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The Leaven of the Pharisees

Michael Beck Michael Beck

“I receive not honour from men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.” (John 5:41,42)

Before Jesus appeared on the scene, the Pharisees were the popular religious favorites among the people. They were the spiritual super-heroes of the day. They were not like the cold, rational Sadducees; they believed in the supernatural – angels, demons, heaven, and hell. Jesus acknowledged that their sons cast out devils. (Luke 11:19) Their zeal also fueled their evangelistic efforts throughout the world. (Matt. 23:15)

When the attention of the crowds shifted to Jesus, the Pharisees became envious. He was serious competition. Somehow, they had to trip Him up in order to discredit Him in the eyes of the people. But He was too wise to fall into the traps they laid for Him. His disciples were aware of this growing contention and sought to warn their Master of the Pharisees’ offenses toward Him. But there was nothing about the Pharisees that Jesus did not already know.

Jesus was aware of the intoxicating effect of popularity.

It is noteworthy that Jesus warned His disciples of the “leaven of the Pharisees” at a moment when He and they were being swamped with multitudes clamoring for ministry.

“In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” (Luke 12:1,2)

Jesus was aware of the intoxicating effect of popularity. The Pharisees had become addicted to the honor which came from men. They took the esteem they received from each other, and the popular acceptance of the people, as God’s stamp of approval. To be viewed as outwardly righteous and “beautiful” by men became enough for them. But inwardly, in their hearts, there was no true fear of the Lord, nor love for God. They acted the part of being devoted servants of God; but the Lord knew better.

Who we are in secret is who we are.

The warning given to the first disciples needs to be heeded by each and every one of us. Who we are in secret is who we are. The favor of man is deceitful. Men judge after the outward appearance. They think they know us, but God alone truly knows us. We can be universally deemed a choice servant of God, whose “success” is proof of His favor, and yet be a hypocrite in the eyes of heaven.

One day, that which was hidden from men’s eyes, will be revealed. Then the crowds will have departed, and we will stand before only One. Then we will realize that our greatest need was to have won His praise alone.


Michael Beck is a pastor in New York City and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.