God sees our hearts, our inner motives, and just as Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day, so he asks us to weigh our hearts carefully, so that we do not make the same mistake.
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
As Jesus moves boldly towards fulfilling his purpose for coming to the world, which was to save humanity, the tension is mounting. The ruling elite religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, had been challenging Jesus on many fronts, and just as passionately, Jesus has confounded them with his responses, much to the astonishment of the crowds following Jesus. However, this was not a gameshow to see who would win the debate, far more was at stake – the eternal destiny of humanity.
On a different occasion Jesus had said people look at the external, but God looks at the heart, which is our deepest motivations. So now as the scene is set for the inevitable final confrontation with the religious establishment, Jesus first points out some home truths to his inner team before launching into his next campaign before a rapidly gathering crowd.
Jesus tells his team to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is their hypocrisy, or as JB Phillips calls it, sheer pretence. As yeast causes bread to rise, so in a negative sense, not practicing what you preach results in you living a lie. On another retelling of this incident in Matthew, Jesus warned his team to be aware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is their teaching. What is the link between teaching and hypocrisy? John Macarthur explains the two are inextricably linked. “The most sinister influence of the Jewish leaders was a pragmatic doctrine that made room for hypocrisy.” An example that comes to mind was the practice of giving to the temple, but not taking care of their parents in need. The Pharisees found a loophole to excuse their lack of financial support for their parents, by blaming it on their duty to God. This practice particularly upset Jesus, given God’s 4th commandment that we honour our parents.
Jesus’ warning that there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known is an ominous reference to judgement and the omniscience of God. God sees our hearts, our inner motives, and just as he exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, so he asks us to weigh our hearts carefully, so that we do not make the same mistake.
The final challenge Jesus leaves us with as he encourages his disciples to godly living is not to be afraid of those who can kill your physical body, but rather be afraid of someone who once your body has been killed, has the authority to consign you into hell. In other words, don’t follow a human leader and fall into error, but stay for fear of being excommunicated or even killed. Rather follow God truly out of reverence and fear, weighing the motives of your heart, knowing he has the authority to excommunicate you forever. The reference to sparrows and the hairs of our head being numbered gives us comfort, knowing that if God cares about even these small details of his creation, we can trust the providential love of God to protect us.
Head: Think of a few other occasions where Jesus clashed with the religious leaders and lawyers. How many of the issues raised fall into the category of hypocrisy?
Heart: How do you feel about the warning that whatever is said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the rooftops?
Hands: Consider carefully the warning against living out of sheer pretence and look for aspects of your life where you have lived a lie. Ask God to forgive you and give you the grace to live with integrity.
Prayer: Lord, we know that you did not fight the religious leaders in order to win arguments, but in order to win hearts that love you truly. Help us to identify those aspects of our lives where we live out of sheer pretence and forgive us where we have been bad examples to those in our circle of influence. Grant us the grace to practice what we believe, not to lord it over others, but rather to glorify you in all we do. In Jesus name. Amen.
A song to listen to: Grace Wins
Sean Kluyts – Living Church Creek Road