These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
You and I are so easily distracted. Our mind and thoughts can wander from one thing to the next without effort. While listening to something very important we can be thinking about the need to clean the toilet when we get home. These mental distractions can happen even when God is talking to you.
- Have you ever been reading the Bible and realized that you don’t remember the last few verses you just read because you were thinking about something unrelated?
- Have you ever been listening to someone teach the Bible and found yourself thinking about what you need to get at Walmart or what you need to do when you get home or something you forgot to do before you left home?
Our mind can tune out what God is trying to tell us and we are usually unaware that we have just tuned God out. This is what happens to the disciples and today we are going to take a look at some lessons about having a deeper focus in life when it comes to the things of God.
Mark tells us in verse 13, So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake. 14 But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food. They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. 15 As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.” 16 At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. 17 Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? 18 ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all? 19 When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?” “Twelve,” they said. 20 “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said. 21 “Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them. (NLT)
Let’s begin by setting the stage.
- Mark tells us in verse 13 that Jesus and His disciples are in a boat headed across the lake. Jesus had just fed the 4000 families with a miracle of creating bread and fish for those who had been with Him.
- The Pharisees confronted Jesus and demanded a sign from heaven that would convince them He is from God.
- Jesus ignored their request by telling them the only sign they would get would the sign of Jonah which referred to His resurrection.
- Jesus then says to His disciples let’s get in the boat and go to the other side.
The disciples are in the boat and Mark tells us in verse 14, “The disciples had forgotten to bring any food.” The leftover food from the 4000 miracle was seven large baskets (big enough for a man to fit in). The disciples forgot to bring any of this with them. Mark goes on to say, “They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat.” At this moment, we are not told whether the disciples knew about the one loaf, but either way they forgot to bring food with them and they did not have enough for everyone.
Jesus sees an opportunity to teach the disciples a valuable lesson while He had a rare moment with them alone and away from the crowds. Mark tells us in verse 15, “As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, ‘Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.’”
- Notice “Jesus warned them” (diastello). The Greek word for “warned” refers to a command that someone with authority would give. It is in the imperfect tense indicating that Jesus was repeating this warning over and over to them. For Jesus, it was crucial the disciples get the lesson and truth He is explaining to them. They must avoid the “yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (we will explain what that is in a minute). This was of utmost importance in order to maintain the integrity of the gospel! It was then and still is today.
- Jesus began by saying, “Watch out!” To “watch out” (horao) means to think seriously about what you hear and see. It means to be alert. This requires deep thinking. This gives prominence to the discerning mind. Think through what you believe and why you believe. Pay close attention to what you believe. God’s Word says in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (NIV).
- Then Jesus told them to “beware.” To “beware” (blepo) of something is to be careful, cautious, and intentional. When Jesus says “watch out” He is emphasizing our mind and wanting us to think. When Jesus says, “beware” He is emphasizing our understanding. Jesus wants us to think about what is right and wrong and true and false, but He is also wanting us to understand why something is true or false: “Watch out! Beware….” Think and understand.
Let’s say you are walking through the woods.
- To “watch out” would be to be alert to any holes, snakes, or poisonous plants. Those are things you want to stay away from.
- To “beware” would be to move slowly, carefully and intentionally through the woods because you understand these things can appear quickly.
- This is what Jesus wants them to do about their beliefs, values, and behaviors when it comes to the gospel. He wants us to “watch out” and “beware” of beliefs and behaviors that would harm us and the spread of the gospel through our lives.
However, Jesus had something specific in mind that He wanted the disciples and us to “watch out” and “beware” of. Here is where Jesus uses the object lesson of “yeast” or “leaven” as some translation have it.
