Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"The Kingdom of Heaven is Like..." Part 3

Through the first two parables we have look at (see Part 1 and Part 2) we need to take note of two important ideas that are to define our call to the Kingdom life. First, the Kingdom must be our primary focus. There are other kingdoms at work  but they will come to nothing (Psalm 2). These other kingdoms do not require our attention, although they too often distract us. We can easily get lost in the "weeds" if we lose sight of the primacy of the Kingdom. Second, the Kingdom needs to be understood as having the potential to become very large but it needs to be "planted." Planting is not simply the act of dropping seed on the ground and hoping it grows. Rather "planting" requires intentionality, preparation, proper soil conditions, watering, and some waiting. But when planted properly the Kingdom will become very large as a place of refuge. With this understanding let's look at the next parable where Jesus says, "the Kingdom of heave in like..."

Parable of the Yeast
"He told them still another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.'” (Matthew 13:33)
From time to time I enjoy making homemade bread. The basic recipe calls for a couple of cups of flour, some wet ingredients (milk, oil, eggs) and an appropriate measure of yeast. If you know the baking process, you know that after all the ingredients are mixed together the clump of down needs to be kneaded. It is the kneading that works the yeast throughout the dough. It is then set aside and through the activation of the yeast the volume of dough increases  and continues to increase proportionate to the flour yeast ratio. A ball of dough will double or triple in size in a matter of hours. The end product is a light fluffy loaf of delicious bread that beats anything you can buy in the store.

In this parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom with yeast. This parable and the parable of the mustard seed tell us that Jesus knew the future growth and potential of the Kingdom to spread out. But what else was Jesus communicating in this parable?

Jesus refers to a quite large an specific amount of flour. What is the significance of this sixty pounds? Other translations use "three measures of flour" or a "bushel of flour." This  amount of flour was the prescribed measure for a thank offering to the Lord (see Genesis 18:6), Thank offerings were to be made with leavened bread (Leviticus 7:13). But the Lord had already told Israel that he was rejecting such offerings (Amos 5:22), because the peoples hearts were far from him. Jesus is using imagery that would have been familiar to his disciples but the implication would become clear only later. The Kingdom would be taken away from the Jews and given to another people (Matthew 21:43), those who would live according to the way of Jesus.

If our desire is the promised Kingdom life, it is important to ask "what is the way of Jesus?" What else can we know about yeast as a depictor of the Kingdom to help answer that question? Here are five things about yeast and how that characteristic can tell us something about what the Kingdom is like.

Yeast only requires a small amount to do its work. To much yeast produces a loaf with a porous texture and an unpleasant bitter flavor. Likewise, it was not Jesus intention that the present Kingdom dominate the world, at least not before “a new heaven and a new earth” are established. Instead the Kingdom is to have its affect throughout the whole, just as yeast does. When Christendom becomes dominate, faith has shown itself to become porous and what it produces often becomes unpleasant. An honest appraisal of Christian history will show this to be the case, even up to present day. Unpacking this is beyond the scope of this post but please get this - the U.S.A. is not the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God is much different than any earthly nation. To many today make the mistake of thinking that our nation must be a Christian nation, I did as well for many years. But what has become clear to me is that such thinking becomes syncretistic, blending proud nationalism and religion. We have to ask if we are putting anything before the Kingdom because we value our way of life more than the Kingdom. Do we not our citizenry in Christ's Kingdom is out of this world! (Philippians 3:20)

Yeast is always effective in the the right amount. The efficacy of yeast is a sure thing. Yeast will always do what yeast does. It cannot do other than be effective so long as it is activated in just the right measure, in just the right manner. Left out of the loaf, kept in a jar, yeast does nothing and will eventually expire. Not worked into the bread it produces little results. It needs to be kneaded. Likewise, the efficacy of the Kingdom is certain but it requires just the right kind of work (John 6:29). The assignment we have is just this - to tell the story of Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less. But how many are working that story? Do we believe it is effective? Or do we think in our Post-modern, post Christian, culture today the story, has lost its efficacy? I know a few who are truly activated for the Kingdom but I know too many who are kept in "jars." We need to take the lid off and get activated but when we do we need to consider this next point carefully. 

Yeast does its work silently. It makes no noise in accomplishing its task.It goes about its work without recognition until the results are seen. It accomplishes what it is purposed for. Likewise, the Kingdom is to spread peaceably (Matthew 5:9, James 3:8), with humility and love (Philippians 2:1-3) with only the pronouncement of the alternative offered to those who repent and seek it first (Matthew 6:33). The Kingdom doesn't stand opposed to anything but rather must be seen as standing for something very different. Then it will accomplish what it is purposed for. Recognition comes only by results, not by forceful declaration of rights nor for self-aggrandizement. It is all about the Kingdom and the King!  

Yeast converts at the cellular level.  Yeast turns carbohydrates into carbon dioxide changing the very nature of the the flour being interacted with. Yeast changes the nature of the whole batch as it is worked into the flour. Likewise, the very nature of life in the Kingdom is a process of conversion, not just for the individual but for whole communities (Acts 16:31). The Good News of the Kingdom is that now through Jesus Christ the way of conversion (Acts 3:19 KJV) and transformation of our thinking (Romans 12:2) all things will be made new - redeemed, restored, revitalized. The Kingdom changes what it comes in contact with, not just at the individual level but at the community level. Here is one example....

Yeast would rather keep warm. You don't take a fresh ball of yeast dough and stick it in the refrigerator, unless you want to slow the rise of the dough. Likewise, the Kingdom grows best where it is warmly welcomed, in hearts and among those who receive it with gladness. We should not try to press the Kingdom into places where it is coldly received. We don't force people to conform to the Kingdom. We offer an alternative that will attract those who welcome it. This was Jesus pattern when he sent his disciples out to to proclaim the Kingdom (Luke 9:1-6). Jesus never forced his Kingdom upon anyone but he did rebuke those who were leading people astray from the simple way (Matthew 23:13) of the Kingdom life he came to establish.

What can we learn and what may need to be changed in light of the first three parables we have looked at? What are some of the similarities we find at work? How might Jesus parables of the "weeds," of the "mustard seed," of the "yeast" be lived out as we quest for a Kingdom life? I think those are certainly interesting question to contemplate. Those are questions I want to explore for myself. Before that we need to complete the ten sayings of Jesus, "the Kingdom of heaven is like..." Next up -  Part 4 - “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field." (Matthew 13:44). 

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