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Kingdom Parables: The Parable of the Leaven

Kingdom Parables  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The leaven of the Kingdom will bring great joy and satisfaction to the people of God.

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Text: Matthew 13:33
Theme: The leaven of the Kingdom will bring great joy and satisfaction to the people of God.
Almost everyone loves a good story — even short stories. The parables of Jesus have always been of deep interest to believers. They are picturesque stories of familiar scenes in nature or everyday human life, and are easily remembered. Most Christians know and can recite at least some of them. They delight us and they enlighten us.
Some of the parables have very clear meanings. Parables like the Three Soils, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son leave little wiggle room for interpretation. Some of Jesus’ parables are more puzzling. None more so than the one we will look at this evening.
The Parable of the Leaven is one of the shortest of the parables — only twenty-four words. Yet many conflicting conclusions have been arrived at by devout and learned men as to this parable’s meaning.
The key to understanding the parable is, I believe, two-fold.
1st, it’s context. The parable comes right after the story of the mustard seed. That parable is a story of something small producing enormous outward growth. The parable of the leaven is a story of something small that produces enormous inward growth. Both are pictures of the Gospel of Grace going out into the world. The gospel has an inward affect in that it changes a sinners eternal destiny, and temporal worldview. The gospel has an outward affect in that sinners who have been changed by grace come together in a body called the Church which has an outward affect in that it changes the community.
2nd, the properties of leaven help us understand the meaning of the parable. It’s what leaven does that is the focus of the parable, not what leaven is. Wait a moment, and I’ll explain that.
“He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”” (Matthew 13:33, NIV84)

I. A LITTLE BIT GOES A LONG WAY

1. had you been in the multitude gathered along the shore line that day to hear Jesus speak and teach, your heart may have been a bit disturbed as well as discouraged after hearing the first two parables
a. in the Parable of the Soils, Jesus indicates that only a small number of people will ever be receptive to the gospel
1) not all who hear the Gospel will receive it
2) most human hearts will be like unreceptive soil – rocky and hard
b. in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells us that the Devil will be doing all he can to undermine God’s Kingdom work in this world
1) he will use false brethren, and false prophets preaching false gospels and even false Messiahs to counterfeit the true gospel
c. these are not overly-encouraging descriptions of Kingdom growth!
2. after hearing these stories the disciples might be wondering “Just how big will this kingdom be? What kind of kingdom is this going to be where most people don’t want to be a part of it?”
ILLUS. Church Growth experts have told us for years that if we simply “package” the gospel in the right way, that the multitudes will beat a path to our church door. Jesus says that the Gospel will offend more people than it will attract!
3. but in the Parable of the Mustard Seed Jesus teaches that the seed of the gospel message — like the mustard seed — will produce phenomenal growth
4. after telling the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus tells the Parable of the Leaven
a. all the Jewish mothers in the crowd were nodding and thinking, “What a good boy. His mother taught him how to cook. What a good catch he’ll make!”
b. the story Jesus tells was a common experience in every Hebrew household
c. what’s the lesson?

