my financial challenges, especially when I’m looking at having two kids in college before too long? Will my church call a good pastor when their search concludes? In these and countless other challenges like them, I can struggle to trust.

So help me, Lord, to avoid the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod. Help me to trust you more deeply and consistently, both with the biggest things and with the small ones. Amen.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.

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