The Coming Kingdom 019Matthew 13:31-33 • Dr. Andy Woods • September 13, 2017 • The Coming Kingdom
The Coming Kingdom
9-13-17 Matthew 13:31-33 Lesson 19
If we could take our Bibles and open them to Matthew 13, verses 31 and 32. If anybody did not get a copy of the book that this Study is based on, well, the study is based on the Bible but I did write a book about the Bible so if you never got one of my books the church bought some more for you so just come see me after and we’ll get you those. Matthew 13:31-33 is what we’re going to cover tonight. You say oh great, we’re going to be out early then, just three verses. You’ll be shocked at how much is in here once we start moving. As you know we’ve been doing a study on the kingdom. This is lesson 19, and we’re trying to ask and answer what does the Bible teach about the concept of the kingdom, which once you get into that topic it takes you into the whole Bible.
So we have carefully developed the doctrine of the kingdom from the Old Testament and I don’t know if I’m going to review every little point, but we’ve gone from Eden to Abraham to Moses to the Divided Kingdom to the times of the Gentiles, to the Old Testament prophets, to the return from the exile right up unto the ministry of Jesus. And it’s in the ministry of Jesus that the kingdom is offered to Israel on a silver platter in what’s called the offer of the kingdom and we know that Israel did what with that offer? Rejected it. That rejection takes place in Matthew 12.
So what has happened by the time you get to Matthew 12 is it’s pretty clear that that generation is not going to receive the offer and the way God has the whole program set up with Israel’s various covenants is Israel has to respond to this offer for the kingdom to come. That apparently is not going to happen so what Jesus begins to do is He begins to articulate an age of time, called the interim age, an age of time that’s really been going on for the last 2,000 years. I’m a part of it, you’re a part of it. And essentially what it is, is the program of God, it’s never been revealed before, until you get to Matthew 13, it’s the program of God that’s to take place on the earth. It’s the course of the present age while the kingdom is not here. And that interim age is developed in two concepts, the Matthew 13 parables which is what we are studying right now, and then something called the church age. And those two ideas sort of overlap, as I’ll be showing you.
We’re not quite yet ready to talk about the age of the church; we’re talking about a slightly broader time period that really begins with the first century ministry of Christ after Matthew 12 and goes all the way to the second advent. What is life going to be like as that kingdom is in a state of not cancellation but postponement? So Jesus explains this time period, it’s never before explained, in the form of eight parables. And we’ve already looked at number one, the parable of the sower. The parable of the sower is during this age of time the gospel is going to be faithfully preached and the whole world is going to be won to Christ. Right? NO, not exactly! It’s going to have different results depending on what kind of soil the gospel falls on. So the soils represent different kinds of hearts, and in only one of four soils is the gospel going to be productive.
So He’s teaching there that yes, God is going to be at work in this age but it’s not going to be like the kingdom, where the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. And we very carefully explained that this can’t be the kingdom for a lot of different reasons, only one type of soil is fruitful and even that soil is fruitful 160/30, declining as we pointed out. And Satan is very active in this age, thwarting the hearing of the gospel and progress of the gospel in people’s lives. That can’t be the kingdom because in the kingdom Satan is bound.
That takes us to the parable of the wheat and the tares, which we studied last week. And the wheat and the tares is the idea that throughout this age of time it’s going to be difficult to distinguish between the saved and the unsaved within professing Christendom. So it’s talking about God at work, because we have wheat, praise God for that, but there’s also what’s growing up with the wheat? The tares, and they are coexisting; you have the coexistence of both and they’re not to be uprooted, the tares, until the kingdom starts. And we talked very carefully last time we were together how that parable can’t be describing the kingdom because the tares actually increase in number, to the point where they have to be bundled up at the return of Jesus Christ. And Satan, just like in the parable of the sower, is very active in this parable as well.
So this takes us now to parable number three and as God allows it we’re going to try to cover the parable of the mustard seed tonight and then the parable of the leaven. And these two parables, I’m convinced are totally misunderstood by 99% of Christianity. Most denominational Sunday School programs, when they send out their weekly bulletins and weekly programs and denominational quarterlies have lessons on the parable of the mustard seed and the leaven and almost every single one of these I’ve looked at has it completely incorrect. So I’m going to be trying to show you what I think is the correct interpretation, and I think as I get into this you’ll see it very clearly for yourself in the Bible.
