Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13. We’ve seen the Sower, the Wheat & Tares, and the Mustard Seed. Now, He uses leaven to illustrate a kingdom characteristic. We reads:
The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened. (Matthew 13:33)
This short parable about the leaven is similar in some respects to the parable of the Mustard Seed. Both speak of the growth which will result in the kingdom of God, and in both cases, it begins with something very small. The apostle Paul would say that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9). In these texts, leaven is being used in a negative way to speak about the effect that sin can have among God’s people. That said, the point is still that something very small can permeate the whole. This is also the case with the spread of the gospel of the kingdom. It is intended to permeate the world. And it did! About 30 years after the gospel began to be spread from Jerusalem, the apostle Paul said the gospel had been “preached to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). The gospel spread throughout the entire world in the first century. It is the responsibility of Christians in every age to take up the same work.
There is a tendency in some to think we need big and impressive programs in order to effectively spread the gospel. The Lord says otherwise in this parable. When baking, add all the sugar and salt you want, but if you don’t use leaven, you’ll end up with a flat bread. In the Lord’s work, all the fads and gimmicks we might use will not result in the kingdom of God. We must use the leaven—the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel alone is able to affect the growth of the kingdom of God.
In the days of antiquity, it was common to take a piece of leavened dough from an unbaked loaf and put it in the new dough, causing fermentation (PNT). Just a little bit was enough to leaven the new loaf. So is the gospel when it goes from heart to heart in the world. As God’s people, we need to share our faith in the Lord with those who are around us. The gospel is intended to affect the world for salvation. And a little leaven—just a word from us, may be sufficient to leaven the whole lump!
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.’ (Matthew 13:34-35)
About 1,000 years before Jesus came into the world, the Psalmist spoke of one who would speak to the people in parables (Psalm 78:2-3). Here, Matthew applies the words of David to Jesus. The Lord revealed the nature of His kingdom through these parables. Those who had an ear to hear, those who were willing to listen and to learn would benefit.
It is necessary to state that Matthew 13:34 does not mean that His only method of teaching was parables. Indeed, He spoke a lot of parables; not just on this occasion, but at other times. However, Matthew 13:34 is specifically about that day and His discourse with the people there. His teaching by the sea on that day began with the parable of the Sower and ended with the parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-53).
What a blessing to have the parables of the Lord to teach us about the kingdom of God. Let us be diligent students, seeking to know the meaning of His words, and to make a good application of them in our lives.