A. A SMALL BIT OF LEAVEN LEAVENS THE WHOLE LUMP

1. this is not the first time, nor the last, that Jesus would use leaven as an illustration of spiritual realities
a. in the New Testament, leaven is often symbolic of corrupting influence
1) Jesus warned of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which included their teaching and hypocrisy — Matthew 16:5-12; Luke 12:1
2) Paul wrote of the danger of how a little leaven leavens the whole lump, as he addressed the need to withdraw fellowship from the unrepentant brother - 1 Cor. 5:6
b. this has led some to conclude that leaven in the parable represents something evil
1) the point is not that leaven and hypocrisy are both inherently evil but that they both are inherently pervasive and powerful in their influence
2) the same is true of Paul’s use of leaven ... it’s not that leaven is to be associated with immorality, but that both are inherently pervasive, and powerful in their influence
2. leaven, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad
a. yeast is nothing more than a microscopic one-celled fungus that multiplies rapidly under the right conditions
1) it produces enzymes which converts starch to sugar, and sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide
2) the earliest foods made with yeast were beer, and wine, and bread
ILLUS. Leave a bottle of grape juice around long enough and if the right sort of yeast lands in it presto — you’ve got wine. Larry Schaefferkoetter could attest to that.
b. the simple way to cultivate your own yeast for bread is the same way they did it in Jesus’ day
1) mix flour and water to form a batter, then let it stand in a warm spot until yeast starts growing — that mix is then called a starter
2) the baker takes some of the starter and folds it into a batter of flour, water, and sugar and waits for the starter to affect the rest
ILLUS. While Linda and I were attending Southwest Baptist College, our neighbors gave us some starter for Sough Dough bread. Well, I love bread and we were poor, and it was a welcome gift. Every couple of days Linda would bake a loaf of Sough Dough bread and feed the starter with some more sugar and flour. Within a very short period of time, you’d see this glutenous mass of batter getter larger and larger. I had nightmares of opening the refrigerator some morning and being enveloped by a ravenous glob that would suck the life from my body. Obviously I watched the cult classic “The Blob” staring Steve McQueen once too often while I was growing up.
4. leaven is a catalyst — it causes change in the things it is mixed in to
a. in the case of bread, as the yeast multiplies and ferments it gives off carbon dioxide which causes the bread to rise and expand

B. THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE

1. parables always have a central point
a. in the Parable of the Mustard Seed Jesus teaches that the seed of the gospel message — like the mustard seed — will produce phenomenal growth
1) and it did — you’ll find true believers in every nation in every corner of the globe
2) and wherever you find believers you find the Kingdom of heaven at work
b. in the Parable of the Leaven Jesus teaches that the spore of the gospel message — like the leaven — will produce phenomenal influence
1) in the parable, Jesus says that the housewife takes a small amount of starter, and hides it in three measure of flour — literally three pecks of flour — about 1½ bushels of flour
2) Christ, Himself, represents the housewife
3) the small lump of leaven represents gospel
4) the three measures of flour represents the Church
c. in this simple story, Jesus teaches His disciples that a small bit of leaven leavens the whole lump – i.e. the Kingdom of God will eventually have an extraordinary influence upon this world

C. THE LESSONS OF THE PARABLE

1. 1st, the Kingdom’s influence will be pervasive
a. that is, having the quality to permeate, to spread or flow throughout the world
1) I believe that the loaf represents the Church, and the leaven is the Gospel of the kingdom of God hid in the hearts of true believers
2) through God’s people, the kingdom of God has gradually made its influence felt throughout all the world
3) this does not teach — as some maintain — that everyone will be saved, but that all the world will be affected by the preaching of the gospel and the presence of God’s Kingdom people
2. 2nd, the Kingdom’s influence is unobtrusive in its operation
a. I dare say that even the vast majority of Christians have never stopped to consider how the life of Jesus, and His gospel changed, and is changing, the course of their lives, and the course of the world
b. like yeast causing dough to rise, the Kingdom of God has slowly, thoroughly, and steadily influenced all the world
3. 3rd. the Kingdom’s influence spreads by contact
a. yeast multiplies as it feeds on sugar
b. the Kingdom multiples as Christians feed on the Word of God and spread their faith person-by-person
ILLUS. When a Jewish girl was married, her mother would give her a small piece of leavened dough from a batch baked just before the wedding. From that gift of leaven the bride would bake bread for her own household throughout her married life. That gift, simple as it was, was among the most cherished that the bride received, because it represented the love and blessedness of the household in which she grew up and that would be carried into the household she was about to establish.
c. the same is true of the Gospel — it is a gift that we share with family and friends, as they receive it they pass it on to others
4. 4th, the Kingdom’s influence will be complete
a. speaking of the loaf, Jesus said till it was all leavened
b. no part of the loaf — that is the world — will be untouched by the influence of the kingdom

