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Jesus turned his back on the Pharisees and left. He couldn't do the same with his disciples. They had a commitment and like a family, were stuck with each other.
Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Assuredly, no sign shall be given to this generation."
Jesus left them and getting into the boat, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf. Then Jesus charged them, saying, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." They reasoned among themselves, "It is because we have no bread."
But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them "Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? Do you not remember?
"When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?" They said, "Twelve." "Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?" They said, "Seven." So He said to them, "How is it you do not understand?"
Mark 8:11-21 NKJV, condensed
What's that Smell!
When we read about the Pharisees, we know Jesus is back in Galilee again. But it didn't take long for Jesus to wonder why he ever thought he wanted to be there! The Pharisees questioned Jesus, not to learn anything from him, but to test him These cynical religious men had no desire to believe anything other than what they already believed. Old and overly ripe, they constantly badgered him, demanding proof that Jesus was not on Satan's side.
A sign; they wanted a sign. Gosh, Jesus was doing the works of God every day, in the marketplaces, out on the hillsides, along the byways. But they couldn't see it; didn't get it. How could they be so deaf and blind! Their problem went deeper than their ears and eyes. It went far beyond the surface and into the innermost thoughts and desires of their heart. Their opposition to Jesus was adamant, they would acknowledge no good in him. They just wanted to drive him mad and put an end to his popularity.
So Jesus got into a boat and went as far away from them as he could, all the way to the other side of the lake. Out of sight, but not out of mind. Jesus cautioned his disciples about the corrupting influence of those doubting religious leaders and told them not to trust them any more than they would trust Herod! Jesus likened the faith of the Pharisees to a lump of putrid leaven that had been allowed to ferment way too long, and said they smelled like a neglected piece of left-over bread dough that had not been mixed into the next loaf. Linking the Pharisees to their arch enemy, Herod, was a huge insult.
Jesus' mind was on one track; the disciples on another. They had embarked on this sudden crossing and then discovered they had a critical shortage. Only one loaf among them. The thought of insufficient rations disgruntled the disciples as it would us. Food for the journey is a necessity; there's good reason for the phrase, comfort food. The Twelve were distressed and it's not hard to imagine what that conversation was like--blaming and fussing at each other.
It went on until Jesus had had enough. His rebuke made it sound like the discernment of those in the boat was no better than that of the odious Pharisees on the shore! I suppose that brought the noise level down and put an end to the division among the disciples.
What was it Jesus wanted his disciples to understand? Two things. 1) A worse problem than no food is a heart that stinks to high heaven combined with a mind closed to the wonderful and ever-present possibilities of God. The disciples probably wouldn't die from lack of food, but they and many others could lose their soul because of the"leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod."
2) God is able and will provide in abundance! Jesus' reprimand came out in a rush of nagging questions. How long have you been with me and still you don't know this? What do you mean you have no bread! Are your hearts hard like the Pharisees? Are your ears deaf and your eyes blind like theirs? You forget when you need to REMEMBER! Let's go through this again. After the miracle of the loaves and fish, how many baskets did it require for you to collect all the leftovers--the first time? The second time? How come you don't get it? You have seen and heard so much. Think about that for awhile; let it sink in.
It was a severe tongue lashing. You may judge if it was deserved or not. Like us, the disciples spent time fretting about a daily problem when they should have been attuned to an eternal one. We, too, neglect what really matters and focus on the wrong things. Short on faith and long on anxiousness, we forget God's "more than enough" provision in the past. We lose sight of God's "more than enough" promises for the future. We simply fail to remember. And all the while there's real danger lurking in the shadows, snatching its victims from the fold of God. Beware the leaven of unbelief and don't get caught in the evil trap of cynicism and distrust.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: When you want to insult someone, what do you call them or say about them?
Who are some people (or ideas) you distrust? As a result of your distrust, how do you react to these people? How are these reactions similar to the Pharisees' response to Jesus?
Discuss the image of leaven as Jesus used that word in this passage. Why would you not use putrid leaven to bake a fresh loaf of bread? Are there any traditions or beliefs in your church that are like old and overly ripe leaven?
Are you more comfortable with holding to past traditions or breaking new ground?Jesus talked one time about new wine needing new wineskins because old wineskins would crack if new wine were poured into them. Why was Jesus concerned about this issue?
When the disciples had insufficient food, why were they anxious instead of expressing faith that God would provide for their needs? What would your life be like if you hungered for God the way you hunger for food?
In a spiritual sense, what does it mean to beware the leaven of unbelief? In what ways does unbelief threaten our lives?
On a cold and windy day I was scheduled to work outdoors and wrote this in my journal: I will dress warm and be OK. The forecast is for intermittent sunshine. Every time the sun bursts out from behind the clouds it will remind me to be grateful and look to God, believing in his care. To what degree do you live in faith that your heavenly Father loves and cares for you in every way? Do you believe like the Psalmist that the Lord is your Shepherd and you will lack no good thing? How can a person learn to live in the expectation that they will have everything they need when they need it?
Sometimes Jesus sounded like a very lonely man. The religious leadership rejected him. Not even his beloved disciples understood him. Do you think Jesus was ever tempted to doubt himself and give in to "the leaven of unbelief"? Explain your answer. How did Jesus find the strength to go on?