To understand what Jesus is saying we must understand “yeast” (zume) and how it works. “Yeast” is added to dough to make it more airing and fluffy and rise. When you add this “yeast” or “leaven” it will eventually spread throughout the dough influencing the entire batch. Once they had a batch of leavened dough they would take a portion of it and add it to another batch of dough so that it could spread through that batch. That is the image that Jesus is using here, the slow and spreading influence that “yeast” or leaven has on a batch of dough. As this leaven would go from batch to batch to batch, Jesus is seeing the “yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” going from generation to generation to generation if the disciples are not careful. It would influence them and then they would pass that on to the next generation. Jesus is using “yeast” and leaven as an object lesson about how wrong beliefs, values, and behavior can spread.
Jesus gives the disciples and us a very serious warning. Jesus mentions three types of spiritual “yeast” we are to avoid at all cost.
- First, we are to watch out for the “yeast of the Pharisees.” Mark does not tell us what Jesus meant, but Matthew does. When Matthew tells about this event he says the “yeast of the Pharisees” referred to “the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees” (Matt. 16:12, NLT) and to their “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). The Pharisees taught legalism. If you keep the Ten Commandments, follow the religious laws and rituals you will go to heaven. Their emphasis was on the external. They may look clean on the outside, but they were full of death and poison on the inside. Jesus once called them white washed tombs. Jesus is saying, “Watch out and beware of legalism in your life.”
- Second, we are to watch out for the “yeast of Herod.” This referred to worldliness. Herod and his followers (the Herodians) were secularists. They had a materialistic and naturalistic worldview. They don’t believe in the supernatural or immaterial. They don’t believe in the existence of God. They Herodians’ life focused on the here and now, and pleasure. Jesus is saying, “Watch out and beware of worldliness in your life.”
- Third, we are to watch out for the “yeast of the Sadducees.” Mark does not mention this, but Matthew does (Matt. 16:6). They believed in only the first five books of the Bible called the Torah. Even though they believed in the first five books they did not believe God played any role in their daily lives. Everyone was master of his or her own destiny. Sadducees did not believe in the supernatural, angels, demons, heaven, hell, or the resurrection of the people of God. When you died you were over. It was the end. There is no afterlife. They believed religion was a source of power. John the Baptist called them a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7). In essence, they were materialistic and skeptics. Life was about gaining power and wealth through religion. Jesus is saying, “Watch out and beware of religious materialism. Using God to gain wealth and power.”
Jesus is telling them and us today, be careful that you don’t allow these beliefs to slowing rise up in you. It is poison and can influence you and your children and grandchildren. Summary: Jesus’ admonition provided a somber warning against the ever-present temptations of legalism, hypocrisy, rationalism, materialism, immorality, and worldliness.
Jesus has just given a very serious warning to the disciples and notice their reaction in verse 16, “At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread.” In my thinking, here is what’s going on. While Jesus is giving them a warning about the yeast of the Pharisees, Saduccees and Herodians one of the disciples hears the word “yeast” and thinks about bread which causes him to realize that there is no bread on the boat. “Peter, did you load up the bread?” “No, I thought John was supposed to pack it.” “Well, I didn’t pack it I thought Matthew was going to get it.” “Whose job was it to load the bread?” “Whose fault is it?” “Now, what are we going to eat?” “I’m hungry!” “How much further?” “They began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread.” A few thoughts from this:
- The disciples were still focused on their physical needs rather than the spiritual truths that were just served them. Jesus’ mention of bread and yeast triggered an argument about food and lunch. Jesus was addressing a serious “heart problem” while the disciples were arguing over a “bread problem.” I’m not stupid and I know that when we are worshiping God through song or when I’m teaching God’s Word your mind will wonder to something else. I’ll say something or read something and it triggers a thought about laundry, mowing the yard, working on the house, shopping, vacation, lunch, school, or work. We must fight that. We must learn how to take every thought captive and learn to think deeper and longer about eternal things.
- Physically, Jesus and his disciples were together in the boat, but in their minds they were a universe apart. He gave them a spiritual l warning, which they misinterpreted because of their material mind-set. They would get there, but they were not there yet. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (CSB). We can be so easily distracted by mundane things rather than eternal things.
