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Parable of the Leaven

Matthew 13:33



Just one verse is all it takes tonite to have a big spiritual spread to feast upon.


How many have ever made homemade bread?  What do you put in the dough to make it rise?  Yeast.  And what is the Bible word for yeast?  Leaven.  It’s just another word for yeast.  It is used to produce fermentation and it causes the dough to rise.


Here’s the common interpretation of this parable:

The leaven is the gospel, the woman is the church, and the meal or dough is the world.  Logic says then that the leaven represents the expanding power of the gospel in the world until the whole planet is eventually influenced.  Just as the leaven overtakes the meal, so the gospel will overtake the world.  That is the common interpretation…but there are several problems with that.


First of all, the Bible does not teach that the whole world will be influenced by the gospel.  Yes, we are to take the gospel everywhere, to every tribe and nation, and we’re trying, but failing.


II Tim. 3 says that in the last days perilous times shall come.  That doesn’t sound like a spiritual awakening.  The Bible says that just before Christ returns it will be ‘as it was in the days of Noah.’  That is eating, drinking, and being merry.


How is 2021 similar to the days of Noah? 


1.     Preoccupation with physical appetites.  Everyone is always looking for new ways to please their flesh.


2.     Disregard for the sanctity of marriage.  It is viewed as disposable, or unnecessary.


3.     Widespread violence.

Genesis 6:11
The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.

Our hearts go out to families of fallen soldiers this week, and as we look back to 9/11 and 20 years since, it’s shocking that violence has killed another 100,000 on our streets since then!  We think of the attacks of that day as violent, but WE are a violent nation in a world that is FILLED with violence!


4.     Rampant illicit sex.

Genesis 6:5
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Man continues to find new ways to express their perversion…and it’s all over TV, the internet, and now on public display on college campuses and beaches, and every street corner it seems, and it all begins in the wicked imagination and thoughts of man!


The similarities between the pre-flood world and 2021 are astounding.  The Bible says that men shall wax worse and worse, not get better.  We are spiraling downward, not evolving. 


The Bible speaks of a great falling away, apostasy, just before Christ returns.  Men will not endure sound doctrine…they will turn away their ears from the truth and be turned unto fables.  Is that today or what?!


Here’s 1 reason to rethink whether leaven is used in a positive way:

The world will not be completely affected by the gospel until the millennial reign of Christ…His kingdom come to earth.


Here’s an even better reason to reject the common ‘first glance’ interpretation of this leaven being a good thing:

Every other place in the Bible in which leaven is used it symbolizes that which is evil.  Here’s some references:  Luke 12:1—symbolizes hypocrisy, Matt. 16—symbolizes false doctrine, Matt. 22—symbolizes worldliness, I Cor. 5—symbolizes evil conduct, Gal. 5:9—symbolizes legalism.


If leaven is suddenly good in our text, that is not consistent w/ the rest of Scripture.


So what is the correct interpretation of the meal, the woman, and the leaven?


A.    The Meal

If you were a Jew in those days and heard this parable, you would have caught the phrase, “3 measures of meal.”  It was a common purchase.  But when you hear that some woman has hid leaven in the meal, you’d say, “What a dirty trick…what an abominable woman!”  Why?  The key is the 3 measures of meal.  That’s what you’d take to the temple as an act of worship.  The OT book of Leviticus speaks of the meal offering, which was typically made up of 3 measures of meal.  They would grind up the meal very fine, then add oil and frankincense and bake a cake.  They would take it to the priest in the temple where the fire of God would consume it…it was a meal offering.


The finely ground meal represented the even, sinless character of the Lord Jesus…w/ no lumps or inconsistencies.  What do you think then that the oil would represent?  The Holy Spirit!  The frankincense represented the sweet savor of His holy life, and the fire stands for His sufferings on the cross.


Now, there were 2 things you were not allowed to put into the meal as a Jew:  honey or leaven. 


No honey because that represented natural sweetness, and Jesus’ sweetness was supernatural…divine, not of this world.  In other words, He was not just a good person, but the Son of God.


No leaven because it’s always a picture of sin in the Bible, and our Lord was sinless.

Leviticus 2:11
No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the LORD, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the LORD made by fire.

When a Jew heard Jesus say that a woman bought 3 measures of meal and hid leaven in it, he immediately knew it was an act of sabotage…an abomination.


The meal represents communion [with God] in worship.

According to the law of first mention, which says we should go to the first time this concept is mentioned and there we will find keys and clues to understanding it.


Where is the first time in scripture that we find 3 measures of meal?  Genesis 18, where the Lord and 2 angels appear to Abraham, who quickly told his wife, Sarah, to get 3 measures of meal, bakes cakes on the hearth, and bring them to our divine guests.  It’s all about worship and communion with God.


What does the woman represent? 

B.    The woman

I believe she stands for confusion in worship.  First of all, because the Bible always uses a woman to describe something being wrong religiously.  From OT to Revelation it is so…again, not politically correct, but God’s point is made.


Another reason:  in Mt. 13:33 it is done deliberately.  It was no accident.  It was done w/ malice and premeditation.  She ‘took’ leaven and put it there on purpose.


That’s the devil’s goal, is to poison true worship and taint the hearts of believers and befoul good churches of God.  He uses formalism and ritualism in many churches.  I’m thankful that we can let the Spirit of God lead, even if we then vary from our precious worship schedule. 

“Many churches begin at 11 o’clock sharp and end at 12 o’clock dull!”


And Satan uses liberalism and many other weapons to inject poison into true worship, including the tool of distraction.  Many churches simply don’t have their eye on the ball, and are being led more by our society than by the Scriptures!


We need to worship in Spirit and in truth, and that means we must be on guard for what the devil will try to sneak in on us.


The woman in our text not only did what she did deliberately [the word ‘took’]., but also deceptively [the word ‘hid’].


She didn’t ‘put’ it in the meal…she ‘hid’ it in the meal.  Yet another good reason to reject that the leaven is the gospel…we don’t sneak the gospel in, as many churches are trying to do.


Ill.—we hide medicine, in juice or pudding…and he is none the wiser…and there’s no telling what she’s cleverly slipping into my food in her long term master plan!  J


No, we are up front with the gospel.  The truth shall set men free!  We don’t try to trick people into getting saved.  Jesus always encouraged people to count the cost of following Him.  One man said, I’ll follow you wherever you go.  Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  In other words, consider the cost of becoming my follower.  He told another to let the dead bury their dead, and come and follow me…and no man putting his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God!


New evangelicalism is saying we need to entertain, water down our message, and slip in truth on them somewhere along the way after they are hooked.  But we aren’t to hide the gospel, we’re to preach it.


“Our job is not to make the gospel appealing, but to make the gospel available!”


By the way, the first note of the gospel is not a happy note…it is that all have sinned and come up short!  This is not good news…but there’s no good news until you face the bad news.


The woman stands for confusion in worship, and the meal for communion in worship…


C.    The Leaven

The leaven stands for corruption in worship. 


Matt. 16 shows us 3 types of leaven to avoid as a church:


        1.     The leaven of the Pharisees, which is legalism.


16:6, 11-12      They thought He was talking about bread…but he was talking about doctrine, and theirs was legalism.  They arranged their faith into a list of dos and don’ts.  They made a critical mistake of outwardly conforming to the law, even tho’ they had inward corruption. 


They made life miserable for people as they went around like pious police checking up on everyone.  For example, the OT spoke of being ceremonially clean before partaking of food.  The Pharisees took that and embellished it to a ridiculous degree.  They said, you have to wash your hands w/ half an eggshell of water, poured over the fingers so that it would drip down off the elbow so many times…and if you didn’t do it exactly as they described then you weren’t ceremonially clean.  They loved to heap burdens on others, but they didn’t live right themselves.


I’m sorry to say that the leaven of the Pharisees is still around today.  “I’m spiritual because I don’t drink, smoke, or chew, or kiss girls that do!”  And you can come to church 3 times a week and be as carnal as an old goat!


True spirituality doesn’t work its way from the outside in, but from the inside out!  Some of God’s creatures have an exoskeleton, unlike humans who have an endoskeleton.  “Lobster Christians” have been injected w/ the leaven of the Pharisees…they have their convictions on the outside, but they are cold, unkind, unloving, and will pinch you w/ their lists of rules. 


Convictions are fine to have, but they should be like bones that you have on the inside.  They hold you up, give you strength and support and your very shape, but still allow you to be soft, gentle, and warm on the outside!


Don’t misunderstand…I’m not saying we should throw out our standards, and we shouldn’t forget GOD’S lists of dos and don’ts for us.  Just don’t go legalistic, allowing your attitude to be one of superiority to everyone else. 


“It’s the difference between being inhibited by rules and inhabited by the rule-maker!”


        2.     The leaven of the Sadducees, which is just the opposite of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees added to the Word of God a list of over 600 rules…but the Sadducees took away from it.

Acts 23:8
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

They were the liberals of that day.  We need to beware…and may we always stand for the fundamentals of the faith.  Today it’s hell, and literal fire that are under attack, or the virgin birth, or was Jesus a phony, or is the ENTIRE Bible inspired?  May we never be guilty of allegorizing the miracles of the Bible, or the return of Christ, or the tribulation and end of the world!


We live in a generation of churches that are putting question marks where we should put exclamation points! 


Pray for me that I never give in to the temptation to trim my message, and I’ll pray for you for the same.  Every week’s sermons include something controversial and I’ll get letters from someone who read it online, or once in a while a subscriber will unsubscribe in protest…great, that must mean we’re doing something right if we’re not pleasing everybody!


Let’s practice up on taking our stand, because it’s not going to get easier in these last days.  There’s coming a day if the Lord tarries that the government will say I’m no longer allowed to preach against homosexuality or Islam.  It’s already considered hate speech, and it’s happening in other countries, and it’s coming our way.


        3.     The leaven of materialism.

Mark 8:15
And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.

His lifestyle was all about wealth and material possessions.  And Christianity has made a major turn in recent years, and never more than the last few years, to prosperity preaching and the social gospel of just being happy and becoming a better and better person, and letting God bless you more and more.  It’s an all positive message, w/ no stepping on toes allowed!


They have decided to go that direction in their lives and in their churches, so they have to build doctrine and manufacture scriptural support for it.  They do all kinds of hermeneutical gymnastics trying to stretch the Bible to say what they want it to say.


If God has blessed you materially, enjoy it in the right balance.  God has given us richly all things to enjoy.  But true spirituality recognizes the best riches God has given to them is not money and material things, but true riches that moth and rust don’t touch.  The key is, do you own your possessions, or do they own you?!  Do you control your finances for God’s glory, or do they control and steer you and your life?


Some Christians would be better off if they never could have afforded that vehicle, or that boat, or that big screen, because of the way those things changed them and have stealthily crept up and taken over!


Legalism-Liberalism-Materialism…the woman hid the leaven and eventually it permeated all 3 measures of that dough!


Verse 33 of Matt. 13 is a parable predicting the coming day when this whole world God created will be affected by the leaven.  Thank God we won’t be here, the salt will be removed at the rapture before the whole world goes to leaven in the great tribulation. 


Until then, let’s join our hands and hearts in standing against the coming day of judgment, and stand guard against the woman’s clever concoction she attempts to hide away within our presence.

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