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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Be On Your Guard
Text:Matthew 16:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2013
Added:2023-06-28
Updated:2023-06-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalter Hymnal, 1976:
 
321- O Day of Rest and Gladness
425 - Jesus, Lover of My Soul
121 - O Godto Us Show Mercy
240 - Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth
 
Note: This sermon is presented in both the NIV and the ESV. A main difference is in the wording of the warning in verse 6, and the use of leaven in the ESV and yeast in the NIV. The ESV manuscript follows the NIV and is entitled “Watch and Beware”.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


4/28/2013 (NIV)
“Be On Your Guard”
Matthew 16:1-12
 
Perhaps you have heard the old expression, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” The expression refers to politicians with opposing views who get together because they have a common cause. They either have a motion they want to defeat or a proposal they want to succeed, so for a period of time they join forces with the very ones they usually oppose to get their way on an issue.
 
That’s exactly what is happening in verse 1. It begins by saying, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him.” The Pharisees and Sadducees joined forces even though were as opposite as opposites can be.
 
The Pharisees, although they knew the Old Testament Scriptures and were well educated men, were best known for their legalism. One of the main reasons they rejected Jesus is because in their self-righteousness they had added a whole slew of laws to the laws given by God. In the previous chapter, Matthew describes how furious they were with Jesus because His disciples ate their food without washing their hands ceremonially. How could they be righteous if they didn’t obey the rules and traditions that the Pharisees had put together?
 
The Sadducees also knew the Word of God. They were well educated and knowledgeable men, as were the Pharisees. But the Sadducees, in contrast to the Pharisees who added their laws to Scripture, took away from the Scripture. For instance, they refused to believe in the resurrection of the body, even though it is clearly taught in the Old Testament scrolls. That is one of the many differences between the two. One group added to the Scriptures; the other group took away from the Scriptures.
 
Perhaps you recall that the Apostle Paul used that difference to his advantage when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin. His life was on the line and he realized that he had to find some way of safety. Acts 23:6-7: Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.”   
 
Verses 8 and 9 of that chapter describe how the division was so great between the Pharisees and the Sadducees that the Roman guards were sent in to rescue Paul and bring him to safety. That type of contention between the two groups was typical of the friction between them. They were polar opposites, and yet in verse 1 we see them come united as one group to test Jesus. 
           
It reminds us just how great the opposition against our Lord and against His people really is. The animosity against our Lord is so great that unlikely opponents unite; Pharisees and Sadducees came together to test Jesus and oppose Him.
 
Hardened Hearts
 
This passage also shows us that those who reject Jesus do so, not because of a lack of evidence, but because of hardness of heart. We read of that already in the first verse as Jesus was tested: The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”
 
It is remarkable that they would ask for a sign from heaven. Consider how many miracles Jesus had already performed, miracles that clearly demonstrated that He was no ordinary man. He did miracles which clearly revealed His deity, yet they asked for a sign from heaven. 
 
In the parallel account, in Mark 8:12, we read that Jesus sighed deeply in his spirit.”  It must have weighed on Him heavily as He saw first-hand the hardness of the human heart. For clearly the identity of Jesus as the Messiah – the Christ – was evident from His miracles: Who else could feed great multitudes of people with just a few loaves and a few fish?  Who else could give sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk, the mute to speak?  And who else could possibly raise the dead to life again?
 
We see the same hardness of heart today. The evidence that God created the world out of nothing is all around us. Evidence that there was a world-wide flood is written clearly in the fossil records. The historicity of Jesus, as a man born at the fullness of time who did great miracles, and then was crucified and rose again is clearly evident, not just from Scripture but from secular historians.
 
We don’t need more evidence in order for people to believe in Jesus. Instead, there has to be changed hearts. Unless the Holy Spirit convicts and regenerates a person, they will remain just as hardened and just as opposed to Jesus as the Pharisees and the Sadducees were so long ago.
 
There are so many people today who are like the Pharisees and Sadducees of the first century. They are knowledgeable people. They are smart people. They can, in the example Jesus gives in verses 2 and 3, predict the weather – to a certain degree at least – and so much more, but they cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
 
And it’s not that the evidence isn’t there. We experience earthquakes, famines, war, rumors of war, and the increase in wickedness, which are all signs of the times. But we also see an increase in knowledge, technology that takes our breath away, and the spread of the gospel around the globe. All these things – both the negatives and the positives – are what Jesus and the writers of Scripture refer to as the signs of the times”.  The signs are incredibly clear, but people don’t heed them and accept Jesus with saving faith, not because the evidence isn’t there, but because of the hardness of their hearts.
 
Discerning Spiritual Truth
 
In this passage we also read about the inability of even the disciples to discern spiritual truths. In a way it is almost comical how the disciples totally miss the point of what Jesus is saying, until we realize, of course, that often we too seem to miss the points that Scripture makes. 
 
In verses 5-12 we read how when the disciples went across the lake, they forgot to take bread with them. In verse 6 Jesus warns them to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and they think He is upset with them because they forgot to bring lunch! 
 
Jesus has to bluntly remind them of how He fed the great multitudes with just a few fish and some loaves of bread. Certainly He could feed them as they traveled across the lake in the boat. He said to them, “‘How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’  Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (11, 12)
 
And that leads to our first application: Great care must be used in discerning the truth of what is taught to us. Jesus uses two warnings back-to-back in verse 6. He says “Be careful.” And He adds, “Be on your guard.”  In the ESV, Watch and beware.”
 
He was warning them against the yeast – or the leaven – of the Pharisees. We have seen He was not talking about lunch – about physical bread; He was warning them against the false teaching of these two groups (v. 12). These two groups of people, it should be stressed, were very well respected in the first century. Mention the word “Pharisee” today and there is an immediate reaction against the word; it has a notorious connotation to us today. 
 
But in the first century the Pharisees and Sadducees were the leaders of their day. They were highly educated and what they said and what they did carried weight. They were among the most influential people of that day. That’s why in Matthew 15:12 the disciples came to Jesus with what they perceived to be a great concern, perhaps even an error on the part of Jesus. They asked, “Don’t You know that the Pharisees were offended (by what you said about them)?” 
   
Still today, those who are highly educated carry weight because of their degrees. A colleague of mine once said to me, “I want to get my doctorate because then everyone at Presbytery” – equivalent of our classis – “will listen to me.”  I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.
 
I’m thankful that we stress the importance of theological education in our churches. We thoroughly examine candidates for ministry. We ensure that a minister of the Word is properly educated. But at the same time, consider that many really crazy ideas in our culture – and in our churches – come from institutions of higher education. 
 
Consider that it is often at college where those who have been brought up in Christian homes have their faith dashed. They come to college as professing Christians and leave as great skeptics. While that is especially true of secular colleges, don’t rule out colleges that have “Christian” in their name. Beware, because many are “Christian” in name only, and many offer courses that are clearly anti-Christian.
 
Even the briefest glance at the history of education in our nation shows a disturbing trend. Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and other well-known institutions of higher education were established to train men for ministry. Consider these requirements for Harvard, when it was established:
 
1. Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ…as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him (Prov. 2:3).
 
2. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of language and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his Tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the Word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).
 
The motto of the University, adopted in 1692, was from the Latin phrase meaning, “Truth for Christ and the Church.” That phrase, “Truth for Christ and the Church,” can be found embedded on the Harvard Shield and on many buildings around campus.
 
But now Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and most other institutions that were established to train men for ministry have departments of theology that specialize in tearing the Bible apart. There are many “Sadducees” at work in those departments of theology, systematically taking away the truths of God’s Word as they indoctrinate their students in error instead of in truth.
 
As is often noted, heresy usually comes into the church from the top down. The seminaries become liberal, they produce liberal pastors, and those pastors lead their flocks astray. They are often able to do that for the same reasons that the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to lead many astray. They have degrees, they are well educated and respected. Could what they are teaching really be wrong? Isn’t it just a new twist? Perhaps a deeper insight? A better understanding, or a more compassionate position, all brought on by their great learning and advanced degrees?
 
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for higher education in sound institutions of learning. That’s why we as a church wholeheartedly support seminaries like Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Westminster Seminary, and other faithful, biblical seminaries. But the warning of Jesus to His disciples who were awed by the education of the Pharisees and Sadducees must not be lost on us today. Always be a Berean and test what you hear from even the most educated teacher or pastor. Always test the teaching that you hear with the truth of the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11)
 
Part of being careful, and being on guard, includes guarding ourselves against any effort to add to God’s Word as the Pharisees did, or subtract from the Word of God as the Sadducees did. As the Bible closes, in Revelation 22:18-19, we read: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
    
In the previous chapter, Matthew described how the Pharisees added to the Scriptures with their ceremonial hand washing. In Matthew 15:9 Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13 and said, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
 
The Pharisees were known for adding to the Word of God They had, by one estimate, 1,521 man-made rules. Many of their rules applied to the Sabbath Day including this classic: You could eat an egg that was hatched on the Sabbath Day as long as you killed the chicken who hatched it the next day, for that chicken had worked on the Sabbath day! In these, and in so many other ways, the Pharisees were legalists who added their own rules to the Word of God. And that still goes on today.
 
Consider the Roman Catholic Church: Why do they have seven sacraments while we only have two? It is because they have added five sacraments – Confirmation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick (extreme unction) to the only two that Scripture commands us to use: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
 
But it is not just a Roman Catholic problem. Be on guard against any church or any professing Christian who wants to add their views, ideas, or customs to the Word of God. By adding their rules to God’s Word they are building a works-based salvation. They are teaching that, “If you do this and this and follow all these rules, you will be saved.” But that is not the message of Scripture. As the Reformers pointed out with their “Solas” we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, by the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone.
      
By the same token we must be on guard against those who, like the Sadducees, take away from the Word of God. For instance, as we have seen, the Sadducees rejected the teaching of the resurrection. If the Old Testament scrolls taught truths they didn’t want to believe, they simply omitted those truths. We read in Acts 23:8 that “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”
 
They knew the Old Testament Scriptures, but they “picked and chose” which parts they would accept and which parts they would delete. In that way they are much like many theological liberals today. The theological liberal will often grasp onto a verse like Micah 6:8, He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
 
By using a verse like that as a theme they can build a works-based righteousness, but in a different way from the person who adds on to the Word of God. Usually, they base a verse like that on the need for social justice and equality for all. But when the theological liberal comes to verses condemning homosexuality, or teaching the creation of the world by the spoken word of God, or the need for the substitutionary atonement of Christ to be saved, they blithely write those Scriptures off. 
 
Many of them come to a verse like John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and they say, “That is certainly not what He really meant. God would not send someone to hell if they were sincere in their belief. Certainly all roads lead to heaven, just as the traditional road of faith in Christ leads to heaven.”
 
The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees wasn’t just a first century yeast. Their false teaching, both in adding to the Scripture and subtracting from it, has grown and multiplied – as yeast or leaven always does. And today we need to take the warnings of Jesus just as seriously as the disciples did so long ago. Across the ages, in His timeless word, our Lord says to you and to me, “Be careful … Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
 
Christ and the Sign of Jonah
 
Part of guarding ourselves includes not looking for miraculous signs, but instead trusting in the sign of Jonah”, that is, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By asking for a sign from heaven the Pharisees and Sadducees were showing the hardness of their hearts. They were saying in effect, “None of these things You have done have convinced us. Show us something greater.”  Perhaps they wanted fire to come from heaven as in the days of Elijah. They yearned for the spectacular.
 
But there is nothing greater than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is what the sign of Jonah points us to. You may recall that Jesus spoke about the sign of Jonah in Matthew 12:39. He said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And then He added: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
 
Jesus was teaching that He is the One written about throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is teaching that even Jonah’s unique experience was a type or shadow of His own death and glorious resurrection. Instead of looking for miraculous signs from heaven, we are called to look with saving faith to Jesus, to His perfect life, His sacrificial death, and His glorious resurrection. It is only by looking to Him with saving faith, as He is revealed in Scripture, that we are saved from our sins.  
___
 
As we close this section of Mathew’s gospel, consider how the chapter begins with the people asking for a sign from heaven. The Lord replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
 
The people of the first century, just like people today, were preoccupied with the weather. What is one of the main things that people search for and talk about today? It’s the weather. Most people, and that includes me, look to see what the weather will be. We want to know today’s radar patterns and the long-range forecast. What is in the seven day or ten day forecast?
 
But how many look for the signs of the times? The “signs of the times” focus our minds on the return of Christ. All of history is moving toward that great and glorious day when Jesus returns. He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. The final and eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived will be announced. Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. Every knee will bow before Him. Every tongue will acknowledge His deity to the glory of our triune God.
 
Yet how many people focus on the weather for the day without ever focusing on Christ and His return? How many others look for the spectacular counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, described so graphically in 2 Thessalonians 2, and are deceived and condemned? They fit the description of verse 4 where Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”                           
 
By contrast, how many look in saving faith to Christ alone? And more personally, what about you and me? As we awake each morning, are we more interested in the weather forecast than looking in saving faith with deep gratitude and praise to Christ and His redeeming love? Do we look forward to His return? Do we fix our thoughts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God? Or are we more concerned about the weather?
 
By God’s grace and Spirit’s power, may our focus always be on Christ. And as we see that the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees still permeates our culture and many areas in the visible church, may we use great care in discerning what is taught us, as we guard against theological error, always looking with the eye of saving faith to the sign of Jonah” – to the life, death, and resurrection of our faithful Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
 
sermon outline:
 
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast
 of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6
 
                                   “Be On Your Guard”
                                        Matthew 16:1-12
 
I. This passage reveals:
    1) The animosity of the Pharisees and Sadducees against Jesus (1a)
 
 
 
 
 
    2) Those who reject Jesus do so, not because of a lack of evidence,
         but because of hardness of heart (1b-4)
 
 
 
 
 
    3) The inability to discern spiritual truths (5-12)
 
 
 
 
 
II. Applications:
    1) Great care must be used in discerning the truth of what is taught
         (6, 12; Acts 17:11)
 
 
 
 
 
    2) We must guard against any effort to add to the Word of God as the
         Pharisees did (Matt. 15:2, 9), or subtract from it as the Sadducees
         did (Acts 23:8; Revelation 22:18-19)
 
 
 
 
 
    3) We are not to look for miraculous signs, but trust in the sign of
         Jonah”, that is, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (4)
 
 
 
 
05/19/2013 (ESV)
“Watch and Beware”
Matthew 16:1-12
 
Perhaps you have heard the old expression, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” The expression refers to politicians with opposing views who get together because they have a common cause. They either have a motion they want to defeat or a proposal they want to succeed, so for a period of time they join forces with the very ones they usually oppose to get their way on an issue.
 
That’s exactly what is happening in verse 1. It begins by saying, And the Pharisees and Sadducees came …to test him…” The Pharisees and Sadducees joined forces even though were as opposite as opposites can be.
 
The Pharisees, although they knew the Old Testament Scriptures and were well educated men, were best known for their legalism. One of the main reasons they rejected Jesus is because in their self-righteousness they had added a whole slew of laws to the laws given by God. In the previous chapter, Matthew described how furious they were with Jesus because His disciples ate their food without washing their hands ceremonially. How could they be righteous if they didn’t obey the rules and traditions that the Pharisees had put together?
 
The Sadducees also knew the Word of God. They were well educated and knowledgeable men, as were the Pharisees. But the Sadducees, in contrast to the Pharisees who added their laws to Scripture, took away from the Scripture. For instance, they refused to believe in the resurrection of the body, even though it is clearly taught in the Old Testament scrolls. That is one of the many differences between the two. One group added to the Scriptures; the other group took away from the Scriptures.
 
Perhaps you recall that the Apostle Paul used that difference to his advantage when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin. His life was on the line and he realized that he had to find some way of safety. Acts 23:6-7: Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.”   
 
Verses 8 and 9 of that chapter describe how the division was so great between the Pharisees and the Sadducees that the Roman guards were sent in to rescue Paul and bring him to safety. That type of contention between the two groups was typical of the friction between them. They were polar opposites, and yet in verse 1 we see them come united as one group to test Jesus. 
           
It reminds us just how great the opposition against our Lord and against His people really is. The animosity against our Lord is so great that unlikely opponents unite; Pharisees and Sadducees came together to test Jesus and oppose Him.
 
Hardened Hearts
 
This passage also shows us that those who reject Jesus do so, not because of a lack of evidence, but because of hardness of heart. We read of that already in the first verse as Jesus was tested: And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.”
 
It is remarkable that they would ask for a sign from heaven. Consider how many miracles Jesus had already performed, miracles that clearly demonstrated that He was no ordinary man. He did miracles which clearly revealed His deity, yet they asked for a sign from heaven. 
 
In the parallel account, in Mark 8:12, we read that Jesus sighed deeply in his spirit.”  It must have weighed on Him heavily as He saw first-hand the hardness of the human heart. For clearly the identity of Jesus as the Messiah – the Christ – was evident from His miracles: Who else could feed great multitudes of people with just a few loaves and a few fish?  Who else could give sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk, the mute to speak?  And who else could possibly raise the dead to life again?
 
We see the same hardness of heart today. The evidence that God created the world out of nothing is all around us. Evidence that there was a worldwide flood is written clearly in the fossil records. The historicity of Jesus, as a man born at the fullness of time who did great miracles, and then was crucified and rose again is clearly evident, not just from Scripture but from secular historians.
 
We don’t need more evidence in order for people to believe in Jesus. Instead, there has to be changed hearts. Unless the Holy Spirit convicts and regenerates a person, they will remain just as hardened and just as opposed to Jesus as the Pharisees and the Sadducees were so long ago.
 
There are so many people today who are like the Pharisees and Sadducees of the first century. They are knowledgeable people. They are smart people. They can, in the example Jesus gives in verses 2 and 3, predict the weather – to a certain degree at least – and so much more, but they cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
 
And it’s not that the evidence isn’t there. We experience earthquakes, famines, war, rumors of war, and the increase in wickedness, which are all signs of the times. But we also see an increase in knowledge, technology that takes our breath away, and the spread of the gospel around the globe. All these things – both the negatives and the positives – are what Jesus and writers of Scripture refer to as the signs of the times”.  The signs are incredibly clear, but people don’t heed them and accept Jesus with saving faith, not because the evidence isn’t there, but because of the hardness of their hearts.
 
Discerning Spiritual Truth
 
In this passage we also read about the inability of even the disciples to discern spiritual truths. In a way it is almost comical how the disciples totally miss the point of what Jesus is saying, until we realize, of course, that often we too seem to miss the points that Scripture makes. 
 
In verses 5-12 we read how when the disciples went across the lake, they forgot to take bread with them. In verse 6 Jesus warns them to be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and they think He is upset with them because they forgot to bring lunch! 
 
Jesus has to bluntly remind them of how He fed the great multitudes with just a few fish and some loaves of bread. Certainly He could feed them as they traveled across the lake in the boat. He said to them, “‘How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?  Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (11, 12)
 
And that leads to our first application: Great care must be used in discerning the truth of what is taught to us. Jesus uses two warnings back-to-back in verse 6. He says, Watch and beware.” Or, as in the NIV, “Be careful…Be on your guard.” 
 
He was warning them against the leaven – or the yeast – of the Pharisees. We have seen He was not talking about lunch – about physical bread; He was warning them against the false teaching of these two groups (v. 12). These two groups of people, it should be stressed, were very well respected in the first century. Mention the word “Pharisee” today and there is an immediate reaction against the word; it has a notorious connotation to us today. 
 
But in the first century the Pharisees and Sadducees were the leaders of their day. They were highly educated and what they said and what they did carried weight. They were among the most influential people of that day. That’s why in Matthew 15:12 the disciples came to Jesus with what they perceived to be a great concern, perhaps even an error on the part of Jesus. They asked, “Don’t You know that the Pharisees were offended (by what you said about them)?” 
   
Still today, those who are highly educated carry weight because of their degrees. A colleague of mine once said to me, “I want to get my doctorate because then everyone at Presbytery” – the equivalent of our classis – “will listen to me.”  I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.
 