II. THE LEAVEN OF THE KINGDOM HAS INFLUENCED ALL THE WORLD

1. can you imagine what our world would be like if Jesus had never been born?
a. many people over the course of history have made significant contributions to civilization in a particular field of endeavor
1) their names are etched in the annals of history
2. but Jesus Christ, the greatest man who ever lived, has influenced every aspect of human life
a. Jesus tells his disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, it may seem insignificant, but its ultimate influence will be phenomenal
1) Christianity’s roots were small and humble – an itinerant rabbi preached and did miracles for three years
2) he gathered a core of believers who numbered only 120 at the time of his crucifixion
3) but He rose again and now there are 2.2 billion professing believers found around the world
4. despite its humble origins, the Church has influenced more changes on earth for the good than any over movement in the history of the world

A. THE INFLUENCE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH

ILLUS. Dr. James Kennedy wrote a book a few years ago titled: What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? That title describes the contents of the book. Kennedy writes: “Consider some of the effects that God’s Kingdom has had on our world — Hospitals, Universities – most of the world’s greatest universities were started by Christians for Christian purposes, Literacy and education for the masses, Capitalism and free enterprise, Representative government, particularly as it has been seen in the American experiment, Civil liberties, The abolition of slavery, both in antiquity and in more modern times, Modern science, The discovery of the New World by Columbus, The elevation of women, Benevolence and charity organizations and work, Higher standards of justice, The condemnation of adultery and sexual perversions that lead to the protection of the family, A high regard for the sanctity of human life, The codifying and setting to writing of many of the world’s languages, Inspiration of some of the world’s greatest works of art and music, Countless saved souls and changed lives.
1. this last one, of course, is the primary goal of the Kingdom
a. Jesus came to seek and to save sinners
2. all of the others are by-products of faith and its transforming power in the lives of those who come to Jesus
ILLUS. Many of you are familiar with the 1946 film classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life, where William Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, gets a chance to see what life would be like had he never been born. The main point of the film is that each person’s life has impact on everybody else’s life. Had they never been born, there would be gaping holes left by their absence.
a. the Kingdom of Heaven is like that — had Christ never been born, had the gospel never been planted in the hearts of men, had men’s lives never been changed by the grace of God the course of the world would have been far different

B. DON'T LOSE HEART

1. don't measure the growth or success of the kingdom solely by visible standards
2. as Jesus said to the Pharisees . . .
Luke 17:20-21a "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say 'See here!' or 'See there!'"
3. the spread of the kingdom (the rule of God) is taking place wherever the word of the kingdom is being sown, and fruit will be borne as it falls on good and noble hearts
4. remain confident:
a. that which began as a mustard seed will become a great tree
b. that which started in one small portion of the loaf will eventually influence the whole loaf

C. DO YOUR PART TO BE A LEAVENING INFLUENCE

1. allow the leaven of the kingdom to permeate your own life
ILLUS. The early church father Augustine was one who regularly “spiritualized” the parables of Jesus. I don’t agree with doing that, but sometimes he hit upon some interesting points. Augustine suggests the three measures of flour speak to the triune-personality of man: Body, Mind, and Soul. He wrote that when the leaven of God’s truth – the Word – is placed into the believer’s life it works mightily to affect the whole person. The Body becomes a vessel of purity. The Mind becomes the mind of Christ. The Soul becomes agreeable with the will of God.
a. that’s all pretty good!
1) each of us needs to take the Word of God into our own heart
2) we must study and meditate upon it day and night, and then seek to apply it!
2. allow that Word to produce fruit in your life, so that you become a leavening influence for the kingdom of God!
a. by word, as you share the gospel of the kingdom with others
b. by deed, as you do good works that glorify God
CONCLUSION
Is the Kingdom of God visible in your life? Has the leaven of God’s truth so impacted the whole of your life that the kingdom manifests itself in your behavior as well as your thinking?
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