The next in our teachings of Jesus is ‘Beware of religious leaders’. Previous blogs have covered the top ten teachings of Christ (seen on page 133 of the download ‘What on earth have we done with the teachings of Jesus’).
God in a box
Religion can be described as a method by which men attempt to put ‘God in a box’. What religion are you? We have all most likely been asked this question. By that, they would mean what denomination were you brought into, or christened as when a baby? Each denomination has its own set of rules drafted together by men. Their way of seeing things, their way of doing things. Each with their own interpretation of scripture or what they feel was uniquely given to them by some Divine means. Within these denominations are people who are in charge. Who hold onto their dogma, their set of beliefs to the end. But Jesus warns us to beware of religious people and religious leaders.
Jesus was in constant conflict with them all
In the times when Jesus lived on earth, the religious leaders were known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. These were religious sects within Judaism. Sadducees were more elitist, conservative and controlled the Temple. The Pharisees, more liberal, representing the common people and controlled the Synagogues. The Sanhedrin – a 70 member supreme court had members from both groups. Jesus seemed to be in constant conflict with them all. They argued between themselves over particular doctrines and Jesus used their differences to highlight their inconsistencies with true belief. The Sadducees ceased to exist after the fall of Jerusalem, but the Pharisees wrote the Mishnah to outline the continuation of Judaism which results in modern-day Rabbinic Judaism.
There are religious leaders today, some conservative, some more liberal. Each have their set of beliefs. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:1 – Be continually on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees [that is, their pervasive, corrupting influence and teaching], which is hypocrisy [producing self-righteousness]. And again in Mark 8:15 – Jesus repeatedly ordered them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Beware of the religious leaders.
The impurity of man-made traditions
Leaven is a yeast that consists mostly of fungi. The leavening agent is compared to the impurity of man-made traditions. Whilst it may be a tiny ingredient added to the bread mixture. It affects the whole batch. These traditions were preventing the people from accepting Jesus as the Messiah.
Is this not still true today? There are a myriad of newspaper headlines exposing corruption and hypocrisy in the established church of today. Jesus teaches us that even the smallest hint of hypocrisy affects the whole. Hypocrisy by definition is ‘a pretending to be what one is not or behaviour that contradicts what one claims to believe in’. Hypocrisy results in self-righteousness. A belief that we can be righteous in our own standing. But there is no righteousness outside of the Christ who gave His life for us. Just as we need to be on our guard against those who appear to be righteous (even wearing the right outfits), we also need to be aware of self-righteousness in ourselves.
Henry says – The caution was (Mark 8:15); “Take heed, beware, lest you partake of the leaven of the Pharisees, lest you embrace the tradition of the elders, which they are so wedded to, lest you be proud and hypocritical, and ceremonious, like them.”
They could bear His reproofs
In Luke 12:1 – there is a vast crowd that had got together to hear Christ preach. The scribes and Pharisees sought to accuse Him, and do Him mischief. But the people, who were not under the bias of their prejudices and jealousies, still admired Him, attended to Him, and did Him honour. He was in the Pharisee’s house, contending with them that sought to ensnare Him. The people had got together for an afternoon sermon and He would not disappoint them. Though in the morning sermon, when they were gathered thickly together (Luke 11:29), He had severely rebuked them. For this evil generation sought after a sign. Yet they renewed their attention on Him. They could bear His reproofs better than the reproofs from the Pharisees. The more the Pharisees strove to drive the people from Christ, the more flocking they were to Him.
Here was an innumerable multitude of people gathered together, in labouring to come within hearing. It is a good sight to see people coming forward to hear the Word, and encounter inconvenience and danger rather than miss an opportunity for their souls. It may be hoped that some will be caught when the net is cast where there be a multitude of fish.
Jesus cautions against hypocrisy
Jesus began with a caution against hypocrisy. This He said to his disciples first of all; either to the twelve, or to the seventy. These were more His family, His school, and therefore He particularly warned them as His beloved sons. They made more profession of religion than others and there were in danger of the sin of hypocrisy more than others. They were to preach to others and, if they should corrupt the Word, and deal deceitfully, hypocrisy would be worse in them than in others. Besides, there was a Judas among them, who was a hypocrite, and Christ knew it, and it would leave him inexcusable.
Christ’s disciples were, for all we know, the best men then in the world, yet they needed to be cautioned against hypocrisy. Christ said this to the disciples, in the hearing of this great multitude, to let the world know that He would not bear hypocrisy, particularly in His own disciples.
It swells and ferments
He uses the analogy of the leaven of the Pharisees. Leaven insinuates itself into the whole man, and all that he does. It swells and ferments as leaven, for it puffs men up with pride, embitters them with malice, and makes their service unacceptable to God. It is the leaven of the Pharisees: “It is the sin that most of them are found in. Take heed of imitating them. Do not make your religion a cloak of wickedness, as they do theirs.”
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Healthy Division When to unite? When to divide? The wisdom of Solomon Is needed to decide. Unity is no treasure to be purchased At the price of compromise. The Spirit-filled church will not waiver For its loyalty to God as its prize. Lightness and darkness are incompatible. To have both, at once, in the same place Is to try the impossible For they can’t see each face to face. When we try to mix one with the other How can we be sure it’s on Jesus we depend? The road is meant to be straight and narrow; There is no deviating bend. True followers of Christ Are quite clearly a breed apart; They love the Lord Jesus With all of their heart. Let us not fear division Revival may follow the sword Everyone will always desire peace But Jesus must remain Lord. So in our quest for unity Let us be sure where power lies. It is in the merging of things similar Not is a sheep and goats compromise. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Prayer: Father, forgive me for any self-righteousness. Please root it out that I have a spirit of true humility. Help me also not to compromise but to be a follower of truth always. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.