Verse of the Day Devotion. Mark 8:15
“And He was giving orders to them, saying, watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” – Mark 8:15
Jesus, along with His disciples, gets into the boat after His quarrel with the Pharisees and goes to the other side of the lake. “And they had forgotten to take bread; and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them.” Mark 8:14. When they got into the boat they realized they had forgot to bring bread with them. And while in the boat, Jesus gives a warning to His disciples. “And He was giving orders to them, saying, Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:15. Now it appears that what Jesus said caused them to argue regarding their lack of bread. “And they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.” Mark 8:16. What Jesus had intended to be taken as a metaphor the disciples took literally.
Now when Jesus heard this, He asked them a series of questions, “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? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Mark 8:17-18. Jesus asks them why they are worried about not having bread. Had they not been paying attention. “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Jesus was accusing them of being somewhat like the Jews in their lack of understanding regarding who He was. We see a similar statement in Isaiah warning the prophet how things would go with Him regarding the leadership. “And He said, go, and tell this people: Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9-10. There is much here to discuss, however in context with this verse of the day, they were sounding like the current Jews. They had seen so much regarding Jesus, His miracles, and His care for them. But when things did not go as they expected, they began to doubt. He says, “Do you not remember?”
Then He brings up two examples that they personally experienced and should have remembered. “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to Him, twelve. And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up? And they said to Him, seven.” Mark 8:19-20. He had already shown them that shortage of food would never be an issue. But they argued about who forgot to bring the bread and thus leaving them hungry. Ultimately, He was asking them was, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:21. And what He was speaking about was the phrase “And He was giving orders to them, saying, Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod is essentially hypocrisy. We see this clarification in Luke’s gospel. “Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Luke 12:1. Jesus was pointing out that the teachings of the Pharisees were pervasive and produced hypocrisy and unbelief. The leaven of the Pharisees was simply a subtle and pervasive influence the Pharisees had over people. Those who followed the Pharisees might demand signs, but they would gradually increase in unbelief until they had hardened hearts, just like the Pharisees. And this same idea was seen in the rule of Herod, also a Jew. The teachings of the Pharisees were as pervasive as yeast in a loaf of bread. Their corruption was hardly perceptible but extensive. Jesus denounced them on several occasions and their hypocrisy was a common theme. The Pharisees displayed an outward conformity to the law, but their hearts were full of unbelief and sinfulness. We see this earlier in Mark as an example. “And He said to them, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:6-8.
By warning the disciples against the hypocrisy/leaven of the Pharisees, Jesus sought to keep His followers from an insidious influence that would undermine faith and corrupt their walk with God. Believers today should heed the same warning from the Lord and guard against pharisaic attitudes and the temptation to take pride in man-made teachings and traditions. Once a bit of leaven is introduced into the church, it can quickly spread.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries, Inc.