- As frustrating as this is for Jesus, He did not give up on the disciples. They still had a long way to go. Their attention span was short. Their understanding was shallow. They could be easily distracted by the simplest things. They were a mess, but Jesus was not done with them and He would not abandon them. This reminds me of Philippians 1:6 where Paul says, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (NLT).
Then Mark says in verse 17, “Jesus knew what they were saying….” While Jesus may have overhead them, the idea seems to be that in His omniscience He knew what they were really thinking (see His awareness in Mark 2:8+). It is not always obvious as to how Jesus knew things. Sometimes it is supernatural knowledge and other times it was by observation. Either way, He “knew what they were saying” and it had nothing to do with what He had just told them.
I can see Jesus putting his hands over his face and shaking His head saying, “Don’t you get it? Can’t you connect the dots? The clues make the conclusion self-evident; how can you fail to see it? Oh my word, I’m dealing with children!”
Some people need some extra help to understand, like the man who went into a bank and said he wanted some money. The teller asked him to make out a check. But the man would not do it. So the teller said, “If you won’t sign the check, I can’t give you any money.” The man went across the street to another bank, where the same conversation took place. But after this exchange the teller reached across the counter, took him by the ears, and banged his head three times on the counter. After which the man took out a pen and calmly signed a check to withdraw some money. The man then returned to the first bank and said, “They gave me money across the street.” How did that happen?” ask the teller. “They explained it to me!” answered the man.
Jesus now explained it to His disciples by banging their heads against a wall of questions in verses 17-20.
- “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?” Bang!
- “Do you not yet perceive or understand?” Bang!
- “Are your hearts hardened?” Bang!
- “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Bang! “And do you not remember?” Bang!
- “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They answered, “Seven.” Bang! Bang! Bang!
Each question reveals something significant.
Question number 1 deals with focus. Jesus asked, “Why are you arguing about having no bread?” While Jesus was focusing on their lack of understanding, the disciples were focusing on their lack of bread. The Lord’s focus was heavenly, while theirs was earthly. The Lord’s focus was eternal, while theirs was temporary. Instead of worrying about what they would eat, they should have been worried about the spiritual yeast that may have already started to spread through them.
Question number 2 deals with understanding. Jesus asked, “Don’t you know or understand even yet?” The word “know” (noeo) refers to gaining knowledge as a result of deep thinking. This knowing comes from looking at something for the purpose of examining it and reflecting on it for the purpose of gaining insight. This is thinking through and over a matter to better understand it. This mindset of thinking was something the disciples had failed to do well.
The word “understand” (suniemi) means to put the pieces of the puzzle together and to makes sense of the parts. It describes the ability to understand concepts and see relationships between them. The disciples still saw only “puzzle pieces” but hadn’t been able to put the full picture together yet of what Jesus was truly about and His mission. They were unable to connect the dots.
The disciples had already been sent out two-by-two where God provided for them food, water, and places to stay. In addition, God had worked miracles through them. They had seen Jesus walk on water, change the weather, cast out demons, heal hundreds of sick people, raise the dead, and create bread and fish in the palm of His hand. They had listened to Him teach over and over again. They had numerous private conversations with Him, but they were still very ignorant and blind and deaf to who Jesus was and what He could do.
They were not connecting the dots between the one loaf of bread in the boat with a miracle Bread Maker sitting in the boat.
This reminds me of Philippians 1:9 where Paul says, “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters…” (NLT). They were not able to understand what really matters because their knowledge and understanding hadn’t developed where it needed to be.
Question number 3 deals with insensitivity. Jesus asked, “Are your hearts too hard to take it in?” When Jesus was asking them about the hardness of their heart, He was not implying they were as rebellious and stubborn as the Pharisees. They were not hard and resistant to Jesus, they were His followers. They had left family and careers to follow Him. This is not a hardness due to rebellion, but a hardness due to insensitivity.
