Jesus said to “beware of the leavening of the Pharisees.” What did He mean? Why is it vital for you to know?
[Gary] Who doesn’t like fluffy, sweet, doughy bread, pastries and donuts? In order to get dough to puff up into delicious, fluffy loaves a leavening agent must be added to the mix.
Jesus told His followers, “Beware of the leavening of the Pharisees…” (Luke 12:1 Luke 12:1In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, so that they stepped one on another, he began to say to his disciples first of all, Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
American King James Version×).
Now what did Jesus mean by “leavening of the Pharisees”? The answer is important if you want to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. Join us on Beyond Today as we answer the question, “Is Spiritual Leavening in Your Life?”
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[Gary] What did Jesus mean when He told His followers to “beware of the leavening of the Pharisees” and how can this teaching be applied to your spiritual life?
Well today, we’re going to explore how the Bible uses the mysterious, hidden work of leavening to teach a spiritual lesson that will help you in your personal relationship with God.
Now, we begin to unlock the hidden mystery of leavening by looking at another teaching of Jesus Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel we read, “Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have taken no bread.’”
The disciples were confused by Jesus’ use of leaven. Since leaven was something used to make dough rise, they thought He was speaking to them about bread.
Matthew continues, “But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, ‘O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have [not] brought [any] bread?” Jesus explained to the disciples that the lack of physical food wasn’t His point. He reminded them that on more than one occasion He had performed miracles and fed thousands.
Then Jesus said to them, “How is it …you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? - but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-12 Matthew 16:5-12  And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.
 Then Jesus said to them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.
 Which when Jesus perceived, he said to them, O you of little faith, why reason you among yourselves, because you have brought no bread?
 Do you not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up?
 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you took up?
 How is it that you do not understand that I spoke it not to you concerning bread, that you should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?
 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
American King James Version×).
You see, Jesus used leaven as a symbol for hypocrisy and false religion. His message about “spiritual leavening” is very important for anyone who really wants to be a true disciple. You see God wants to remove spiritual leavening from your life - both to give you a happier, purpose-filled life now and to prepare you for eternity in His family.
So why leavening? What point was Jesus making? And how does it apply to your spiritual life right now?
Jesus’ object lesson has to do with the hidden work of leavening in the baking of bread. A leavening agent like yeast must be added to dough to make it rise. Once yeast is mixed into the dough, it begins to change every particle. You know when you first look at it, at first it appears that nothing is happening. But secretly, the leavening agent is forming gas bubbles and slowly the dough begins to swell. It becomes puffed up and full of warm air.
Let me show you the simple process of how adding leavening into dough works.
What I have here are two bowls each with dough. Okay, this is what dough looks like - most people don’t bake their own bread anymore so they wouldn’t know. This is just a basic simple mixture of flour - a little sticky. It’s got some flour in it. Some moisture liquid of some kind, water, milk. It’s got salt. It’s got some sugar. It’s got some kind of fat - some shortening, or some margin or some butter. That’s dough that makes bread. But that’s not a very puffed up lump of dough. What if I took this lump of dough here and I put this in it?
This is yeast. It’s a leavening agent. Now, if I would have made this dough and I would have mixed this in and let it set, something very important begins to happen. If you would let this sit for maybe two to three hours, you would get - this.
Actually, if I let this sit much longer, it would puff up and actually flow over the bowl. Look at the difference. This is without leavening. This is with leavening. This is the object lesson that Jesus Christ is making. This is dough with no gas bubbles. This is dough filled with gas bubbles. Now when you’re finished, what does that look like? Well, that is a beautiful loaf of bread baked filled with leavening. Aw man.
What happens if you don’t put leavening in it? Unleavened bread: a flat piece of bread with no bubbles. That’s the difference. This is the object lesson that Jesus Christ is using to make His point.
Now, how can we begin to understand why Jesus used leavening as a symbol for hypocrisy and false religion? Well it’s because it produces self-righteousness.
This feeling of being self-righteousness is nothing more than being puffed up with gas bubbles. Feeling religious and being in a right relationship with the Almighty God are two different experiences.
Now, if we are going to be honest and if you’re going to be honest with the teachings of Jesus, then you must ask yourself, “Do I know what Jesus really taught? Do I follow His teachings or is my life just filled with spiritual leavening?”
God promises to accomplish great changes in your life. Is it possible that you are not experiencing the power of God because you are spiritually leavened?
The apostle Paul used the same leaven analogy when writing to the Christian church in Corinth. The Corinthian Christians were proud of their tolerance. In fact, a member was committing adultery with his stepmother and it was generally tolerated among the congregation.
