The Leaven of Herod
“Hey, I know the Apostle Paul said “love is kind,” and I’m always eager to obey the Word but, some folks really put me to the test.”
Last Sunday, Valentine’s Day, I sat in the back of the church as my son preached a really solid, really Biblical presentation of the meaning of the word love––from God’s perspective. I was blessed, I was challenged, and I was in complete agreement with his most excellent teaching. He finished his message with a read through of 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter that is without doubt the definitive presentation of the concept of love from our Father’s perspective. As he walked us down through the brilliant presentation of the various facets of real love I was filled with admiration at how well Bryan has developed his craft. Then, the Word did what the Word is supposed to do. It touched me in a place that I would have preferred not to be touched.
I realize that even after more than sixty years of being a Christian and fifty years of ministry, the Word of God can still find blind spots in my heart. The Holy Spirit can deftly put His omniscient finger right on the spot in my character that is not fully surrendered to His Lordship. Just when I am feeling that I am finally approaching a new level nearer to “perfection,” He leads me to a place where I cannot hide.
As Bryan was walking us down through the various levels of Paul’s teaching on what love is and what it is not he said these words, “Love is kind.” An “amen” was on the tip of my tongue when the Holy Spirit pressed his finger on my lips and made me shut up and listen. Bryan went on to say, “You can speak truth and not be kind. You can be right, and not be kind.” It was at this moment that I realized that it was no longer my son who was speaking to me, but the Holy Spirit.
Between my blog site, social media, and speaking in various venues I have the opportunity to influence a lot of people. In those moments at the end of my son’s sermon, I realized that I am as a rule, far more concerned about being “right” than being kind; far more focused on speaking truth than showing kindness. It was in those moments that I realized that in the world we live in right now, there is not a lot of kindness shown which has resulted in a lot of wounded hearts that have internalized deep, deep bitterness and anger. The atmosphere around us is bathed in accusation, shaming, name-calling, dismissal and cancellation.
“But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:15 ESV)
Paul’s warning is coming to pass in our generation. And, it’s not just happening in the unbelieving, pagan world––it is happening in the church. I am not by nature an unkind person. I care very deeply for the wounded, the isolated, the abandoned and hurting. Yet, I have found my speech becoming more and more acerbic and biting. This is what the Lord spoke to me.
“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (Mark 8:15 ESV)
I have been preaching for over fifty years and very acutely aware that Jesus warned his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. These hyper-religious, hyper-critical, judgmental hypocrites feature prominently in the gospels. Their stern disdain for any who appear to be less “spiritual” than they cast a long shadow over the lives of the men of Jesus day. They were not spiritual; they lived a pretense of spirituality. They were self-righteous, proud, and wickedly dishonest. Jesus says, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.”
Leaven is often used in the scriptures as a type of sin. We see how the tiniest bit of leaven in a lump of dough can spread to fill the whole loaf and pump it up. This is such a clear analogy––it would be difficult for the simplest among us not to understand.
Why then, had I not taken notice of the second phrase that Jesus uttered, “beware the leaven of Herod?” Driving home last Sunday, that phrase lit up in my spirit like a billboard on Times Square. If the leaven of the Pharisees is about religion, then the leaven of Herod must be about government (politics). Herod was a puppet king in Judah, a vile man who pretended honesty and integrity but was filled with corruption. He was a man who sought to destroy any who might be a political enemy or who might challenge his authority. His great grandfather sought to kill the baby Jesus in Bethlehem and this Herod killed John the Baptist.
It was in the midst of these thoughts that I came to a sad conclusion. The church of this generation has been sorley infected with the leaven of Herod. We speak more of Donald Trump than we speak of Jesus (Whether we love him or hate him). We live as if we believe that a politician can save our nation and protect the church. We seek the destruction of our enemies. Our language is filled with anger, bitterness, and dismissiveness––ever as much as those we see as political opponents. We use religious words, but they are words that are completely devoid of any kindness or gentleness. The leaven of Herod has spread throughout the church, Republicans and Democrats alike, progressives or conservatives, Trumpers or never-Trumpers––we have all become the same; puffed up with the leaven of Herod.
In ancient Israel, as the Passover approached, the Jews were commanded to remove all the leaven from their house. I suggest that we do the same lest it puff us up beyond redemption.
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