“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mark 8:15).
The disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about. Jesus got pretty frustrated with them and said, “Won’t you ever learn or understand? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes-can’t you see? You have ears-can’t you hear? Don’t you remember anything at all?” (Mark 8:17-18). The poor disciples really didn’t get it. And I didn’t get it either for a long time. But Jesus gave them some hints. He reminded them about the two times that he multiplied the fish and the loaves. Each time there were many baskets of leftovers. Those leftovers were the proof that Jesus didn’t just boast with empty words. He actually had the true, awesome creative power of God Himself. His gospel was confirmed from heaven with signs and wonders. His teaching was backed up with the highest power anywhere in the universe. He didn’t need no yeast to puff up those fish and loaves. He multiplied them and they weren’t just filled with air.
It’s explained in Luke 12:1 that the yeast of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. The Pharisees had just demanded in Mark 8:11 that Jesus show them a miraculous sign to prove that he was the Christ. But of course Jesus refused because they didn’t believe, and then he left them. The Pharisees made like they truly believed and followed God. But in reality, they have very little actual faith. They pretended to serve God, but really only served themselves. Just as yeast is used to puff up bread and make it look bigger, the selfish ambition of the Pharisees filled them with pride, haughtiness and self-satisfaction. But that pride is based on a false sense of power, because like bread their stature was based on empty pockets of air, without any real power from God. This made them feel threatened by Jesus, who they realized had true power. They were afraid that someone would discover that they were just really full of hot air, poke them with a needle, and they would deflate like a balloon in a very undignified manner. But they continued to go about their lives, living in hypocrisy. Jesus teaching was backed up with baskets full of real food; the Pharisees teaching was only backed up by their hot breath.
Jesus warned the disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod because he didn’t want them to fall into the same trap of hypocrisy. He wanted them to serve God and God alone. That’s why he later said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross and follow me. If you try to keep you life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life” (Mark 8:34-35).
Lord, help me to lay down all my selfish desires. I want to worship You alone. I don’t want to serve myself. I want to be completely Yours. Please fill me with faithfulness to honor You as You deserve. You are righteous, holy and worthy of glory. Help me to take up my cross today; I want desperately to follow You and You alone.