The Dangers of Dead End Leaven
Text: Mark 8: 1-21
Proposition: There are four things that will influence the growth of unbelief and spiritual dullness… traditionalism; skepticism; secularism; pessimism. The opposite is to foster biblical truth, godliness, remembering what God has done and looking forward to what He is about to do. (Appreciation to William Hendriksen) Introduction: To use the metaphor of a sailboat there are at least four factors that determine how well it performs..the unseen forces of ocean current, the degree of wind and wave action, the inherent design of the ship and the skill of the pilot to address all these influences. The same is certainly true for you and I as we set sail with our aspirations and dreams, talents and skills and relationships. There’s a recent film starring Leonardo Decaprio and Kate Winslett called Revolutionary Road, it’s about a young couple that start out with great dreams but find themselves ending up in the struggles of daily life that to them seems like a dead end. Though I haven’t seen the film, it seems that it’s effect will be depressing, the revolutionary road of their idealism turns out to be nothing more than a back alley. I think there are many people who are frustrated with their lives, more and more so as these times continue to contract. What do you think are the influences that are the seen and unseen forces on these people, influences that tend to drive people out to sea and exhaust their resources before they make it back to land? Os Guinness, in his book The Gravediggers File, discusses three influences (or pressures) in society today: secularization, pluralization, and privatization. “Secularization is the process by which most segments of our society have been cut off from the influence of religious ideas and institutions. Pluralization is the rapid multiplication of choices. With so many choices, we do not know what is true. Privatization is the retreat from looking to other people or institutions to provide security and significance. People are retreating from commitments to others and turning inward.” To think that we are immune to such influences would be foolish, they assail us even as they assailed the disciples in the times that they spent with Jesus. This morning we’re going to look at some of those influences. Jesus called these influences, ‘leaven’, comparing the thinking and teaching of various groups to the way that yeast can have a dramatic effect on the dough it is mixed in. Turn with me to Mark 8: 1-21 as we look at The Dangers of Dead End Leaven.
I. The Compassion of Jesus Is Greater Than Men Could Imagine. For three days the people had stayed in the wilderness with Jesus, their food ran out and still they would not leave. He healed and taught and comforted the people and the effect was that over 4000 people went past the point of reason to pursue a closeness to Jesus. The passion in the people is what stirred the compassion in Christ. Their most obvious of needs is what He recognized before the disciples. He didn’t say that He was going to feed 4000 people, He didn’t say, ‘ I’m going to create bread and fish’, He simply recognized the obvious need. As the disciples recognize the impossibility of meeting the need, Jesus recognizes what they have in their hands… 7 loaves and a few fish. Perhaps the immensity of reality makes us forget the past methods of God, perhaps 4000 people and a dusty countryside blocked the memory of how He fed a similar crowd, months earlier. Whatever the cause, the compassion of Jesus is greater than these disciples could have imagined. He not only feeds 4000 men not counting women and children, but to prove that all had eaten and to see them on their long journey home, 7 large baskets are collected up full of leftovers. How great do you think the compassion of Jesus is? Certainly the Cross tells us that there is no greater love than a person who gives His life for another. The Cross tells us that the compassion of Jesus sees our evident need, a need that says without His supply we will not make it home. The compassion of Jesus is greater than men could imagine. Imagine the cross, the compassion of Jesus is that and more. Imagine your death and eventual resurrection because of faith in Christ as your Savior, His compassion for you is still even greater than that! The compassion of Christ for you is that where He is there you will be also. The compassion of Jesus for you is that you would know the truth concerning all things and that truth would set you free! Free in Christ, free from sin, free to glorify God. The compassion of Jesus is greater than men could imagine and it influences us to faith, hope and love.
II. There Are Influences That Choke Our Faith and Service. There’s a wonderful way that Jesus uses the Sea of Galilee, it’s like a portal in a sense, He uses it to step out of some peoples lives and to step into the situations of others. They cross from the Decapolis to Dalmanutha, near Tiberias. The Pharisees hear that He is again near and they come to challenge Him. In their impudence they demand a sign to prove that He is the Messiah. They seem not to have regarded the fact that He had healed the leprous, cast out demons, opened the eyes of the blind, restored the paralyzed and raised the dead and fed thousands through miracles of creating bread and fish. These signs they were saying was not enough. It was as if they were saying that they wanted Manna from heaven in order to believe. Jesus told them such a sign would not be given the Jews and with that they immediately get back into the boat and go north east to the region of Bethsaida. It is what happens on the way that ties the feeding of the 4000 together with the testing of the Pharisees. It’s a long trip to Bethsaida, there’s wilderness there and likely not too many places to pick up provisions. The disciples realize that they’ve missed the opportunity to get bread in Dalmanutha and are not only getting hungry but wonder about what lies ahead. That’s when Jesus strongly cautions them, “Take heed, beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The disciples reason among themselves that Jesus is upset with them for not having more bread and was giving some kind of cautionary warning about not getting bread that came from the Pharisees or Herodians. The ‘leaven’ that Jesus refers to is the influence of these groups, an influence that will choke out faith. William Hedriksen in his commentary on Mark suggests that there are four groups of people being referred to here; the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees and the Disciples. Each bears an influence and each influence runs counter to what Christ is seeking to do. Have a look at them:
1.The Pharisees, the influence of Traditionalism – the tendency to move towards God by a spirit of duty and repetition and empty formalities rather than by a humble honesty and transparent heart.
2. The Sadducees, the influence of Skepticism – in Matthews gospel the Sadducees accompanied the Pharisees as they came to test Jesus. They were characterized by an unbelief in the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul. They were therefore skeptical of the purposes of God to be anything more than social reformation.
3. The Herodians, the influence of Secularism – the Sadducees were supported financially by king Herod and thus heavily influenced by him. Most of the high priests were of the Sadducees. The secular influence of Herod aimed to control the spiritual by the political, to define spiritual truth by that which was expedient to the political purposes.
4. The Disciples, the influence of Pessimism – the negativity of pessimism forgets the goodness of God in times past, it neglects to move forward because of self focus and it replaces faith with judgment. The disciples had only to remember that even the leftovers from the feeding of the 4000 would more than fill their boat and feed them for weeks. They had allowed their pessimism to make them vulnerable to the influences of traditionalism, Skepticism and Secularism.
These same influences can assail us today, they will cripple our faith and the very compassion of Jesus in us to feed the hungry will wither. What’s the recourse, what’s the remedy? There are three terms that Jesus uses as He cautions the disciples:
1. Beware – watch out for the influences that are coming at you. One analyst said that this generation receives more than 6000 messages a day from the media trying to convince them of what truth is. Know that you are being influenced and that it originates from a both material and spiritual realms.
2. Perceive – Jesus describes this as having eyes to see and ears to hear and to not let your heart be hardened. Know what the Scripture says, there’s only one way to do that, read it and study it. Know what God is saying to you and the people around you, break away from the spirit of duty when it comes to prayer, move away from empty formalities when you come to speak with God. Let your heart be extremely transparent before Him and take comfort and peace just to be before Him.
3. Remember – your memory of how and what God has done in your life has numbers, places, people, actions of faith and responses to faith, blessings and the evidence of God’s supply. All these point to the truth of Who He is, they point to the glory of God and call us to remember Him, remember His love and His call to you.