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The Life of Christ

Leaven

 

Volume 24

 

This volume is based on:-

Matthew 15:21-39; 16:1-28; Mark 7:24-37; 8:1-21; Luke 9:18-27

It is recommended that you read these verses before you read the book.

 

You may freely copy this book as you desire.

The language of the Scripture quotes has been modernised for easier understanding.


 

To "another" sheep

After the encounter with the Pharisees regarding their traditions, Jesus withdrew from Capernaum, and crossing Galilee, moved to the hill country on the borders of Phoenicia. Looking westward, He could see, spread out upon the plain below, the ancient/ cities of Tyre and Sidon, with their heathen temples, their magnificent palaces and markets of trade, and the harbours filled with shipping.

Beyond was the blue expanse of the Mediterranean, over which the messengers of the gospel were to bear its glad tidings to the centres of the world's great empire. But the time was not yet. The work before Him now was to prepare His disciples for their mission. In coming to this region He hoped to find the retirement He had failed to secure at Bethsaida.

Yet this was not His only purpose in taking this journey.

"Behold, a Canaanitish woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, You Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." Matthew 15:22, R. V.

A heathen believer

The people of this district were of the old Canaanite race. They were idolaters, and were despised and hated by the Jews. To this class belonged the woman who now came to Jesus. She was a heathen, and was therefore excluded from the advantages which the Jews daily enjoyed. However, there were many Jews living among the Phoenicians, and the tidings of Christ's work had penetrated to this region. Some of the people had listened to His words and had witnessed His wonderful works.

This woman had heard of the prophet, who, it was reported, healed all manner of diseases. As she heard of His power, hope sprang up in her heart. Inspired by a mother's love, she determined to present her daughter's case to Him.

It was her resolute purpose to bring her affliction to Jesus. He must heal her child.

She had sought help from the heathen gods, but had obtained no relief. And at times she was tempted to think, What can this Jewish teacher do for me? But the word had come, He heals all manner of diseases, whether those who come to Him for help are rich or poor.

She determined not to lose her only hope.

He came to see her

Christ knew this woman's situation. He knew that she was longing to see Him, and He placed Himself in her path. By ministering to her sorrow, He could give a living representation of the lesson He designed to teach. For this He had brought His disciples into this region. He desired them to see the ignorance existing in cities and villages close to the land of Israel.

The people who had been given every opportunity to understand the truth were without a knowledge of the needs of those around them. No effort was made to help souls in darkness. The partition wall which Jewish pride had erected, shut even the disciples from sympathy with the heathen world.

But these barriers were to be broken down.

The lesson must be taught

Christ did not immediately reply to the woman's request. He received this representative of a despised race as the Jews would have done.
In this He designed that His disciples should be impressed with the cold and heartless manner in which the Jews would treat such a case, as shown by His initial reception of the woman, and the compassionate manner in which He would have them deal with such distress, as manifested by His subsequent granting of her petition.

Love does not give up

But although Jesus did not reply, the woman did not lose faith. As He passed on, as if not hearing her, she followed Him, continuing her supplications. Annoyed by her nonstop begging, the disciples asked Jesus to send her away. They saw that their Master treated her with indifference, and they therefore supposed that the prejudice of the Jews against the Canaanites was pleasing to Him.

But it was a pitying Saviour to whom the woman made her plea, and in answer to the request of the disciples, Jesus said, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Although this answer appeared to be in accordance with the prejudice of the Jews, it was an implied rebuke to the disciples, which they afterward understood as reminding them of what He had often told them, - that He came to the world to save all who would accept Him.

His words encouraged the woman

When she heard this the woman urged her case with increased earnestness, bowing at Christ's feet, and crying, "Lord, help me." Jesus, still apparently rejecting her entreaties, according to the unfeeling prejudice of the Jews, answered, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."

This was virtually saying that it was not just to lavish the blessings brought to the favoured people of God upon strangers and aliens from Israel. This answer would have utterly discouraged a less earnest seeker.

But the woman saw that her opportunity had come.

