Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the 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. (Matthew 16:6, 12)
When things don’t go the way we want them to go, we often get upset.
In Palestine in Jesus day, there were two pressure groups that had a lot of influence, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Neither of them liked what Jesus was teaching and the certainly didn’t like that His claims made him out to be the Messiah.
So what was the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees?
The Pharisees were looking for a Messiah. You’d think they’d be happy that Jesus had come along. Here He was, stirring things up and doing miracles. But that’s not the kind of Messiah they wanted and he was going about it all the wrong way.
First, they had been busy teaching everyone that if they wanted the Messiah to show up, everyone would have to be living perfect lives. Not just the Pharisees. That wouldn’t do it. Everyone – or at least just about everyone – had to perfectly keep the law of God. God wanted perfect people, then He would step in and save them.
They got it backwards. God wanted to step and save them and then make them perfect people. Jesus knew the perfect bit takes time.
When the Pharisees got upset because Jesus was hanging out with hookers and tax collectors, he told them that it was those who were sick who needed a doctor. People who think they are already pretty good tend to think they have less need for Jesus. People who know their lives are all messed up realize they need a Savior.
God sent a Messiah, not because people were ready for Him, but because they weren’t. You can’t get good enough to find God. Once you find Him, then you want to get good.
The second thing the Pharisees had wrong was that they thought the Messiah was going to defeat the Romans. They expected someone to take all their troubles away. Not only was Jesus hanging with the wrong crowd – He didn’t seem concerned with the oppression of the Romans.
Some people want Jesus to take away their problems and when He doesn’t, they give up on Him. They think he can’t be much of a Savior. But really, they don’t want a savior, they want an errand boy. They want a God who recognizes that the best thing for them is what they want for themselves and their own situation and then gets to it for them.
God disappoints so many people for this reason.
To avoid the leaven of the Pharisees, you have to be willing to let Jesus be who He is and not who you want Him to be. When you let Him be who He is, things actually turn out much better for you.
So what about the leaven of the Sadducees?
The Sadducees were part of the political elite. They included the high priest and they had a good relationship with the Roman government, which kept them in power.
Often we don’t want Jesus to get involved in our lives because He could disrupt the political system in our lives. I don’t mean whether we are Republican or Democrat or even care about the political system that runs the world.
We have power structures in our own lives. We have people we answer to and people who answer to us. We either want to keep that in place, or we want to move up in the world. Having Jesus in our lives can mess that up. Our priorities change. Our values change. They change within us and they change in relationship to those around us.
The Romans were not the friends of the Sadducees. They were their overlords. At the end of the day, it was the Romans who pulled the strings, not the Sadducees. Sometime we don’t realize that the relationships around us are controlling us instead of letting God control us. Jesus demands a restructuring so our lives that center around Him.
Later in this chapter Jesus says,
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
The leaven of the Sadducees says it is better to go with the flow and look out for yourself.
So what can we learn from Jesus words to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees?
First, we have to realize that God is not looking for perfect people. He’s looking to make perfect people.
Second, we have to let Jesus be who He wants to be in our lives, and not try to make Him into who we want Him to be.
Third, we have to be willing for God to change our relationships, so that we have the right influences in our lives and so that Jesus is the overriding influence in our lives.
Is it easy? No. It required taking up our cross. The cross is an instrument of death. We have to die to our own desires.
As Paul says in Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.