THE LIFE OF CHRIST
In the last few lessons in our series on the life of Christ, we have been looking at the seven parables found in Matthew 13. We have looked at four of them so far, and we will finish up the remaining three in this lesson.
The first parable we are going to look at is the parable of the leaven found in Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21. We will look at Matthewís account:
Matthew 13:33 Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."
Though this parable is short, it is just as thought provoking as the other parables spoken by Jesus. I believe the parable of the mustard seed, that we looked at in the last lesson, and †the parable of the leaven work together as a pair. In these two parables, Jesus talks about the beginning, growth, and influence of the kingdom of God. Even though these two parables form a pair and have much in common, they teach us something different about the kingdom. At the first glance, they may seem to be a repetitive, but a closer examination will reveal each has a different emphasis. The parable of the mustard seed dealt with the success of the kingdom compared to its modest beginning. The parable of the leaven focuses on the hidden operation of the gospel of the kingdom and its effects in the world.
Letís analyze the parable. Letís begin with that part that says: The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that was hide in three measures of meal.
How one interprets this parable hinges on the word leaven and how† it is used. Leaven is a substance such as yeast used to produce fermentation in dough or liquid and its consistently used in Scripture to represent corruption or an evil influence. For example:
Exodus 12:15 'Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.† 16 'On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat -- that only may be prepared by you.† 17 'So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance.† 18 'In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.† 19 'For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land.† 20 'You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.' "
The Israelites were commanded to remove all the leaven from their homes during this feast or they would be cut off from the congregation. In Exod. 23:18, we learn that the blood of the lamb of the Passover sacrifice was not to be offered with leavened bread. Even the flour cakes that were offered by the priest on the altar to God were to exclude Leaven (Lev 2:11-13, 6:14-18). I think it would be reasonable to assume that the reason leaven was excluded was because fermentation implied corruption.
This same thought continues in the New Testament as well. Notice the following verses:
Matthew 16:6 Then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees."
Matthew 16:11 "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.
In these verses, leaven represents the false doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. When Paul admonished the church at Corinth to expel those who were sexually immoral, he reminded them that† a little leaven leavens the whole lump in 1 Cor. 5:6. Then he goes on to say:
1 Corinthians 5:7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.† 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
He used the same terminology to warn the churches in Galatia about the influences of false teachers in their midst (Gal. 5:9).† So, we can see that leaven is consistently used in the OT and the NT to represent a negative influence. This is why some would say that the leaven in our parable would have to represent corruption in order to stay consistent. In their view, the parable of the leaven must be a prophecy of the introduction of false teaching into the church, resulting in corruption of the body of Christ.
In fact, this is what one commentator says about this parable. It argues that the women in the parable is the Roman church, the meal is the true church, and the fact that the women hid the leaven represents the subtle and insidious methods of Satan in infiltrating the church with heresy from within.
However, there are many reasons why I and others donít hold this interpretation of this parable even though this interpretation is plausible and seems to be consistent with Scripture.
First, this parable is clearly connected to with the previous one about the mustard seed, which most agree is speaking about the positive advance and the blessings of the kingdom and not about corruption.
Second, this view makes this parable end with Jesusís kingdom being fully corrupted, which basically means it would be destroyed in the end, which doesnít fit the context nor what we read about Godís kingdom in other places.
Third, even though it is true that leaven is used elsewhere as corruption, it is not unreasonable to have Jesus using leaven in a positive way. I donít believe that symbols like leaven used in Scripture must always be used the same way. I can see leaven being used to describe good and bad. Letís look at just a few symbols in the Bible that take on differing meanings to show what I mean.
A dove is used in a negative and positive way:
Hosea 7:11 †Ephraim also is like a silly dove, without sense
Matthew 10:16 †Therefore be Ö harmless as doves
A serpent is used in a positive and negative way:
Matthew 10:16 †Therefore be wise as serpents
Revelation 20:2 ††He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan,
A lion is used in negative and a positive way:
1 Peter 5:8 †your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion
Revelation 5:5 †Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed (speaking of Jesus).
This small sample shows how the same thing can be used to represent something good or bad, which is why I do not think it's necessary to see the leaven in our parable as a symbol of corruption.† It seems to me that the point of the parable is that a small amount of leaven is able to influence a much larger mass. Once it is introduced, it operates quietly and unseen as it ferments the whole. I think that this parable represents the influence and effect of the gospel in the hearts of men, and the world as a whole.
In fact, let's look at how this parable fits perfectly with the success of the kingdom.
Isaiah 42:1 "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.† 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.† 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.† 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law."