Beneath the apparent refusal of Jesus, she saw a compassion that He could not hide. "Truth, Lord," she answered, "yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

While the children of the household eat at the father's table, even the dogs are not left unfed. They have a right to the crumbs that fall from the table abundantly supplied. So while there were many blessings given to Israel, was there not also a blessing for her?

She was looked upon as a dog, and had she not then a dog's claim to a crumb from His bounty?

Such great faith/love!

Jesus had just departed from His field of labour because the scribes and Pharisees were seeking to take His life. They murmured and complained. They manifested unbelief and bitterness, and refused the salvation so freely offered them. Here Christ meets one of an unfortunate and despised race, that has not been favoured with the light of God's word; yet she yields at once to the divine influence of Christ, and has implicit faith in His ability to grant the favour she asks. She begs for the crumbs that fall from the Master's table.

If she may have the privilege of a dog, she is willing to be regarded as a dog. She has no national or religious prejudice or pride to influence her course, and she immediately acknowledges Jesus as the Redeemer, and as being able to do all that she asks of Him.

A child of God

The Saviour is satisfied. He has tested her faith in Him. By His dealings with her, He has shown that she who has been regarded as an outcast from Israel is no longer an alien, but a child in God's household.

As a child it is her privilege to share in the Father's gifts. Christ now grants her request, and finishes the lesson to the disciples. Turning to her with a look of pity and love, He says, "O woman, great is your faith: be it to you even as you will." From that hour her daughter became whole. The demon troubled her no more. The woman departed, acknowledging her Saviour, and happy in the granting of her prayer.

God will go a long way to help

This was the only miracle that Jesus wrought while on this journey. It was for the performance of this act that He went to the borders of Tyre and Sidon. He wished to relieve the afflicted woman, and at the same time to leave an example in His work of mercy toward one of a despised people for the benefit of His disciples when He should no longer be with them. He wished to lead them from their Jewish exclusiveness to be interested in working for others besides their own people.

Slow learners

Jesus longed to unfold the deep mysteries of the truth which had been hid for ages, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs with the Jews, and "partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel." Ephesians 3:6.

This truth the disciples were slow to learn, and the divine Teacher gave them lesson upon lesson. In rewarding the faith of the centurion at Capernaum, and preaching the gospel to the inhabitants of Samaria at Sychar, He had already given evidence that He did not share the intolerance of the Jews.

But the Samaritans had some knowledge of God; and the centurion had shown kindness to Israel.

Now Jesus brought the disciples in contact with a heathen, whom they regarded as having no reason above any of her people, to expect favour from Him. He would give an example of how such a one should be treated. The disciples had thought that He dispensed too freely the gifts of His grace. He would show that His love was not to be circumscribed to race or nation.

Christian work

When He said, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," He stated the truth, and in His work for the Canaanite woman He was fulfilling His commission. This woman was one of the lost sheep that Israel should have rescued.

It was their appointed work, the work which they had neglected, that Christ was doing.

This act opened the minds of the disciples more fully to the labour that lay before them among the Gentiles. They saw a wide field of usefulness outside of Judea. They saw souls bearing sorrows unknown to those more highly favoured. Among those whom they had been taught to despise were souls longing for help from the mighty Healer, hungering for the light of truth, which had been so abundantly given to the Jews.

They went out to help

Afterward, when the Jews turned still more persistently from the disciples, because they declared Jesus to be the Saviour of the world, and when the partition wall between Jew and Gentile was broken down by the death of Christ, this lesson, and similar ones which pointed to the gospel work unrestricted by custom or nationality, had a powerful influence upon the representatives of Christ, in directing their labours.

Not much has changed

The Saviour's visit to Phoenicia and the miracle there performed had a yet wider purpose.

Not alone for the afflicted woman, nor even for His disciples and those who received their labours, was the work accomplished; but also "that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through His name." John 20:31.

The same agencies that barred men and women away from Christ two thousand years ago are at work today. The spirit which built up the partition wall between Jew and Gentile is still active.

