Have you ever actually watched a loaf of bread rise? After you mix the leaven in warm water, it looks rather cloudy and unappealing. Adding it to a bowl of sifted flour only seems to make matters worse. The result is a gooey, stretchy mess. But the yeast bonds to the gluten of the wheat while it is being kneaded, and after the malleable ball of dough has been left sitting for about an hour, it's almost doubled in size! I am sure there's a wonderful scientific explanation for this, but I don't know it! What has always fascinated me is how quickly the bread rises, and how much the yeast causes the dough to expand.
In Luke 13, after Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, He uses another unlikely example to picture God's kingdom- a lump of yeast! It is a picture from everyday life, but this time, it has a twist. Scripture almost always uses yeast as a negative image. But in this case, Jesus uses yeast to symbolize the way the Gospel would expand and affect an unsuspecting world. This time yeast is seen as a positive influence.
So, what does the yeast in Jesus' parable do? When it is placed in the dough, it changes the dough (Lk. 13:21). Like the yeast which is placed into a ball of dough, the Gospel has been placed into the world. It has been deliberately placed there by God. The Gospel, or Kingdom, works like yeast in two ways: 1) it changes individuals until their whole being has been transformed. 2) It changes society as a whole. When it affects individuals, they in turn affect the culture in which they live.
Yeast changes and transforms bread. Bread made from water and wheat alone, is hard, dry, and not too nourishing; but yeast, mixed into the dough, changes and transforms it. Yeast does at least four things: 1) it makes bread soft, no longer hard. The Gospel does the same. It penetrates hearts and softens the hardness of life. As a result we become softened toward God too (Col. 1:21-23). We become a more caring and giving person. Softness is one of the trademarks of a transformed person. 2) Yeast makes bread porous and moist, no longer dry. The Gospel does the same. It penetrates the dryness of a person's heart and life (1 Thes. 2:7-9). The Gospel moistens our hearts so that we can grow into a moist or fruitful person (Col. 1:3-6). 3) Yeast makes bread satisfying. The Gospel changes a life with no purpose or meaning and gives a person purpose, joy and hope (Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Pet. 4:6). 4) Yeast makes bread nourishing. The Gospel not only gives purpose, but it inspires, commissions, and cultivates (Mt. 28:19-20; Rom. 7:4; Eph. 2:10). A person transformed by the Gospel is able to bring truth to the world. The Gospel is able to explain the reasons for the emptiness and loneliness of the human heart and to replace them with love and fellowship (Eph. 4:25).
It should be noted that yeast works quietly and silently. You don't hear it fizzing or crackling like Rice Krispies. But you know it's working because you can see the difference in the dough. This says something about the way we should be living as transformed people in this world. As part of the "yeast of the kingdom" we are to be making an impact in the world that we live in. Yeast changes the whole lump. It permeates every pore of the dough's being. And so it should be with the kingdom. As "yeast" in this world, we should be impacting every pore of society. As a disciple of the King of Kings, how will you be an effective lump of yeast this week? How will you expand the kingdom? Jesus is challenging you to make a difference (Lk. 13:18-19; 1 Cor. 10:31).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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