I began looking for a church yesterday, a topic I will discuss fully in another post. Today, I simply share a quick thought from yesterday’s sermon.
The preacher hopped around the gospels and was pointing out ways people try to put God in a box. His points were sound and he did a fine job explaining himself. Yet, what caught my attention was not a main point. Instead, my mind was snagged by an aside he made during his treatise.
In his gospel, Matthew (16:5-12) details a particular trip taken by Jesus and the disciples. It was right after one of the many times where Jesus confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees. In this particular instance, they wanted him to produce signs to prove himself.
Jesus and the disciples leave and on the way to their next destination Jesus warns the disciples to avoid the “leaven” of the Pharisees. Before we go further, understand that Jesus is speaking figuratively about leaven. Leaven was an ingredient put into bread that caused it to rise and become fluffy. So, it was a substance that, when mixed into the dough, spread around it and changed the whole loaf. The warning from Jesus was not about real leaven, but the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” a term he was using to discuss their teaching.
However, for whatever reason, they misinterpret this. Instead of catching Christ’s reference to the event that had just taken place, they are reminded of the fact that they did not bring any bread for their trip. This causes discussion and worry to ensue and they begin to wonder what they will do without food. At this turn of events, Jesus rebukes their lack of faith and calls recent events to memory. He reminds them of the miraculous feedings which took place a couple of chapters earlier. He then explains that his statement was not about literal bread but about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
In times past, I have approached this little story in the gospel as another look at Jesus’ thoughts on the Pharisees. I have seen the warning provided against their teaching and found the application of this passage in that. “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” are Christ’s words on the issue. Today, we must beware the legalism and cultural religion that blinds people to a true understanding of the gospel. That has always been my application of these words. Indeed, that application is right and true, and perhaps the main idea in the passage, but those are not the only words of advice that Jesus provides in this passage.
This passage speaks as a warning against misguided religious teaching, but it also serves as a brilliant example of the human condition. In this story we see humans being humans. We see them struggling with an issue that plagues us all. Christ’s first point comes in the form of a proposition. “Watch and beware,” he says. His second point comes in the form of a question. “Do you not remember…?” he asks.
Not two chapters before this story, Matthew tells of a miraculous event that took place. Thousands were in the wilderness listening to Christ (5000 men, not including the women and children, to be exact) and as night began to fall, the people needed food. The disciples witnessed as Christ met the needs of every single person there in abundance. They watched him take a combo meal’s worth of fish and bread and turn it into a feast for upwards of 20,000 people.
Can you imagine that moment? When it was all said and done, each disciple was standing there holding their own basket overflowing with leftovers, for their were exactly 12 baskets left.
It gets crazier though. Jesus did not do this once. He did it twice. Just one chapter later, Matthew tells us of how he fed 4000 people (again only counting the men) the same way.
God’s miraculous provision was made manifest to these men in the most tangible way possible. Nothing could have been a more concrete picture of the fact that God has the power to provide and that he will. Now, a chapter later, they are alone with Christ fretting because they forgot to pack a lunch.
Oh how easily we forget past moments of blessing when we are staring at a new challenge.
This is part of the human condition. It is built into our fallen nature that we would lose sight of the obvious. That we would soon forget the good. How long did it take Israel to forget all the many miracles of deliverance from Egypt and build an idol of gold? How long did it take Elijah to run for his life after seeing God’s miraculous fire come down from heaven and consume that altar? How long did it take the disciples to start worrying about food after they saw Jesus feed a multitude?
Not long at all.
If I am honest, I have been worrying a lot lately. I have no job, no home, and no real direction to life. Now that I am in North Carolina, these things are more apparent than ever. What is more, as I learn about the work that stands in front of me concerning a PhD, I wonder how it is even possible to do it and provide for myself at the same time. In my heart, I, like so many who have stood in this place, begin to doubt God’s providence and provision. I would never say it out loud. I would never say, “I don’t think God can or will fix this.” But am I living my life as though I believe that statement?
Here is the ridiculous part of this. Two years ago, I stepped off a plane in Africa to the most unnerving sense of worry I have ever felt. I was in a place where I did not know anyone, could not speak the language, and had none of the basic amenities I had come to think of as necessities. I knew I would be in this dark place for a long time. Men with machine guns walked me from the runway through the passport lines and sent me out the door of the concrete box they called an airport into the arms of some man I had never met.
Three months ago, I boarded a plane to leave that place. The airport is no longer a concrete box, but a beautiful white building. I walked through lines cutting up with the attendants in their own language. There were no men with guns to see me onto my plane. And as I stood at the door to my plane, I looked back with tear-filled eyes at a place I did not want to leave.
God does the miraculous around us all the time. Often, it is something big. These moments stand as milestones in our life. They are road signs that point to God’s mighty hand. Yet, as soon as God proves his power and love in one moment, we forget it the very next time we are up against something.
It reassures me that those who physically walked with Jesus while he was on earth did the same thing. But we cannot let this passage stop at reassuring us. Heed the words of Christ to his disciples.
Remember those moments.