So let’s take a look at the mustard seed. Let’s go to Matthew 13:31-32, Christ’s third parable covering this interadvent age. It says, “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 is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.”’ Now people interpret this parable as follows: Christian is going to start small and get big and cover the whole earth. And that’s true but there’s more to it than that; certainly Christianity started off very small, with Jesus in the Upper Room with eleven disciples and then three thousand get saved on the Day of Pentecost.
And as you go through the Book Acts then five thousand, and then the number keeps increasing and finally the gospel makes its way outside the borders of Israel in Paul’s three missionary journeys and finally it makes it all the way to Rome. And here we are in the year 2017 in a totally different continent and we’ve been touched by the gospel. Most people interpret this parable of the mustard seed as simply the growth of Christianity.
But here’s what I actually think the whole thing means. The parable means this: Christendom will experience great numerical and geographical expansion from a humble beginning and yet will ultimately represent an apostate form, let me interrupt myself, apostate means departure from truth, an apostate form, a great variance from its pure origins. So Christianity will start off on the right foundation but it will morph into something that God never intended as time progresses.
Now why do I think this? Let me give you five reasons why I think this. Number 1, these parables have to be understood in harmony together. You can’t interpret parable three inconsistently with parables one and two. And in parable one, the parable of the sower, we saw that the seed is only fruitful on one kind of soil (out of four). We also saw in the parable of the wheat and the tares that the tares are going to grow, the unbelievers, are going to grow to the point where they have to be bundled up. So those two parables do not teach the Christianization of the world; I mean, they teach an era when God is at work but it’s certainly not the kingdom of God. And therefore I can’t come up with a definition of the mustard seed that is different than the prior two parables. If the prior two parables teach the increasing progress of evil alongside good I can’t go to parable three and just say Christianity is going to take over.
Secondly, you’ll notice that this mustard seed grows into the tree. Now a tree has its roots where? Into the ground or into the earth. That cannot be describing the people of God because the people of God are not an earthly people. Philippians 3:20 says our citizenship is in heaven. 1 Peter 2:11 says that we are strangers and aliens in this world. [Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”] And the tree with its roots into the ground is very much at home in the world.
The third reason why I think this parable is talking about the progress of evil is because it talks about an herb becoming a tree. Take a look at verse 32, it says, “And this is smaller than all the seeds but when it is grown it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree.” Now does an herb or a garden plant ever become a tree? No it doesn’t because those are different species. See that? The Book of Genesis, chapter 1, of the different species, says each produced “after its own” what? “kind.” So if “each produces after its own kind” you can’t have an herb becoming a tree because those are two different ideas. So what is happening is Christianity is starting off at a very pure level but it’s morphing into a different type of spiritual species that God never intended.
And I really recommend to you, not everything that Arthur Pink has written, but I really recommend to you his treatment of the Matthew 13 parables. His understanding of them far exceeds anybody I’ve ever read. And Arthur Pink writes this of the parable of the mustard seed. “Third, that which Christ here describes is a monstrosity. We are aware that this is denied by some, but our Lord’s own words are final. He tells us that when this mustard-seed is grown it is the ‘greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree’ (v. 32). ‘Herbs’ are an entirely different species from trees. That which distinguished them is that their stems never develop woody tissue, but live only long enough for the development of flowers and seeds. But this ‘herb’ became a ‘tree;’ that is to say, it developed into something entirely foreign to its very nature and constitution.” [A. W. Pink (2005). The Prophetic Parables of Matthew Thirteen. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.”]
Now those of us that aren’t farmers and are sort of insulated from farming life and an agrarian society really don’t pick up on a lot of these issues that the Bible brings up because it’s written to an agrarian culture and unless you have farming in your background a lot of the things the Bible says you have to study farming just to kind of pick up on the metaphor. But if you’re living in a first century agrarian culture you would see the point that you don’t get a tree from an herb. So obviously this tree is developing into something foreign from its original origin, nature and constitution.
The fourth reason why I think this parable of the mustard seed is talking about something that starts positive and ends up negative is because of the birds. Take a look at Matthew 13:32, they very end of it says, “the birds of the air come and nest in the branches.” Now the same Greek word for “bird” or “birds” is used back in verse 4, the parable of the sower. And all these parables have to be understood in harmony with each other. “Behold, the sower went out to sow and he sowed some seed  and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.” [Matthew 13:3-4] Now in the parable of the sower who do the birds represent? If you go down to verse 19 as the parable is being interpreted it says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the” what? “evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.” So the exact same Greek word for bird or birds used in parable three is also used in parable one as interpreted as the devil.
So the birds coming and nesting in the branches of the tree, if you’re going to be consistent, is not referring to something good; it’s most likely referring to something evil or satanic. And people kind of look at this issue of birds and they think that every time the Bible mentions a bird it’s got to be good because after all, the Holy Spirit at Jesus baptism came as a what? As a dove. And of course in Noah and the ark story Noah sent out various birds that came back. And so we think that every time the bird or birds is mentioned it has to be good. But as you go through the Scripture what you’re going to find most of the time is birds can be good in some contexts but in many contexts the birds are something bad.
You might recall when the Abrahamic Covenant was entered into and Abraham cut the animal pieces and what did the birds do? They came and what did Abraham do with the birds? Shooed them away, Genesis 15:11. [Genesis 15:11, “The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.”]
If you go over to the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28 and verse 26 your printed versions say verse 16 but I had to go back and correct that just about an hour ago so I have it right here on the screen, you might want to make a note of it in your notes. But Deuteronomy 28:26, it’s talking about the covenant curses that Israel would experience. It says this: “Your carcasses will be food to all” the what, “birds of the sky….” Again birds there is not something good, it’s something negative.
And when you go to the Book of Revelation, chapter 18 and verse 2, which is talking about the end time city and system of the antichrist, called Babylon, it says right there in Revelation 18:2, “And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful” what? “hateful bird.” So the birds nesting in the branches, if you will, of the tree, I don’t think it’s talking about something good; I think it’s talking about something pernicious or evil.
And then a fifth reason why I interpret this parable the way I do is a tree with branches with birds in it, which is what’s being described in Matthew 13:32. [Matthew 13:32, “ and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.”] Does anybody recall where that imagery is used before? I’ll give you a hint, we’re studying that book on Sunday morning; it’s in the Book of Daniel. Anybody know what part of Daniel I’m referring to? Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and restoration. Nebuchadnezzar was the king that was removed from his throne over Neo-Babylonia. Neo-Babylonia is not a good guy in the Book of Daniel, it’s a bad guy. Under Neo-Babylonia the temple was destroyed, the children of Israel were taken into captivity. It wasn’t even Babylon that released the Hebrews from captivity. That had to be done by the Persians after the Persians overthrew Babylon.
But when you go back to Daniel 4:10-12 you see this imagery that I believe Christ is borrowing from when He describes the mustard seed. It says in Daniel 4:10-12, “Now these were the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed:” Nebuchadnezzar is speaking, “I was looking, and behold, there was a tree” sound familiar? “in the midst of the earth and its height was great.  The tree grew large and became strong and its height reached to the sky, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.  ‘Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the” what” of the sky dwelt in its branches?” The “birds of the sky dwelt in its branches,” so when Jesus is talking about a mustard seed that becomes a tree with these branches that bird sit in, the imagery is not something good, it goes back to Babylon.
And if you go over to Daniel’s contemporary, Ezekiel, both Daniel and Ezekiel prophesied during the days of the Babylonian captivity, this is how Ezekiel describes another one of Israel’s enemies, Assyria, with the exact same imagery. It says in Ezekiel 31:6, “All the birds of the heavens nested in its boughs, and under its branches all the beasts of the field gave birth…. So what I’m trying to get at is if you’re a Jew who knows the Old Testament and you’re hearing Christ talk about a tree that grows to giant proportions and the birds come and nest in its branches you would immediately not think this is something positive of something good; you would think it’s something negative or wicked.
And so Arthur Pink makes this statement considering all we’ve put together here on the following related to the parable of the mustard seed. “The history of Christendom clearly confirms this…Failing to intimidate as the roaring lion, he now sought to insinuate as the subtle serpent.” Speaking of the Devil. “Ceasing to attack from without, he now worked from within.” See, Satan has two strategies, if he can’t persecute the church out of existence he will apply for membership in the church. “Ceasing to attack from without, he now worked from within. In the first parable the assault was from without—the fowls of the air catching away the Seed. In the second parable his activities were from within—he sowed his tares among the wheat.” And you might recall from last week, “while everyone was sleeping” in the story, not you guys out there sleeping, that’s when he did his work. “In the second parable his activities from within—he sowed homosexuality tares among the wheat. In the third parable we are shown the effects of this. Satan now moved worldly men to seek membership in the churches of God. These soon caused the Truth to be watered down, discipline to be relaxed.…”
You know, most churches today don’t even practice church discipline. Most parishioners don’t even know what church discipline is; it’s something taught in the Bible yet it’s hardly ever practiced. So “…discipline to be relaxed, that which repelled the world to be kept in the background,” you know how churches are, don’t say anything too offensive, don’t mention the “S” word—sin, that’s going to alienate somebody. And I’ve had churches, I know for a fact some churches have done this, when you sing Amazing Grace don’t sing “who saved a wretch like me,” because that’s a negative statement and we all need to be positive. And don’t mention blood either, because that alienates people. We see all these things happening in our church world today, it’s the very thing Jesus said would happen in this parable. “These soon caused the Truth to be watered down, discipline to be relaxed, that which repelled the world to be kept in the background, and what would appeal to the carnal mind to be made prominent.”
