Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for the gift of life—of friends, great conversations, food, and vocation. I know that you see the challenges I face, and I pray for your grace and wisdom as I seek to live in a way that honors you.
This evening I’m looking at Mark 8:14-21:
Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:14-21 ESV)
They’re in a boat again—Jesus and his disciples. They’ve just witnessed yet another provisional miracle—the feeding of the four thousand. Yet when they realized that they had forgotten to bring bread and saw that “they had only one loaf with them in the boat,” their reaction prompted a warning from Jesus: “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
They just saw Jesus feed four thousand people with a few loaves and fish, yet they suddenly feared they—the twelve of them—would not have enough to eat. And Jesus warned them.
I don’t know what, exactly, the “leaven of the Pharisees and Herod” was. But as I read over these verses tonight, one thing came to mind:
Leaven is an interesting thing. I started making bread a few years ago, and today, after baking more loaves than I can remember, I am still fascinated by how it works. I have several cups of flour, some water, a tiny bit of salt, and a little pinch of leaven. And after mixing it all together, in a few hours, that ball of dough has swelled to three times its size. That little bit of leaven worked its way through the whole loaf so quickly, and that flour will never go back to being “just flour.” Leaven is small, but it quickly transforms the flour and water.
The Pharisees and Herod doubted who Jesus was, and their doubt, which might have seemed insignificant, made its way throughout their entire being, so that soon, they were fixed on bringing Jesus down. What might have started as a mild irritation escalated into full-out hatred, which ultimately led to Jesus’ death. I’m sure they did not start out planning to kill him. But the leaven of doubt affected them so deeply that eventually, they could not simply overlook the offense. They wanted blood.
When Jesus saw the disciples’ doubt—so quickly after his miraculous provision—he gave a stark warning. “Watch out.” He knew that a little bit of doubt can ruin the whole batch of faith.
We are called to a fullness of faith that simply doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see; there is no doubt in sureness and certainty. In fact, both words mean without a doubt! Are we allowed to have questions? Yes. Are we encouraged to confess our weaknesses and receive Christ’s blessed forgiveness? Absolutely. But doubt is a judgment of sorts. It is a judgment that we know better than to trust God. And a little bit of doubt can very, very quickly infect our faith, so that we no longer know what we believe. (Doubt was also the means by which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness —”Did God really say…?”)
How many times has Jesus proven himself to you and me to be good, loving, kind, sovereign, and faithful? We may question, in humility, but we must not allow doubt to seep in and ruin our faith.
Are you struggling with doubt right now? Doubt that God really loves you that much… doubt that God can really work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose… doubt that God will really provide for you in your time of need? Watch out. Deal with your doubt. Don’t take the bait. Stand on the rock that is higher than you and me, the rock that will not be shaken, the rock that is sure. If you’re struggling with this right now, confess it to God and invite the Holy Spirit to renew your faith. Don’t let the leaven of doubt ruin your faith.