“Watch Out for False Teaching” (Matthew 16:5-12


Would you eat at a restaurant where you know several people had gotten food poisoning? Would you shop at a bakery when you knew that the owner had previously been convicted of lacing his bread with arsenic? You wouldn’ if you were wise. Several years ago, when I was t, an assistant pastor at a local Evangelical Church, the leadership of that church went on a retreat at a local retreat center in the mountains. Everything was going well, until we returned home and several of the men came down with food poisoning. One was so sick and delirious from dehydration, that he might very well have died if some of his friends hadn’ found him in time t and taken him to the hospital. Now do you suppose that the next time that church planned a retreat, they would want to go back to that same retreat center? Probably not. We tend to stay away from those places where we are more likely to get sick or hurt ourselves. We love ourselves too much to do that. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church” (5:29). It was a standing joke in San Diego that when you went to Tijuana, you needed to avoid the corner taco stands, because you would more than likely contract Montezuma’ revenge. As 20th Century s educated Americans, we are pretty up to date on what makes a person sick, and so we do our best to avoid those things. But do we take the same care when it comes to our souls? People who would never go somewhere where their bodies might be hurt very often go to places that can destroy their souls. Every week, people flock to false churches, sects and cults. Did you know that the Roman Catholic Church now boasts a membership of over 1 billion members, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 11 million, and Jehovah’ Witnesses about 6 million? And there are several s thousand more false religions than these. People are eating up lies like they are going out of style, and as they do, they are just about guaranteeing the eternal destruction of their souls. Which is more important: our bodies or our souls? Jesus told His disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). Our bodies are important, but we need to remember that even if they are killed, God has promised to raise them again to life. But what about our souls? Jesus continues, “Do not fear those who kill the body . . . but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (ibid.). If our bodies are destroyed, they will be raised again. But if our souls are destroyed, we are lost forever. They are infinitely more precious than our bodies, which is why we need to make sure that we take very good care of them by avoiding every error that can destroy them, and by nurturing them in the truth. This is what Jesus says this morning in our passage, where He tells us that we need to watch out for the corrupting influence of false teaching. Now as you will recall from last week, Jesus had just confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees of Magadan for asking for more signs. Even though they had far more than enough evidence to take away all of their excuses for not believing, they still wanted more, hoping that somehow they could use it to discredit Him. But Jesus didn’ give them more. What He did was t point them again to Jonah, the same thing He did earlier to another group of Pharisees, to show them that judgment was coming. He pointed them to the sign that they needed to see, so that they might listen to His warning and repent. But even though Jesus was now through with these Pharisees and Sadducees, there was still something that He wanted to teach His disciples from

2 this encounter, something which their absentmindedness would now provide Him the opportunity to do. Matthew tells us that, after this, they got into a boat and came to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But when they arrived, the disciples made the sad discovery that they had forgotten to bring bread. Maybe they could have taken some of the leftovers from the feeding of the four thousand, or perhaps they simply neglected to buy some before they got into the boat. But for whatever reason, they didn’ have any, or at least had very little (cf. Mark 8:14), and now they t thought they were going to go hungry. But Jesus grabs hold of this situation and uses it as an opportunity to teach these men a valuable lesson. Realizing that they were out of bread, He said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (v. 6). Now it seems that when Jesus said this, the only word they heard was “leaven.” Sometimes when we listen to someone speak, the only words that register in our minds are what happens to be on our minds at that moment, and at this particular moment, what was on their minds was bread. And so the disciples began to say to each other, “Jesus must have said what He said about leaven because we forgot to bring bread with us.” They thought He was chiding them for their forgetfulness. But this wasn’ the case. Jesus wasn’ concerned about the fact that they forgot to bring t t bread. They weren’ in danger of going hungry. And so before Jesus explains what He really t did mean, He first decided to give them a lesson in faith. He said to them, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets you took up?” (vv. 9-10). If the disciples had only thought back over the past few months, and had remembered what Jesus was able to do with only a little bread, they wouldn’ have worried so much about the fact that they t had forgotten to bring any. When Jesus fed the five thousand with the five loaves, they picked up twelve baskets full of what was left over. And when He fed the four thousand with the seven loaves, they picked up seven baskets. Did it really matter that they had forgotten to bring bread? No. What really mattered was that they still weren’ trusting Jesus to take care of their needs. t They were still looking to themselves and to their own resources. I don’ know if you ever think about this, but these kinds of things that the disciples did t can be a real encouragement to us. How many times have we shown this same lack of faith? How many times have we been anxious about whether or not we would be able to keep our jobs, pay the rent, or buy our groceries? How many times have we been sick and wondered whether or not we were going to get well again? And how many times have we looked to ourselves, to the doctors and to other people to meet our needs, before we looked to the Lord? How many times have we done this, knowing that the Lord has always graciously answered our prayers when we have called upon Him? Too many times I think. But notice that we’ not alone. re These men were with Jesus. They even saw His miracles with their own eyes. And yet there were still times when they fell into unbelief. They were sinners just like us, who shared the same nature and had the same temptations that we do. But yet what did Jesus do about it? Did He cast them away? Did He call down fire from heaven to burn them up? No. He was merciful to their weaknesses. He bore with them patiently. And thankfully, by God’ grace, He does the same s with us. Jeremiah writes, “The Lord’ lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions s never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). This doesn’ t excuse our lack of faith, but it does give us comfort knowing that the Lord won’ turn us away t for all our failings.

