Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Parable of Leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:21-21)

“He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”” (Matthew 13:33, NASB95) 

Most commonly when we think of leavening bread we think of adding yeast such that it causes the bread to rise and become less dense. Otherwise it might more closely resemble a cracker if thin enough or a brick if not. Yeast is a single-celled fungus that consumes sugars and excretes carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is the driving source behind the fermentation process. In breads it has several primary functions. The most well-known is that of leavening which is the process that causes bread to rise. It is this leavening that takes the lump of flour when mixed with water and causes it to grow before our eyes as the yeast enzymes break down the flour’s starch molecules, converting them to sugar which is consumed by the yeast, resulting in air bubbles being deposited and trapped by developed gluten throughout the bread dough. It is during this leavening process that the yeast permeates the entirety of the mixture, leaving no area untouched.

It is this leaven which is spoken of here positively in Jesus’ parable and elsewhere negatively as representing sin and rebellion. Leaven is first mentioned in the Bible with the institution of Passover as an ongoing feast to be observed. The people of Israel were to remove all leaven from their homes and eat unleavened bread for seven days introducing the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was to be done to commemorate God bringing His people out of bondage in Egypt, and it was to be taken seriously with banishment for those who consumed leaven (Exodus 12:14-20). In Leviticus 2:11 the people were instructed that no grain offering burnt to the Lord was to have leaven in it.

The first instruction we have in Scripture where the people are actually instructed to bake with leaven is in Leviticus chapter 23 at the Feast of Weeks (or Feast of the Harvest) which was to dedicate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. We read, “‘You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:17, NASB95) This feast was to occur on the 50th day after the Sabbath preceding the Feast of Firstfruits. In Acts chapter 2 we read as the people had gathered on Pentecost (Greek for 50th day) or the Feast of Weeks or Harvest that the Holy Spirit came, leading to three thousand people being saved on that day.

When leaven is first mentioned in the New Testament by Jesus it is here in this parable, and it is in the context of the work that God was going to do in bringing people to Himself that it was used. While later passages may compare the leavening process to the power of sin to spread and destroy, it is not the intended usage here. It is significant to note that the work that God began with His church began on the day that the people of Israel had been given to celebrate the harvest. And as we look at the leavening process it is important to remember that it begins with a small amount of yeast. In the last parable we read about the smallness of the mustard seed leading to the greatness of the kingdom of heaven. Here we read of the power of yeast to do the same.

God sent His Son as that yeast that would bring new life to mankind who was lost in his trespasses and sins. And in His leaving to return to the Father, He continued to work through His church to bring people to Himself as His witness. This lump has grown and it will continue to grow until such time that God determines its rising is complete. One day Jesus will return for His church and it will be taken to be with Him, but even then it will not result in the fullness of all who are saved. During the Tribulation period many people will still be saved in addition to all of Israel. It is here as we look at the salvation of Israel (the Jewish people) that we are reminded of the first usage of leaven, where they were to remove it from their presence and not eat it for seven days. It is during this seven year tribulation period (this last week) that God purifies for Himself the nation of Israel and purges it of rebels.

““As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out; and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 20:33–38, NASB95)

Individually we are not this lump and it is not intended as a parable for individuals, but rather as one pointing to the blossoming power of leaven to grow and grow and grow God’s kingdom. However, we are instructed concerning leaven in our own lives both individually and corporately. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians,

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.” (1 Corinthians 5:6–13, NASB95)

And in 2 Corinthians chapter 7 he added, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NASB95)

As people purified and made righteous by the blood of Christ we are to live as pure unleavened bread while together we add to the growing number that will comprise the entirety of His kingdom—the fully leavened lump.

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