Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Beware of Unbelief
Pastor Steve Schell
Mark 8:1-21; Matthew 16:6-12
How is it possible for a person to see a miracle with his own eyes and then forget to ask God for help only a short time later? Wouldn’t you expect that seeing miracles would cause people to quickly turn to God the next time a need arose? I think most of us assume, “If I could just see a bona fide miracle right in front of me I would never doubt God again!” But the truth is, that’s not always the case. Surprisingly, some people can walk away virtually unchanged by what they’ve seen. And when Jesus spotted that happening in His own disciples He warned them saying, “…beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” and then He even added, “…beware the leaven of Herod.” The labels He gave this danger are confusing because the Pharisees and Sadducees were almost polar opposites of one another in their beliefs. One was highly legalistic and the other very liberal and humanistic. And Herod wasn’t really religious at all, just a corrupt politician. So at first glance we have to ask, “How could such divergent groups possibly result from the same spiritual disease?” And then the next question we want to ask is, “Why did He feel it was necessary to say this to His own disciples? Was it possible they too were already infected?” And as we listen to the answer we realize we need to ask, “Is it possible this spiritual leaven has invaded my spiritual life?”

A. The Event: What happened that caused Jesus to say this?
1. Mark 8:1-21
2. Matthew 16:6-12
3. The disciples were arguing that they had only one loaf of bread shortly after Jesus had fed 5,000 and then 4,000 with five and seven loaves. He was alarmed that they were showing the same spiritual symptoms as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and even Herod.
4. Q: What did Jesus want His disciples to do when they discovered they had brought only one loaf?
A: Remember what they had just seen and pray for a miracle.

B. The Warning: “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (…and Herod).”
1. Who were (was) the:
- Pharisees? Religious conservatives
- Sadducees? Liberal humanists
- Herod? A politician who pretended to be religious
2. What symptoms did He identify:
- A lifestyle inconsistent with religious beliefs
- Using religion to gain the admiration of others
- Using religion to gain power and money
- Holding judgmental attitudes toward lost or troubled people
- Reinterpreting the clear meaning of Scripture to avoid obeying objectionable parts
- Focusing on outward religious behavior rather than inner attitudes and character
- Having a strong desire to dominate the religious life of others
- Teaching a religious system that is oppressive to those who follow it
- Pressing families to leave them or their organization in their wills
- Happily honoring dead historic leaders who would confront them today if still alive
- Ignoring the selfless acts that are required for justice, compassion and love
- Fascinated by end-times prophecy but oblivious to God’s work today
- Dishonest when debating religious issues
- Reacting to crises just like unbelievers

3. What did such a diverse group have in common?
- They were spiritually blind, spiritually deaf, and unable to comprehend the meaning of the miracles (Mk 8:17, 18).
- Their religion or their response to their religion was damaging them rather than helping them.

4. Why did Jesus identify this problem with leaven (yeast)?
a. It starts small and expands until it transforms our entire spiritual life.
- We experience subtle temptations that begin with “nuanced” choices: “baby steps” in the wrong direction.
b. The problem increases slowly and unnoticed over time.
- We’re hardly aware a change is taking place.
c. It has a lifeforce of its own.
- There is an insidious demonic influence behind it.
- As the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2) Satan is able to introduce thoughts into our minds without being seen.
d. It can be passed from one person to another like an infectious disease.
- “…He did not say beware the leaven of bread, but of the teaching…”(Mt 16:12)

C. The Principle: Faith grows when we choose to act on what we’ve seen or heard from God. It dies a little each time we refuse.
- Everyone hears and sees something (Ro 1:20; Act 1:24-28)
- By obeying the light we have we gain more light, by disobeying we harden our own hearts.
- The process of increasing or decreasing spiritual understanding occurs every time we’re presented with a choice to obey or not obey, to believe or not believe.
- There is no neutral place in the spiritual world. You’re either moving up or down, closer or further away.

1) Old Testament examples:
- Israel in the Exodus (Ex 14:31-15:22; 16:2, 3)
- David and Goliath (1Sa 17:34-37)
2) Jesus’ explanation: Mt 13:9-16
3) James’ explanation: Jas 1:22-25 -Unless there is obedience a revelation quickly fades.

D. The Application: Jesus was alarmed that His own disciples were showing the same lack of spiritual understanding as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and even Herod. He warned them to stop listening to the unbelief of their religious leaders. They must personally walk in faith and then as the leaders of His future church they must teach disciples to do the same. Otherwise they would just produce Christian versions of the same dead religions they were facing. Christianity can be turned into powerless doctrine just as quickly as Judaism.
1) Let’s start with me.
As a teaching pastor of this church have I pressed you to walk in faith with God or have I produced people who can’t hear God’s voice or have made a lifestyle out of passively refusing to trust God for miracles?
-If it’s the latter, then I have infected you with the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees: religion without a living relationship with God (a lifestyle of walking in faith)
- “If you don’t like their faith message come up with your own…”
- He 11:6
2) Now let’s consider you (and me).
- What is your first response when a crisis or need arises? Natural solutions or prayer?
- Is prayer a first response or a last resort?
- Can you name several areas where you are walking in faith right now?
3) Here’s the deal
A relationship with God requires a life of faith in which we are constantly taking steps of faith based on what we perceive to be His word to us.
- There’s always a measure of risk, fear and uncertainty or it wouldn’t be faith.
- But every time we walk in faith, sooner or later God’s answer comes and:
- Our faith increases
- Our spiritual awareness increases (hear, see)
- Our ability to apply what we’ve learned to our present needs increases (understanding)
- Our fear of the future and death diminishes
- Our confidence in His closeness and love builds

4) So, if we:
- Can’t hear His voice
- Grow angry or frightened when crises arise
- Are fearful of the future (and terrified by the prospect of death)
- Feel God is far away and doesn’t love us
- Can’t remember any prayers being answered lately
Then somehow, we’ve been refusing to walk in faith.

5) What do we do?
- Recognize the source of our problems: Jesus said we’ve made choices that have allowed dead religion to replace a living walk of faith.
- Repent:
- Decide to spend time with God until I receive fresh direction.
- Determine to obey Him even before I hear His will (Jn 7:17).
- Go back and do the biblical thing He told me to do but I’ve been avoiding.

Reread section D and describe how it applies to you personally. In reality we all probably have areas where we are walking in faith and areas where we are not. Give an example of both the positive and the negative from your own life if you’d like to. After sharing around the room, praying for each other to step out in a new area of faith would be appropriate. Just ask each other, “Where’s God asking you to take a new step of faith?”


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