Pride and prejudice have built strong walls of separation between different classes of men and women. Christ and His mission have been misrepresented, and multitudes feel that they are virtually shut away from the ministry of the gospel. But let them not feel that they are shut away from Christ. There are no barriers which man or Satan can erect but that faith can penetrate.

Faith will find a way

In faith the woman of Phoenicia flung herself against the barriers that had been piled up between Jew and Gentile.

Against discouragement, regardless of appearances that might have led her to doubt, she trusted the Saviour's love. It is thus that Christ desires us to trust in Him. The blessings of salvation are for every soul.

Nothing but their own choice can prevent any one from becoming a partaker of the promise in Christ by the gospel.

All one blood

Caste is hateful to God. He ignores everything of this character. In His sight the souls of all mankind are of equal value. He "has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us." Acts 17:26, 27.

Without distinction of age, or rank, or nationality, or religious privilege, all are invited to come to Him and live.

"Whoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference." Romans 10:11.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free." Galatians 3:28.

"The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the Maker of them all." Proverbs 22:2.

"The same Lord over all is rich to all that call upon Him. For whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Romans 10:12-13.

Back to Decapolis

"Again He went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis." Mark 7:31, R. V.

It was in the region of Decapolis that the wild men of Gergesa had been healed. Here the people, alarmed at the destruction of the swine, had constrained Jesus to depart from among them. But they had listened to the messengers He left behind, and a desire was aroused to see Him.

A different method

As He came again into that region, a crowd gathered about Him, and a deaf, stammering man was brought to Him. Jesus did not, according to His custom, restore the man by a word only. Taking him apart from the multitude, He put His fingers in his ears, and touched his tongue; looking up to heaven, He sighed at thought of the ears that would not be open to the truth, the tongues that refused to acknowledge the Redeemer.

At the word, "Be opened," the man's speech was restored, and, disregarding the command to tell no man, he published abroad the story of his cure making Jesus’ work that much harder by his disobedience.

The feeding of the Gentiles

Jesus went up into a mountain, and there the multitude flocked to Him, bringing their sick and lame, and laying them at His feet. He healed them all; and the people, heathen as they were, glorified the God of Israel. For three days they continued to throng about the Saviour, sleeping at night in the open air, and through the day pressing eagerly to hear the words of Christ, and to see His works.

At the end of three days their food was spent. Jesus would not send them away hungry, and He called upon His disciples to give them food.

Again the disciples revealed their unbelief.

At Bethsaida they had seen how, with Christ's blessing, their little store availed for the feeding of the multitude; yet they did not now bring forward their all, trusting His power to multiply it for the hungry crowds. Moreover, those whom He fed at Bethsaida were Jews; these were Gentiles and heathen. Jewish prejudice was still strong in the hearts of the disciples, and they answered Jesus, "Whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?"

But, obedient to His word they brought Him what they had, - seven loaves and two fishes. The multitude were fed, seven large baskets of fragments remaining. Four thousand men, besides women and children, were thus refreshed, and Jesus sent them away with glad and grateful hearts.

Rejected!

Then taking a boat with His disciples, He crossed the lake to Magdala, at the southern end of the plain of Gennesaret. In the border of Tyre and Sidon His spirit had been refreshed by the confiding trust of the Syrophoenician woman. The heathen people of Decapolis had received Him with gladness. Now as He landed once more in Galilee, where His power had been most strikingly manifested, where most of His works of mercy had been performed, and His teaching given, He was met with contemptuous unbelief.

A deputation of Pharisees had been joined by representatives from the rich and lordly Sadducees, the party of the priests, the sceptics and aristocracy of the nation. The two sects had been at bitter enmity. The Sadducees courted the favour of the ruling power in order to maintain their own position and authority. The Pharisees, on the other hand, fostered the popular hatred against the Romans, longing for the time when they could throw off the yoke of the conqueror.

But Pharisee and Sadducee now united against Christ. Like seeks like; and evil, wherever it exists, joins with evil for the destruction of the good.

Wanting a sign

Now the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ, asking for a sign from heaven. When in the days of Joshua Israel went out to battle with the Canaanites at Bethhoron, the sun had stood still at the leader's command until victory was gained; and many similar wonders had been manifest in their history. Some such sign was demanded of Jesus. But these signs were not what the Jews needed.

