Struggling with Unbelief

By Mark D. Roberts

October 18, 2016

“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

Mark 8:15


bread-1567875_640In Mark 8:11, the Pharisees began questioning Jesus: “To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.” Even though Jesus had been doing plenty of miracles, apparently he had not satisfied the Pharisaic demand for a true sign from God.

Later, when he was with his disciples in a boat on the lake, Jesus said to them, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” (8:15). By now, we’re not surprised to discover that the disciples didn’t get Jesus’ point. They began to argue about real bread or the lack of it.

I want to step in and defend the disciples here. Jesus’s statement about the “yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” is not altogether easy to decipher. “Yeast” or “leaven,” literally speaking, was something added to bread dough to cause it to rise. But obviously Jesus was not referring to the baking practices of the Pharisees and Herod. Elsewhere in the Gospels, yeast can stand for “teaching” (Matt 16:12) or “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Like actual yeast, the false teaching and false living of the Pharisees can permeate and transform all of life. But what would be the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod?

Herod, as you may recall, appeared in Mark 6, a story focused mainly on the death of John the Baptist. In that account, Herod Antipas, when he heard about Jesus, thought that he was John the Baptist come back from the dead (Mark 6:16). Herod was obviously impressed by Jesus, yet he did not believe in him or his message of the kingdom of God.

So, the “yeast” common to both the Pharisees and Herod is unbelief. They were unwilling to accept the good news of the kingdom. Though struck by Jesus’ power, they were not willing to believe in him. The “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod, therefore, is a lack of faith in God and God’s work in Jesus.

Do you find this “yeast” in your life? Do you struggle with unbelief? Are there times when you wish you could trust God, but for some reason you aren’t able to do so? Perhaps the following questions and prayer will help you with your “yeast.”


Does the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod ever infect your life?

When do you struggle most with unbelief? Why?

What helps you to grow in your trust in Jesus?


Lord Jesus, I heard your warning today as a word to me. I need to beware of the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod. I need to watch out for unbelief.

My problem, Lord, is not unbelief in the largest sense. I do trust you as my Savior. I have put my life in your hands. So the biggest questions of faith have been answered in your favor.

But I struggle to trust you, Lord, with other things. Will you guide my life so that I might flourish in my work? Will you provide the needed funding so my work can continue? Will you bless my family, keeping them safe? With these and so many other things I can have a hard time trusting you. Forgive me, Lord. Help me to have full confidence in you about everything! Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Hope for Doubters

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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