Mark 8:14-21 – The Yeast of the Pharisees
Jesus’ warning over the yeast of the Pharisees was about more than just avoiding what the Pharisees said and did. He was equally concerned about the affects their teaching and practices had on the heart. Sin deadens the heart to spiritual realities. Over time, sin makes it hard not only for a heart to grasp God’s Word, but causes it to run from his Word.
The Pharisees were unable to see the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. Their blindness was so deep that they not only didn’t see him as the Messiah, they actively sought to suppress his claims and denied that his miracles revealed him to be the Messiah. This was the Pharisee’s yeast. It was a perfected unbelief that left their hearts so blind that they became hostile to God, even while they thought they were serving him.
Herod’s yeast was different. Rather than legalism, Herod’s first love was the world. He loved created things rather than the One who created them. He loved having wealth and put his hope in power, pleasure and money. And so the atheism that Herod’s yeast brings is as equally deadly to souls. It leads them to the same hostility towards God, and a blindness to the grace and truth found in Jesus Christ.
Yeast is a rising agent. When it is added to bread it is worked through the entire dough and it influences the whole lump. When the dough is baked, the whole loaf rises uniformly. The application of yeast in Jesus’ teaching is the same: only but a little of Herod’s or the Pharisees’ yeast is damaging. Even just a little of their hypocrisy and self-indulgence will cause you to become like them. Like them you will rise up in pride, baking under the heat of truth, so that you will be unable to see the true spiritual realities that lead to eternal life.
The Pharisees, Herod and the disciples all suffer the same spiritual aliment. They did not believe in Jesus. They did not believe (though for different reasons) that the power he possessed and demonstrated proved that he was the Messiah.
But though the disciples also had hard hearts they remained with Christ. They stayed close to his teaching and had enough faith to trust that their Rabbi would reveal himself to them.
Jesus performed miracle after miracle to demonstrate to his followers that he was the Christ. Despite all the miracles the disciples still did not believe. At this point in his mission – following two mass feedings, numerous healings and exorcisms, walking on water and raising the dead – his disciples still weren’t convinced he was the Son of God. Here he was moved ask his disciples again, perhaps even in exasperation: Do you still not understand?
Amazingly, the disciples remembered the details of the mass feedings. They remembered the facts about how much bread and fish were left over from the miracles. But even more amazing was that they didn’t recognize the full implications of what the miracles meant. They had understood that Jesus fed thousands with almost nothing to begin with, yet they couldn’t help but fixate on their immediate needs. Instead of worrying about the present, they should have seen the eternal realities that were present within the God that was sitting with them in the boat. They worried more about what they would eat later that day than where their souls would dwell for eternity. And this is why Jesus warned them about Herod and the Pharisee’s yeast. Becuase unbelief so infectious to our fallen souls and it leaves us so insensible to basic spiritual realities.