“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”
Matthew organizes his book around five discourses of Jesus, and each discourse is a little different. Chapter 13’s discourse focuses on the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus’ discussions of the kingdom of heaven, it begins small and grows into something substantial. The image of the small mustard seed turning into a tree demonstrates this quality about the kingdom of heaven.
It seems that in part this ‘kingdom of heaven’ refers to the people of God who trust in Jesus as their savior, or you could say the ‘kingdom of heaven’ includes the church. Jesus here is teaching about the nature of the church. It is not a human organization that functions according to our principles and plans. This is a wonderful truth. Think about it for a second. What human institution that was around at Jesus’ time is still around today? Yet, the people of God, the kingdom of heaven continues to expand.
As we read through Matthew 13, we should pay attention to how Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven and its spread. The first thing is that the kingdom of heaven is spread by Jesus. This may seem odd to us, but Jesus explains that the sower of the seed is the Son of man, which is the way Jesus refers to himself (Matt. 13.37). We are the plant growing in a dangerous world. It is God who gives us growth. Look at verse 31. The kingdom of heaven is like leavening in bread. It is just a small ingredient. You would put as much sweetener in the bread as you would leaven, but the leaven is essential to making the bread, bread. It works throughout the whole dough and makes air pockets throughout the bread. If you knead bread like you should, there is evidence of the leavening throughout the whole loaf, but part of the point is that it spreads slowly through any pile of flour or lump of dough and its effects take time. In other words, the kingdom and the gospel spread slowly but deeply. This is the manner that the gospel has spread throughout the whole world. The kingdom was not established by an overnight coup by God’s heavenly host. Instead it is being established thoroughly and slowly, by God, through his word, and in each of our lives as we share it wherever we pass by. Similar to Deuteronomy 6, God’s word is with us when we rise and go to bed and everywhere in between.
Jesus also describes the value of the kingdom of heaven, or the value of the gospel message. It is like a hidden treasure that we find in a field. Although I can’t think of ever selling all of my stuff for one thing, this is the value of the kingdom of heaven. It would be worth it to trade all that you have for the gospel.
I am sure that I don’t value the gospel and the kingdom of heaven this much. For me, I am prone to wander and find delight in God’s creation more than in the gospel and God himself. We ought to assess frequently what motivates our decisions in life. Do we even consider the valuable message of the gospel as we make our decisions from day to day? Do we reflect on the fact that the work of God is a long-term work in our life and in the lives of those around us? It is easy to become discouraged in the slow-growth picture of the kingdom of heaven, but it is beneficial for us to remember in those times of discouragement that we are not the sower. Instead, Jesus is sowing the seed; he is granting the growth; we are called to be faithful in our callings as we serve and share the word with the lost and as we disciple and encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith.