January 30, 2001

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I sat down to read in Matthew tonight and reached to Chapter 16, where I stubbed my spiritual toe on the word "leaven".

"The Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." Matthew 16:6

Now, since the disciples didn't "get it" at first, Jesus explained later in verse 11 that:

"How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."

As I read it tonight, the Lord spoke something to me that helps me to see the verse in a new light. He said that "it's the leaven that causes the bread to puff up."

Ah, to be puffed up, in self righteous spiritual pride. There is something about that doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees that "puffs up". What could that doctrine be?

The strong words of Jesus in Matthew 23 explain, concerning them, that "all their works they do for to be seen of men." To summarize, they pray in public to be seen, emphasize and flaunt their obedience in tithing, wear flashy garments and prefer the seats in front on the platform. They love to be called master and father. In short, being puffed up, or prideful, just about summarizes their attitude. But Jesus points the finger at their doctrine and says that it is their doctrine that is the leaven. Apparently, a little bit of this doctrine will puff up an otherwise humble person. Jesus told us to take heed and beware of this doctrine. What is it, this dangerous doctrine?

Jesus condemned these men for playing fast and loose with his laws for the sake of their own traditions, which they had elevated up to higher importance than certain laws. Jesus even told us the particular types of laws that these men chose to deemphasize: laws concerning justice, mercy and faith. Yes, there were laws that they championed and emphasized, but, apparently, these laws that really test character were deemphasized in favor or certain traditions.

In boiling down the doctrines of the Pharisees, Josephus says that they ascribed all will to God and none to man. In short, everything was fated by God, and yet it was in man's hands to do right or wrong, although fate cooperated in every action. And yet, to the Pharisee, the essence of right and wrong was always determined by something outside, observable and visible. Jesus came and attacked their inward excuses for wickedness in the hidden things.

And so, this hypocrisy, this outward piety and torah/tradition keeping was mixed with inward wickedness and lawlessness. This doctrine was the leaven...that enough outward piety and public prayers and offerings paid for all to see could buy righteousness before God. Out of this developed the doctrine that man was saved by knowledge of the Torah. And so, there developed the competition in Torah expertise.

This type of hypocrisy and pride is the leaven we were told by Jesus to beware of. We must always be more concerned about the matters of the heart and the content of our speech than we are concerned about the cleanliness of our hands while eating. Jesus directed us to cleanse the inside first. Emphasize and focus on the inner things: the inner walk with Christ. Then, that which is outward and observable will be clean as well, as an automatic result of the inward cleansing.

"Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." Matthew 23:26

Stephen L. Bening
a servant and prophet of our Lord Jesus Christ

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