Paul writes, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you [might] be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” In his letter the apostle actually tells the Corinthians to remove the adulterer from their congregation because by allowing this sin, all of them were in danger of being spiritually leavened.
He continues, “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” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8 1 Corinthians 5:6-8  Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×).
It’s here that we begin to have insight into the symbolic way leavening was used in the early Church. Paul knew that physically, a small amount of leavening infected the entire lump of dough. This is the hidden mystery of leaven that we just showed in making bread. You can put a small amount of leavening into a lump of dough and soon every particle is affected. Gas bubbles form and the dough becomes filled with warm air.
Paul calls spiritual leavening malice and wickedness. Malice involves the selfishness that drives thoughts and emotions while wickedness involves actions. Now wickedness isn’t a word that we use much in English anymore. It is just another word for sinfulness.
Ah, sin - the word that is considered judgmental and condemning. The word that causes people to change the television channel faster than any other word.
Well before you change the channel, please listen to what I’m about to say. Sin is defined by God’s laws, principles and teachings - not mans. You will never be a true follower of Jesus Christ until you understand what sin is, repent of sin and allow God to replace sin in your life with His ways.
God wants to free all of us from the slavery of addictions, broken relationships and a foggy way of thinking that leads to constant failure. These consequences in people’s lives are the results of sin. Do you have some of those consequences in your life?
You see sin separates all of us from God. Just as leavening changes every particle of dough until it is puffed up with gas bubbles, when we refuse to understand the reality and consequences of sin, we become puffed up. We become full of ourselves, either believing that God doesn’t care about our actions or that He has no right to tell us what to do.
I know this is difficult to hear, but understanding sin is the beginning of how God will change your life! To help you understand how the hidden work of spiritual leavening might be affecting your thoughts and actions, let me use this simple example.
The spiritual leavening process goes something like this: “I know that the Bible teaches that I shouldn’t have sex before marriage. But I love my boyfriend and he may leave me if I don’t sleep with him. God will understand. In fact, my boyfriend has been coming to church with me and it looks like God is using me to work in his life.”
Now be honest with yourself, have you ever reasoned like this? Found a way to get around what you know is right in order to pursue a personal desire?
Well let’s break down this leavening process.
First of all, the woman in this case has allowed the leavening of sin to be introduced into her thoughts: “I know that the Bible teaches…” and “I’m against this but…”
Two, the hidden work of sin has affected her entire emotional process. “I will lose my boyfriend if I don’t do what I actually know is wrong.”
Three, she now thinks that she is an exception to God’s rules. “God will understand.” She believes that right and wrong are determined by her feelings. She is actually puffed up with her own opinion.
And then lastly, instead of sex outside of marriage being seen as sin, it has actually become a virtue. “God is using my sin to do good, so my sin is good.” At this point, the woman is filled with spiritual leavening.
Now you can see why Paul used leavening as a symbol for sin. All human beings are puffed up with spiritual leavening. Now here’s the good news. The good news is that God wants to actually deleaven your life.
God wants to stop this destructive way of thinking that infects your life. How He wants to teach you these vital lessons is revealed in the annual biblical Holy Days. Yet, these Holy Days are ignored in the pulpits of most churches. You can learn how God wants to deleaven your life by reading God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind. You can order a free copy by calling: 1-888-886-8632 and we’ll tell you more about this important free study guide in just a few minutes.
God wants to perform a miracle in your life. Now we’ve seen and looked at how physical leavening is added into dough and once you do that, you can’t stop the process. You can’t deleaven leavened bread. Jesus and Paul use leavening as a symbol for the false religion and sin that infects the minds and actions of every one of us. So here’s the miracle - God wants to spiritually deleaven your life.
So once you recognize the hidden mystery of spiritual leaven, God wants to replace sin with a different way of thinking and acting. We read in 1 Corinthians how the apostle Paul wrote that the leavened bread of malice and wickedness must be replaced with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
What did Paul mean by the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth?
Sincerity means “without deceit or pretense” (Webster’s). It’s unfortunate that sincere has become a byword for excusing any kind of action or lifestyle as long as the person means well. I mean how many times have you heard someone say, “Well, I know I’ve done something wrong but as long as I’m sincere God will understand”? It is almost as if feeling sincere is a special license that allows all of us to do whatever we want regardless of consequences.
The truth is: wrong is wrong. Sin separates us from God, destroys relationships and causes terrible consequences no matter how sincere we are. God wants to change all that pain and failure in your life.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the Greek language. The Greek word translated sincere means “to be pure.” Now the English word sincere comes from a Latin word meaning “without wax.”
