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Provision and Perversion

Date: May. 22, 2016

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Matthew 15:29-16:12

Key Verse: Matthew 16:12

“Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Have you ever thought much about bread? I like bread. Did you know that bread might have been one of the first recipes the humans ever tried? People have been making bread for at least 30,000 years. The first breads were made from wild wheat in Europe. These were unleavened flatbreads, not that dissimilar from today’s flatbreads like pita. Around 10,000 years ago humanity began to shift from being hunters and gatherers to becoming agricultural. People began to cultivate plants to make a steady supply of food. We began to plant so that we could make bread. Bread making was pivotal in sustaining a larger population, creating economies, developing society and the creation of nations. Without bread making, there would be no agriculture and a nomadic lifestyle would have persisted. Using yeast with bread also began very early probably in Egypt and sourdough was a very common leavened bread. A small portion of yesterday’s dough would become the starter for today. Other places skimmed beer or wine to get yeast from that process to use in baking bread. For thousands of years, bread has been a staple of the human diet around the world. For many people, bread is life. It is the means that we sustain ourselves. In today’s passage, there is quite a bit of talk about bread. We’ve got Jesus feeding a crowd with bread, again, and we have disciples worried that they forgot to bring bread on a trip. Food keeps us alive, but it is not the point of our lives, but many times we take that thought and alter it just a little and make bread to be much more important than it needs to be. It is very similar to what happens in today’s passage. Jesus provides and humanity takes God’s provision and perverts it.

Our passage starts out, “Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down.” (15:29) In the last passage, Jesus was in Gentile territory in the region of Tyre and Sidon. There, Jesus healed a Gentile woman’s daughter. Now, in this passage, we find that Jesus is back on the Sea of Galilee. He had returned to the area he was before. There is a strong thought that Jesus is in a Gentile region along the sea, but more on that later.  While going along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus goes up on a mountainside and sat down. As he is doing this, people start coming to Jesus. “Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” (15:30-31) Again, the people of the region Jesus was visiting brought sick and injured people to Jesus to be healed. And Jesus healed every single one of them. It is amazing that Jesus took the time to take care of each person and each need. Jesus didn’t forget even one person who was in need. That is Jesus. He doesn’t miss even one person who is in need. Sometimes we wonder if God cares, but Jesus cares about everybody. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. No problem is too big for his power or too small for his time. So much so that the people were amazed at all the healing. It is like they have never seen healing with such scope. The mute could speak, the crippled and lame could walk and the blind could see. There wasn’t a malady that Jesus couldn’t make well. Then there is that last part of the paragraph: they praised the God of Israel. They recognized that the healings had come from God, and the words “God of Israel” is proof that the crowd was predominantly Gentile. Jews would not use “God of Israel”, they would just say God. The miraculous healings that Jesus performed was proof that he came from God. It was even enough proof for people who didn’t even worship God to know that the power came from God, so they praised the God of Israel.

The crowd of people spent three days with Jesus on the mountainside. This is a little different than the feeding of the five thousand. There the people came and spent a relatively little time with Jesus, but this Gentile crowd formed around Jesus and stayed with him for three days. Since people seemed to come with more planning than the five thousand. The five thousand seemed to follow Jesus on a whim, but this crowd seemed to plan to be with Jesus and brought some provisions to spend time on the mountainside. Unfortunately, after three days, the provisions were running low and Jesus was concerned. “Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.’” (15:32) Jesus didn’t want for the crowd to collapse as they returned home. He had just healed them all. There wouldn’t be much point in letting them starve. Jesus has compassion for the people. He loved them and wanted to take care of them.

The disciples, on the other hand, had a question, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” (15:33) Not that long ago, the disciples witnessed Jesus feeding five thousand with five small loaves and to small fish, but here they ask, “Where could we get enough bread?” It almost seems as if they have forgotten what transpired with the five thousand. But how Jesus talked in the previous verse gives the connotation that he might have been nudging the disciples to perform a miracle of feeding this crowd. In that case, the disciples’ response can be viewed as them balking at the idea of performing such a great miracle. How in the world could they feed all the people, they don’t have such power? Jesus responds by asking how many loaves of bread they have, to which the disciples revealed that they have seven loaves of bread.

Just like last time, Jesus has the crowd sit down on the ground, he gave thanks, broke the bread and handed them to the disciples. The disciples, then, handed the pieces out to the people. Also just like before, the people ate and were satisfied. This means that the people had enough to eat. The people were no longer on the verge of collapsing due to hunger, they were full and satisfied, and again, Jesus provided for the people. He cared so much for them that he made sure everyone in the crowd was taken care of. One more time, just like before, there were leftovers. When the disciples gathered the leftovers, they found that there were seven basketfuls. Now, at first glance, it looks like there were more leftovers with the feeding of the five thousand, but the words used in each passage for basket is different. In the feeding of the five thousand “basket” is referring to a small basket, while here, “basket” refers to a large basket that the Gentiles used. It is a Gentile word that again shows that Jesus was probably in a Gentile region. At any rate, the seven basketfuls of leftovers here were probably more than the twelve in the other passage. The number seven also has other connotations. Seven is the number of perfection and completeness. Therefore, the seven basketfuls also show that God was complete in his provision.

