Dearly beloved saints of Covenant of Grace,
It was a joy and encouragement to be with you as we learned and worshipped together this past Lord’s Day, gathering for our various Sunday School classes and then turning again to Hebrews and 1 Samuel in our morning and evening services.  What a blessing it is to be able to open the very Word of God to receive much needed instruction, correction, edification, and more.  It is by His Word, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that we are brought from spiritual death to life.  It is by His Word that we’re to live every day of our lives – filtering, as it were, all that we think, see, hear, say, and do through Scripture.  It is by His Word that we’re guarded against deadly error and led in paths of righteousness, the end of which is life everlasting in the house of the Lord.  I was reminded of this recently as my family read through Matthew 16 during our nightly time of worship.
In Matthew 16:5-12, the Lord Jesus warns His disciples against a dangerous poison that has the capacity to damage and destroy people’s souls.  In verse 6, we read that, “Jesus said to them, ‘Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’”  It is an image He elsewhere uses in a positive sense, saying the kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which starts out small, but which, by slow and steady growth, comes to fill the world (cf. Matt 13:33).  In Matthew 16, His disciples were convinced that He was talking about literal bread, being concerned that they hadn’t brought anything to eat, in spite of His having already fed thousands with just a bit of food.  But, neither of these things are in view at this time.  Rather, as the passage goes on to show, “He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:12).  Here then, the Lord Jesus warns against allowing the dangerous, poisonous leaven of false teaching to take hold and spread in among His people.
In the first place, He warns against the false teaching of the Pharisees.  In short, their teaching can be summarized by the often misunderstood and misused term, “legalism.”  Legalism is not, as it is often asserted, a call to carefully obey God’s perfect Law.  The proper term for diligent obedience to the Law of the Lord isn’t legalism but holiness, and it is well pleasing in the sight of God.  Legalism, on the other hand, refers to man-made additions to and distortions of the Law of God.  It claims to be seeking to honor the Lord by adding a “protective fence” of rules around the perimeter of the Word, just to make sure no one crosses the line into sin.  What it actually does in practice is to reduce the awesome, soul and heart searching, all of life encompassing Word of God down to a manageable checklist of rules, which, when one has checked all boxes, allows a person to conclude that he is an upright man in the sight of God.  Thus, in claiming to honor the Law of God it actually degrades that Law and loses sight of the weightiest matters – namely, love for God and man in the heart, producing a life of willing obedience in not just certain listed areas, but in every area and at all times.  And, the proper defense against such legalism is a close acquaintance with the Word of God, in order that we might be warned in our love for Him and sharpened in our understanding of what He does and does not require of His people – seeking always to be more closely conformed to the Word in every way.  This is a level of holiness to which those who fall into the snare of legalism can never attain, as it replaces heartfelt and zealous obedience to the Law of the Lord with an either soul-crushing or pride-producing pursuit of a list of man’s rules.  Therefore, the false teaching of the Pharisees is extremely dangerous, and Jesus warns against it.
Then, in the second place, He warns the The false teaching of the Sadducees.  Perhaps the best shorthand summary of their teaching would be the word, “liberalism,” or, “progressivism.”  Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees were all too willing to compromise the true doctrines of Scripture in order to align with more “modern” and culturally acceptable beliefs.  They sought the favor of the occupying Roman regime.  They denied and explained away basic biblical truths like the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels.  They wouldn’t be pinned down by any kind of rigid adherence to that old book to which others still clung, claiming it to be the inspired Word of God.  Modern examples aren’t hard to find, indeed, they seem to be everywhere today.  Those who, claiming to reject legalism, but actually rejecting holiness, insist that the Lord’s mercy means we’re no longer accountable to His law and called to submit ourselves to it.  Those who laugh at the idea of literal, six day creation.  Those who  mock the ideas of Christs’ virgin birth and resurrection.  Those who effectively cut out the basic natural order that is woven throughout Scripture in order to suit modern ears that love to be ticked – saying that Christianity is compatible with such things as feminism, homosexuality, and transgenderism.  Those who are quick to call others judgmental for promoting earnest obedience to the Word of God, while themselves refusing to be called to account to for turning God’s grace into a license to sin.  The only defense against such insanity is again a close, personal acquaintance with the Word of God.  Without this, we are open to all kinds of manipulation by those who, like the devil himself, may know some of what the Word says, but mange to entirely miss what it means.  Like the Pharisees, the teaching of the Sadducees is a deadly poison, and Christ warns us to guard against it.
Therefore, let us be like the Bereans of old, who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things they were hearing were indeed according to what God had spoken (cf. Acts 17:11).  Let us not consider the importance of right doctrine, or the danger of false doctrine, to be a small thing.  Our proper understanding of the character the Lord Himself, of His great works, of our own selves, of our salvation, of our future hope, and of how we’re to live in the present begins and ends with coming into ever-closer alignment with what our God has revealed in His Word.  Let us see that we not view this as a secondary matter or something to be reserved for days, “when I have enough time.”  Let us make time.  Let us examine the Word, even as we let it examine us.  Let us be those who, refusing every attempt to add to or take away from the Word, can truly say, “O how love Thy law!  It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119:97).
In Christ,
Pastor Eric
Join us for the prayer meeting each Wednesday in the Fellowship Hall.  Dinner is served at 6:00pm, followed by a brief lesson and a time of prayer at 6:30.  Or, join us for prayer each Thursday at 10:30am in the adult Sunday School room.
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