In Mark 8:15, Jesus says, “Watch out; beware of . . . the leaven of Herod.” He is not talking about the kind of bread that was served to Herod; rather, He is warning His disciples against a kind of unbelief that Herod typifies in this section. There are two ingredients to it.
The first is taking an interest in Jesus without going back to the source. In Mark 6:14–16, Herod organizes a discussion on Jesus, where many views were collected and confronted. Some people said that Jesus was somehow connected to John the Baptist. Others said that He was Elijah, while still others said He was a prophet.
Notice that all these views contain an element of truth, but none contains the whole truth. Herod led the discussion as if he were an experienced facilitator. He listened to different views and ended up upholding his own particular conviction: Jesus is John the Baptist resurrected. Instead of going to the source, to Jesus Himself, he was happy to confirm his own opinion. He was interested in Jesus, but not to the point of going to Him and asking, “Who are You?” His conclusion was therefore misleading and wrong.
Even today, many are interested in religious things. They have a supermarket religion in which they take what they like and reject the rest, without going to Scripture to learn what Christianity is.
The second ingredient for the kind of unbelief that Herod typified is an attraction to what God says without the willingness to repent. Look at Herod’s behavior. He often went to John the Baptist and listened to him attentively. He feared John and had a high regard for him. He seemed willing to listen when John spoke the truth. Herod was perplexed. On the one hand, he wanted to listen. On the other hand, he did not want to change; he went back to his immoral lifestyle. He was attracted, but he did not want to change.
Unbelief brings with it a complex psychology. Many people are willing to listen to the gospel. They might even agree with many things that the gospel points out. But when it comes to repentance, to changing their lifestyle, they stop.
The claims of the gospel are radical: repentance means abandoning our sinful ways and discovering new ways of living that are holy. Repentance means leaving sin, confessing it, being sorry for it, and wanting to learn how to please God and to love one’s neighbor.
Many men and women respect God’s people and want to listen to them. But when it comes to repentance, they shut the door. The leaven of Herod wants self-realization rather than repentance; it looks for ways of self-affirmation rather than self-denial.
Herod wanted to know Jesus, but on his own terms and without turning to Him as the definitive source. Herod wanted to listen to John, but on his own terms and without repenting. Watch out for the leaven of Herod.