In the ancient world people valued high quality pottery for its durability. The problem was that sometimes, during the firing process, the pottery would crack. So dishonest merchants would use wax to cover the cracks and sell inferior merchandise at high prices. Honest merchants advertised their wares as - “without wax.”
And let me show you. Here’s two pots that look basically the same. But actually one of them has a crack. Now you and I can look at that and we couldn’t see that, but definitely at the bottom of this one, there is a very serious crack. Now, if I was a dishonest merchant in ancient Rome and I wanted to get the same price for both of these, I could take wax, fill in the crack and sell it. And of course the person wouldn’t know it until they tried to use it and then had a serious problem, right? Sincere means “without wax.”
The unleavened bread of sincerity is to live “without wax.” It is to live without hypocrisy. It is a refusal to tolerate hidden sins and cracks in your Christian way of life. It is a submission to God as the Master Potter who shapens you and fires you in His kiln until He produces the finished product He wants.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the leavened bread of malice and wickedness and unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Now he also told them to “keep the feast.”
Are you keeping the feast? What feast is He talking about?
The importance of leavening as a biblical religious symbol goes way back in time to Israel’s exodus from slavery. The Israelites were forced to leave Egypt with such haste that they didn’t get to add leavening to their bread. In the Jewish community today they commemorate these events every spring by celebrating the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Now this is the feast Paul is telling a Gentile, non-Jewish, church in Greece to keep. You see, in the early New Testament, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was observed as a Christian festival.
Think about how both the Old and New Testament teachings combine to create a clear picture of God’s plan. God delivered ancient Israel from the cruelty of slavery and in their haste the Israelites had to leave slavery with unleavened bread. God wants to free us from the slavery of sin. And we are to leave behind the old leavening of malice and wickedness and replace it with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
So the analogies are clear, the problem is how can something that is leavened become unleavened? I mean that is physically impossible.
Well the answer is found in the Feast of Unleavened Bread and also a day that happens right before the Feast of Unleavened Bread called the Passover. It is a memorial of the night when God freed the Israelites from slavery by killing the firstborn of Egypt. The Israelites were saved by spreading the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and then God passed over them - that’s why it’s called the Passover.
It was during a Passover meal, centuries later, that Jesus sat down with His disciples and broke bread. He told them, “Take eat, this is my body.” He then passed around a cup of wine saying, “…this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28 Matthew 26:26-28  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it;
 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
American King James Version×).
The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread helps Christians understand the hidden mystery of spiritual leavening. These holy times also reveal the deleavening work of Jesus Christ. You see, they show us the great miracle that God wants to perform in our lives.
So how can God’s deleavening process work in your life? Well here’s four steps to begin your spiritual deleavening process.
1. First of all, get a Bible and a concordance and study what the Bible says about - yes, that nasty word - sin because it’s what’s causing the problems in your life. Jesus coming into the world didn’t make sin disappear. Sin is still the active leavening agent causing hatred, crime, bad governments, social unrest, poverty, war, broken families and every other kind of problem that you and I suffer through every day of our lives. You can’t deleaven your life until you first understand the reality of spiritual leavening.
2. Number two, study what the Bible says about Jesus Christ as the Passover and the wonderful meaning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is where our study guide can help you learn about spiritual leavening in a way that is just unknown in most of today’s pulpits.
3. Then, get on your knees and ask God to forgive you of your sins and apply the blood of Jesus Christ as your Passover. Remember God wants to forgive you. He wants to deleaven you.
4. And then the last step, find a Christian church that keeps the feast as commanded by the apostle Paul.
These four steps are just the beginning steps in God unleashing His miracle of deleavening in your life!
Now we’re going to talk more about spiritual leavening and God’s deleavening process but first let me remind you about how to get your free copy of God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.
This study guide will take you through why Jesus is called the Passover and how the Feast of Unleavened Bread is an important Christian festival. You will go step-by-step through the Bible to learn how all of the biblical festivals picture the work God is doing through His Son Jesus Christ in the past, present and even into the future.
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Darris McNeely and Steve Myers have joined us to discuss the Feast of Unleavened Bread. You know many people believe that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is basically a Jewish festival, but the three of us are Christians who observe it. How has observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread helped you understand Jesus Christ?
[Steve] Maybe one of the things to think about to begin with is the fact that it is not a Jewish celebration. It is not a Jewish festival. So many confuse that because they really don’t realize where God established this, directed it. Leviticus 23 says very clearly about all of God’s Holy Days including the Days of Unleavened Bread and He says, these are feasts of the Lord. So they’re not Jewish feasts, they’re not Hebrew feasts, they’re for all mankind - for all mankind! And so they become Christian feasts because Jesus Christ gave them even more additional meaning - spiritual meaning, not just a physical side of things. So to begin with, it means so much because of the spiritual intent of what God has in mind for all mankind.
