June 12, 2022 Signs and Leaven

Signs and Leaven

June 12, 2022



Read Matthew 16:1-12; 24-27.


The Sadducees were almost exclusively from Jerusalem.[1] Therefore, this group of Pharisees and Sadducees together came from Jerusalem to investigate and trap Jesus. They are following him around! They had strong disagreements with one another, but joined forces to oppose the Lord.


They ask for a sign. Jesus answers them by saying that the signs have already been given to them. He tells them that they “cannot discern the signs of the times” (vs. 3b). “They ought to be able to see that important things are taking place, that this is a time of decision, but they are oblivious to what is taking place through the ministry of Jesus the Messiah. They have all the signs they need, but instead of taking note of them, they are stubbornly demanding a further “sign.’”[2]


The Pharisees and Sadducees represented that evil generation (vs. 4). Just as in his response to the Pharisees in chapter 12, Jesus is not going to tell them the obvious (that they had already seen sufficient signs). Instead, he simply says that no sign will be given to this generation. They would not accept any sign that he did. Therefore, practically speaking, no sign was given to them… except the resurrection. But even this would not convince them. This shows a very important truth: It is not for lack of evidence that unbelievers refuse to believe. They refuse to believe because their hearts are set against God. The evidence is not only adequate, but overwhelming, both for the God of creation and the Lordship of Christ. All are without excuse.


Practically, what this means is that, when you share the truths of Scripture with others, you may be demanded to provide proof. Unbelievers are skeptical of the Bible. You do not need to do that. The signs of the truth of revelation, both in nature and as Scripture, are more than adequate. I am not saying that we do not need to ever provide evidence to unbelievers. Sometimes that is appropriate. (Therefore, it is good to have some knowledge of apologetics, a defense of the faith that may include evidence.) But, the signs are already there for all to see.


(Possibly the easiest ways to show that the Scriptures are reliable are through fulfilled prophecy and the realization that Jesus Himself acknowledged and fully trusted in the Scriptures. See the sermons, Has God Spoken, Parts 1 & 2, at church website.)



This exchange between the Lord and the religious leaders should stimulate us to consider our own situation. Who did he call evil? It wasn’t the thieves, the murderers, the adulterers, or the drunkards. It was those who studied the Scriptures, attended the temple, attended the synagogue, those who followed the laws of God outwardly. Jesus warns his disciples to beware of their teaching.


Just because someone knows the Bible does not mean that they possess the right understanding of its contents. We still must beware of leaven. Some leaven is obvious. For example, New Age teachings, such as those that are promoted by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, clearly oppose the teachings of the apostles. Although a few Christians who are unfamiliar with their Bibles may be led astray by New Age doctrine, most are aware of its falsehood.


Other leaven is more insidious. It is taught by reputable teachers in the church. (Remember how reputable the Pharisees were.) Three examples of this are the fact-only gospel, the “free grace heresy,” and the “health and wealth gospel.” 


The Lord Jesus taught his disciples to beware of leaven. Since we are his disciples, this warning is for us! Leaven is still with us! Because we need to receive this warning, let us consider each of these expressions of leaven.


I have pointed out the danger of the fact-only gospel numerous times. Yet, it is such an insidious leaven that we need to hear the warning more than once.


Modern Christianity has a false gospel. Most of the modern gospel’s elements have some reflection of the true gospel, but it has been so watered down and leaves out two essential elements so that it ends up being a false gospel. It should go without saying that those who do not attend, or seldom attend, the regular meetings of God’s people – the local church, the assembly of the called-out, God’s house, the pillar and buttress of the truth – give evidence that they have not been born again (I John 2:19; Hebrews 10:25-26). But it is also true that those who have rejected the Lord’s calling and live unto themselves, or just for their family, give evidence that they, too, may have become disciples in name only – that there is no reality to their profession of faith.


Hear what I am saying. There are people who go to church regularly but may not have been born again.


There are also those who have been regenerated but have been seduced by worldly things and worldly ideas. More dangerous than this, they may have been seduced by the primacy of self and primacy of family. Primacy of self is worse than primacy of family. At least when one makes their family their priority their eyes are off of themselves. However, both are misguided because the calling of the disciple is hatred of self and hatred of family. Hear Jesus:


If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, ESV)


Jesus did not mean that we should literally hate ourselves or our family. What he meant was that our love for ourselves and our family members should seem as if it is hate compared to our love and devotion to him. Here is what we must see: If we do not love the Lord Jesus supremely, so far above ourselves, our mother, our father, our children, that our love for them is like hate, then we cannot be his disciple!