Here it is foretold that when Jesus comes, His ministry will not be announced with some great event or by Him going into the streets proclaiming loudly who He was. In fact, most of the time, Jesus would not even allow the demons to reveal who He was. He was subtle and taught with love and by example.
Now, letís look at the influential nature of the kingdom.
First, the kingdom was not one that would be ushered in by force as Jesus told Pilate in Jn. 18:36. Instead, it was characterized by peace, love, and obedience to God.
Second, the kingdom was not accompanied with pomp or prestige as can be seen in verses like: Lk. 17:20-21 and Mt. 6:1-8.
Third, the kingdom is to be the salt and light of the world as can be seen in Mt. 5:14-16 and Phil. 2:14-16.
Fourth, the kingdom influences the world by example, according to 1Pet. 2:21, 1Cor. 11:1-2, Phil 3:17, 4:9, 1 Pet. 5:2-4.
It is very important for us to be good examples and to be this leaven in peoplesí life. We need to live wholesome Christian lives so much so that people will begin to notice that we donít cuss and talk about sinful things, but that we express love for our fellow man, and we always try to do that which is right based on the Word of God.
The word of God is powerful, and we need to be patient and allow it to work in peoplesí hearts. Too many churches today get impatient with the growth of the church, so they take matters into their own hands. They come up with gimmicks and hire preachers who are more focused on entertaining the people instead of preaching the truth. They want to win more numbers to their church, even if they have to constantly entertain those people week after week.
Though numbers may be gained this way, these people are just attracted to the church because of the entertainment, and they will not worship God with the right attitude because they are mainly there to be entertained. Assembling with the saints is not about us being entertained, it's about worshiping our Creator in spirit and in truth and edifying one another. Worship is not about what makes me feel good, it is about doing those things that please God in accordance with His Word.
As Christians, we must put our trust in God and His Word. We must never underestimate the power of Godís Word and how it can act just like leaven as we spread it around the world.
When you begin to think about the influence that Christianity has on the world, you can't help but† see this truth in our parable.
I want to name just a few of the things that came about because of the principles taught by Christianity.
Godís Word teaches us to love one another and to even love our enemies. This principle stood out in Roman time and led to people treating their fellow man with kindness, which led to †more of the poor and helpless being cared for. It caused more †people to have a higher regard for life, which led to crucifixion being abolished. Slavery became a declining practice, and the Word of God taught the slave to respect his master, and the master to treat his servant with kindness. The gladiator games were abolished, and the inhuman practice of killing babies was repressed.
Christianity elevated womanhood. In the Roman Empire, women were viewed as a thing instead of a person. More women are named, honored and applauded in the New Testament than all the writings of the Augustan age. Many hospitals and Universities came about because of Christianity.†
I would like to conclude this parable by saying this. Leaven does not work instantly or audibly but gradually and quietly. A small amount affects the whole. It is easy to see why Jesus compared leaven hidden in meal to the kingdom of God because, when Godís Word is hidden in the heart of man, it has the power to transform our lives, our homes, our schools, our communities and our world. In order for the leaven of the Word of God to work, we must teach it and put into practice. We must allow the love of God †to be in every aspect of our lives, especially as we interact with the world. May we all be the light, the salt, and the leaven that God would have us to be.
Next, we are going to look at both of our last two parables at the same time, which are only found in Matthewís account.
The parable of the hidden treasure, and the pearl of †great price.
Matthew 13:44 " Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.† 45 " Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls,† 46 "who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Both of these parables reveal to us the value of the kingdom and that the kingdom is unique. Let us begin by looking at the historical background of the Hidden Treasure. People in the first century did not have banks or safes like we are used to in which they could keep their valuables. If they carried them with them, they were in danger of being mugged like in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. So, they would hide their treasures in the safest place they could find. It wasnít a great idea for them to hide it in their homes because thieves could break in and get their treasure as indicated by Mt. 6:19.
Remember the parable where the master gave his servants talents, but the man he gave 1 talent went and dug a hole and hid the talent in the earth (Mt. 25:18). It was a common practice for people back then to go out into a field and hide their valuables in the ground. It was also common for people to accidentally find those treasures. Once again, Jesus used an example that they could relate to.
Our parable tells us that when this man finds this treasure and sees how valuable it is, he hides it in a field and sells all that he owns to purchase that piece of land with this hidden treasure. This tells us that the kingdom of God not only has a great value, but also comes at a great cost.
In this first parable Jesus uses an unspecified treasure to make His point, but in the Parable about the Pearl, He names the treasure. Pearls were highly valued. When the Bible speaks about Pearls, it always emphasizes their great worth. It is said that Cleopatra owned two pearls worth 400,000 a piece. These were Pearls of a great price indeed. Some made their living buying and selling Pearls just like the man in the parable. Again, this teaches us that the kingdom came at a great cost and it was unique.
Both of these parables tell us about two men who found treasures. They Both teach that the kingdom is of great value. Since the kingdom is of great value, they also teach the following points.
The main difference between these parables is how they found the treasure. The man who found the hidden treasure found it by accident. The man who found the Pearl was seeking after it.
In reference to the first parable, God is sometimes found by those who did not seek Him (Rom. 10:20). An example of this can be seen in:
John 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."† 46 And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."† 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!"† 48 Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."† 49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
Nathaniel discovered the Lord unexpectedly. In John 4, the Samaritan women who did not know who Jesus was found Him by the well, and when she found out that He was the Messiah, she told her neighbors, and they came and found Christ as well. Paul was not seeking after Christ, yet he was surprised by Jesus on the road to Damascus. There are many today who find the treasure of the kingdom by accident as well.
In reference to the 2nd parable, there are those who are seeking the truth. In John 3, we find Nicodemus coming to Jesus to seek out the truth. We have the example of the Eunuch in Acts 8 who was trying to seek an answer to the Scripture he was reading in Isaiah, and Philip explained it to him. We have Cornelius in Acts 10, a gentile who was trying to seek out how he could be pleasing to God. Because of his sincere heart, God used Cornelius and his household to show the Jews that God also accepted Gentiles into the kingdom as well.
Now letís consider the great cost of the kingdom.
The kingdom itself came at a great cost. It took the blood of Jesus to be able to purchase the church Acts 20:28. Jesus was the only perfect man that has walked the earth and who kept the law Moses perfectly. Even though He had been tested and tempted by the ways of this world and the devil himself, he never sinned. So, without doubt, the kingdom Jesus setup came at a high cost. †
In our parables, these men were willing to give up everything they had to obtain their treasure. Christianity is the same way. We have to be willing to give everything that stands between us and the kingdom.
Christianity comes at a cost, but never let us think that we can earn it or buy our way into† the kingdom because it is a free gift of God, but He does demand obedience to His Word. Letís look at a few things that the kingdom can cost us.
Paul is a great example of one who saw the value of the gospel treasure and sacrificed all to have it as we read in:
Philippians 3:7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.† 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
He gave up his old life and lived his life for Christ. However, some are unwilling to make this sacrifice even when they find out how to obtain the kingdom like the rich young ruler in
Luke 18:18-25. He wanted to know how to obtain the treasure, but the cost was too high for him, so he rode off.
There are many things that people put 1st before God. For this young man, it was his riches that stood between him and the kingdom. Today, there are many worldly things people allow to get between them and God. Some would love to have the kingdom, but they want it on their own terms and their own set cost. They want a religion of convenience that fits their schedule instead of Godís.
Those who realize the true worth of the kingdom will be like these men in these parables and will be willing to do what it takes to obtain it. They will not hesitate, and they will do just like so many people did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, they will gladly receive the word of God and be baptized into Christ.
†Let us who are now in the kingdom never forget its great value. Let us always be on the lookout for those who are searching for the priceless pearl so we might help them obtain it. Let us also make the treasure of the kingdom visible and desirable even for those who are not looking for it, so that they may discover it and want to make it their own.
After Jesus finished these seven parables, we read:
Matthew 13:51 Jesus said to them, "Have you understood all these things?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord.
Since I have no way of knowing what the apostles actually believed at this time it is impossible for me to know if they really thought they understood what Jesus said about the kingdom or if they were so confused, they just said, ďYes, Lord.Ē What I can tell you is that they did not understand what Jesus was trying to teach them about the kingdom and how is was spiritual in nature. The reason I can know this is because right before Jesus ascended into heaven, His apostles asked this:
Acts 1:6 †Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
These guys were still looking for a physical kingdom just like the rest of the Jews were. Of course, they finally did understand once the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, and they began to preach the gospel on the Day on Pentecost.
Finally, Jesus said:
Matthew 13:52 Then He said to them, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old."
All this is saying, is that the old, which are the teaching that have been around for many years as found in the Old Testament are to also be used with the new teaching about the kingdom of God and all that goes along with it. They are both treasures because one cannot fully understand or appreciate the new without the old. While the N.T. is our authority today, there is much for us to learn from the O.T. as well. So, both should be studied and taught.
I believe we have learned some great lessons about the kingdom we are part of from these seven parables that Jesus gave. I hope we never take Godís kingdom/church for granted because as we learned, it came at high cost. Let us never stop rejoicing and praising God for allowing us to be part of His wonderful spiritual kingdom.† †