And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” – Mark 8:15

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I’ve always felt that the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of the Saducees that Jesus warned about were pretty straight-forward.  Watch out for the legalism and false religion of the Pharisees and watch out for the liberal Saducees who liked questioning the authority of scripture.  However, I often wondered what Jesus meant when he seemed to randomly tell his disciples to beware of the leaven of Herod.   What did he mean by that?

Herod, A.K.A. “Herod the Great”, was the Roman King over Judea.  His nickname, The Great, came from his supposed legacy of being a madman who was responsible for the murder of religious leaders and in some cases his own family members (including his own wife and two of his sons).  He’s also credited with large building projects during his time and most notably his expansion of the temple in Jerusalem – Herod’s temple.   From scripture, particularly Matthew Chapter 2, we find Herod tangled in a scandalous strategy.  He was requesting for his chief priests and scribes to locate the newborn Messiah – Jesus.  His intent, he claimed was to locate the messiah, “so that I too may go and worship him.” In the end, this wasn’t his goal at all.  His fear of being usurped by this new King of the Jews, motivated him to locate Jesus with the intention of killing him. That story alone tells us about the mindset of Herod.  We also know from history that Herod’s family had largely converted to Judasim, yet he was questioned on his own commitment to the faith.  Although he considered himself a devout Jew, his devotion may have been undermined by his association with a political party that was known for it’s hedonistic and luxurious lifestyle, The Herodians.

Here’s a brief description of the Herodians from Wikipedia:

“The Herodians were a sect or party mentioned in the New Testament as having on two occasions — once in Galilee, and again in Jerusalem — manifested an unfriendly disposition towards Jesus (Mark 3:6, 12:13; Matthew 22:16; cf. also Mark 8:15, Luke 13:31-32, Acts 4:27).

In each of these cases their name is coupled with that of the Pharisees. According to many interpreters the courtiers or soldiers of Herod Antipas (“Milites Herodis,” Jerome) are intended; but more probably the Herodians were a public political party, who distinguished themselves from the two great historical parties of post-exilian Judaism (Pharisees and Sadducees) by the fact that they were and had been sincerely friendly to Herod the Great, the King of the Jews, and to his dynasty (cf. such formations as “Caesariani,” “Pompeiani”).”

If we had to draw some conclusions about the lifestyle of Herod, it would be that he was a religiously devout man that played both sides of the fence.  He was supposedly devout in his faith, yet he associated with political powers that in reality muddied the waters and corrupted his faith.  Ultimately, political power may have been to blame for his anti-Christ sentiment.

I can’t help but see this same irony that currently plays itself out on the public stage in America.   According to the article above “Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum appeared at the same Georgia church on consecutive Sundays.”  If you look at the content of what Newt Gingrich spoke about, what you’ll find is a political message being delivered to a church, wrapped loosely in a side note about personal redemption.  Here’s an excerpt from his “sermon”:

“Saudi Arabia allows no open worship by Christians or Jews, period, and then lectures us. And we don’t today in our elites have the nerve to stand up and say this is baloney. We are not going to have a one-sided offensive against our civilization in which we’re supposed to accept defeat, we’re supposed to accept humiliation, and we’re supposed to accept the death of our young men and women, and we have to accept those who are killing us? I don’t think so,” said Gingrich.

“I don’t come here as a religious leader and I don’t come here as a saint. I come here as a citizen who has had a life that at times has fallen short of the glory of God who has had to seek God’s forgiveness and had to seek reconciliation,” he said at First Redeemer. “And I speak to you as a citizen while I’m in the pulpit, for today I’m not speaking as a religious leader, I’m speaking as a citizen.”

I can’t help but think that if Jesus was still walking the earth today that he would have entered this service and turned over every table in the foyer that contained voter registration forms, and voter information fliers.  Of course, I’m not sure that voter registration forms were on tables in their lobbies (although they probably were – LOL), but I say that to reinforce the similarity between this story and the biblical story from Matthew Chapter 21.  To keep it all in context, we have to understand that the chapter begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem to make his triumphant entry.  He was fulfilling what was prophesied about beforehand by the prophet Zechariah 9:9

“9Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

So, here we have Christ making his grand entrance into Jerusalem as the KING of the Jews.  Followed shortly by his entrance to the temple only to find the money changers ripping off God’s people in the church.  They were currency exchanging people’s Roman dollars for the Jewish temple tax, because Jewish authorities would only take Hebrew money for the temple tax.  In addition, they were selling doves to people for their sacrifices.  Of course each of the above financial exchanges were done for a profit, and it’s believed that exorbinant rates were charged for each transaction.  When Jesus saw what was happening he turned over their tables, and drove them away from the temple.  He said, quoting scripture from the Old Testament, “13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[f]”  After that he went on doing the work that should take place in the church: “14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.”

The takeaway?  We should never make God’s house into anything that does not place Christ at the center of it.  Psalm 118 says:

“8  It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.”

Jesus himself was twice confronted with the temptation of political power.  Both times he rejected them.  The first and most astonishing story often overlooked comes from John Chapter 6.  After Jesus feeds the thousands the people are astonished at his power.  The following is what takes place:  ” 14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

The second time occurs when Jesus is tempted by the devil himself in the wilderness:  ”

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]

This too points to the problems we face when the church constantly bends, stretches, compromises, and casually questions the authority of scripture.   Instead of seriously confronting the example of Christ in scripture, and how he viewed political power, we question it.  We make up excuses that justify our own personal convictions.  We find reasons to say that the leaven(sin) of Herod is okay, as long as we don’t “take it too far”.

The bottom line is that our one and only hope rests in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the one that saves, not Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or Barack Obama.  It’s not about how the elites in Washington DC handle Syria, Afghanistan, or the economy.  It’s about how Jesus came to fix a broken world that was lost in sin and hopeless.  There is no political system or strategy that can fix sin.  No man made system can defeat the devil.  There’s no economic or political system that can remedy the greed of Capitalism, or the shortcomings of Socialism.  It’s not about Conservativism vs. Liberalism vs. Secularism, as people who preach the gospel of politics often tell us.  There is no perfect solution for jump starting the economy, bringing back all of the jobs lost overseas, or providing inexpensive healthcare.  No political leader is perfect and none of them have solutions to all of the worlds problems.  That is why Jesus warned the disciples and us about being influenced by the leaven(sin) of Herod.  The moment the church trades in it’s greatest hope (Jesus) for political power is the very moment that it’s doomed.  Here’s a great quote by author John Seel:

“A politicized faith not only blurs our priorities, but weakens our loyalties. Our primary citizenship is not on earth but in heaven. … Though few evangelicals would deny this truth in theory, the language of our spiritual citizenship frequently gets wrapped in the red, white and blue. Rather than acting as resident aliens of a heavenly kingdom, too often we sound [and act] like resident apologists for a Christian America. … Unless we reject the false reliance on the illusion of Christian America, evangelicalism will continue to distort the gospel and thwart a genuine biblical identity….”

In reality, there is only one King who has the power to change things.  His way is contrary to every popular social science bible, and political strategists manual.  He changes the world by changing the hearts and minds of people.