The Red Words #9 Feb. 4, 2019

And He was giving orders to them, saying, ‘Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’  Mark 8:15

Every woman who’s ever baked bread from scratch knows that without yeast, the bread will come out flatter than a pancake. Yeast is the secret to making bread rise.  Interestingly, it takes only a little yeast to make dough rise and produce a delicious, fragrant loaf of bread.  There’s nothing quite like the aroma of fresh bread in my kitchen.

In the verse above, Jesus uses this natural image to teach a spiritual lesson. It’s not surprising since He had just fed 4000 people with just 7 loaves of bread!  When the disciples first hear this warning, they misunderstand and think He wanted them to bring onto the boat enough bread for all of them.  Instead, Jesus is taking advantage of what they just witnessed to teach them an important lesson.

Since it only takes a small amount of yeast or other leavening agent to transform an entire lump of dough, Jesus warns His disciples – and us – that it takes only a little bit of what the Pharisees and Herod have to offer to ruin a person.

Ruin a person?  Isn’t that a big strong?

Well, no. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, a rigorous religious legalism which they imposed on others but which they would not keep themselves.  Their emphasis was on external correctness regarding rituals and the traditions of men.  This emphasis emphasized a ‘works’ mentality and taught that only by keeping every rule to the extreme would a person be righteous in God’s sight.

Jesus described the Pharisees and those who were their disciples as THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.  Matt. 15:8


We could say it this way: religion, defined as external performance of one’s beliefs, had become more important to them than relationship with God.  That is not to denigrate the doing of good works but rather to underscore that what God is looking at is our heart, our motivation.

Jesus made the concept very clear in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is just one of several examples:  You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matt. 5:27  Sin begins in the mind and it is possible to sit in church week after week and go through the motions, but have your heart far from God.  THAT is what the leaven of the Pharisees produces in a life.  It looks good on the outside but inside is what Jesus referred to as ‘dead men’s bones.’

What was the leaven of Herod?  Herod was meticulous in keeping the laws of Rome while he, himself, lived an immoral and debauched life. The leaven of Herod involves an exalting of civil law above God’s moral law – that is, putting man’s law above God’s law.  The deeper issue is fearing man more than fearing God.

The Bible says that the fear of man is a snare but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.  Prov. 29:25

Seen through that lens, the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod have the same root – fear of what other people think and allowing that fear to dictate our behavior.  The Pharisees intimidated the people into a suffocating, legalistic rule-keeping; Herod intimidated the people by threatening them with cruel Roman reprisals for breaking Rome’s laws.  In both cases, the people were held hostage by fear – the fear of how they appeared to others and fear of what men would do to them for transgressing.

The Gospel offers a different message: LOVE, not fear, is to be the motivation of all we do – love of God first and foremost, and love of others. Jesus said, But go and learn what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Matthew 9:13

Simply stated, hypocrisy is pretending to be something you’re not.  Hypocrisy is closely related to fear of man because that fear of what people think is often at the root of a hypocrite’s decisions and behavior.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.  Gal. 5:1

Allowing the opinion of others to dictate your behavior is a form of slavery.   Brothers and sisters, we have been set free from ALL slavery to love the Lord our God with a passionate and abandoned love.

Let us ask the Lord to turn His searchlight on our souls and if He finds any hypocrisy or fear of other people’s opinions, let us ask Him to forgive us and to cleanse us from every vestige of entrapment.


The Longest Chapter – Part 6 Feb. 16, 2016

It’s Tuesday again.  Are the weeks flying by or is it just me?


Open your Bibles to Psalm 119.  We begin today at verse 41:

Lord, give me your unfailing love, the salvation that You promised me.

Then I can answer those who taunt me, for I trust in Your word.

Do not snatch your word of truth from me, for your regulations are my only hope.

I will keep on obeying Your instructions forever and ever.

I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to Your commandments.

I will speak to kings about Your laws, and I will not be ashamed.

How I delight in Your commands! How I love them!

I honor and love Your commands. I meditate on Your decrees.

‘Unfailing love’.  Do you know what that means?  God has in fact given us His unfailing love.  He says so in His word.  Unfailing love means that no matter how many things You do to make God not love you, none of them is strong enough to overcome His ‘unfailing love.’  Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t it make you want to stop and give Him praise for His great goodness?  OK – pause and do that……….

It appears that as much as we revere King David, in his lifetime there were some who taunted him, insulted him, harassed him.  We remember his wife, Michal, who scorned David’s exuberant worship of the Holy One of Israel.  There were other critics as well.

Who hasn’t experienced painful moments of being teased, embarrassed, humiliated by others?  David’s response was to turn to God’s Word.

I find this particularly meaningful at present.  I live in Israel.  Just a few miles away, a vicious war is raging in Syria and Iraq and large numbers of men, women and children are being killed – brutally killed – not because they are part of an opposing army, but simply because they believe in God and refuse to deny their faith.  Yet, out of this horror we are hearing the most amazing testimonials of persecuted Christians who are declaring the goodness of God and holding fast to His Word.  The same was true of Jews in Spain who were martyred during the Inquisition rather than renounce their faith in the Holy One of Israel.  How do such people stand strong in the face of barbaric brutality?  From what we hear, it’s because of their uncompromising devotion to, and trust in, God and His Word.

I will walk in freedom, the psalmist writes, for I have devoted myself to Your commandments. 

We discussed freedom a couple of weeks ago – freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘to’.  Remember that?  Like a good teacher who knows the value of repetition to instill a lesson, the psalmist returns to that very same concept as if to say, “Did you get it the first time?

Are you convinced that true freedom is found in walking according to God’s ways?

Are you meditating on His decrees, like I do?

Do you love His commandments? Do you honor Him by obeying them joyfully?

Are you ‘devoted’ to His commandments or do you obey grudgingly?

These are the questions this week’s section of Psalm 119 poses to us.

Is it any wonder that God said of David: He’s a man after my own heart.  What an amazing accolade.  Oh, to be a man or a woman of whom God could say the same thing!  Let us strive for that lofty goal.  It’s worth the effort.


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