God is a provider. He doesn’t like to withhold anything from anyone. He wants to heal and give to everyone who is willing to accept. On top of that, God doesn’t give grudgingly. He doesn’t hold back when he provides. God doesn’t hesitate to give us what we need. God is a cheerful giver, a loving giver and someone who truly is happy to provide for all of our needs. He provides for our physical needs, our spiritual needs, our emotional needs and every other need that we might have. He gives us our daily bread because he knows that we need to eat. He gives us knowledge because he knows that we are curious. He gives us strength because he knows that we need to endure. God provides because he is our Father and he loves to give to his children. It is in his nature to provide what we need.

After the feeding, Jesus goes to the region around Magadan which was back in Jewish territory. While there, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus. Now, the Pharisees and Sadducees were two of the main groups in Jewish religious society, but they didn’t like each other. They were like two political parties that always got into a fight with each other over politics. The Sadducees only believe the first five books of the Bible that Moses wrote were the only books in the Bible. They would not believe in anything that was not in those five books. This means that most spiritual matters were not a part of their belief. The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or eternity or the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed all the books in the Old Testament. They believed in the spiritual world, angels and the resurrection of the dead. As a result, the Pharisees and Sadducees hardly ever saw eye to eye and they got into fights over ideology. Their disdain for each other, however, was put aside to approach Jesus in order to demand a sign. It was an odd sight. It’s like Democrats and Republicans banding together against a common enemy.

These two groups came together in order to test Jesus. This wasn’t some sort of innocent test because they were uncertain of who Jesus was. The word “test” used in this passage is the same word that is used in chapter 4 when Satan tests or tempt Jesus in the desert. It is a demand for proof of who he is. Back in chapter 4, Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (4:3) The test came down to, “If you are the Son of God, prove it,” and that is no different than what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing right at this time. They were demanding that Jesus prove his identity to them. This seems a little ironic considering that Jesus just healed a ton of people and then fed them miraculously, but those event occurred in Gentile territory on the other side of the lake. Nevertheless, the Pharisees and Sadducees must have heard about all the things that Jesus has done. In fact, I am pretty sure that in the group of people that came to Jesus, there were people who actually witnessed one of Jesus’ miracles. They had either seen first-hand or been told by many people about all Jesus had done. I might forgive you in thinking because they didn’t have the internet or texting or Facebook, that maybe word didn’t get to them about Jesus’ works, except people heard about Jesus in Gentile territory. The woman last week knew about Jesus in Tyre and Sidon. They witnessed what Jesus could do, but it was not enough for them.

God provided them will all the knowledge that they needed to know where Jesus came from, but it just wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to take what was provided to them and alter it. They couldn’t come to a conclusion that satisfied them, so they couldn’t accept the meaning. They wanted to take a miracle which was designed to support who Jesus was, and twist it to serve their own purpose. They wanted to take what was good and use it for their own self-satisfaction. People have a history of doing this. We have a tendency to take what was given to us for good and twist it to serve our own desire. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees took God’s word and altered it just a little to serve their own agendas. They took the goodness of God and changed it a little to make it about morality. They took God’s law, which is intended to draw us closer to God and use it as a measuring stick for righteousness. They took what was to be given by grace and made it our responsibility. By their perversion of the law, the Pharisees and Sadducees made it all about themselves and fulfilling their ego stroking.

We have a tendency to do this with virtually everything. God gave people marriage, the binding of a man and a woman in a relationship that transcends just two people living together and actually makes the two into one being. But, we have taken the good concept and switched it around so that marriage is all about our own needs and when we are not satisfied, we believe the marriage should end. Sex is another thing that we twist. Sex was provided so that a man and a woman would procreate and to bring the couple together to make them one. Unfortunately, we elevated sex to the point that it is an end in and of itself. We have become obsessed with sexuality. In our society, sexuality has become of defining characteristic. For men, our manhood is defined by our genitalia. For women, they are merely seen as objects of sexual desire. That is not what sex was meant to be for. We have perverted it into its current state. The same can be said for money and wealth. It is a tool for us to serve God and each other, but they have become worshiped in their own right. People seek it as an end and not as a tool. Music was intended to be the primary way we praise God, but we sing about drugs and butts and glorify depravity. We are a people that twist and alter and pervert things for our own purposes.

Jesus didn’t like the demand for a sign and told them that they couldn’t understand the signs that were already given to them. Jesus had already done so much to prove his identity, but they didn’t accept the meaning. So Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (16:4) Jesus used that terminology once before. Again, the Pharisees were demanding a sign, but Jesus said that the only sign that they would see would be the sign of Jonah. Now, Jonah was a prophet who tried to run away from his prophet duties. He got on a ship and headed in the opposite direction he was supposed to. A big storm comes up and Jonah knows that it is because of him, so he has the crew throw him overboard, where he gets swallowed up by a big fish for three days and three nights. This is the sign of Jonah: that the Son of Man would die and be in the earth for three days and three nights, just like Jonah was in the fish. Jesus is alluding to his own death, burial and resurrection. This is the final sign that Jesus will give to show his authority.