So how do you get churches to grow? Well, the strategy is you go out to the unsaved world and you figure out what the unsaved man (or woman) wants in a church. Well, we want short sermons, they say, and don’t talk so much about sin and hell and the devil and damnation. What we really want is something uplifting and we want a lot of skits and entertainment. And we want to be visually stimulated and all these kind of things. And so then you go make your church that way and the world flocks to your door. And that’s what they call church growth. I’m not against church growth but not like that. You know how to get the church to grow, God’s way? You persecute the church. Everywhere the church is persecuted, China being an example, churches in the Middle East would be an example.
So “…The lowly upper room had long been forsaken, and the honors of kings’ courts coveted… Thus we may discern in the first three parables of Matthew 13 a striking and sad forecast of the development of evil. In the first, the Devil caught away part of the good Seed. In the second, he is seen engaged in the work of imitation. Here, in the third, we are shown a corrupted Christianity affording him shelter.” [A. W. Pink (2005). The Prophetic Parables of Matthew Thirteen. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software]
And I get their and Pink gets there with these five ideas. You have to understand parable 3 in harmony with parables 1 and 2. The roots to into the earth, that can’t be describing God’s people because we’re not an earthly people. And by the way, when does an herb ever become a tree? So what the final form of Christendom is obviously a different spiritual species than how it began. The birds represent Satan, and the branches with birds in the branches, when you study that imagery out it never refers to something good, it refers to something negative or evil, like Babylon.
So that would be the parable of the mustard seed. Christianity grows but its final form is different than its original pure design. And that’s what Jesus is tracing here is going to happen in the interadvent age. Is God at work? YES, but so is the devil. Well, cheer up, it’s about to get worse. We’re going to take a look at one more parable tonight, another radically grossly misunderstood parable and that’s the parable of the leaven.
So let’s go back to Matthew 13:33 and let’s take a look at parable number four in the sequence. “He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”’ So here is what I think is an accurate interpretation of the parable of the leaven. Christendom, as it grows, will also experience ever increasing internal corruption as the age progresses. In other words, as the dough grows, which would be Christendom or Christianity, something negative is at work within the dough called the yeast. And the yeast is working its way through the dough and Christendom that God started on pure origins is gradually becoming corrupted.
Now what I just said is 180 degrees different than probably what 99% of you have heard on this. The way most people interpret this is this is the yeast is not something bad, the yeast is something good, so isn’t it great that the world is being evangelized. So Arthur Pink writes this: “The popular interpretation of this parable regards the ‘leaven’ as representing the Gospel and its power, the ‘woman’” who planted this yeast, we’re told, is “the Church,” and Arthur Pink says, “ the Church. Here are the words of Dr. John Gill;” Gill was a kingdom now theologian, he believed that we’re in the kingdom now so people that believe we’re in the kingdom now are almost always going to interpret the yeast as something positive. Gill says, “‘Leaven is everywhere else used in a bad sense . . .” I agree, but “here it seems to be taken in a good sense, and the Gospel to be compared unto it.’ The ‘woman,’” he tells us, is “‘the church’ or the ministers of the Gospel….”
Just to show you how close this interpretation hits home, here’s John MacArthur who some of the things I agree with, many of the things he says I disagree with, that’s why it’s difficult for me to recommend people MacArthur’s Study Bible. But here in his Matthew Commentary I think he completely gets this parable wrong. He says, “The first point is that small things can have great influence. . . . The second point . . . is that the influence is positive. . . . When the kingdom of heaven is faithfully reflected in the lives of believers, its influence in the world is both pervasive and positive.” Now remember, he is a Lordship salvation advocate; he believes that if you’re saved there’s no such thing as a backslidden Christian, there’s very little such thing as a carnal Christian and so everybody becomes fruitful. And if you’re not fruitful then maybe you were never saved to begin with. See, so this interpretation of the parable fits his understanding of soteriology, which is the doctrine of salvation.
