Matthew 16:1–12 (NKJV, Mark 8:11-21)
16 Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; 3 and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.
Jesus is faced with a challenge to offer a sign that He was truly the Messiah, or the Son of God. This was a lose-lose situation for Christ. If He performed a sign, they would likely accuse Him of sorcery. But without a sign, they would feign unbelief. He had been performing miracles and healing the sick for days, weeks, even months, and they had not believed. Jesus would not be duped into performing a sign simply for the sake of a sign. He responded with a promise that a sign would come, but not at their whim. Rather, they would realize Who He is when He rises from the dead in three days, just as Jonah came out of the great fish in three days.
5 Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 6 Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.”
8 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? 9 Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? 10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The disciples were still not quite spiritually aware. They did not understand some of the things Jesus said without a little help. They were not defiant, but simply clueless. Jesus saw their sincerity and helped them, all the while encouraging them to hear spiritually rather than physically. The disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread for their next meal. When Jesus warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they thought He scolded them for not having bread. He reminded them that He could create bread if necessary, just as He did for the 5000 and the 4000, with plenty left over. He wanted them to understand that the teaching and doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees was the issue, not literal bread.
Jesus saw two different problems with those with whom He came in contact in this passage. First, the Pharisees were arrogant and demanding, defending their religious turf against a newcomer Who sought to change everything. Jesus rebuffed their demands and continued to minister in the way to which He was called. The second problem was His group of loyal followers who simply could not discern His spiritual truth at times and needed a depth of understanding which they did not yet demonstrate. While the density and misunderstanding of the disciples was irritating, Jesus could work with them much better than with the arrogant religious leadership that would reject Him out of hand no matter how great His teaching or how powerful His acts. Even if you are not the most intelligent or the most aware, know that a willing heart and loyalty to God makes you valuable to Him. Arrogance won’t fly with Christ, but a willing heart will warm His.