Tens of thousands of people are gathered and trampling upon one another to hear Jesus. Jesus warns them to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees. In Aramaic ‘yeast’ and ‘words’ are homographs. Homographs are words with the same spelling and sound but with different meanings. When Jesus says beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, he is warning people to beware of their words and teaching. The yeast then is the corrupting teaching of the Pharisees that is hypocrisy.
A hypocrite in Greek was literally a person who wore a mask in the theatre. The Pharisees are hypocrites because their outward appearance is at odds with their inner dispositions. As followers of Jesus we must avoid wearing masks because a judgment day is coming where God will expose covered things, hidden things and private whispers.
What motivates people to be hypocrites? The answer is fear – fear of man. We want social advancement, acceptance and the benefits that come from this. We fear that if we are rejected by man then our comfort will suffer in some way e.g. we won’t get the job promotion. Jesus warns us that instead of hypocrisy and the fear of man we should fear God the true judge who has power of life and death, heaven and hell.
But doesn’t this mean that we will suffer loss? If we no longer wear a mask, won’t we suffer rejection and lack regarding our needs? According to Jesus, this is not the case. He points to God’s care of sparrows and the fact that God has numbered the hairs on our head (a way of indicating preservation). We do not need to wear a mask, fearing man for our needs but rather we fear God who lovingly meets our needs.
The final encouragement and exhortation relate to how a fear of man leads to a public denial of Christ before others. To deny Christ before men is to face Christ denying us on judgement day before the angels. Conversely, to acknowledge Christ before men will result in Christ acknowledging us before the angels on that Day. Nor do we need to be anxious when testifying to Christ before men because the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say.
So this periscope is teaching us to not to wear a mask in fear of men but rather to live openly before God who will expose all things, provides for our needs and before whom we will be acknowledged by Christ.