Note: Devotional taken from sermon last Sunday on Matthew 16:1-12
Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees (Matthew 16:6).
In the second half of Matthew’s Gospel the shadow of the cross begins to fall over the narrative. In Matthew 16:1 we read how the Pharisees and Sadducees came to tempt the Lord by asking him for a sign.
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest there is a line, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” From that line came another, “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.” The idea is that if you want to get something done you sometimes have to work closely with people you don’t like in order to achieve some mutual interest.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were “strange bedfellows” to one another.
The Pharisees were a pious sect of Jews who sought carefully to keep the Old Testament law. They were supernaturalists. They believed in the work of the Holy Spirit and in angels. They believed in the final resurrection and the life to come. But in their zeal to keep the law, they often added extra-biblical rules.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the aristocratic priestly caste. They made sure that the temple worship, including its sacrifices were maintained. They were naturalists. They believed in God, but not in the Holy Spirit or in angels. They rejected, in particular, the final resurrection. In denying these things, they took away from Scripture.
We can see the differences between these two groups in the book of Acts when Paul is tried before the Jewish council (see Acts 23:6-9). This is what I mean when I call these two “strange bedfellows.” They didn’t like each other, but they didn’t like Christ more.
Spurgeon observed, “It is the way of the wicked to become friends when seeking the overthrow of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew, 223).
Christ proceeded to warn his disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (16:6). The disciples eventually come to understand that the Lord was not talking about literal bread but about “doctrine” (16:12).
Spurgeon noted that Christ “feared the influence of both the Ritualism of the Pharisee, and the Rationalism of the Sadducee upon his little church” (Matthew, 226).
Let us indeed avoid the errors of those who add to God’s Word (the error of the Pharisees) and those who subtract from it (the error of the Sadducees). So let us take heed and beware the leaven of false doctrine.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeffrey T. Riddle