“Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread? So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’”
Then at last they understood that he wasn’t speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16:11-12 New Living Translation
The hardening of many religious leaders’ hearts toward Jesus seems complete as we reach the 16th chapter of Matthew. In spite of all the public miracles Jesus has performed, they ask Jesus to perform another miracle on their command to prove His authority as a teacher. He ignores their petty attempt to cover their unbelief with a test of His power for the sake of inquiry. He points to the example of Jonah living in the belly of a great fish for three days as the sign He will give them in the end. He, of course, is pointing to his own death and resurrection as the ultimate sign of His authority as the Messiah. This does not meet their expectations of a messiah. They wanted a messiah that did powerful miracles. They wanted a messiah that would lead them in victory against their oppressors. Instead, He offers them a messiah that will be killed and then raised from the dead. They had no place for this type of messiah.
As He left the area with His disciples, Jesus warned them to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He had previously used yeast as an illustration of the good work of people of the Kingdom of God in transforming the environment around them. This time, though, it refers to the deceptive teachings of the religious leaders and the bad influence they can have on those around them. Their refusal to believe the coming of the Kingdom of God in their midst led them to keep trying to discredit Jesus as the expected Messiah. His concern was that this attitude would affect His disciples as well. The fact that they misunderstood him and thought He was referring to the lack of bread in their boat demonstrated that they were as vulnerable to the influence of deceptions as the religious leaders who sought to kill Him. Once He reminded them of His provision in the past, they began to realize that He had something else in mind when He made this warning.
The yeast that affected the Sadducees and Pharisees is still prevalent in our world today. Each of us runs the risk of being blinded by our own traditions in such a way that we have difficulty seeing the work of the Kingdom of God in our midst. If we continue to harden our hearts to the voice of the Spirit, we will be in danger of reaching the point that even the most obvious evidence of God’s Kingdom will be difficult to see. If we continue to allow the Spirit to soften our hearts, though, we will have our eyes opened to the work of the Kingdom all around us.
Jesus, we want to be people who are spreading the positive influence of Your kingdom to the world around us. Help us to recognize and guard our hearts against the influence of deception and traditions that harden our hearts to Your Spirit.