This is radical. If we do not give all of ourselves – our minds, our emotions, our will – to him unreservedly and completely in a daily way, then this means either that:


  • We have not been born again. Or,
  • We were born again but we have lost our way.


I believe that many disciples have lost their way. As far as books that were written by one person, that greatest of all books, Pilgrim’s Progress, chronicles the journey of the main character, Christian, as he travels through the world. His journey is an allegory of the disciple’s life. There are deceptions, pitfalls, and traps along the way. There are other characters who seek to persuade him to abandon his journey. But perhaps most telling is that he gets lost along the way several times.


One of the main burdens of the author, John Bunyan, is to warn believers that the life of a disciple is not easy but is fraught with danger. If one stumbles through life merely living by their feelings and their own notions, or even the notions of others, without relying on light from heaven (God’s words) then we become seduced and lost. If we have been truly born again then we will not be eternally lost. But we may be lost during our earthly pilgrimage and the consequences of such will cause much grief in the present and may cause us to lose our inheritance in the next age. Our inheritance is the kingdom of God as it will be manifested in the next age. In other words, losing our way now, even as disciples of the Lord Jesus, may result in great disappointment and a failure to inherit the kingdom. We will have to wait a long time – until the age after the next age – before we enjoy the privileges of communion with the Lord and his people.


Let us consider the words of our Lord in verses 24-27:


Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:24-27, NIV) (Amplified and CEV are good here, too)



First, take note to whom Jesus is speaking. He is not speaking to worldlings. He is not speaking to the lost. He is talking to his disciples – those who have made a decision and a commitment to follow him already. They are just like us, though. They decide things, they commit to things, but do not always understand what is entailed in what they have decided or what their commitment entails. So, Jesus is going to make it plain to them.


He says, “whoever.” Whoever! There are no exceptions! No exceptions for being under bad teaching. No exception for hearing a watered down gospel. No exception for feeling as if everything is fine. No exception for “knowing” that God loves you. Whoever!


“Whoever wants to be my disciple must…”


The terms of discipleship that our Lord is about to lay down are not optional. He said “must!” Here is one false gospel going around today (there are many!): You can make Jesus your Savior, but not your Lord. You can believe in him as your Savior and then, later, maybe you can make him your Lord. That is not in the Bible and is a damnable gospel. That is the so-called “Free Grace” heresy. It is related to the fact-only gospel, since that is what the Free Grace proponents advance. No subjects of a king receive a pardon when they are still in open rebellion against him.


Here is one of the missing elements of a false gospel: repentance is left out. When we repent we transfer our allegiance from ourselves to the Lord Jesus. If he is not our Lord in fact, then neither is he our Savior. The idea of repentance is further highlighted when Jesus says, “follow me.” But first things first.


When a person repents they willingly and joyfully submit to the Lord’s directives. They are for our good. Here, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must” (that is a directive) do certain things.


What are these things?


[II.] We must deny ourselves to be a disciple of Jesus. Sadly, there are many who take the name of Christ but are still living to satisfy their own desires. Now, the Lord is kind and gentle. That is the way he describes himself (Luke 6:35; Matthew 11:29). Therefore, he will often give us the desires of our hearts. But first we must consider them of no importance and we must subsume them to the Lord’s will. Because we are all a work in progress, we all have desires that do not line up with the Lord’s desires. The goal of sanctification is to be conformed to the image of Christ. The Lord’s desires are becoming our desires. The Lord is working himself into us so that:


  • our mind becomes like his,
  • his thoughts become our thoughts,
  • his loves become ours,
  • and his will becomes our will.


Until that process is completed we must deny ourselves.


Is there something that you have been holding on to that the Lord is asking you to deny? But you keep holding on to it? For some, it is clear to you what it is. For others, maybe you have been preoccupied with the mundane things of life so that you are not even sure if there is something that you have been holding on to.


The second term of discipleship is:


[II.] We must take up our cross to be a disciple of Jesus. What did Jesus mean by “cross?” The cross was the means of execution administered by the Roman government. It was a familiar sight in Israel. Criminals would be required to carry their own cross to their place of death, as Jesus would do when he would be crucified.


The cross represents the suffering that we must undergo. But see that Jesus says that we must take up our cross. Some versions have “pick up their cross.”[3] Our cross is something that we can pick up or leave down. In other words, we can often choose to avoid suffering. Yet, if we follow the path that the Lord has for us, the path of righteousness empowered by His life, then times will come when we must choose to suffer.