3 The fact that they had forgotten to bring bread was not the problem. Jesus could easily provide all the bread they needed. What then did Jesus mean? He meant that they should beware of the false doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus continued, “‘ How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (vv. 11-12). Now what exactly was it about their teaching that the disciples needed to avoid? Let’ consider first the teaching of s the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the legalists and ritualists of their day. They believed that salvation came through keeping the Law of Moses. Paul gives us a very good example of the way they thought in his letter to the Philippians through his own personal example. When he was Pharisee, the things that mattered most to him were the outward things: his lineage, his heritage, his zeal, his keeping of the traditions and his good works. He writes, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (3:4-6). As a Pharisee, Paul thought that if he kept the Law and the traditions, that would make him acceptable to God. And so he observed them very carefully. This is what the Pharisees were all about. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the theological liberals of their day. We often think of them as being not very different than the Pharisees, but that isn’ true. I told you last t week that they hated each other, and one of the reasons they did was because they had such different beliefs. The Sadducees were materialists. They believed that only material things were real. They denied the reality of a spiritual world (Acts 23:8). They didn’ believe in angels. t They didn’ believe in spirits of any kind. They believed that whatever the soul was, it died with t the body, therefore they didn’ believe in the resurrection or life after death. This also means that t they didn’ believe in salvation, for there was really nothing to be saved from. t Jesus told His disciples that they must beware of the teachings of these two groups, probably because in His day they were the most serious errors to avoid, and sadly, because they existed in the Old Covenant Church. But what is even sadder is the fact that they still exist in the church today. Therefore we must beware of them as well. The first error we must beware of is that of legalism and traditionalism. Legalism is the belief that somehow what I do will get me into heaven. Traditionalism is very much the same. It is the raising of certain beliefs which are not in the Bible to a level equal with the Bible. If you keep the traditions, God will accept you. If you don’ He won’ Now it is true that we must do t, t. something in order to be saved. We must repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. If we don’ do this, we won’ be saved. But we need to realize at the same time that even if we t t do believe in Jesus, or at least believe that we believe in Him, that nothing we do contributes to our salvation in any way, not even our faith. The Bible says salvation is completely of God’ s grace. It is not of works, that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9). If we begin to trust in our works at all, either to save us, or to keep us in the grace of God, we have become legalists and have fallen into the same heresy that the Pharisees did. If we fall into traditionalism, we are doing the same thing. At the Jerusalem council, one Pharisee attempted to add law-keeping and the keeping of the traditions to the things the believers had to do to be saved. He said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). But did the council agree with him? No. They said it was not necessary. They saw that the Word of God taught against that idea. Paul wrote to the Galatian church, “If you receive circumcision, Christ

4 will be of no benefit to you” (5:2). To turn to works for your salvation in any way is to turn away from Christ. And so I would ask you this morning, Are you trusting in your works to save you? Do you believe that if you come to church without fail, that you will make it to heaven? Do you believe that if you are regular in your Bible reading and in your prayers, and faithful in your giving to the church and to the poor, that God will accept you? Do you look at your faith in Christ as a work that will save you? Do you believe your good works in any way contribute to your salvation? If you do, then stop! None of these things can save you. None of them can add anything to your salvation. Only Christ can save you. Even faith is not a work you can do to save yourself. It is a looking away from all of your own works to Christ’ works for your s acceptance with God. It is the evidence that He has had mercy on you. Your going to church, praying, reading your Bibles and doing good works does not put you or keep you in the grace of God, it only shows that you are already saved by His grace, if you’ doing these things because re you love Him. Your works add absolutely nothing to the perfect work of Christ. If you rely on them at all, then like the Galatians you have fallen away from Christ. Only Christ’ perfect s righteousness can save you. And so if you are trusting in anything else besides Christ this morning, you must put it all aside, and trust in Him alone. We might not be in as much danger of falling into the second error of the Sadducees, but we must still consider it. Sadly, there are many in the main-line denominations who have accepted this view. They no longer believe in the spiritual realm, in angels, in the continuance of the soul after death, in the resurrection or eternal life. Now what is the danger in this? Well, for one thing, if you don’ believe in the immortality of the soul, or in the resurrection, or in the final t judgment and the need to be saved from your sins, then you will never trust in Jesus to save you. If that is the case with any of you this morning, I pray that the Lord will open your eyes and turn you to Himself, before it is too late. But I hope you realize that Jesus isn’ warning us only against these two heresies, but t against all false teaching. It’ true that some false doctrines may only cripple us, but others can s destroy us. None of it is good for us. Even small doses of poison, though they may not kill us, can still hurt us. And so we must beware. We must keep our eyes and ears open. We must stay away from those denominations, sects and cults that serve doctrinal poison. We must judge all things by the touch stone of Scripture as the Bereans, reject everything that is bad, and hold fast to everything that is good. May the Lord use this exhortation as a reminder to us this morning that we must keep watch at all times. And may the Lord by His grace keep us from embracing and holding onto any teaching that is harmful to us or to the body of Christ. Amen.

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