The Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven
Transcript of Matthew #40…
Psalm 18:28, “For Thou does light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness. Psalm 119:125, “I am Thy servant; Give me understanding, that I might know Thy testimonies.”
Turn to Matthew 13. We’ve come too deeply into the book of Matthew to make a review very practical. We’re in Matthew chapter 13, the parable chapter. Since we aren’t going to review the whole of the book of Matthew, we’re in lesson forty and that wouldn’t be too practical, there are two things that I believe will get us back into the spirit of the chapter. Let me mention those and then we’ll pick off where we left off.
First of all, all of these parables in Matthew 13 are kingdom of heaven parables. That is, each parable describes some aspect of the grace of God, or the spiritual life; life as it’s lived in the place called heaven. That’s where you get the expression “kingdom of heaven”. In heaven there is a kingdom and God rules in that kingdom. There He is exalted and His will is embraced and enjoyed and the inhabitants of heaven adore Him and worship Him. The Lord Jesus said that we might have that life on the earth in foretaste, in seed form, as a down payment. So, there are kingdom of heaven Christians on the earth. Not every Christian is a kingdom of heaven Christian. That is, not every Christian lives by the principles by which heaven is ruled. In these earthly stories, these parables, the Lord Jesus is illustrating the principles of the sky; kingdom of heaven principles.
The second thing that helps us get into this is the reminder that in the study of the parables, the Lord Jesus intended one main thing. There is one chief point and in order to understand the parable you’ve got to nail down that chief point, that main teaching. The details of the parable can only be understood in terms of that chief teaching. It’s easy to read in an awful lot of so-called doctrine into the details. God has not intended that we wring out those details. It can lead us astray. The details are the scenery, the fabric, the glue that holds the story together and that’s all. So, we’re going to take a lot of time to make sure we get the main point of each one.
So far in our study we’ve looked at two parables; Matthew 13:1-9 with its interpretation 18-23, the parable of the Sower, more accurately, the parable of the soils. And then Matthew 13:24-30 with its interpretation 36-43, the so-called parable of the wheat and tares. Really, this is the parable of the sower, if it’s understood. The chief point of the first parable is “how do you receive the seed of the kingdom of heaven or the grace of God”? What kind of soil is your heart? Is it wayside soil and hard? Is your soil rocky? Is your heart rocky saying, “I’ll receive it so far but underneath there is a bedrock? I’ll receive it with reservation.” Is it thorny? I’ll receive it but with conditions. I’m going to give a lot of my soil, my energies, to feeding other things, like the cares of this world,” which eventually choke out the seed. Or is it good soil, receiving the seed without condition and without reservation. That’s the first parable.
The second parable, so-called wheat and tares, is really… Look at chapter 13:24, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared,” not to a field in which there are wheat and tares. That’s how most people understand it; the kingdom of heaven is like a field. It’s not like a field. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a “man who sowed good seed in his field.” Christ Himself, the Son of Man and no other is the soul Sower of the kingdom of heaven, of the grace of God. Everything you know about God this evening, every spiritual truth that you’ve embraced, the Son of God has planted that in your heart. He’s the Sower. That’s the second parable.
That brings us to the consideration of two more parables, verses 31 & 32, the parable of the mustard seed and then verse 33, the parable of the leaven. Let’s begin by reading these verses, verse 31, “And He presented another parable to them saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field and this is smaller than all other seeds but when it’s full grown it’s larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. And He spoke another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three packs of meal until it was all leavened.’ All these things Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables and He did not speak to them without a parable, so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled saying, ‘I will open My mouth in parables. I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.’”
Here’s what we’d like to do this evening. I’d like to identify the chief point of each of these parables; the parable of the mustard seed and of the leaven. Then I’d like to show, hopefully in a practical way, how the details shed light on that chief message. Let’s look together at the parable of the mustard seed. This is also recorded in Mark 4:31&32 and it’s also recorded in Luke 13:18&19. Unlike the two parables we’ve already studied, we have no inspired interpretation of this particular parable. So, we must wait upon the Lord to instruct us.