I’m thankful that we stress the importance of theological education in our churches. We thoroughly examine candidates for ministry. We ensure that a minister of the Word is properly educated. But at the same time, consider that many really crazy ideas in our culture – and in our churches – come from institutions of higher education. 
 
Consider that it is often at college where those who have been brought up in Christian homes have their faith dashed. They come to college as professing Christians and leave as great skeptics. While that is especially true of secular colleges, don’t rule out colleges that have “Christian” in their name. Beware, because many are “Christian” in name only, and many offer courses that are clearly anti-Christian.
 
Even the briefest glance at the history of education in our nation shows a disturbing trend. Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and other well-known institutions of higher education were established to train men for ministry. Consider these requirements for Harvard, when it was established:
 
1. Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ…as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him (Prov. 2:3).
 
2. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of language and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his Tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the Word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).
 
The motto of the University, adopted in 1692, was from the Latin phrase meaning, “Truth for Christ and the Church.” That phrase, “Truth for Christ and the Church,” can be found embedded on the Harvard Shield and on many buildings around campus.
 
But now Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and most other institutions that were established to train men for ministry have departments of theology that specialize in tearing the Bible apart. There are many “Sadducees” at work in those departments of theology, systematically taking away the truths of God’s Word as they indoctrinate their students in error instead of in truth.
 
As is often noted, heresy usually comes into the church from the top down. The seminaries become liberal, they produce liberal pastors, and those pastors lead their flocks astray. They are often able to do that for the same reasons that the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to lead many astray. They have degrees, they are well educated and respected. Could what they are teaching really be wrong? Isn’t it just a new twist? Perhaps a deeper insight? A better understanding, or a more compassionate position, all brought on by their great learning and advanced degrees?
 
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for higher education in sound institutions of learning. That’s why we as a church wholeheartedly support seminaries like Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Westminster Seminary, and other faithful, biblical seminaries. But the warning of Jesus to His disciples who were awed by the education of the Pharisees and Sadducees must not be lost on us today. Always be a Berean and test what you hear from even the most educated teacher or pastor. Always test the teaching that you hear with the truth of the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11)
 
Part of being careful, and being on guard, includes guarding ourselves against any effort to add to God’s Word as the Pharisees did, or subtract from the Word of God as the Sadducees did. As the Bible closes, in Revelation 22:18-19, we read: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
    
In the previous chapter, Matthew described how the Pharisees added to the Scriptures with their ceremonial hand washing. In Matthew 15:9 Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13 and said, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
 
The Pharisees were known for adding to the Word of God They had, by one estimate, 1,521 man-made rules. Many of their rules applied to the Sabbath Day including this classic: You could eat an egg that was hatched on the Sabbath Day as long as you killed the chicken who hatched it the next day, for that chicken had worked on the Sabbath day! In these, and in so many other ways, the Pharisees were legalists who added their own rules to the Word of God. And that still goes on today.
 
Consider the Roman Catholic Church: Why do they have seven sacraments while we only have two? It is because they have added five sacraments – Confirmation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick (extreme unction) to the only two that Scripture commands us to use: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
 
But it is not just a Roman Catholic problem. Be on guard against any church or any professing Christian who wants to add their views, ideas, or customs to the Word of God. By adding their rules to God’s Word they are building a works-based salvation. They are teaching that, “If you do this and this and follow all these rules, you will be saved.” But that is not the message of Scripture. As the Reformers pointed out with their “Solas” we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, by the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone.
      
By the same token we must be on guard against those who, like the Sadducees, take away from the Word of God. For instance, as we have seen, the Sadducees rejected the teaching of the resurrection. If the Old Testament scrolls taught truths they didn’t want to believe, they simply omitted those truths. We read in Acts 23:8 that “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”
 
They knew the Old Testament Scriptures, but they “picked and chose” which parts they would accept and which parts they would delete. In that way they are much like many theological liberals today. The theological liberal will often grasp onto a verse like Micah 6:8, He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
 
By using a verse like that as a theme they can build a works-based righteousness, but in a different way from the person who adds on to the Word of God. Usually, they base a verse like that on the need for social justice and equality for all. But when the theological liberal comes to verses condemning homosexuality, or teaching the creation of the world by the spoken word of God, or the need for the substitutionary atonement of Christ to be saved, they blithely write those Scriptures off. 
 
