The Foolishness of Yeast (Matthew 16:5-12)

Photo by Paulius Dragunas on Unsplash

Jesus and His band of disciples are making their way across the lake, having  left the  Pharisees and Sadducees who tested Him behind. Along the way, Jesus is a bit frustrated that His disciples ‘forgot’ to bring bread. It is possible they deliberately forgot, for they had earlier picked up 7 basketfuls after the miracle of the feeding of the crowd. The fact that they had counted them and Matthew wrote down how many basketfuls is testimony to their remembrance of the incident. It is therefore not an unreasonable conclusion that they wanted to see if Jesus could feed the next large crowd without one of their lunches as a starter. Knowing this, Jesus had cryptically said, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

Of course, the disciples immediately thought He was poking at their lack of bread. But Jesus’ comments make it clear that while He was aware of the matter, His deeper frustration stems from their blindness to the real issue. That is, that their ‘forgetfulness’ comes because they’ve allowed the ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees and Sadducees to permeate their thinking. They thought they could manipulate Christ into doing what they wanted Him to do, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees thought they could when they tested Him just before they left the area by boat.

Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

The Pharisees and Sadducees had taught that they as human leadership were in charge, and by their response to Christ they had taught that God needs to prove Himself to them. Jesus’ frustration is that His own disciples would pick up on how the Pharisees and Sadducees were acting and start to do likewise. The Lord will have none of it. God is in charge, and He does not need to prove anything to His creation. He will never allow Himself to be manipulated into doing or acting as self-appointed human masters expect. 

This is a profound point that is even more relevant in our day than it was in the disciples’ day. Many are those in a teaching authority who effectively claim they know better than God how He should or must act. Many are those in our day who would and are subtly trying to outsmart God, tricking Him into acting in a way that we personally find satisfying. This is the great folly of both those who preach the “prosperity Gospel” (that God must bless you if you give to their cause), and the great folly of legalism (that God will only like you if you follow a great litany of extra-Biblical rules).  

One must remember that God is a being. He is not a force we can manipulate like electricity. One must remember that God is not just a really smart being, but omniscient King of Kings. He is not a simpleton we can outsmart or an entity we can trifle with. 

It must be beyond frustrating to Him that some nevertheless try to manipulate Him as though He was a six year old child – and all the more when He looks at our frail limitation and knows that our daily sustenance comes directly from His hand.

Unlearned men vainly talk; and such not only show their ignorance in religion, but are also wholly destitute of common sense.

John Calvin

APPLICATION: Intentionality

For us who know Christ, God is ever always Abba, Father. But He is also God Most High and ever and always deserving of great reverence.