When the kingdom of heaven is faithfully reflected in the lives of believers, its influence in the world is both pervasive and positive. The life of Christ within believers is spiritual and moral leavening in the world. . . . To the average person of Jesus’ day, Jew or Gentile, there is no evidence that leaven carried any connotation of evil or corruption. . . . To take this leaven as representing evil that permeates the kingdom is to twist the obvious meaning and construction of words.” [Matthew 8‒15, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 372–74.’]
In McArthur’s Study Bible on Matthew 13, and I give you the page number where you can look this up on your own if you have one, it says basically the same thing. It says, “Here the kingdom is pictured as yeast, multiplying quietly and permeating all that it contacts. The lesson is the same as the parable of the mustard seed. Some interpreters suggested since leaven is nearly always a symbol of evil in Scripture…. It must carry that connotation here as well. They make the leaven some evil influence inside the kingdom. But that twists Jesus’ actual words and violates the context, in which Jesus is repeatedly describing the kingdom itself as their pervading influence.” [Ed. The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Word, 1997), 1418.] So the leaven is good in his mind.
George Zeller correctly says this about John MacArthur’s interpretation. George Zeller of Middletown Bible Church, he says: “”MacArthur’s interpretation is not far away from that of the postmillennial reconstructionist” that’s the kingdom now person, “who also would understand the leaven as being used in a good sense and indicating the growth of the kingdom of heaven by means of the penetrating power of the gospel ultimately leading to the conversion of the world.” [“John MacArthur and Dispensationalism: And Our Response,” 13, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/dispen/jmacdis.htm.]
See, this is all kingdom now teaching that the gospel is going to go out there and the world is going to get Christianized, and people use the parable of the leaven to try to teach this idea. As much as I would like it all to be true is that what Jesus is getting at here? I don’t think so at all.
So let me give you very quickly seven reasons why I think the leaven does not teach kingdom now theology. In fact, the leaven represents something bad rather than something good. And by the way, if you ever want to figure out where a pastor is at or a Bible teacher, where they’re at, or should I drop dead of a heart attack and you get a new pastoral candidate, you might want to ask them this question: how do you interpret the leaven in this parable, because that will tell you exactly where they’re at on this subject of the kingdom.
So number 1, the first 3 parables, sower, wheat and tares, mustard seed, do they teach the conversion of the world. No, so why would I interpret parable four that way? I mean, I’d be coming up with an interpretation that’s at variance with the other three parables.
Number 2, the parables are a mystery, and we’ve talked about mystery, haven’t we. What is a mystery? A new truth never before revealed. We’ve looked at verse 11, verses 16-17 and verse 35, which communicate that Jesus is giving truths never before revealed. And if the yeast is the gospel then the gospel itself must be something brand new. Right! Do you follow me on that. I mean if all these parables are teaching a mystery truth and the yeast is the gospel then the gospel itself must be brand new. Is the gospel brand new? No, the gospel is as old as… I would trace the gospel all the way back to the Garden of Eden when God said to the serpent there’s coming One who is going to crush your head. That’s the introduction of the gospel. We know that the gospel is at least as old as Abraham, 2000 B.C. because Galatians 3:8 says, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith preached the” what? “gospel beforehand to” who? “Abraham, saying all the nations will be blessed in you.” The gospel is not a mystery truth; the gospel has always been around. So therefore how could the yeast be new truth and the gospel. See how that doesn’t fit.
Number 3, the leaven is not the gospel; leaven cannot be the gospel! How do I know that? Because the way the leaven is described here is everywhere it goes, if you interpret it as something good, everywhere it goes there is a positive reaction; everything the leaven touches is positive if you understand it as the gospel. Let me ask you this: is that true of the gospel? Does the gospel everywhere it goes produce a result? In fact, it does NOT, in fact, many, many people preach the gospel over and over again, and I have people like this in my extended family, they’ve been taught the gospel over and over again yet there’s no response of faith. So the gospel is not some kind of dynamic force that everything it touches produces fruit because God is not going to shove His relationship with people down their throats if they don’t it, because God respects free will. God respects volition. If a person wants to go to hell God says okay, I won’t bother you any more. That’s part of our status as image bearers. So the leaven, if it’s something positive it has a very strange description of the gospel because Jesus told us in parable one that as the gospel is preached it’s only receptive on one of four soils.
