Matthew 16:1-4 ESV
“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ So he left them and departed.”
There are people in this world, some of them liars, deceivers, and manipulators, and some of them are pastors and preachers, who pose questions or who introduce topics of discussion merely for the purpose to test or to trick others, i.e. to manipulate them into a particular discussion which they intend to then use for their advantage. Now not everyone who asks questions or who introduces topics for discussion does this, but we need to be aware that some people do and that not everyone is sincere.
We are wise when we can discern when we are being manipulated and when another person’s motivations are not pure, but we need to be careful that we don’t misjudge other people’s motives, too. But those who make a practice of such manipulative tactics we should watch more carefully and be careful that we don’t fall into their traps. For they are very clever people who can be very convincing. And the internet is a place where many of them lurk looking for what they consider “easy targets” to prey upon.
Now Jesus knew the motives of the Pharisees and the Sadducees so he called them on what they were saying and he took them to task. Jesus often, when some people were trying to trick him, turned their words back on them and he did not directly respond to their exact question. But there are others who use this method of responding as a means of manipulation and of avoiding a direct question that they don’t want to answer. It is called skirting the issue or dodging or going around a question.
People who are manipulative, who make it their practice to lie, to deceive, to trick, and to skirt around issues and to avoid answering direct questions (sincere and appropriate questions) are generally people who are living in sin and who have something to hide. They are part of an evil and adulterous generation who are not sincere in what they are doing but who have nefarious motives in their attempts to deceive and to manipulate others to their advantage. So we are to be on the watch for them.
“The Sign of Jonah” is not explained here. In another passage of Scripture (Matthew 12:39-41) Jesus used it in reference to his death, burial, and resurrection that was yet to take place. And then he followed with a warning of judgment against this evil and adulterous generation. The men of Nineveh, to whom Jonah was sent by God to proclaim judgment against them, repented at the preaching of Jonah, and they were saved. And then Jesus said, “And behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Matthew 16:5-12 ESV
“When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, ‘We brought no bread.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said, ‘O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?
“’Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
The word leaven means “Something that modifies or lightens” (M-W Dictionary). In the Greek Interlinear it said that leaven “is figurative for the spreading influence of what is typically concealed.” And it said that it was “a symbol of the spreading nature of evil.”
So, this leaven is a word that is used to symbolize the spreading influence of evil, but an evil which is hidden from sight. So this is speaking of deception. But this evil and this deception, which are being spread, lighten and modify what they touch (influence). And leaven is something you put in bread, and bread is symbolic for the Word of God. So, this is about lightening and modifying the Word of God for evil purposes and in order to deceive.
Deceiving Influences Today
So, how is that being done today? The gospel message, which is permeating the American church, though not in every gathering of the church, is a flesh-driven gospel that is all focused around the desires of humans and not around the desires and requirements of Almighty God. It focuses on meeting the felt needs of people and on what makes them feel good emotionally. It is kind of like “falling in love.” It is all flesh focused.
There is an old secular song called “Can’t Help Falling in Love” which gives a pretty good description of what we are talking about here. It begins with “wise men say only fools rush in but I can’t help falling in love with you.” So, this is not wise and it is foolish but he is doing it anyway because it feels good. And then he asks the question, “Shall I stay?” which appears to be “Shall I spend the night?” And then he asks, “Would it be a sin?” Here he is rationalizing what he knows is wrong by calling it “love.”
And this is that leaven we are talking about here, that spreading influence of evil which is now permeating the church. It is the lightening and modifying of God’s moral standards in order to gratify the sinful cravings of the flesh. It is telling people that they can “believe” (not defined) in Jesus, have their sins forgiven, and be guaranteed heaven when they die regardless of how they live their lives on this earth or even to the encouragement of continuing in deliberate and habitual sin, living by one’s feelings and not by faith.
Many people who are wanting to give into sin will call it something else besides sin so that they can engage in it. Or they will twist the Scriptures to their advantage to make allowances for the sins they want to commit. They know the truth of what the Bible teaches and yet they will pretend ignorance in order to justify their wrongdoing. And this goes back to the beginning of this writing talking about those who manipulate, lie, and deceive in order to get what they want or to try to trap another person in their net of deception.
But many of them are now doing this with the approval of the church and the church leadership who are teaching a lightened and modified gospel message which makes no requirements for repentance, obedience, and submission to Christ as Lord. The way that “the gospel” is mostly being taught today, at least in America, gives “believers” (professers of faith) in Jesus carte blanche to continue in deliberate and habitual sin without guilt, remorse, or true repentance. And that is deception.
So, again, we need to be on the watch and be on our guard so that we are not caught in the snare of deception and we end up following after the lies and not after the truth. And this is why we need to be testing everything we hear or read or think we see, for much today is being faked, and lies and deception abound. So we need to ask the Lord to make us aware of these deceptions (the leaven) so that we can reject the lies and embrace the truth, and then we need to obey the truth.
[Lu 9:23-26; Jn 6:35-58; Jn 15:1-11; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Co 6:9-10,19-20; 2 Co 5:10,15,21; Tit 2:11-14; Jas 1:21-25; Rom 12:1-2; Php 2:12-13; Col 1:21-23; Col 3:5-10; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 5:3-11; Gal 6:7-8; Rom 2:6-8; Heb 10:26-27; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Matt 7:21-23; Ac 26:18; Rev 21:8,27; Rev 22:14-15; Eph 2:8-10]
Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer
Lyrics by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1897
Music by W. J. Kirkpatrick, 1897
Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.
Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.
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