Many of them come to a verse like John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and they say, “That is certainly not what He really meant. God would not send someone to hell if they were sincere in their belief. Certainly all roads lead to heaven, just as the traditional road of faith in Christ leads to heaven.”
 
The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees wasn’t just a first century leaven. Their false teaching, both in adding to the Scripture and subtracting from it, has grown and multiplied – as yeast or leaven always does. And today we need to take the warnings of Jesus just as seriously as the disciples did so long ago. Across the ages, in His timeless word, our Lord says to you and to me, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
 
Christ and the Sign of Jonah
 
Part of guarding ourselves includes not looking for miraculous signs, but instead trusting in the sign of Jonah”, that is, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By asking for a sign from heaven the Pharisees and Sadducees were showing the hardness of their hearts. They were saying in effect, “None of these things You have done have convinced us. Show us something greater.”  Perhaps they wanted fire to come from heaven as in the days of Elijah. They yearned for the spectacular.
 
But there is nothing greater than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is what the sign of Jonah points us to. You may recall that Jesus spoke about the sign of Jonah in Matthew 12:39. He said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And then He added: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
 
Jesus was teaching that He is the One written about throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is teaching that even Jonah’s unique experience was a type or shadow of His own death and glorious resurrection. Instead of looking for miraculous signs from heaven, we are called to look in saving faith to Jesus, to His perfect life, His sacrificial death, and His glorious resurrection. It is only by looking to Him with saving faith, as He is revealed in Scripture, that we are saved from our sins.  
___
 
As we close this section of Mathew’s gospel, consider how the chapter begins with the people asking for a sign from heaven. The Lord replied, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’  You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
 
The people of the first century, just like people today, were preoccupied with the weather. What is one of the main things that people search for and talk about today? It is the weather. Most people, and that includes me, look to see what the weather will be. We want to know today’s radar patterns and the long-range forecast. What is in the seven day or ten day forecast?
 
But how many look for the signs of the times? The “signs of the times” focus our minds on the return of Christ. All of history is moving toward that great and glorious day when Jesus returns. He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. The final and eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived will be announced. Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. Every knee will bow before Him. Every tongue will acknowledge His deity to the glory of our triune God.
 
Yet how many people focus on the weather for the day without ever focusing on Christ and His return? How many others look for the counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, described so graphically in 2 Thessalonians 2, and are deceived and condemned? They fit the description of verse 4 where Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”                           
 
By contrast, how many look in saving faith to Christ alone? And more personally, what about you and me? As we awake each morning, are we more interested in the weather forecast than looking in saving faith with deep gratitude and praise to Christ and His redeeming love? Do we look forward to His return? Do we fix our thoughts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God? Or are we more concerned about the weather?
 
By God’s grace and Spirit’s power, may our focus always be on Christ. And as we see that the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees still permeates our culture and many areas in the visible church, may we use great care in discerning what is taught us, as we guard against theological error, always looking with the eye of saving faith to the sign of Jonah” – to the life, death, and resurrection of our faithful Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
 
sermon outline:
 
Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees
and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6
 
                                   “Watch and Beware”
                                        Matthew 16:1-12
 
I. This passage reveals:
    1) The animosity of the Pharisees and Sadducees against Jesus (1a)
 
 
 
 
 
    2) Those who reject Jesus do so, not because of a lack of evidence,
         but because of hardness of heart (1b-4)
 
 
 
 
 
    3) The inability to discern spiritual truths (5-12)
 
 
 
 
 
II. Applications:
    1) Great care must be used in discerning the truth of what is taught
         (6, 12; Acts 17:11)
 
 
 
 
 
    2) We must guard against any effort to add to the Word of God as the
         Pharisees did (Matt. 15:2, 9), or subtract from it as the Sadducees
         did (Acts 23:8; Revelation 22:18-19)
 
 
 
 
 
    3) We are not to look for miraculous signs, but trust in the sign of
         Jonah”, that is, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (4)
 
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Ted Gray

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