The Lesson of the Leaven
Today I'd like to talk about a very short parable that provides a very great amount of information about spiritual life.
I. Parables about the Kingdom
Jesus also used this illustration: 'The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.'
- Matthew 13:33
Luke also recounts this parable in much the same way, not adding much information. This parable in both Matthew and Luke is included in a group of parables about the kingdom. The word parable meant to "lay alongside" or to compare.
The idea was to tell a story or teaching about something seen and experienced in order to explain something that was unseen, spiritual in nature. The way things worked in the story about material objects reflected or paralleled the way unseen or spiritual things worked in the heavenly realm.
This is why Jesus begins with the words, "The kingdom of heaven is like…" because He is trying to explain in physical terms spiritual entity. Basically He says that this spiritual thing called - the kingdom of heaven - is like, functions like, this physical thing called leaven. Now understand that He didn't say that the kingdom of heaven was only like leaven. Jesus gave many parables in an effort to describe this heavenly kingdom. And each of the parables explained or highlighted a particular feature or aspect of the kingdom of heaven.
Now we don't have the time to study every teaching and every parable about the kingdom of heaven in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together so that we can get a complete picture of what Jesus was referring to when He talked about this. So let me summarize what the Lord meant when He talked about the kingdom of heaven and then we'll make an application about this particular parable in Matthew.
II. The Kingdom of Heaven
When Jesus spoke of the kingdom He was not referring to a geographical dominion. For Example:
- The United Kingdom (Britain)
- The Babylonian Kingdom (Iraq) - The word, kingdom, when used by Jesus meant sovereignty or rule or royal power of God.
- The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven or simply the "kingdom", in the Bible, referred to God's rulership.
- Therefore the kingdom exists wherever God's authority and sovereignty are present and recognized.
In heaven God's kingdom exists and is recognized by the spiritual beings that exist there - angelic beings, etc. Lucifer was an angel who refused this authority and the Bible says that he, and those who followed him in rebellion were cast down from heaven (II Peter 2:4; Jude 6). When Jesus prayed, He prayed that God's kingdom come, God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven - Matthew 6:10.
- God's kingdom and will are one and the same.
- Jesus came to bring the "kingdom" or the "rulership of God" here on earth because men had rebelled against God through sin.
In Luke 17:21 Jesus said to the Pharisees, "The kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
Jesus was God made man. He came to bring God's rulership and sovereignty back to a rebellious world by saving it from sin.
- Where the king was, there was the kingdom.
- When people received the king, they entered into His kingdom…His rulership…His sovereignty.
The king of the kingdom is Jesus Christ and the way into the kingdom is through the new birth,
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
- John 3:5
After the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter preached to the crowds on Pentecost Sunday and he invited them into the kingdom of God when he said,
"Repent and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
- Acts 2:38
This new birth "in water and spirit" John talked about was the new birth in the waters of baptism that resulted in the Holy Spirit that Peter preached coming to dwell within the believer. The Bible refers to this "kingdom" in many ways:
- "The" kingdom - Matthew 4:23
- Kingdom of heaven - Matthew 5:3
- Kingdom of God - Matthew 6:33
- Kingdom of their Father - Matthew 13:43
- Kingdom of Christ - Ephesians 5:5
- Kingdom of his dear Son - Colossians 1:13
- Kingdom of the Lord - II Peter 1:11
But all of the references point to only one kingdom - the kingdom that all of us enter into when we believe in Jesus, the king, and obey His gospel in repentance and baptism. The New Testament also has one other way to refer to the kingdom here on earth and that is through the Greek word EKKLESIA which means "the called out."
In ancient times this word referred to those who were specifically chosen to lead in public government, the local leaders of a village or town. Jesus took this common word and used it to describe those who were "called out" of the world and invited to enter His kingdom. With time this word "ekklesia" became exclusively associated with Jesus and His followers. All of those who heard the call of the gospel and entered into the kingdom were referred to as the ekklesia.
Now we have translated this Greek word in a variety of ways into English. One way was the word assembly. Another was the word church. Mt. 16:18, "…upon this rock I will build my church/ekklesia." So when we close the circle on our discussion of the kingdom and what it is, we see several things.
- It is the presence of God and His sovereignty. Luke 17:21
- It is the final fulfillment of everything that God has promised and the final status that will be established when Jesus returns. Revelation 11:15
- It is the quality of spiritual life that one enjoys in one's relationship with God in Christ. "…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:23) It's one spiritual experience with God.
- The kingdom is also that group of people who have experienced the "new birth" in water and spirit and who we refer to as the church.
Now when Jesus is speaking in parables about the "kingdom" He is referring to one or a combination of these various facets of the kingdom of heaven:
- The rulership of Christ, the king
- The final status of creation
- The experience of spiritual life
- The actual persons that are part of the kingdom
III. The Parable of the Leaven - Matthew 13:33
Let's get back to our parable of the leaven. It is a short parable but one that has significance for every facet of the kingdom.
A. Practical Application
The practical and primary story is very simple. Leaven is a substance added to dough which by fermentation produces carbon dioxide gas and thus makes the dough rise and become porous. The making of bread is an ancient practice and Jesus describes the normal procedure used at that time for the baking process.
The key to the parable is that He compares the kingdom of God to the leaven and what it does to the bread.
- Leaven affects the flour.
- Leaven permeates the flour completely.
- Leaven is the agent of change in the mix.
B. Spiritual Application
Now that we have a clearer idea of what the kingdom is and reviewed the effect of leaven on flour in the making of bread - let's put the two together and draw some conclusion on what Jesus meant when He said that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven.
1. How leaven and the kingdom are alike
- Both are added to the mix. Jesus and His kingdom are injected into this world from another dimension.
- You add the leaven, not the flour. Jesus came to this world, the world did not come to Him.
- Both are agents of change. Jesus and His church transform the world. Without the leaven the flour cannot be made to rise. Without Jesus and His kingdom the world cannot be saved, cannot be changed.
- Both work silently and unseen. The power of the kingdom is not physical and yet it produces definite results. The texture and taste of the bread is the result of the unnoticed but very necessary yeast that it contains. The ways of God and His kingdom are not the ways of man and this world but they have a great impact on the world.
Human beings, even in Jesus' day, were skeptical of spiritual things and Jesus was trying to show them that even in the physical world silent and unseen forces were responsible for the very basic necessities of life - like bread.
If they could understand and accept the manner and results of simple transforming agents like leaven - than they could also accept and understand the much more powerful agent of change that God had sent into the world which He referred to as the "kingdom of God."
2. How the kingdom works
Now for those who listened but didn't believe the most that people could understand was the fact that Jesus was comparing this thing called the "kingdom" to this everyday and quite simple process of leavening. In vs. 34:35, Matthew says that Jesus used parables to keep hidden from unbelievers the things (message, truths) of the kingdom. So if you are a believer and you understand what the kingdom is then you have other applications that you can make based on this parable, that unbelievers don't see:
- Like leaven, the rulership of Christ:
- Comes from elsewhere, not part of this world.
- That He changes the world from lost to saved.
- That His Holy Spirit is unseen by the human eye but powerfully at work in the lives of every believer.
- Like leaven, the final effect of the kingdom:
- Will be complete, reaching every generation and place in the world.
- In the end the destruction of the world, the judgment, the establishment of an eternal relationship with God will be the result of Christ's Lordship and His kingdom.
- Like leaven, the experience of spiritual life is:
- Not always visible to the naked eye or to the ear.
- We know the Holy Spirit's power acting for and in us by the results we see in our lives, even if we can't understand exactly how those results are obtained.
- Like leaven, the church is the component, the ingredient in this world that is the agent for spiritual influence.
- Before the church there was world-wide slavery, cruelty to children and women were common, human life was not held as sacred, immorality was rampant.
- Regardless of what modern liberals think, the Christian church has been the agent for the greatest changes for good for society in history.
And so with this little parable Jesus pointed ahead to all of these many facets that the kingdom could and would be, even to this day and beyond.
Summary / Exhortation
Well I hope that this passage and the idea of the kingdom will be more meaningful for you in the future. I also hope that most of us here see beyond the simple story of how a woman makes bread and we "perceive" the application of the parable to our own selves today. If you're not sure, let me give you a few direct and personal applications of this parable and the lesson will be yours:
1. You're in or you're out
In all of the universe, in all of existence there are only two places to be - in the kingdom of Christ or out of it. There is no neutral zone, no hiding place - you're in or you're out. If anyone here has not openly acknowledged their faith in Christ, repented of their sins and been baptized (immersed in water) they are not in the kingdom.
Sitting in the church building is not the same as being in the kingdom.
2. You're leaven or flour
It's the leaven that makes the flour rise and not vice-versa. Are you an agent of change or are you the one being changed? As Christians, as those in the kingdom, are we responsible for changing others in the name of Christ, or are they changing us to the shame of Christ? If the leaven is no good, if it doesn't affect the flour, the baker throws it away. Let's be leaven, let's make sure we are the influence for change in our surroundings, and not the other way around.
3. You're complete or incomplete
Jesus said that the leaven was inserted into the flour until it was all leavened. There's a cute saying that people put into card and posters, "Be patient please, God isn't finished with me yet." You've come a certain way in the kingdom, you've grown to a certain level, you've dealt with certain things - what's left?
Yes, God isn't finished with you yet, ok - what's left to do? Why isn't He finished? Is it His fault or yours? What's holding up the completion?
What obstacle is before you, at this very moment, that is stopping you from fulfilling more completely God's will - His kingdom - in your life.
We have an opportunity for the kingdom to grow here at Ville-Emard this very morning:
- Some need to be added to the kingdom by baptism.
- Some need to expand the kingdom by stepping forward in greater commitment and obedience.
- Others may need to identify their desire to serve with us here.
Whichever way you need - the door to the kingdom is open wide for you now.