No mere external evidence could benefit them.

What they needed was not intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renewing.

Many signs had been given

"O you hypocrites," said Jesus, "you can discern the face of the sky," - by studying the sky they could foretell the weather, - "but can you not discern the signs of the times?" Christ's own words, spoken with the power of the Holy Spirit that convicted them of sin, were the sign that God had given for their salvation.

And signs direct from heaven had been given to prove the mission of Christ. The song of the angels to the shepherds, the star that guided the wise men, the dove and the voice from heaven at His baptism, were witnesses for Him.

Jonah’s sign

"And He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, Why does this generation seek after a sign?" "There shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah." As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, Christ was to be the same time "in the heart of the earth."

And as the preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so Christ's preaching was a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of the word! The people of the great heathen city trembled as they heard the warning from God. Kings and nobles humbled themselves; the high and the lowly together cried to the God of heaven, and His mercy was granted to them.

"The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation," Christ had said, "and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here." Matthew 12:40, 41.

Every sign rejected

Every miracle that Christ performed was a sign of His divinity. He was doing the very work that had been foretold of the Messiah; but to the Pharisees these works of mercy were a positive offence. The Jewish leaders looked with heartless indifference on human suffering. In many cases their selfishness and oppression had caused the affliction that Christ relieved.

Thus His miracles were to them a reproach.

The character of God

That which led the Jews to reject the Saviour's work was the highest evidence of His divine character. The greatest significance of His miracles is seen in the fact that they were for the blessing of humanity.

The highest evidence that He came from God is that His life revealed the character of God. He did the works and spoke the words of God. Such a life is the greatest of all miracles.

When the message of truth is presented today, there are many who, like the Jews, cry, "Show us a sign. Work us a miracle." Christ worked no miracle at the demand of the Pharisees. He worked no miracle in the wilderness in answer to Satan's insinuations. Therefore He does not impart to us power to vindicate ourselves or to satisfy the demands of unbelief and pride.

The real signs

But the gospel is not without a sign of its divine origin. Is it not a miracle that we can break from the bondage of Satan? Enmity against Satan is not natural to the human heart; it is implanted by the grace of God. (Genesis 3:15.) When one who has been controlled by a stubborn, wayward will is set free, and yields him or herself wholeheartedly to the drawing of God's heavenly agencies, a miracle is wrought; so also when a person who has been under strong delusion comes to understand moral truth.

Every time a soul is converted, and learns to love God and keep His commandments, the promise of God is fulfilled, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you." Ezekiel 36:26.

The change in human hearts, the transformation of human characters, is a miracle that reveals an ever-living Saviour, working to rescue souls.

A consistent life in Christ is also a great miracle.

In the preaching of the word of God, the sign that should be manifest now and always is the presence of the Holy Spirit, to make the word a regenerating power to those that hear. This is God's witness before the world to the divine mission of His Son.

They did not want to see

Those who desired a sign from Jesus had so hardened their hearts in unbelief that they did not discern in His character the likeness of God. They would not see that His mission was in fulfilment of the Scriptures. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said to the Pharisees, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Luke 16:31.

This last statement was amply demonstrated when Mary’s brother Lazarus was resurrected from his grave after being dead for four days. That event only made them even more determined to stop Him and they began to devise ways of doing this. John 11:46-53.

No sign that could be given in heaven or earth would or could benefit them while they had this attitude.

The "leaven" of the Pharisees

Jesus "sighed deeply in His spirit," and, turning from the group of opponents, re-entered the boat with His disciples. In sorrowful silence they again crossed the lake. They did not, however, return to the place they had left, but directed their course toward Bethsaida, near where the five thousand had been fed. Upon reaching the farther side, Jesus said, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."

The Jews had been accustomed since the days of Moses to put away leaven from their houses at the Passover season, and they had thus been taught to regard it as a type of sin. See Exodus 12:18-20; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.

Yet the disciples failed to understand Jesus.

