ACTIVE AND PASSIVE
Wise Lord, may your Word be in my thinking today so that my thoughts may serve and honor you.
Read MATTHEW 16:1-12
The Demand for a Sign
16 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.[a] 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 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.” 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.
- Matthew 16:3 Some early manuscripts do not have When evening comes … of the times.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
What are the antidotes to unbelief and ‘little faith’? Pray that God will grant you discernment and trust.
These verses tell us of two types of unbelief. The religious leaders were not those who truly feared God and requested signs as assurance for their belief. They seem rather to be seeking reasons to disbelieve, to discredit Jesus, while also requesting an apocalyptic demonstration of his power. One is reminded of Moses’ complaint against Israel,1 when the people frequently tested God in the wilderness and rejected Moses, God’s prophet.2 Yet it is unlikely that the leaders’ fixed minds and stopped ears would be convinced by demonstrations of power by Jesus. Even his resurrection (implied by ‘the sign of Jonah’, v 43) would not convince them (the Sadducees denied resurrection anyway).
Jesus’ opponents were active in their unbelief but, in contrast, the disciples seem passive in theirs. They had witnessed the miracle of the loaves, but still did not understand his power, because of their ‘little faith’ (v 8). It is hard to see how they could think that ‘the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ referred to their forgetfulness about bread – perhaps they were too self-absorbed (v 7). Jesus is clear, however, that spiritual understanding only comes about by faith (vs 8,9). Their real problem is that their faith is growing so slowly.4 Their apparent obtuseness and slow understanding (v 11) are frustrating for Jesus. Yet his rebuke is like that of a loving, concerned parent.
As at other times, Jesus is concerned that his disciples should realize that they must be aware of the dangers of hypocrisy and cynicism, as has been shown in the religious leaders. Their passive unbelief perhaps indicates that the Pharisaic leaven is closer to them than they would have guessed – and their Lord wants that to change.
‘Begone unbelief, / my Savior is near, / and for my relief / will surely appear’.5 Pray for a growing and discerning faith, aware how your faith needs to develop.
Lord God, although I may not know what life will bring, I offer my praise to you. I claim the promise that whatever the circumstances, you are always with me.
1 Deut 32:5 2 Ps 78:18–20 3 See Matt 12:40 4 Cf Matt 15:10,16 5 John Newton, 1725–1807
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