Now don’t get mad at me for this, this is something Arthur Pink brings up, is you’ll notice that the person, the gender of the person that put the yeast into the dough was what? Female. Now that doesn’t make it bad in and of itself, of course. I’m a big believer in the role of women in ministry. You read the Book of Luke and you read The Book of Acts and you see women are very strategic in the advancement of the gospel. In fact, women, financially supported Christ’s ministry when you study Luke’s Gospel. But you see, we’re not in Luke’s Gospel here; we’re in Matthew’s Gospel. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew 10, we have the appointing of the disciples and the sending out of the disciples to preach. Now of those disciples how many of them were women? Zero. So it would be very strange then for Matthew in chapter 13 to make the primary preacher of something good or the gospel a female. See that? I say that delicately because sometimes people will mishear and say well, you don’t like women and women have nothing to do with Christianity. The reality is this church would collapse without the women and their involvement here. I’m just saying given the development of Matthew’s Gospel to make the woman a preacher of the gospel, at this point in Matthew’s Gospel would be a very sudden, abrupt and strange transition.
And what happens as this yeast goes through the dough? What happens to the dough? It puffs up, doesn’t it. Is that what the gospel does to people? Does it puff them up and cause them to strut their stuff? Quite the contrary; if someone receives the gospel on God’s terms it is one of the most humiliating evasive thing that can happen to a person because that person is acknowledging that they can’t save themselves. No amount of effort on their part can gain God’s favor so they have to, in a sense, reach out for a life preserver. And to reach out for a life preserver requires humility because you have to recognize you’re drowning. So this pumping up motif here really doesn’t fit with the proclamation of the gospel. And beyond that this parable is talking about yeast going through the dough and it’s talking about the gospel’s progress throughout the world. And let me ask you a question: how much progress has the gospel really made in the world?
Arthur Pink writes this: “The popular interpretation” that’s the yeast is something good, “is contradicted by the plain facts of history and by present-day experience. . . . The Gospel has now been preached for nineteen centuries, yet not a single nation or state, no, nor even city, town or village, has been completely evangelized—let alone won to Christ! If the popular view is the correct one, then the Gospel is a colossal and tragic failure.” [A. W. Pink (2005). The Prophetic Parables of Matthew Thirteen. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software]
So you don’t have a situation where the gospel goes into a whole family even, or even into a whole city, or into a whole country and the whole place gets converted. What happens is there are some within each of those areas that get converted. But see, this yeast is talking about something monumental, universal, and that’s not what happens when the gospel is faithfully preached.
We know this because of our own country, right? Did you know that everywhere the gospel gets a foothold and everywhere the gospel becomes fruitful and everywhere where the gospel germinates it eventually dies out? We know that because we can travel to the east coast and we can see all of the Christian insignias and signs and Bible verses inscribed into our monuments and our buildings. We know from archeology and history that this nation was started as a Christian nation; it was started by the Pilgrims and the Puritans, who came to the United States to build what Roger Winthrop called “a shining city on a hill.” And that’s how Harvard started, that’s how Yale started, that’s how Princeton started, and all of them were started, these Ivy League Schools, to train ministers for the gospel.
In fact, these are the original rules of Harvard University going back to 1636. ““Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him (Prov. 2, 3). Everyone shall exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein.” [Rules of Harvard in 1636; quoted in David Barton, Original Intent, 81]
You read that and say where do I get my kids signed up. And look at Harvard today; Harvard, like any other place where the gospel has a foothold did not grow in the gospel, they departed from it. And as you study history that’s what you’ll see. The Puritans built what they thought was a Christian civilization, a shining city on a hill, which is a reference that Jesus made, by the way, in the Sermon on the mount and they lost the whole thing; within one, two, three generations, it’s gone. I wish it was true that everywhere the gospel went the whole world, the place would be Christianized and stay Christianized and Arthur Pink is saying that contradicts the known facts of history.
Beyond that, the leaven in the Bible is not good but it is bad. How do I know that? Because Jesus, when He gave this parable, is talking to a Jewish audience, an audience who understood the Old Testament. And go through the Old Testament and you’ll see that leaven always is something negative. Back in Genesis 19:3 it says: “Yet he urged them strongly so they turned aside and entered his house and he prepared a feast for them and baked unleavened bread and they ate.” That was what was being fed to the angels; they took the leaven out because the leaven is something negative. Do you see that?
In Exodus 12 what did God tell the children of Israel to do? To leave the leaven behind, Exodus 12, as they were coming out of Egypt. And that becomes a symbol throughout the Bible of leaving sin and the sanctified life. Leaven is removed from the sacrifices in Exodus 34:25 and Leviticus 2:11. [Exodus 34:25, “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread, nor is the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover to be left over until morning.” Leviticus 2:11, “’No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD.”]