Let me begin with a little bit of background by suggesting a problem that interpreters have had with this particular parable. There seems to be (there isn’t) an apparent discrepancy between what the Lord Jesus said and what actually exists. From verse 32 you’d get the idea that this mustard tree was enormous, and yet the fact is that the mustard trees that we know anything about today get to be about four feet high or six. One commentator said there was evidence there was one nine feet and another made reference to twelve feet but it wasn’t documented. So, you are talking at the most, let’s go way on the outside, from five to fifteen feet high. That’s not very big. Matter of fact, in verse 32 it says, “This is smaller than all the seeds,” the mustard seed. So, they go and dig up all these other seeds and say, “How come you said that? That isn’t true. There are other seeds, and there were in Palestine, in that day smaller than the mustard seed.”
In order to explain the apparent discrepancies, you’d be amazed at how the commentators go about it. Some of the explanations they give; one was that the wrong word was translated in the Greek. There is another word that looks very close to “mustard” but it wasn’t really mustard but in the Greek it looks like that. There was a copyist’s error. Jesus wasn’t really talking about a mustard seed but about another seed which looked in the Greek like a mustard seed. Someone else said, “No, that’s not what happened. He was talking about the mustard seed, but remember that mustard trees in our climate where it’s cold are a lot different than the mustard trees in the southern climate where it’s hot. There’s all kinds of proof that the mustard trees in Palestine are big enough for a man to climb or for a camel to go under the branches,” and that kind of thing. Another explanation I read was, “Jesus said exactly the right thing. It was the smallest seed and it was the largest tree. It’s too bad that it’s become extinct now.” And they gave the explanation that the mustard tree that He was talking about no longer exists. But in his day it did exist, they say.
Well, there are a couple of things that are absolutely clear and I think if you start with what is 100% clear you come a long way in understanding the mind of the Spirit of God. Here is the first thing that I know is clear. It’s clear that the mustard seed was very small in size. There’s no question about that. Fact is, it became proverbial because it was so small. One writer I read said that it was so small that it could hardly be seen with the naked eye. I don’t know if it was that small but I know it was small. It was known for its minuteness. I’ll give you a couple of illustrations of that.
One day the disciples were puzzled why they couldn’t cast a demon out and the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “That’s because of the littleness of your faith. But truly I say to you, if you had faith as a mustard seed, you should say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it should move and nothing shall be impossible to you.” So, the mustard seed was known for its smallness. Another time He said in Luke 17:6, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.’” Again, it’s the minuteness of the mustard seed. It was proverbial for its smallness; for it’s being miniscule.
The second thing that’s 100% certain is this. Notice verse 32, “When it is full grown it’s larger than the garden plant and becomes a tree.” If you have the KJV it says, “The greatest among the herbs.” See, it wasn’t a tree at all. It didn’t have a woody stem. It’s got to have a woody stem in order to be a tree. It was grass. One commentator said that it was a garden shrub outdoing itself. As a garden shrub, it was pretty big. As a tree it was no big deal. As a garden shrub, as a plant, as an herb, it was big and unusual in size. For all practical purposes it had become a tree. So much so that the birds thought it was a tree. They came and built a nest in it. It was a shrub big enough for birds to come and nest and rest in this particular tree. Again, that’s big for a plant, not big for trees. There were smaller seeds and there were larger plants. This was not the largest of the plants. There were smaller seeds and larger plants but there were no smaller seed which produced a larger plant and there were no larger plants that came from a smaller seed. So, it was 100% accurate what He was saying. For a seed this size to produce a plant this size, that’s the smallest to give the biggest and that was His point of it.
Before I give you the main teaching of that parable, let me remind you of verse 31, “The kingdom of heaven is like.” I want to keep bringing that up. Whatever the Lord Jesus intends by this parable, it’s a picture of the kingdom of heaven. It’s positive. It’s optimistic. It’s spiritual. It’s good. It’s a picture of the principle of God, the grace of God, the kingdom of God. There are those who think the kingdom of heaven is a mixture of good and bad, a mixture of tares and wheat, of good fish and bad fish, of wicked leaven permeating throughout the whole thing and they say, “This is a mustard tree. That’s not very good. It’s got a pungent seed and pungent taste. If you were talking about heaven it would have been a sweet tree; a fruit tree; not an old mustard tree.” Because they read in parable #1 chapter 13:4, speaking of the seed on the wayside, “The birds came and ate the seed.” And then in His explanation in verse 19 He said, “The evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in the heart.” So, they say, “Birds are evil. The birds came and took the seed and God says that’s the evil one. So, when the birds come into the mustard tree, that’s not talking about anything good. That’s talking about the corruption of the church and the birds come into it and they are not good birds. They are bad birds.” And so on. They say, “There’s a mixture in the kingdom of heaven. There are going to be tares and there’s going to be bad fish and there’s going to be bad birds and there’s going to be leaven. It’s a mixture.”
There is not a mixture! The kingdom of heaven is pure and there are no tares in heaven and there are no bad fish in heaven and there is no wicked leaven in heaven and there is no bad birds coming in heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard tree. It’s not bad. It’s good and in order to understand it, you’ve got to see it as He’s teaching it. Just because the birds were bad in one parable doesn’t mean they are bad in parable #3. It’s a different story and it’s not legitimate to overlap them. That’s an illustration of taking the details and reading into the details.
Whatever this parable means, it’s not talking about wicked birds and false teachers or heretics coming into the church; the evil one. He’s describing heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. He’s describing heaven and the grace of God; spiritual truth. Let me try to nail down the chief point and then we’ll look at the details. Whatever the chief message of this parable is, it has to revolve around these two truths. #1 The apparently small contemptible insignificant seed has to be included in there. There’s a small beginning. And it also has to include the future grandeur; the growth, the maturity. Verse 32 says, “full grown tree”.
In Palestine the mustard tree was an illustration of a striking increase from smallness to greatness. For years I thought the message was, “The kingdom of heaven will start small and get large.” That’s what I thought it was. I thought the difference between the kingdom of heaven as a mustard seed and as leaven was that the mustard seed showed outward growth while the leaven showed the inward growth. I don’t believe that’s the point at all or what He’s saying. The fact is, I believe in this parable the word “mustard” is a detail and doesn’t have to do with the main point at all. The main point is in verse 13:31, “The kingdom of heaven is like a seed.”
See, the seed is a comparison. He’s going to say something about that seed, so he brings in mustard. That’s a description. He’s going to show how it’s not only like a seed but a mustard seed. But the point is not mustard seed. It’s a seed and He’s calling attention to life. He’s calling attention to vitality. He’s calling attention to the growth principle. The kingdom of heaven is like (we’ll get to mustard in a minute) a seed. It starts small, not like a building where you put brick upon brick and finally it gets to be a big building. But it’s an illustration of life; life and vitality in the seed. I believe the message can be summarized in these words, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed; life, vitality.” When once planted (implied by God), though it’s seemingly insignificant at the start, because it’s life and it’s a seed, it grow and it grows and it grows until it’s full grown. When the life of the seed is full grown, then it becomes a ministry and a home for all who fly out to it. I think that’s the idea of the parable. The kingdom of heaven is like a seed. It’s alive. As a seed, even though you can’t see the life, it starts small and it grows and it grows and it grows and it turns into that which people can fly to for refuge, for nesting and for resting. That’s what He was saying. It’s a picture of the grace of God and life in the Spirit.
I don’t know of anything that shows the wonder of life any more than a seed. The power to grow is the unique characteristic of a living organism. I read an article about an experiment they did in Pennsylvania. They took seeds which were found in the hand of a mummified Egyptian girl. They approximate that mummy to be five thousand years old. They took the seeds that were clenched in her little fist and they planted them in Pennsylvania. Guess what they got? Blue morning glories. After five thousand years the seeds were still alive and they grew blue morning glories. Jesus said, “Except a grain of wheat dies, it abides by itself alone. But if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” For five thousand years those seed remained by themselves alone. But then in Pennsylvania they died. They were buried; they were put into the ground and they lived. They were still alive. Do you know why? There was vitality and there was life in the seed. That’s the message of this parable. The kingdom of heaven does not grow as a snow ball grows or as a building grows or as a wave grows or as a big pile of junk grows. The kingdom of heaven grows like a seed grows. It’s alive. It has energy inside. It’s vital.
From that main point let me mention several principles from the details that tie into that main point. I think He intentionally chose mustard seed. To illustrate life He could have chosen any seed because life is in any seed. But I think He had something else in mind when he chose “mustard seed”. Jesus could have used the cedars of Lebanon. They are used in the Bible a lot. If He wanted to show the tremendous growth and the strength and the power of the kingdom, what would be stronger than the cedars of Lebanon? But I think He chose the mustard tree because it was large enough to be a resting place to all who flew to it. But it wasn’t large enough to be admired by the world. He chose an illustration that was right in between. When you hear about famous trees in the world, not too many people mention the mustard tree. “Name your favorite tree.” I bet if you asked a thousand people, no one would say the mustard tree. The mustard tree is not a popular tree. It’s an “outside the camp” tree. It’s a rejected kind of a tree. Its fruit is pungent. You wouldn’t expect that to be a picture of heaven. But when you read your Bible you know it’s an accurate picture of heaven. It’s alive. People can fly to it for refuge. They can nest there and rest there. But the world doesn’t like it. It’s one of those trees that’s rejected and I think that’s part of His illustration.
From the fact that the mustard seed is among the smallest of the seeds, I think the Lord is encouraging His disciples and we who are presently his disciples, not to be discouraged at small beginnings, if those small beginnings have the life of God in them. We are to be discouraged at small beginnings if there is no life of God in them. But if there is a life of God in the small beginnings, then we don’t have to be discouraged. Zachariah 4:10, “Who has despised the day of small things.” This could be true corporately or individually. In other words, as a group or as an individual. As a group sometimes we might think, “Boy, the church is just like a seed. Nothing is happening.” How many times in my heart I wanted to pray David’s prayer in Psalm 12:2, “Help, Lord, for the Godly man ceases to be and the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.” Your heart cries out, “Where are the Godly? Where’s the remnant? Where are those who are in love with the Lord Jesus and living in an unbroken union with Him? Help, Lord. The Godly man ceases.” It may look like the church is dead, just like it might have looked like those seeds were dead in that girl’s hand. It may look like there is no kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. There’s life.
Do you realize this? I know it’s a contradiction but follow along as I say it; the church is doing fine on the earth. Now, not the picture of the church; the thing they call visible and local. That’s not doing too well because mostly that’s manmade. But the real church; the life and the people who have life in God, wherever He has implanted life, it’s doing fine. The church is growing. I wish someone would write a book. He hasn’t called me to write books. He’s called me to write titles of books and have you write the books. I wish someone would write a book entitled, “The Church is Alive and Well on Planet Earth”. Now, I stole a few of those words. But it’s true! The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed and the real church, the invisible church, individuals related to God, they aren’t suffering. They are feeding on Him. He has to often slay the shepherds and feed His sheep in secret places, but they’re doing fine. God’s people, those who fear the Lord, who are living in union with Him, they’re doing okay. Our human eyes can’t see it but the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. There’s life and it’s growing and it will come to maturity.
What’s true for the group is also true for the individual. This is a parable, as they all are, of hope. Life guarantees growth. You probably do what I do. I think I’m pretty average. Sometimes I look at my own life and wonder where the tree is. I look at my own heart and wonder if it’s still the seed. You look at your life and it doesn’t cast a shadow and it doesn’t shelter very many birds and it doesn’t yield any fruit and doesn’t complete the landscape and you wonder if God is doing anything and is active in my life. It’s easy to look at your life and long for the branches and the fruit and for the leaves. Those are figures of speech. It’s easy to look at your life and long for the love and for the patience and for the meekness. Where is that forgiving heart? If I really am His where is His image in me? How come I’m still sinning? How come I’m still in bondage in so many ways?
1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God practices sin because His seed remains in him.” Isn’t that a verse? His seed remains in him. The kingdom of heaven is like a seed, like a mustard seed. What a word that is! His seed abides in him. That indwelling life of Christ is what gives hope and what keeps you going. Because His seed abides in you, you are going to grow and mature. That’s true for the individual as well as for the group. I believe also that from the fact that the birds come to nest and rest in its branches. We learn a double truth; not only is the kingdom of heaven is a place where we can nest and rest but it’s also when that life is developed in us, it produces in us a place where others can fly to us in order to find a rest and find a nest. We’re at rest in the life of God and as part of the life of God, we can offer ourselves to give others that same rest.
There’s many things to learn from this parable. The big teaching is that the kingdom of heaven is like a seed. It’s full of life and vitality and energy and it’s progress issues only from life and it’s certain. As a mustard seed will be rejected, as the smallest seed we don’t need to be discouraged. Life guarantees growth. You say, “I’m not growing in the Lord.” Then you’re dead. Every living thing grows. If it stops growing it dies. There’s nothing alive that’s not growing. That’s part of life; growth. Every Christian is growing. They may not see it but if they are truly alive, they are growing. That includes you and me.
Matthew 13:33, “And He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of meal until it was all leavened.’” Once again let me begin with a supposed problem. It is a fact that twenty two times in the Old Testament leaven is mentioned and in every case it is forbidden. It is bad and is a symbol of evil and wickedness and sin and that which corrupts and that which disintegrates and that which makes foul and that which decays. It’s also a fact that it’s used fourteen times in the New Testament and clearly thirteen out of those fourteen times it’s used of evil, sin, wickedness. Leaven was always forbidden and always warned about. Jesus warned about the leaven of the Pharisees, the leaven of the Sadducees, the leaven of Herod. Thirty six times in the Bible leaven is mentioned. In at least thirty five times out of the thirty six times it’s bad; the fermentation is evil.
Verse 33, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven.” Say what? The kingdom of heaven is like leaven? Most commentators don’t like this, so they try to get around it. They say, “Kingdom of heaven? It must be talking about some other kingdom and not the kingdom of glory in the sky because that can’t be like evil and can’t be like wickedness. He’s got to be talking about Christiandom or the professing church where you’ve got a mixture and a combination of good and bad and of the wheat and the tares and of the bad fish along with the good fish. God wouldn’t use the same picture thirty five times to say, ‘Sin, sin, sin, sin.’ and just when you get grip of that, He says, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven.’ Come on, Lord? You just got me in the mood and to learn that it’s wickedness. He’s got to be talking about the terrible mixture that takes place on the earth; the way evil spreads and is contagious and the little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
Let me clear up a few points before we look at the chief message. You know already my approach. Because of the Sermon on the Mount I’m not about to back off from what the kingdom of heaven is. The kingdom of heaven is good and is the kingdom as it is in heaven. And now on the earth we can pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We can have a kingdom of heaven on the earth. God often uses the same pictures to picture different things and even opposite things.
What comes to your mind when I say “serpent”? Satan. Revelation 12:9, “The serpent of old who is called the devil and satan and deceives the whole earth.” How about John 3:14? The serpent there pictures the Lord Jesus. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” It’s the same figure of speech. 1 Peter 5:8 calls satan “a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour”. Four times in the Book of Hosea God is called a “roaring lion seeking whom He may devour”; four different times! It’s the same figure of speech and meaning a different thing. I looked up “tree” in the concordance. Sometimes it would be a picture of a kingdom. Sometimes it would be a picture of a righteous man. Sometimes it would be a picture of a wicked man. Sometimes it would be a picture of a proud man. Sometimes it was good and sometimes corrupt. Look up wind. Sometimes it’s the shortness of life. Sometimes it’s the judgment of God. Sometimes it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in the Believer. Sometimes it’s the spreading of evil doctrine; every wind of doctrine. You can’t look at a picture and say, “It’s been used this way all these times, therefore it’s evil.” The same salt that pictured Lot’s wife, also pictures the Christian in the world, “You are the salt of the earth.” In one case birds feeding on seed become a picture of God’s provision for all of us. In another case it’s the evil one snatching the word from their heart.
I suggest because leaven is used thirty five times in the Bible for evil, I’m not surprised that He uses it here for the kingdom because it’s one of the wonderful illustrations of the grace of God; of the kingdom of truth. Matter of fact, using the mustard seed and leaven in the parables was part of His plan to hide the truth. He deliberately chose leaven in order to hide the truth. You wouldn’t expect Him to change gears so quickly. The word “leaven” in Matthew 13 I’m convinced is positive. It’s the Spirit of God describing the process by which the kingdom of heaven will spread. It will act exactly as leaven does.
Let me nail down the main teaching and then take some of the details. I believe the message can be summarized in these words, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven in this sense; it radically transforms the meal.” Leaven is a chemical agent and this chemical agent is always working toward one end and one goal. It’s going to work and work and work until the entire lump is transformed into itself. In this parable our hearts are like meal and like unleavened paste and His grace in our heart does what leaven does to the bread. It transforms us. It radically changes us. It turns us into what we are not. The main message of the parable is the radical transformation of all the meal.
Let’s look back at the details. Matthew 13:33, the leaven describes the empire of grace, and says, “which a woman took.” From that I get this truth, all tied into the main point, that leaven is foreign to the meal. What I mean by that is that it’s not naturally in the meal. If you let the meal all by itself it would never get leavened. It can’t. Leaven is not derived from the meal. Leaven doesn’t create the meal. Leaven has to be brought from point A and put into the meal. If it’s not brought from without, there can be no change in the particular dough. This introduction of leaven, the principle of leaven from without, begins a work, occasions of contest, and begins a process inside of that bread. A radical transformation is taking place that will last for the life of that bread. That’s the first fact. The leaven is brought from outside and brought in.
The second fact, same verse, “which a woman took and hid in three pecks of meal.” I don’t see any point that the Spirit of God intended for three pecks of meal, except that six times in the Old Testament that was the amount used for the normal cooking. I think that’s all the detail means; in the normal cooking three pecks of meal were put in. “A woman took and hid…” It comes from the outside and it’s brought in and it’s hidden inside and it begins a secret invisible influence. It’s hidden from within and it has a vital energy, like the seed, except that it’s not alive. He’s illustrating something different here. But it’s inside and it begins to penetrate and it works from the inside to the outside. I don’t think He’s choosing that arbitrarily. I think He’s illustrating the principle of the kingdom of heaven. The leaven lays hold of the mass of dough at the center and it begins its transforming work. It begins inside and works itself from the inside out into every atom, essentially changing the very property of the entire body of the paste in which it is; from the inside out. It begins to conform itself, or the paste to itself. It imparts its own quality to the meal and the meal become leavened. The idea of hiding it in the leaven; the leaven is assimilating. It’s active and it impregnates and penetrates and it converts and it changes and it conforms. It doesn’t destroy. It just changes. It starts from the inside, works to the outside and it actually alters the quality of the thing in which it is working. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven. It’s brought from without and placed within. It’s hidden on the inside and because it’s diffusive, it commences its work at the center and it works its way throughout the whole loaf by a secret invisible influence.
The third fact verse 33 again, “until it was all leavened”. The kingdom of heaven is exactly like leaven. It’s brought from without and it’s hidden within and it finally conforms everything into itself until the whole is leavened. It doesn’t happen all at once. It’s gradual and by degrees and it’s by contagion. We’re conformed step by step into His image. The leaven will not stop. It cannot stop. You can’t stop the leaven. It will not stop until the whole lump is leavened. It will not stop and it will not let up and it will not be satisfied until its whole object is radically changed from the inside to the outside and everything is transformed into itself and you have leaven bread. You start with unleavened bread and you end up with leavened bread.
I’m not forcing these facts. These things are right on the surface and it’s exactly what the Lord Jesus was saying and it’s true through the balance of Scripture. The kingdom of heaven is like that and if you don’t accept this interpretation, then scrap it, because you’ve got these principles every place else in the Bible. Even if you reject this you can’t reject the truth that the grace of God starts on the outside, comes to the inside, works itself from the inside to the outside and transforms what it touches into itself. If you don’t see that illustrated in the leaven, throw it out but you can’t deny that truth because that is a Bible truth and I think it’s illustrated in this principle. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven; radically transforming the meal into itself. It’s naturally foreign to the meal. It’s an internal work and it’s guaranteed. Like all the others, this also is a parable of hope. Let me give a couple of principles to illustrate that.
From this parable we may learn #1 that our hope is the grace of God and that comes from without and comes from outside of ourselves. It’s not in the meal to leaven itself. It’s not in me to change and it’s not in you to change and unless God brings from the outside and implants within, the message of the kingdom of God, His principles, His grace, you can never hope to change and I can never hope to change and you’ll have to remain your pasty self and I’ll have to remain my pasty self. Only the introduction of the leaven, the grace of God, is going to do me any good. It will frustrate you to pieces to try to study the life of Christ and then try to imitate that life. You can’t imitate that life, any more than a lump of dough could study a true loaf of bread and try to imitate that loaf of bread. It can’t be done.
I used to do that; imitate Christ. I read a few books and I thought, “I know what I’ll do. Every time I come to a situation I’ll ask, “What would He do in this situation? How would He think and how would He feel? I’ll just imitate Christ.” Bull feathers. It doesn’t work. You fall right on your face. “I wish I were as selfless as the Lord Jesus. I wish I was as compassionate as the Lord Jesus. I wish I was as cut off and as free from things temporal as the Lord Jesus. I’ll imitate Him.” You’ll learn as you go on that the Christian life is not your ability to imitate Him but it’s His ability to reproduce Himself in you. As He puts in the leaven of the grace of God, He begins to change you. And until that leaven changes you and conforms you to Himself, give up on changing. There’s no hope. You can’t quit your sin. You can’t break your habits. You can’t stop those thoughts. You can’t control the temper. You can’t change your tongue. You can’t get rid of the bitterness. You can’t become more patient. You can’t do anything unless He puts in the leaven from the outside; the leaven of the grace of God.
A holy character is a radical change and it must come from Him because our hearts, brothers and sisters in Christ, is unleavened paste and we can’t do a thing without the grace of God. If He’s going to turn us into bread for the hungry, then it has to come from Him. You can’t do it. Any changes that don’t come from His leavening, you are faking it and I’m faking it. It’s easy to play the game. You look at some Christian lives and I’m supposed to have these seven attributes hanging on my life, so I’m going to start putting them on there. I’ll glue them on; glued fruit. “I’ll get up early and I’ll pray and I’ll read my Bible.” It’s not real. It’s a radical transformation by the grace of God and only New Covenant Christians, only kingdom of heaven Christians, only those who have begun to learn to tap into the grace of God and the life of God, begin to understand that. Without the leaven of the grace of God you are a legalist. You are doing it by works and by the energy of your own flesh, generating all of that self-effort. And it’s all in vain because it’s not real. It’s a game.
The second thing I learned is that as you begin to understand the grace of God and the kingdom of heaven being as leaven, the first changes that take place are very deep and invisible. It’s a grave mistake to look for outward results. You see, it takes time to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, just like the leaven took time. God is concerned with the hidden leaven in your heart. He’s concerned with that hidden influence that will radically change you in due process. He’s not impressed when you change your behavior. He wants to see your character change. Any behavior change that doesn’t issue from a character change, again is an unreal change. By and by the leaven will reach the outside. Don’t worry about that. God does His work from within and our business is not outward results but a true planting of the leaven within the heart. The rest will happen. The leaven works. It’s slow, it’s gradual but it’s certain and it’s radical.
The leaven begins deep within in the spirit, in the motives, in the thoughts, in the intents of the heart, in the real you, in the blood of your soul. God plants that leaven down so deep and it begins inside and you become like Him. He leaves the form but He changes the character. If you are tall when He plants it in your heart, you aren’t going to get short. And if you are fat you aren’t going to get thin. And if you are an introvert He probably won’t make you an extrovert. He won’t change your personality. He’ll liberate it, that you might put on display what He can do through other personalities like yours but you’ll still be you but changed. He does that from within. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results, whether they are in your life or in your loved ones lives, don’t worry about results. Just pray that God will plant His leaven in their heart, and then it will work. That’s His work and He’s the One that has to do it. God is not under the law of time. If He takes eighty years to transform you to His image, that’s no big deal. Of course, you’ve got to knock that off a tick at a time. You might think it’s a big deal but not to God. He’s far more interested that your changes are real.
Don’t play games and don’t fake it. Even if you look embarrassed and even if you have to testify, “God is doing nothing in my life and the book is dry and I have no victory and I’m in slavery all the time.” At least be real and be honest. Don’t accept anything else and don’t pretend you have a victory that you don’t have. Don’t pretend you have a rest that you don’t have. Don’t pretend you have a union and a fellowship with God if you don’t have it. Don’t pretend He’s answering prayer and you have a relationship with Him if it’s not true. Just get in that secret place and cry out to God, “Plant your leaven in my heart and begin to change me,” and then testify to only those transformations which are real, which God Himself has done in your heart.
We’re also taught by this to trust God to complete His work. The whole thing will be leavened someday. He plants His leaven in your heart. It starts from the inside and it works toward the outside and it begins to change you into itself, radically change you, and that which He has begun to do He will perform. If it’s wrong for the children of the king to put their hand to the plow and look back, how much more for the King will He put His hand to the plow of transforming you, and then give up on you? It’s not possible. The leaven will do its perfect work. He never has an unfinished symphony. He begins a work in you and He’ll bring it to completion. One day we’ll all be leavened. Right now there seems like there’s so much unleavened paste and you wonder if God is alive and if He’s doing anything but it won’t be long when everybody in this room and those listening by tape will all be standing in our resurrection bodies arrayed in white with palms of victory in our hands, casting our crowns before the enthroned Lamb of God with the numberless saints who have gone before. And we’ll cry, “Worthy, worthy, worthy, art Thou, for Thou was slain and is purchased for God with Thy blood men from every tongue and every kingship and every tribe and every nation. And the whole lump will be leavened.
We’ll know it someday. We need to know it in foretaste now. We need to have that present foretaste of that future glory now. Don’t get discouraged. The leaven will have its perfect work. You will be changed and transformed and you will be free from everything that hinders you now, and then you’ll confess, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven.” Oh, indeed it is! The grace of God comes from without and He brings it within and He starts a work and it changes us radically, gradually, step by step until one day we’re like Him. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed in that it’s the kingdom of life. The kingdom of heaven is like heaven in that it radically transforms.
Matthew 13:34, “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables and he did not speak to them without a parable, so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled saying, ‘I will open my mouth in parables and I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the earth.’” At first that sounds proud, “I’ll open my mouth and tell you things that were hidden from the foundation of the earth.” That’s not proud. What He’s saying is, “This is not new truth. It was just hidden. It’s old truth and it just needs to be revealed.” It doesn’t thrill you because it’s new. It should thrill you because it’s true. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven and that’s not bad news. That’s good news. That’s life and that’s hope.
Our Father, we do thank You for Matthew 13, for these parables, for these spiritual truths that You put in earthly stories. Work the principles in our hearts and our lives, we pray. Work in our hearts all that You know these things mean. Thank You for Your Word. In Jesus name. Amen.