After that, Jesus left them and got into a boat and went across the lake. During that trip, Jesus was thinking about what had just happened and he warned his disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (16:5) In light of the previous part, you would think that the disciples would have understood what Jesus was talking about, but there was an issue: they had forgotten to bring bread. They had gotten into the boat without any bread to eat. They were worried about what to do. When Jesus started talking about the yeast of Pharisees and Sadducees, the assumed Jesus was talking about bread. They took the meaning of what Jesus was saying and twisted it in their heads. They thought that Jesus’ words were related to what they were talking about. They were not listening to what Jesus was saying. They were hearing what they wanted to hear. They were perverting Jesus’ words too.

Jesus responded, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (16:8-11) They were worried about being provided for so they took Jesus’ words and tried to apply them to their worry, but Jesus reminded them of the abundant provision that God gave during the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand. He showed them that God provides abundantly in all situations, we don’t need to be worried about being provided for. God gives abundantly for our needs. In fact, it overflows through our lives so that we too can be generous with God’s provision.

What we do need to be on our guard about is the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. “Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (16:12) We don’t have to focus on being provided for. We do have to be on our guard for all the things that we pervert. The teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees was a perversion of God’s word. God’s word was intended to lift us up and come to know God better. It was to show us how much we need God, but the Pharisees and Sadducees made it all about morality. Morality is a good thing, but it does not lead to righteousness. We are not made right by following all the rules. We are made right by the grace of God. By making God’s word all about morality, the Pharisees and Sadducees took the goodness of God and turned it into a burden. Their rules tied people down with endless strings. People weren’t free; they were imprisoned by their own inadequacies. Even today, among Christians, we pervert God’s word. God’s word is all about grace and truth, but there are many Christians that pervert the truth and deny grace so that they stand in condemnation of others who sin. They are quick to point out everything you do wrong, like the Pharisees. They don’t bring people to Jesus for redemption, they make people follow their own rules. You can see this in all the hate filled speech that comes out of people who claim to be Christians. On the other side of the spectrum are Christians that pervert grace and deny truth. These are Christians who accept their salvation but think it is ok to keep on sinning as they see fit. It is ok because they are saved and can trust in God’s grace. These people do not accept the truth that they are sinners and cannot repent because they don’t want to change.

These thoughts can be dangerous. In many ways, they sound right. I am certain that the Pharisees and Sadducees meant well at one point in time, but over time, the lost that well-meaning. It slowly changed. I think that is why Jesus used the word “yeast”. Yeast is a very small ingredient, but it affects all the dough. It makes it all fluffy and puffed up. Trying to do the right thing or relying on grace are good things, but when we change them slightly it leads to disastrous results. We know a blatant, outright lie when we see it. We know that the sky is not green. We can see that it is blue. If someone says otherwise, we know it to be a lie. The most dangerous lies are the ones that are just slight change from the truth. The worst lies are plausible because they sound true, but they are the ones that are the most damaging. We need to watch out for this perversion because a slight change is all we need to go down a path to death. We won’t follow an outright lie, but we will follow something that is mostly true. Unfortunately, there is death waiting for us.

There was a story this past week about a family on a trip to Yellowstone. They were in the park and the father noticed a baby bison by itself. He and his son thought it looked cold, so they put in in the back of the SUV and drove it to the ranger’s station to keep it warm. It sounded like a nice humane thing to do, but it was wrong. For one thing, the bison wasn’t cold and didn’t need human intervention. They weren’t allowed to do such a thing and were fined by the rangers. To make matters worse, the rangers tried to reunite the bison with its mother, but because of the human intervention, the baby bison was rejected and could no longer be a part of the herd. It was becoming dangerous for the baby as it kept trying to approach people, so they had to euthanize it. This man and his son thought that they were doing a good thing, but in the end, their protection resulted in the death of the one they wanted to help. Our nature is to be foolish and think that we know better.

We pervert for a few reasons. Sometimes, we are worried about being provided for, like the disciples in this passage, and it causes us to assign meaning to our personal situation where there is no meaning. We twist God’s word to suit our immediate need instead of truly listening to what Jesus is saying. Other times, we have a desire and we pervert something in order to get what we want. We tell lies to influence others to our own advantage. The rules of God were good, but they were twisted in a way so that gave power to the religious leaders. Another way we pervert things is when we are afraid of losing something. The Pharisees and Sadducees were worried that Jesus would undermine their authority and they became afraid and could not accept Jesus’ work. They twisted the good works into a way to deny their eyes.

We need bread. We need provision in order to survive, but God is the one to provide for all our needs. He gives in abundance. We don’t have to watch out or even think about that. It is in God’s nature to provide. What we need to watch out for is the perversion that people do. It might seem innocuous, but just a small amount is enough to work through everything. We need to be on our guard about perversion. We need to always go back to the source, to God’s word and make sure our eyes are always pointed to Jesus. He breaks the chains and set us free. He takes the strings that we put ourselves in and cuts us loose.

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