You say well, gee, pastor, that’s just the Old Testament, surely the New Testament doesn’t teach this, does it? Well, notice Matthew, same book, right, I went from Matthew 13 to Matthew 16, not that far away, and what does Jesus say here about the leaven. Matthew 16:11-12, “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Those are the bad guys, right, the false teachers. Jesus analogizes their teaching to leaven.  “Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Luke 12:1 you’ll see the exact same thing. [Luke 12:1, “Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’”]
The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, where they’re dealing with a man who is in an incestuous relationship and the church was just kind of acting like it wasn’t going on, Paul says you need to exercise church discipline on this guy. And in the context of kicking this guy out of the church notice the analogy that Paul gives here. 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little” what? “leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.” He’s calling leaven here not something good but something bad.
And one more for good measure, Galatians 5:7-9, and he’s talking about legalism that’s coming into the Galatian flock there in southern Galatia, he says, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.  A little” what? “leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” See, no matter where you go, Old Testament or New Testament leaven is never something good. It’s always evil.
So if you want to give a positive spin in the parable of Matthew 13 you have to ignore the rest of the Bible. See that? Beyond that, if the leaven working its way through the dough is not bad but good, it’s the gospel, then the meal that the leaven is touching must be what? Bad! It has to be bad because it needs to be affected by what is good. But study the concept of meal through the Bible and you’ll see that meal does not represent something bad but rather represents something good. See, people have got this whole thing backwards; they think the leaven is good and the meal is bad and it’s the opposite.
Notice Genesis 18:6, just a couple of things here on the meal, Genesis 18:6 says, “So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.’” Is that something bad or good? That’s something good. 1 Kings 7:14-16, you’ll see that same imagery that God uses to feed Elijah a meal. How could God give Elijah something bad; it’s got to be good. [1 Kings 7:14-16, “So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days.  So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days.  The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through Elijah.”]
And then over in John 12:24 Jesus analogizes Himself to a meal. [John 12:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”] So how could the meal be something bad; it’s got to be something good. And what people are doing is they’re coming in here with their technological belief, whatever it is, and they’re not paying attention to how the imagery is consistently used elsewhere in the Bible.
And then a final reason why the parable of the yeast going through the dough, the yeast is a bad thing rather than a good thing. Go back to Matthew 13:33, it says, “He spoke another parable to them, the kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and” what? “hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” Is that what you do with the gospel? Do you hide it? I hope you are saying no to that question because Jesus, a couple of chapters earlier in the same book, Matthew 10:27, it says, “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” Jesus already told them that the gospel is to go out openly and publicly. So how could a woman taking yeast and hiding it be the gospel? What’s being hidden is not the gospel, it’s the false doctrine that Jesus predicts will permeate Christendom as it grows. See that?
Paul, over in the book of 2 Corinthians, chapter 4 and verse 2 says, “But we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul is never hiding anything with the gospel. It’s an open proclamation.
So why would I think that the yeast here is something bad? Seven reasons. Number 1, The first 3 parables do not speak of world conversion, so how could I interpret parable four that way?
Number 2, These parables are a mystery and the Gospel is not a mystery, it’s always been around.
Number 3, the leaven cannot be the gospel because many hear and don’t respond; the idea of women preachers in Matthew seems a little odd, and the gospel does not tough up but humbles.
Number 4, the parables alleged gospel progress contradicts the known facts of history.
Number 5, leaven is bad rather than good, Old Testament and New Testament, and a Jewish mind hearing this… remember, Matthew’s Gospel is the most Jewish gospel we have. So it’s most likely written to Hebrew Christians and they would understand that Old Testament imagery. Of course you go into the New Testament you just go three chapters to the right, Jesus is not calling leaven good, He’s calling it bad. And that theme goes all the way through the writings of the Apostle Paul.
Number 6, if the yeast is good the meal that’s working through must be bad but the meal in the Bible is never bad.
And number 7, this can’t be the gospel because this woman hides it and the gospel is to be openly proclaimed.
Now some of you are thinking well, pastor, you sure have some funny ideas about things. Let me just read you this quote from John Walvoord, just to show you that I’m not up here just inventing things, even though what I’m saying is counter intuitive to most of the teaching you’ve ever heard on this parable.