[Gary] It really does unlock certain aspects of Christianity doesn’t it?
[Darris] You cannot understand Jesus Christ without observing these festivals that God gave to mankind. And the Days of Unleavened Bread and the Passover which you referred to as well, which come together there, are essential to understanding this. In fact there are three ways to understanding Jesus Christ by the Days of Unleavened Bread and Passover. First of all with Passover, you have Jesus Christ crucified, slain as the Lamb of God, as the New Testament tells us from the foundation of the world. You also have the fact that Jesus Christ then as when He was literally killed was put into the tomb just as the Days of Unleavened Bread were beginning. And then He was in that tomb for three days and three nights as He said that He would be, and then He was resurrected. And so that took place during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So you have those two right there and then when you understand that the Days of Unleavened Bread are to show us and to picture really the life of the resurrected Jesus Christ in us, with the ability - the only real ability to put out sin is because of His life in us. Then you have really a perfect picture of Jesus Christ and the best way to understand the life, death and the mission of the resurrected Jesus Christ through this festival.
[Gary] It’s interesting how the apostle Paul talks about getting rid of old leavening. There is no way to deleaven physically something that has leavening put in it and yet he shows that spiritually, we are leavened with sin and yet God actually wants to deleaven us. That’s the amazing concept.
[Steve] Yeah it’s a great way to visualize it because we have this flat bread that is unleavened. You’ve got the puffy bread that’s all built up and everybody is familiar with that, so he uses that example to show us what sin does and sin infects that whole loaf, you know and makes it expand. And sin does the same thing to us as that yeast does that blows up the bread. And so he says we can do it but we can do it because of the spiritual implication of that object lesson. That because of Christ’s sacrifice and because I have Christ in me, instead of leavening, instead of sin in me, I can be an unleavened loaf. I can have sincerity and truth.
[Darris] You know, Gary when I was 12 years old my mother began to read the Bible and desired to observe these festivals as God commanded and keep the New Testament meaning of the Days of the Unleavened Bread. She - I was only 12 - she began packing my lunch for school during that festival period, that seven-day period with this flat type of bread. And I, I was kind of the odd kid out at lunchtime in the cafeteria and I didn’t fully understand exactly what it was all about.
But over a period of time I began to realize that it’s a flat piece of bread that really helps us to understand the type of life we should be living. One without the puffed up vanity that you showed with the various lumps of dough up here and then that fully baked bread - which is fine for what it is, but God gives something else for us to understand, a very tangible spiritual condition which we are to become unleavened through the life of Jesus Christ within us - His sinless life.
[Gary] It is interesting because some people think we accept Jesus Christ and that’s all there is to Christianity. What the Days of Unleavened Bread actually show us once we accept Jesus as our Passover, there’s this process why He actually doesn’t just forgive us of sins, He removes sin from us.
Now, as I know you work as a pastor, what happens when someone comes to you and says I want to keep the Days of Unleavened Bread. I want to understand them. What advice do you give them?
[Steve] I tell them, read the Bible. Because it tells us very specifically keep the feast. 1 Corinthians 5:8 1 Corinthians 5:8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×tells us very specifically - Let’s do it! And so we begin to learn those spiritual lessons by putting those physical things into practice too. So we do it and it’s a reminder that we can have Christ in our life. We can overcome sin so we’ve got to actually do it. Ask God’s guidance. Ask His direction. Ask Him to open your minds to His truth and by keeping those days we can begin to understand some pretty significant spiritual truth.
[Gary] Just keep the feast. That’s what Paul says. Keep it. So just go do it.
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These are important annual celebrations for Christians - the Passover and week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. This Springtime Festival is just the beginning of a biblical yearly calendar that celebrates the work of Jesus Christ. We invite you to join us in celebrating God’s Holy Day plan.
I’ll be right back after this:
[Narrator] “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for generations to come” (Exodus 31:13 Exodus 31:13Speak you also to the children of Israel, saying, Truly my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the LORD that does sanctify you.
American King James Version×).
The Sabbath is a key to the Kingdom of God. The New Testament book of Hebrews says, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”
Jesus and His followers kept the Sabbath and they still do today. God commands us to pause and reflect on His way of life. Take a break from the fast paced action of this world. Experience a rejuvenation of the mind and grow closer to Him. Join us as we explore the Sabbath and show how it is a key to the Kingdom of God.
The United Church of God is hosting free Kingdom of God Bible Seminars held around the world. Go to KOGSeminars.org to find one near you. Kingdom of God Bible Seminars - giving the message of hope for tomorrow - beginning today!
[Gary] And join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom and continue to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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