Wednesday, December 16, 2020
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.
The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod
14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
After Jesus had fed the multitude of four thousand Gentiles, he sailed back across the sea of Galilee to the more predominantly Jewish area of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees and (Matthew 16 tells us) the Sadducees came to Jesus to demand a sign from heaven. Remember, this was immediately AFTER Jesus had fed four thousand Gentiles, and he had previously fed over five thousand Jews. Yet for His skeptical adversaries, Jesus had still not proven anything. If they were going to believe that Jesus was who everyone else had begun to say He was, the Messiah, they demanded to see something HUGE! They wanted a direct confirmation from God the Father Himself, a sign out of the sky straight from heaven, like the pillar of fire that protected Moses and the Israelites from Pharaoh’s army or the sun that stood still for Joshua’s battle against the five kings of the Amorites.
Mark tells us that this demand was actually a test, or temptation, of Jesus. Why was it a test? Because He actually WAS who they claimed He was not and He could EASILY have satisfied their desire for yet another sign. Think how tempting it might have been for Jesus to call down some fire from heaven and consume the most obnoxious Pharisee right there on the spot. That would have showed them! He could have made it rain manna from heaven or blotted out the Sun or done anything they could have ever conceived of. But, just as He did when he faced Satan in the wilderness, Jesus stayed His hand. Why did He not just give them what they wanted? Because He knew that nothing He could do would change their hardened hearts. Jesus had already performed many signs, healing more people than we could count, calming the storm and the waves, casting out demons, walked across the waves, turned water into wine, and made feasts out of little more than a small snack. After any of these, and so many more, Jesus might as well have shouted at the Pharisees the words of Maximus Meridius from the movie Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?”
Instead, Mark tells us Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit. His opponents had already accused Him of performing miracles through the power of Beelzebub, and anything else He would have done they would have just dismissed as more evidence to the affirmative. Miracles were never meant to be definitive proof, as we see throughout the gospels, but as constant confirmations that God was at work. Jesus told His adversaries, in Matthew 16, that the Lord would, in fact, give them a sign, the sign of Jonah. The Father had in mind something greater than what the Pharisees wanted and something better than what the Sadducees (who didn’t believe there would be a resurrection) even dared to dream possible. Jesus would indeed perform one great sign, and as a result all of the nations of the world would bow down to worship Him. But that sign would not come from the skies on the shore of Galilee, but from the ground early in the morning in a desolate grave yard on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just like the prophet Jonah, Jesus, would impossibly emerge from the pit of hell three days after being given over to death.
When Jesus and the disciples hopped back on the boat, the disciples quickly realized that they had a problem; they forgot to bring bread, and there was only a single loaf among them all. We might reasonably think, they surely remembered how Jesus fed five thousand with five loaves and four thousand with seven loaves, right? Of course they would realize that Jesus could, and would, take care of them, right? Wrong. Instead they became anxious and annoyed and afraid that they would go hungry. After all they had witnessed, they still didn’t recognize who Jesus was. Even though they had, with their own eyes and ears, seen and heard the greatest events in the history of the world, they didn’t yet understand Jesus’ heart for them.
Jesus said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” which was a warning for them to not allow the skepticism and doubts of the ruling class enter into their minds. The legalistic Pharisees viewed Jesus as a threat to their religious system which had given them great power over Israel. Pleasure-seeking Herod viewed Jesus, like John the Baptist, as little more than a curiosity who might derail his fun-train. Neither the Pharisees nor Herod had any real use for Jesus, they thought they knew everything they needed to know about Him. Now the disciples were in danger of becoming too familiar with Jesus as well, knowing all about Him and yet completely missing Him at the same time.
One thing is clear, the disciples didn’t trust that Jesus would provide. They believed that He needed to be reminded of their needs or else they would suffer, yet Jesus showed that it was THEY who needed reminders of who He was. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Remember the last two times we were out of bread? What happened then? Did we have enough? Did I take care of you? Don’t you understand that was only the beginning of what My love can offer you?”
Where do we find ourselves today? Are we demanding a sign like the Pharisees? Are we, like Herod, concerned with how Jesus might put an end to our self-seek ways, of what Jesus might require of us? Are we like the disciples, who quickly forget that Jesus has proven Himself time and again, and the signs and blessings we have already received are nothing compared to what He has in store? Do we trust that He has it all in His hands, that our greatest need has already been satisfied once and for all with the greatest sign the world has ever known?
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we pray that today You would open our eyes to the true condition of our hearts. Help us to see and perceive, the hear and to listen. Remind us today of Your goodness and grace and the great things that You have done for us. We pray in Your precious name, Amen.