Leaving Leaven

by Dave Johnson

My first experience with yeast, or leaven, was cooking with my mother when I was just a kid. Since my mom is a great-I mean really great-southern cook, I had many opportunities to watch, learn, and help cook alongside her. Most of the time my motives were purely to taste what she was preparing before anyone else did, but I actually enjoyed those times when I could just help her chop things up, mix ingredients together, and participate with the meal.

Of all the things my mom cooked, I think I liked her baked goods the most and I tried to get her to bake muffins, biscuits, or cakes almost every weekend. The first time I remember using yeast in one of these recipes was when my mom was making pizza dough. I remember asking her if I could mix in the yeast, to which she replied “No,” because it’s such a volatile ingredient and you don’t want to mix too much of it into the dough. Okay. No big deal.

Recently God has really been stirring me up in a great-and strange-way. Just a few days before Paul Keith asked me to write an article for him, I was reading a portion of the gospels where Jesus warned His disciples to stay away from the leaven of the Pharisees. Here’s what He says: “‘Watch out!’ Jesus warned them. ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'” (Matthew 16:6 NLT)

When I read those verses, I heard the Holy Spirit reiterate those words with almost more force than I initially read it-almost like a shout: “BEWARE OF THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES!”

I stopped dead in my tracks. I don’t even know if I finished the rest of the chapter; I had to know what God was saying here. So I asked the Lord what this meant and told Him that if having that yeast is bad, I don’t want any of it in my life. Well, maybe it’s just me, but the Holy Spirit likes to take His time teaching me things, so I couldn’t wrangle all the details out of Him right that very instant, it took time, but it was a message that, to this day, I still remember and I’m still learning all that it implies.

The first thing that I had to relearn was that every word from God is for me. If it’s in the Bible it’s for me. Of course, I knew that in my head, but God wanted me to really know that-to live that. This is important, because so often we find things in the word of God that we think is important for someone else and we miss God’s voice for our own lives.

In reading this passage numerous times, I always just assumed that this was just Jesus speaking to the disciples about something important for them, as if this was just a detail in the narrative of a biblical story. But God had to correct me in this, because according to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful…” So I had to see that this portion of Scripture wasn’t just to fill in the gaps of a story; this was Jesus speaking to me. After that was settled, God began to speak to me about what exactly this “yeast of the Pharisees” included and went on to say that we must rid ourselves of this because, to this day, it still exists in the church at large.

I could write about a few aspects of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, their hypocrisy, their pride, and various other issues, but the primary subject that the Lord spoke to me about was the Pharisees’ emphasis on knowledge over revelation and their blatant disregard for God’s voice.

Of all the people that Jesus encountered, his harshest statements were toward the Pharisees and Sadducees. I’ve always asked myself, as I’m sure others have, why would Jesus be so harsh to those guys? I mean, he called them “dead tombs” and a “brood of vipers”? What? The more I looked at Scripture, though, the more I realized that of all the people who should’ve recognized the move of God and the coming of the Messiah, it should have been the people whom God entrusted with His very word.

But when you read through the gospels, the Pharisees and Sadducees had no clue. They were more interested in asking provocative questions and they tried to justify themselves with their own so-called “knowledge” of the Old Testament. And because of their spiritual ignorance, they missed out on the most important move of God in history: the Messiah. They proved out the Scripture that says, “Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish.” (Prov. 29:18 AMP) Dead tombs, indeed.

As I said before, God has really been stirring my heart this year in a strange way. For me, this has been a year of listening to God and God revealing things to me like no other time in my life. But the strange part, to me at least, has been that God has really been reviving basic tenets and principles of the Word to the forefront of my heart. He’s been speaking to my heart about the cross of Christ, the blood of Jesus, and of grace. But God has so radically changed my life with these simple, basic, 101 messages, that it almost makes me angry that, in twenty-seven years of my life, I’m just now learning these things.

I should have known these all along, but, instead, I’ve heard about a gazillion messages on everything else. Just the other day I was in my car, thinking about this very subject, when the Holy Spirit began to say that, just like the Pharisees, we’ve neglected the revelation of our foundation in exchange for some new knowledge. Jesus told the Pharisees, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law-justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” (Luke 11:42 NLT) The Pharisees majored on minors and eschewed their foundations for head knowledge and rituals that won them favor in the eyes of people. Unfortunately, that happens too much in many churches today.

God wants to move us from living a life full of head knowledge into His understanding and His revelation. That takes us moving into a different spiritual posture. We have to start listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying, waiting on him and His revelation, and start walking that out instead of being satisfied with just knowing about it. And, truthfully, that may take some time. This isn’t just another factoid to remember; this is progressive truth being revealed to our hearts. Do we really think that God is done speaking about the basics? Do we think that God is done with John 3:16 or Romans 10:10 or Ephesians 2:8? I don’t just want another verse memorized; I want the reality of that verse working in my life by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the difference between knowledge and revelation. One has, the other does.

In Ephesians, Paul prayed, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Eph. 1:17 NIV) The ultimate revelation, according to the Apostle John, is The Revelation of the risen Son of God in all His glory. Ultimately, that’s what I want-not a pat on the back, an accolade, a self-esteem booster, a pin, or the praise of man. I want to know God better. Period! I’m not there yet, but by God’s grace, I’m moving in that direction. I’m listening. I want what Peter had when he responded to Jesus’ question and said, by the Holy Spirit’s revelation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

God has something amazing in store for the Body of Christ-I think many already know this. But if we don’t move out of the realm of the “yeast of the Pharisees” by holding onto what we know and by rejecting the realm of revelation, we’ll miss what God does. We aren’t entitled to a move of God.

But God is inviting us into that move. And, like the times when I participated in cooking and baking with Mom, God is giving us the best opportunity of all: to work with the very Bread of Life and participate in what God is cooking. One of his requirements is just that we leave our leaven behind and follow His directions.