Not a physical thing

In their sudden departure from Magdala they had forgotten to take bread, and they had with them only one loaf. To this circumstance they understood Christ to refer, warning them not to buy bread of a Pharisee or a Sadducee.

Their lack of faith and spiritual insight had often led them to similar misconception of His words.

A very great danger

Now Jesus reproved them for thinking that He who had fed thousands with a few fishes and barley loaves could in that solemn warning have referred merely to earthly food. There was danger that the crafty reasoning of the Pharisees and the Sadducees would leaven His disciples with unbelief, causing them to think lightly of the works of Christ.

It has always been the tendency for Christians to confuse spiritual principles with earthly ideas and this leaning is often worked upon by Satan’s agents.

In this case, the disciples were inclined to think that their Master should have granted the demand for a sign in the heavens. They believed that He was fully able to do this, and that such a sign would put His enemies to silence. They did not discern the hypocrisy of these arguers.

A repeated warning

Months afterward, "when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, so that they trod one upon another," Jesus repeated the same teaching. "He began to say to His disciples first of all, Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Luke 12:1.

The leaven placed in the flour works imperceptibly, changing the whole mass to its own nature. In the same way, if hypocrisy is allowed to exist in the heart, it invades the entire character and the life.

A deliberate plan

Christ had already rebuked a striking example of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in denouncing the practice of "Corban," by which a neglect of family duty was concealed under a pretence of liberality to the temple.

The scribes and Pharisees were insinuating deceptive principles. They concealed the real tendency of their doctrines, and improved every occasion to instil them artfully into the minds of their hearers. These false principles, when once accepted, worked like leaven in the meal, permeating and transforming the character.

It was this deceptive teaching that made it so hard for the people to receive the words of Christ.

Insidious attacks

The same influences are working today through those who try to explain the law of God in such a way as to make it conform to their practices.
This class do not attack the law openly, but put forward theories that undermine its principles. They explain it so as to destroy its force.

This is the result of selfishness

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was the product of self-seeking. The glorification of themselves was the object of their lives. It was this that led them to pervert and misapply the Scriptures, and blinded them to the purpose of Christ's mission.

This subtle evil even the disciples of Christ were in danger of cherishing. Those who classed themselves with the followers of Jesus, but who had not left all in order to become His disciples, were influenced in a great degree by the reasoning of the Pharisees. They were often wavering between faith and unbelief, and they did not discern the treasures of wisdom hidden in Christ.

The disciples, who outwardly had left all for Jesus' sake, had not in heart ceased to seek great things for themselves.

It was this spirit that prompted the strife as to who should be greatest. (Mark 9:34.) It was this principle that came between them and Christ, making them so little in sympathy with His mission of self-sacrifice, so slow to comprehend the mystery of redemption.

As leaven will cause corruption and decay if left to complete its work, so does the self-seeking spirit, if cherished, work the defilement and ruin of the soul, for sin is the outworking of selfishness.

Still working today

Among the followers of our Lord today, as of old, how widespread is this subtle, deceptive sin! How often our service to Christ, our communion with one another, is marred by the secret desire to exalt self! How ready the thought of self-congratulation, and the longing for human approval!

It is the love of self, the desire for an easier way than God has appointed that leads to the substitution of human theories and traditions for the divine precepts. To His disciples of today the warning words of Christ are spoken, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees."

Self is "crucified" with Christ

The religion of Christ is sincerity itself. Such was Christ’s comment on seeing Nathaniel.

"Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" John 1:47.

Zeal for God's glory is the motive implanted by the Holy Spirit; and only the effectual working of the Spirit can implant this motive.

Only the power of God can banish self-seeking and hypocrisy.

This change is the sign of His working. When the faith we accept destroys selfishness and pretence, when it leads us to seek God's glory and not our own, we may know that it is of the right order.

"Father, glorify Your name" (John 12:28), was the keynote of Christ's life, and if we follow Him, this will be the keynote of our life. He commands us to "walk, even as He walked;" and "hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments."1 John 2:6, 3.

oooOooo

 

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