Walvoord, in his Matthew commentary says: “What does the leaven represent? Postmillenarians and amillenarians…” kingdom now people, “usually assume dogmatically that leaven cannot represent evil in the parable, although it is universally used to represent evil in both the Old and New Testaments….It is more evident than ever in the last third of the twentieth century that the gospel has not permeated the world and that evil tends to permeate the entire professing church, which is exactly what Matthew 13 teaches. In the Old Testament leaven is consistently used to represent evil…. In the New Testament, leaven was used by Christ of the externalism of the Pharisees, of the unbelief of the Sadducees, and of the worldliness of the Herodians, and in general of evil doctrine” and Paul’s letters likewise leaven represents evil and we’ve gone through the passages. In the parable, the meal represents that which is good. The professing church, however, is permeated by evil doctrine, externalism, unbelief, and worldliness, which tends to inflate the church and make it larger in appearance, even as the leaven inflates the dough but actually adds nothing of real worth. The history of the church has all too accurately fulfilled this anticipation, and the professing church in the world, large and powerful though it may be, is permeated by the leaven of evil which will be judged in the oven of divine judgment at the end of the age….” Remember what Jesus said? Let them both grow together until the end of the age. “ To some extent, evil will extend even to… the body of true believers” people that are born again, regenerated, “in the church as well as those that come to Christ after the rapture… even true believers” watch this very carefully because this is completely contradicted by John MacArthur theology, “even true believers fall far short of perfection and can embrace to some extent worldliness, externalism, and bad doctrine.” [John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody, 1974), 102–4.]
The MacArthur mindset denies that and yet even a Christian can be deceived. Even a Christian can become carnal; that’s why you have to come to a church like this where we teach you the Bible, where the Word of God can confront you, us, of sin in our lives so we can grow correctly.
One more quote and I’m finished. Dr. Stanley Toussaint, who passed away Tuesday of last week, one of my mentors at Dallas Seminary. He writes in his Matthew commentary: “The discussion revolves around the significance of the word ‘leaven’ (zymē)” in Greek. “Many contend that leaven is used here in a good sense and pictures the spread of the gospel throughout the earth. Others state that the word represents evil and is used to illustrate the growth of evil within the group which professes to inherit the kingdom. This latter interpretation has the stronger support.” Leaven being something bad rather than good in other words. “It is consistent with the doctrine of Scripture concerning the evil character of the end of the church age and the tribulation” period.
Now we read about a lot of these things, didn’t we, when we were in 2 Timothy, how the church would with evil men and imposters in the church would wax worse and worse. [2 Timothy 3:13, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”] Didn’t we read that in Paul’s final letter, where a time in church history would come and people would want their ears tickled rather than receive truth. See, that teaching that Paul gave in 2 Timothy is consistent with the teaching I’m giving here on Matthew 13:33. One of the greatest supports for the interpretation that leaven speaks of evil is the use of the word in Scripture; invariably leaven pictures sin.” We’ve gone through all the verses .
“Finally the verb used here ‘to hide”’ which is what the woman does, “… is very unusual if …. .leaven represents good. It is a much more fitting word if leaven is to have a sinister effect. This is similar to the idea in the parable of the wheat and the darnel. The way the woman hides the leaven in the meal parallels very closely the manner in which the enemy sowed darnel by night.” See, her hiding it in the leaven is completely consistent with what we learned last week with the wheat and the tares, where the devil is working secretly while men slept he sowed tares amongst the wheat. “This parable reveals the fact that evil will run its course and dominate the new age. But it also indicates that when the program of evil has been fulfilled,” what will come? “the kingdom will come.” [Stanley D. Toussaint Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2005), 182.’]
Now I realize you guys are very depressed and you need to put yourself in the shoes of these disciples that Jesus just unloaded this teaching on in four parables. So this is why there’s a transition in the parables; the first four in the open, the second four are in the house as we’ve talked about. And He’s dealing with these dejected disciples who think that the kingdom is imminent. Jesus says the kingdom is not imminent, in fact, there’s a coexistence of good and evil coming BUT don’t be depressed because, number 1, God has it all under control. Number 2, even in this evil age God is going to work and He reveals that in the final four parables. We know God is going to work because there’s wheat and tares and at least one of the soils is productive. Evil is going to do its thing but God is at work and He begins to highlight the work of God in an evil age when the kingdom is absent in the final four parables.
So if you’re depressed cheer up, it’ll get better next week. So at this point I will stop talking and let folks that need to go and get their young ones and if they complain you’re late just tell them I was early, ten minutes last week, so I’m still running a five minute credit.