Madras, now called Chennai, is the most visited city in India. It is considered the best city in India and is characterized by both wealth and safety. The Anglican Bishop of that city was visiting the kingdom of Travancore about a hundred years ago. Travancore was located in the Southwestern tip of India. He was there introduced to a little slave girl called “The Child Apostle.” She had won this title by the zeal with which she talked of Christ to others. Her quiet, steady persistence in this had won several converts to Christ. But she had suffered persecution at the hands of Hindus too brutal to relate. When she was introduced to the Bishop, her face, neck and arms were disfigured and scarred by stripes and blows. As he looked at her, the good man’s eyes filled, and he said, “My child, how could you bear this?”

She looked up at him in surprise and said, “Don’t you like to suffer for Christ, sir?”


Do not the life and words of this little girl put us to shame? They should also remind us that our children, even at young ages, can be resolute and committed to the Lord Jesus.


This little girl suffered because she talked to others about Christ. She was willing to suffer beatings and whippings for her sharing the gospel. Some of us are not even willing to experience just a little embarrassment for sharing the gospel. What a shame this is!


Sometimes we will suffer for simply choosing to do the right thing. We must be willing to take up such a cross. This is our calling. At the same time, almost all suffering is temporary. The Lord grants relief and comfort in his time.

A preacher tells a story from his childhood. He was raised on a small farm in Alabama. “One hot summer, as an eleven year old boy, I was hoeing corn in a field adjoining a neighbor’s farm. I was overjoyed to see a dark cloud approaching. I knew if it rained I could go to the house!

The rain did come—on the neighbor’s field and right up to the fence between his farm and ours. Only a few drops fell on our field, so I had to keep on hoeing.

I learned a lesson that day that has helped me through many storms of life. A storm cloud ends sometime, somewhere.”


It is true. The storms of life end. There are times of trials and times of rest. We must take both. Do not avoid the trials. Neither avoid the rest. The Lord will give you rest. When it comes enjoy it.


The second term of discipleship is to take up our cross.


[III.] Then Jesus says, “… and follow me.” This is the third term of discipleship. We must follow Jesus to be a disciple of Jesus.


Unless we first commit to denying ourselves and to picking up and carrying our cross, we will be unable to follow him. Oh, we may follow him for a while when everything is fine and dandy. But when trouble comes, we stop following.


 We must follow Jesus persistently.


As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58            And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59           To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60    And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61      Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62   Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” [4]


Anyone who sets out to follow Christ can be sure that many escape routes will loom up before him. He or she will be given numerous opportunities to turn back.  This passage of Scripture relates the account of three would-be disciples who each had a reason not to follow.


The first man may be called Mr. Too-Quick. He enthusiastically volunteered to follow the Lord anywhere. Jesus answers him by telling him that his ministry is such that, as he travels throughout Israel, he will have no place to sleep. He will not even have the privilege of a bird, which at least has a nest to sleep in. In effect, Jesus was asking him, “Are you willing to do without the material comforts of life? Comforts that even foxes and birds have?” The frame of reference to these and other accounts of the cost of discipleship indicate that he was not. We never hear more from this man.


We must be persistent in following the Lord in the face of inconvenience and want.


The necessity of perseverance or persistence in following the Lord is seen in the Parable of the Sower as well. In fact, this is the theme of the whole parable. Some seed falls along the road and is eaten by birds. Some dry up. Some begin to grow but are chocked out by thorns.


Following the Lord calls for persistence.


The fact-only gospel (also termed the forgiveness-only gospel and easy-believism) doesn’t call for actually following Christ. Beware! One must commit to following Christ and actually do so in order to know that we have placed faith in him.


Jesus warns us to beware of leaven. The fact-only gospel is leaven. It leaves out repentance. It leaves out actually following Christ. 


What ought we to do? It is simple. For those who have not yet come to Christ for salvation, give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, believing all that He has accomplished on the cross and that He has risen from the dead. Salvation from sin is available! Then, be his follower!


For those who have come to Christ already, reassess your faith. Are you actually following Christ? If you have never done this, do it today!


Maybe you did it before, but you have gone astray. Maybe you have been seduced by the ways of the world or the call of the flesh. If this is so, then the Lord calls you to repent.


Repentance is the need not only of this hour, but of the whole age! Let us allow time right now for us to reflect on our own faith. For those who need to repent, now is the time!


[Allow time.]


The Lord willing, we will consider the other forms of leaven that are prominent in this age next time (or very soon!).




[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 605.

2 Ibid, 606.

[3] The Voice, NTE, God’s Word translation.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 9:57–62). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.