This is the word of the Lord.
Matthew 16:1–12 ESV
1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 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. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 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.
Brothers and sisters, today morning I want to talk to you about knowledge and its significance in the life of the Christian. But not all knowledge is innocent, and you must be a discerning folk who can distinguish truth from deceit.
And I want to advocate a kind of thirst for knowledge that has a strong caution for the kind of knowledge being gathered.
The Case for the Mind
Beloved, theology matters! The one message that I’ve found myself teaching time and again, for several years now, ever since we planted this church (and it shows no sign of letting up), is the subject that ‘Theology’ matters.
Too many preachers in our time have taken to the pulpit to condemn the “theological” and “doctrinal” approach to the Bible and to spirituality. Most of them suggest an experiential and emotional approach to drawing near to God devoid of the intellect.
This is a fundamental denial of how we were made. God did not make machines or puppets, he made men and women after his own image. And as such, we are a people in every way, who think before we act.
Without thought there is no action. It might be poor thought, weak thought, insensitive thought, sinful thought, sane thought or insane thought, or even lazy thought; but without the component of thought there is no action. Our bodies do not move devoid of thought.
Even your involuntary actions are a result of extremely fast thought. If I pretended to strike you and your hands shot up involuntarily in defence, and I asked you why did you lift your hand? You would say, “I thought you were going to hit me.”
An impulsive person does things with little thought, not no thought. Desire is never purely experiential, it involves the mind.
Therefore, as Christians, does it not follow for us that the best of experiences await us if we are biblically thought out. If our actions are always stemming from our thoughts, then why are thoughts devoid of biblical theology or doctrine trustworthy.
Romans 12:2 ESV
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Philippians 4:8 ESV
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Everything we know about Christ and Christianity comes from the Bible. Unlike the Catholics, we do not believe that the oral traditions that are passed down are inspired of God like the written word of God is.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The very existence of the Bible in that sense is a defence of the Mind. Without thought, one cannot read the Bible.
The Case for the Spirit
But I stand before you today holding fast to that message, but to warn you at the same time to beware doctrines. To beware the things that take a hold of your mind. We, as a church of the reformed tradition, have a certain level of intellectual rigour because of our commitment to expository preaching.
It matters to us if a sentence is in the present or future tense, if the word is singular or plural, and we take note of every conjunction and put circles around every ‘therefore’ because we know there’s a cause and effect there in the text.
However, being intellectually thorough does not necessarily mean that we are right about everything we believe in. And so often, we forget that apart from the grace of God in the Holy Spirit, we can never learn truth.
John 16:13 ESV
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,
Those who are born-again are born of water and spirit (John 3:5). They worship the Lord is in spirit and in truth.
John 4:24 ESV
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The Case for the Spiritual Mind
I’ve often mentioned how the world wants to separate the spiritual from the intellectual, and I find this a terrible misunderstanding. When Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit whom he would send, this is what he said,
John 16:13 ESV
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
It is the task of the Spirit to touch your intellect. True spirituality always begins at the mind. Anything that bypasses the mind is not satisfying and is of the enemy. Consider the minds of all those who had an encounter with God in the Bible.
Christianity is not mindless, it is mindful.
Hosea 4:6 ESV
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
Proverbs 1:7 ESV
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 9:10 ESV
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Knowledge is key, and those who fear the LORD are not without it.
But unbridled knowledge can bring spiritual insensitivity, and such insensitivity is a ground ripe for pride to grow.
1 Corinthians 8:1–3 ESV
1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
- The Corinthians were known to say that “all of us possess knowledge”. Kind of like how I just said that we as a church are intellectually rigorous.
But there is a sense in which such “knowledge” puffs up and is not useful for building up anybody.
- True knowledge is not without love or affection, it is a product of love. Knowledge begins with the fear and love of the Lord.
Just as there are many Christians who deny the need for the intellect, there are many intellectual Christians who deny knowledge according to love. And today’s sermon is a warning against both.
The Holy Spirit is not running a race against the word of God. They are united as one. They never contradict each other. To be spiritual is to be biblical, and to be biblical, is to be spiritual.
Matthew 16:1 ESV
1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
- This is not the first time that the Pharisees have asked for a sign. In fact, Jesus was asked this same questions, and he gave this same response of the sign of Jonah to the Pharisees in
Matthew 12:38–39 ESV
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.When we looked at that portion, I made reference to Matthew 16 as well.
- J.C Ryle points out how it is encouraging for us to see that Jesus repeated himself more than we realise. At many occasions, Jesus probably gave the same kind of response. Jesus’ ministry was probably full of repetition and reiteration of the same points over and over again. That true spiritual effectiveness is not found in being novel, but in repeating orthodoxy over and over again.
- But here we see another miracle. The rival factions of the Pharisees and the Sadducees have come together against Jesus.
The Pharisees were the conservative party and the Sadducees were the liberals. The Pharisees observed the law and held fast to the Jewish tradition passed down by their ancestors. The Sadducees on the other hand were more aristocratic and did not care for Rabbinic traditions, they mingled with the Greek culture far more and did not believe in angels, immortality, the resurrection of the dead or anything supernatural.”
These divisions among the Pharisees and Sadducees were no small debate. Yet, at this instance they are united.
How often can we see enemies unite in their common hatred against the cross?
- A sign from heaven – They wanted to see a sign in the skies, something greater than what they’ve already been seeing.
This was a challenge, a test and not a genuine request. The sin of man is that we are unwilling to accept the hand of God before our eyes, and want signs according to our standard.
We want God to raise his game to meet our “elevated” minds.
Matthew 16:2–3 ESV
2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 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.
- Jesus’ answer here is so revealing of the true state of our affairs. And after over 2000 years, some things are ever the same.
Jesus points out their astute observations of the weather and uses that to shame their ignorance of the observation of the signs of the times.
- The Signs of the Times can be interpreted – A lot of us do interpret the signs of the times, so did the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It’s just that their interpretation was poor. They had knowledge but knowledge according to proper understanding.
- These religious leaders in their primitive knowledge of the weather knew more than they knew about religion.
As John MacArthur points out, our knowledge of the world often makes a mockery of our knowledge of God. We know far more of the world (of poitics, of culture, of fashion, of entertainment, of sports, of technology, of the stars, of the weather) than we know of Christ.
- We are constantly in the business of interpreting the world around us, but our interpretation of the world is a mockery of our inability to first interpret the Bible. We accumulate a lot of knowledge but how do we know that we believe rightly.
Matthew 16:4 ESV
4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
- These Jewish leaders had enough information before them that their desire for a sign was a disregard of all that God had already revealed before their eyes.
- The sign of Jonah – the cross & resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- So he left them and departed –
Matthew 16:5–12 ESV
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 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.
- The reason the disciples were rebuked was not because they were a simple minded people, but because they were a worldly minded. We often get this confused. They did not miss the point that Jesus was making because they accidentally took him too literally when he used the word ‘leaven’, but because their minds were still concerned about how they would get their next meal.
- When you say you’re a simple man, what do you mean? Many simple men have extremely complicated views on many things under the sun, whether it’s politics, media or their neighbours.
Rarely are we ever so innocent.
- Beware of the leaven – We are called to beware not baked false doctrines but the very leaven of false doctrines. A little leaven then would leaven the whole lump.