Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.
It is sobering to consider how many people saw the Lord Jesus, heard His teaching, and witnessed His miracles—and yet refused to believe.
The same day that they saw Him feed 4,000 with a few loaves and fishes—revealing Himself to be the God who provides for His people in the wilderness (Mark 8:1-10; see Exodus 16)—the Pharisees asked Him for a “sign from heaven” (Mark 8:11). In response, Jesus cautioned His followers, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
The Pharisees were marked by hypocrisy: Herod by hostility. The Pharisees wished to hold on to their self-righteous assumptions that they merited blessing from God, and so they had no place for a Savior. Herod wished to hold on to the power he wielded over the people, so he had no place for the King. Therefore, they were committed to a blindness to truth. Their approach refused to believe or understand who Jesus was. They were essentially saying, I really don’t want to find out what Jesus means, and I certainly will not accept that He is my Savior or my King. Jesus warned against taking on that same attitude, because even a trace amount of leaven—of unbelief—can make a significant difference.
When pride rears its ugly head, it can lead us to judge the Scriptures rather than learning from them. When we stand in judgment over God’s word, though, what we might regard as trivial and insignificant tweaking of truth will actually be the leaven—the yeast—which spreads throughout the entire bread of our convictions.
Jesus’ challenge to us is to humbly accept Him as who He is—to allow Him to save us of our sins and to rule over our whole life. He patiently reminds us again and again of who He is. His challenge is prophetic and parental, direct and loving.
We need the work of Christ to overcome the effects of the leaven of pride. It takes divine intervention to understand Christ’s work in our lives. That’s why people can read the Bible and see nothing—can listen to the gospel story and hear nothing. Until the eyes of understanding are opened and our ears are unplugged, we will remain unaffected. But every day that God’s Spirit shows us the beauty of Jesus, and reminds us of our desperate need for Him, our hearts and minds can sing:
I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in Him.
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able.
The antidote to the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod is the work of the Spirit. Do not be so proud as to assume you do not need Him. Pray that He would show you Jesus afresh in His word today, so that you might worship your Savior and King with every part of your life.
1 Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Whom I Have Believed” (1883).
Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg,