In Matthew 13:33, Jesus gives us an interesting picture of the “hiddenness” of the Kingdom: “Jesus also used this illustration: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast used by a woman making bread. Even though she used a large amount of flour, the yeast permeated every part of the dough.'” Now, to understand this parable, we have to get away from the Old Testament idea that yeast, or leaven always represents sin. In the Passover, there is a part of the feast when the Father removes the last bit of leaven from the house, symbolizing repentance and the removal of sin. Even in the Old Testament, though, leaven doesn’t always mean sin. When the Israelites were set free from Egypt, the only reason they took unleavened bread was because they needed to move quickly, and leavened bread would not have time to rise. So, leaving the equation of yeast and sin, what does this parable mean?
A biotech website defines yeast as “A general term for single-celled fungi that reproduce by budding.” Sounds kind of like a seed, doesn’t it? To put this in context, in the very same chapter where Jesus compares the Kingdom to yeast, he also calls it a mustard seed that, though small, grows into the largest of garden plants. (Matthew 13:32-33) Still in the same chapter, he says that in the parable of the sower and the seed, the seed is the message about the Kingdom. Later, still in chapter 13, Jesus calls the “sons of the Kingdom” the good seed. Jesus is obviously drawing us a word picture here, trying to get us to see the Kingdom as a force with a life all its own that starts small and grows.
I remember when I was a boy and my mother would make homemade bread. This was way before the days of the bread machine, so she did it all by hand and it would take hours. My mother would mix the flour, add the yeast and other ingredients to make the dough. She would knead it over and over with her petite but skilled hands, and then she would put it in a loaf pan and cover it with a dish towel. This was always the most fascinating part for me. Over the next few hours, that small lump of dough, left all alone, would rise and grow until it was ready to be baked. I loved seeing the effect of some invisible force on that lump of dough. Once my mother mixed the yeast in with everything else, it became invisible. And yet, every corner, every slice, every crumb of that loaf of bread had been changed by a little bit of yeast.
One morning, I stopped by Krispy Kreme on my way to church. This was purely for research purposes, you understand. At the Krispy Kreme close to my house (too close, actually) you can watch the whole doughnut-making process from start to cholesterol. You can watch the young man or woman mixing the dough in a huge vat, then see how they break some off of the lump, make it into a small white ring, and place it on a conveyor belt. This belt is actually a series of trays that then slowly travel up and down in a heated glass cabinet, where the “nut” (like nuts and bolts) made of dough (dough-nut) will rise and be ready to be flipped into a trough of hot grease. After being flipped again in the grease to cook the other side, the doughnut travels through a “waterfall” of pure sugar glaze that I like to call the Curtain of Death. At this point, when the red neon light that says “Hot Doughnuts Now” starts buzzing, all notions of calories and consequence just drift away into oblivion, and this magnificent wonder of sugar-coated fried bread becomes a thing of beauty and a source of goodness and light. Wow. I’ll be right back.
As I stood nose-to-glass watching this process take place yesterday, I noticed that although not every doughnut emerged from the heated cabinet perfectly formed, every last one of them, without exception, rose. It was as if the yeast, though a small amount, had permeated every last bit of the large lump of dough. This, then, is the truth of the Kingdom of God. It may be hidden, but it’s working. And the Kingdom is working in every area of life. You may not see it yet, but it is there, inside the very being of the world, changing it from the inside out, causing it to rise, to be different, so that one day, when Jesus returns, we will present to him the changed and sanctified kingdoms of this world, and we will join with heaven, proclaiming that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15b)
(Excerpted from the forthcoming book, “A New Normal: Experiencing the Unstoppable Move of God,” from Destiny Image Publishing.)