There was a substance in the brains of the Pharisees and Sadducees that ruined their thinking.
Jesus called it “leaven,” that living substance that ferments bread and makes it rise. Aside from the literal meaning the dictionary says this:

“a pervasive influence that modifies something…”

We might call it spiritual stupidity.

After surveilling Jesus for months observing signs and wonders by His hand, these guys asked Him for a sign. They were not the first ones to make this request so Jesus gave them the same answer as the others. They were a wicked and adulterous generation, too blind to see what was in front of their eyes. How was it they could read weather signs in the sky but they could not see the multitude of signs and the amazing wonders of healing and restoration and deliverance from the hand of Jesus? The only further sign they would get from Him was the sign of Jonah. He knew they wouldn’t get that one either.

On the Other Side
Jesus and the Twelve departed from the wicked and adulterous leaders and crossed to the other side of the lake. The men suddenly remembered what they had forgotten—bread. Jesus was still ruminating about the stupidity of the Pharisees and Sadducees and was not at all thinking about dinner. He advised the men:

“Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

The last thing Jesus wanted was an outbreak of stupid among His men. He knew that each of them had a capacity for small thinking. They easily forgot important things. He did not want their thinking to be spoiled by some leavening agent.

They thought He was talking about dinner. He rebuked them:

“O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, or remember…”

That was it—that was the dangerous leaven corrupting their minds. They had too little faith and understanding and too much forgetfulness. These were the ones who had forgotten how to feed a multitude when Jesus was in command. He wasn’t talking about bread; he was talking about spiritual stupidity:

  • Seeing true signs and wonders and asking for a sign, or
  • Complaining that a suffering person was healed on the Sabbath, or
  • Assigning the power to deliver from Satan’s grasp to Satan himself.

He was pleading with His men not to be like that.

Faith is the True Leaven
Jesus upbraided the disciples because they did not have enough faith. He had to wonder what it was going to take for them to get it. There was a leavening agent alive in their brains to make them stronger and wiser and bolder as they followed Jesus—faith. Doubt deflates dough in the oven or on the shelf; faith makes it rise.

The doctrines of the leaders were based on self-preservation, not Kingdom expansion. Their arguments were defensive rather than offensive to the status quo. Change was a threat to them and Jesus was all about change.

We, too are quite capable of spiritual stupidity. Like the powerful leaven it is, we must add faith to our thinking so we can understand the times and rise to the occasion.

Matthew 16:1-12
Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? — but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Lord Jesus, save me from spiritual stupidity! Banish from my brain any of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees—unbelief. Fill me with faith—the leaven of the Kingdom. I have confidence in You. I believe Your story with all my heart. I trust You with all my tomorrows and with this day and the night to follow. “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that You are able to keep that which I’ve committed unto You against that day!” Amen and Amen.

Living by Faith
Words: James Wells, R.E. Winsett; Music: J.L. Heath

1. I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.

Living by faith in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding in His great love;
From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

2. Though tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise,
Obscuring the brightness of life,
I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies—
The Master looks on at the strife.


3. I know that He safely will carry me through,
No matter what evils betide;
Why should I then care though the tempest may blow,
If Jesus walks close to my side.


4 Our Lord will return for His loved ones some day,
Our troubles will then all be o’er;
The Master so gently will lead us away,
Beyond that blest heavenly shore


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

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