The word “hard” (poroo) comes from the Greek word for dull or insensible. It refers to a heart that has become callous or insensitive to spiritual realities. The miracles and teaching had become so normal in following Jesus that they weren’t thinking about it anymore. They weren’t thinking deeply about them anymore. They were still amazed by them, but not learning by them. It was becoming difficult and hard for the disciples to see the miracles for more than a miracle. They were having a hard time seeing that the miracles were demonstrating who Jesus was, not just what He could do.
Because of this they were not connecting the dots of spiritual truth between what Jesus was doing and who He was. They were not understanding.[i] In some ways they were facing life like the Sadducees, without God’s involvement. They were looking at the “bread issue” and trying to solve it without considering Jesus’ power. The yeast of the Sadducees was beginning to reveal itself. I think Jesus saw some of this occurring in the disciples’ conversations and reactions over the past few months. As a result they were becoming less sensitive to the truth about God’s kingdom.
I believe this is what Paul was saying in Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength” (CSB). The disciples and us need our hearts enlightened.
Question number 4 deals with perception. Jesus asked, “You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?” Jesus is paraphrasing Ezekiel 12:2 where God says, “You live among rebels who have eyes but refuse to see. They have ears but refuse to hear” (NLT). This is another rhetorical question that Jesus is asking. Jesus is saying, “You have eyes so pay attention and see what I’m doing and you have ears so listen carefully to what I’m saying and connect the two together.” For us, this means to pay attention to what God is doing in our lives and to what He is saying through His Word. Make sure you are seeing with spiritual eyes and hearing with spiritual ears. Make sure your perception is spiritual in nature.
Question number 5 deals with remembering. Jesus asked, “Don’t you remember anything at all?” Remember what? One answer is the amazing miracles they had seen. In context Jesus goes on to remind them of two specific feeding miracles they had just recently seen. Jesus points out two miracles they should have thought about. Jesus says in verse 19, When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?” “Twelve,” they said. 20 “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said. They could answer His question. They had the facts right, but they could not connect the dots to a deeper meaning. Their understanding was dull. Their hearts were hard when it came to assimilating Jesus’ miracles into their daily lives with deeper meanings. It’s like Jesus is saying, “Remember who I am and what I did and apply it to this situation.”
We must be careful here because we can do the same thing. God provides and provides and provides and provides and then a new situation comes up in our life and we don’t even think about God doing anything in the new situation. God says, “Don’t you remember anything at all?” Do you remember when you prayed for a job and I provided you one? Do you remember when you prayed for healing and I healed you? Do you remember when I gave you wisdom when you asked for it? Do you remember anything at all? Why doubt me now? Why forget about me now?”
Question number 6 deals with expectations. Jesus asked, “Don’t you understand yet?” This is not a repeat of a previous question, but more of a summary question. The “yet” implies there is more learning to come. They should have known and understood more by now, but Jesus has not and will not give up on them. He knows there is a lot more to come. He knows they will keep learning, growing, and understanding. Unlike the Pharisees, their problem is not that they refuse to see but that they cannot see until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Everything will become much more clear then.
When you read this encounter with the disciples you might think, “How can the disciples be so unaware and not remember what Jesus had done? How can they not connect the dots?” When you ask that question of the disciples, you immediately must ask that of yourself.
- How often do you not connect the dots to what God is doing?
- How often did you get distracted in the last 30 minutes and started thinking about something less important?
Before we criticize the disciples too harshly we need to examine ourselves. They are an example of all of us.
There is another implication we need to consider. As you grow spiritually and your understanding of God’s Word and His truth become more and more clear to you, you must not forget that not everyone is where you are. You will get frustrated with them for not understanding when they should have already been more mature in certain areas, but don’t give up on them, but continue to help them grow. This is what Jesus did.
[i] These are the kind of men Jesus had to train as His disciples who would preach the gospel after He had ascended. One can understand the desire of our Lord for seclusion at times so that He could properly train them before it was necessary for Him to leave this earth for heaven.