Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees
Leaven of the Pharisees ~ It's a curious pharse. Why did Christ feel compelled to warn His disciples to avoid it ? Would you recognize this "leavening" if you saw it today ? The answer to these questions is important, not just for the passover season, but throughout the year.
What is the "leaven of the Pharisees" ? You will find a direct answer in Luke 12:1."In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples frist of all,[ Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy]. Hypocrisy is here described as the leaven of the Pharisees, but as we will see later, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
"Hypocrite" comes from the Greek word hupokrites and refers to someone who is acting, pretending. It was the custom of Greek and Roman stage actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice. These actors, concealing their real faces and changing their real voices, were called hupokrites, or hypocrites.
Jesus likened the conduct of the Pharisees to actors~men pretending, playing a role. The Pharisees of Christ's day were a powerful leadership body who claimed to be more zealous and more righteous than than rest of Jewish society. They set themselves up as models of what was right and godly, yet in Christ's eyes their example was actually destructive. In Christ's estimation the conduct of these men had a corrupting effect upon those who followed their example ~ a leavening effect, if you will.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND INSTRUCTION ON HYPOCRISY
It is interesting that early on Christ forcefully addressed the issue of hypocrisy. You might call Matthew 6:1-18 a primer on identifying hypocrisy. The hypocrisy give offerings for the purpose of being seen and admired (verse 1-2); they pray to impress men with their voices and their words(verse 5); and they do all they can to look miserable when they fast so they will be admired for their sacrifice and pited for for thier discomfort (verse 16). Christ's message to His disciples was simply, If you do it this way, men's admiration will be your total reward since I will not be looking or listening.
Most people who profess to be Christian get the point. This is elementary. How often do you see someone blow a trumpet to announce his offering or look so tousled, unshaven and unkempt that you have to ask,"Are you fasting today?" But the leavening effect of hypocrisy is far broader.
HYPOCRISY AND MALICIOUS INTENT
Most of us are familiar with the situation described in Matthew 22:15-18. The Pharisees brought to Christ a coin bearing Caesar's Image and asked Him if it was appropriate to pay taxes. The Jews of Christ's time hated the Roman occupation. To say yes, it is OK, would alienate the Jews. To say no, you should not, would be treasonous and open to prosecution by the Roman government. Jesus said, in verse 18, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites ?" Here hypocrisy was the masking of their malicious intent.
Verses 15 through 18 make it clear that the intent of the heart and the appearance were different," Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying " Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us therefore what do You think ? " Here is a clear example of malicious intent. With smiling faces and flattering words they sought to injure Christ. Paul, who had been a Pharisee before his conversion, could easily see the connection between leaven and malicious intent. In his letter to the Corinthians, written at the Passover season, Paul exhorted," Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (I Corinthians 5:8). But there is more tot the story of the leaven of the Pharisees.
A SECOND FORM OF LEAVEN
In Matthew 16, Scripture shows that the leaven of the Pharisees goes beyond hypocrisy. Following the miracle of the fishes and loaves, the Pharisees confronted Jesus as they sought a sign. He called them hypocrites to their faces and offered no sign but the sign of Jonah. Later He warned His disciples, " Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadduces" (Matthew 16:6). The disciples did not at frist understand what He meant. Christ called the Pharisees hypocrites in verse 3, but the disciples did'nt automatically assume a connection.
It is quite likely the disciples were initially blinded by a guilty conscience. They thought they had recieved a subtle scolding because no one had remembered to purchase food for the group (Matthew 16:7). Christ explained that He was'nt dependent upon whether they remembered to buy groceries, after all, had'nt He just fed a huge multitude with seven loaves and a few fish ? With their guilty conciences relieved, they hit upon His true intent which is described in verse 12," Then they understood that He did not tell them beware of the leaven of bread, but the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadduces."
The leaven of the Pharisees is more than hypocrisy; it is also thier doctrine. But how or why is their doctrine equated to leaven ? We will find as we go along that there is an inextricable link between the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the doctrines of the Pharisees.
DOCTRINE AND HYPOCRISY
The clearest connection between the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their doctrine is seen in Mark 7:1-9, where the Pharisees complained about the disciples eating with unwashed hands. It should be understood that the traditions, or rulings, passed down generation to generation by the wise men of the Pharisaical persuasion took on the power of law. To the mind of a Pharisee the sayings of their elders were as binding as the Scriptures. In fact Christ implies they were even seen as more binding than the law of God if the two came in conflict. To Christ this was hypocritical. How can a body of men who claim to be the most righteous observers of the law of God create traditions that nullify the law of God and still claim righteousness ? This did'nt make sense. Christ saw their doctrines, in this case, as hypocritical.
As we continue in Mark 7, we can see the conflict. The Pharisees came to Christ and challenged," Why do your disciples not walk according to the traditions of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands ? " (Mark 7:5). Christ responded, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors Me with their mouth and lips, but their heart is far from Me, and in vain they worship Me teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." ( Mark 7:6-7)
Christ continued His rebuke in Mark 7:8-13, giving examples of traditions passed down by the elders that directly contravened the law of God. His final summation was that in many areas of advice, ruling and even law they had put aside the law of God prefering their traditions instead. Christ this was hypocritical of a body that claimed superior righteousness since the laws of God are righteousness ( Psalms 119:172).
The conflict between the traditions of the elders and the law was not just a circumstance of Christ's day. The Pharisees of Christ day were in effect the predecessors of the rabbinical system that came to power after the destruction of the temple. Following the banning of Jews from the Jerusalem area, the rabbinical schools moved north to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and there created the basis for modern Judaism. The system of teaching based upon tradition has continued since that time.
Last year before the Passover, Jeffrey Weiss wrote an interesting article in the Oregonian detailing the effect of the traditions of the elders upon the standards for determining what is leavened. Mr. Weiss shared an interview with rabbi-in-residence at Manischevitz, the world's largest manufacturer of matzo. Before getting into specifics, Mr. Weiss wrote," Thousands of years of rabbis have come up with long explanations for how to observe that seemingly simple commandment " (refering to the command in Exodus about leavening).
Mr. Weiss described how the Manischevitz plant is closed for a month before Passover for a complete cleaning where cooking equipment is literally taken apart and scoured and reassembled before the production of Passover matzo begins. He also described the meticulous way the matzo is made, making sure no leavening intentionally or unintentionally contaminates the matzo.
And at the end of the article the reporter then described the many ways in which people observing the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread try to get around the strict obedience to the no leavening law and herein we find a most interesting " law." Mr.Weiss asked Manischevitz's rabbi-inresidence about what appeared to be a contradiction to the biblical law regarding no leavening during this season. "And how about many of Manischevitz's kosher-for-Passover processed mixes for cakes,cookies and other goodies ? One of the ingredients is sodium carbonate-baking soda. Isn't that a leavening ?
"It may look that way, Rabbi Horowitz said. But appearances can decieve.
"The rabbis decided that matzo once certified as kosher for Passover can never be de-Passoverized. Not even by later contact with leavening. All of the Manischevitz mixes start with Passover matzo meal that-by definition-can't be ritually contaminated by baking soda.
"Most people don't understand that, Rabbi Horowitz said.
"It's not a question of what it looks like, he said. It is a question of what the rabbis call it.
That article echoes the words of Mark 7:8. "For laying aside the commandments of God, you hold the tradition of men.......
As we move toward the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, may we learn from the cautionary words of Christ-beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. During our days of self-examination and introspection, may we determine all the more to worship God with a sincere and honest heart, coupled with a respect for both the Letter and the Spirit of His Word.