“The Parable of the Yeast”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is one of the parables Jesus tells in today’s Gospel Reading, the Parable of the Yeast: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
In a recent issue of “Reminisce” magazine, a woman recounted how when she was a new bride, with little cooking experience, her in-laws came to dinner for the first time. For dessert she selected a delicious sounding recipe for apple cake. The recipe called for baking powder, but she didn’t have any in the cupboard. She did have baking soda, and that sounded fairly close, so she substituted it instead. Of course the result was a disaster. Instead of rising soft and fluffy, the resulting cake was flat, and hard, and tasteless, and they literally had to chisel it out of the pan. That is what your life, and the whole world, is like, if it is missing the yeast of Christ and his Word and Sacraments.
“Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus said. Apart from him, apart from the yeast of his Word and Sacraments, your life and the world itself is incomplete, flat, hard, tasteless. Like substituting baking soda for baking powder, we try to find something else to take the place of Christ in our lives, in our world, but the result is a disaster.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” This parable is actually an ancient recipe for a very large batch of bread, enough for about 100 people. The original text gives a measurement of three seahs or about a half-bushel, of wheat flour, mixed with water, into which the yeast would be kneaded. Yeast is a living organism introduced into the dough. Without yeast, dough is an inert, dead material.
The dough in the parable first of all represents YOU. Paul writes in Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Like dough before yeast is introduced, apart from Christ you are “dead in your trespasses and sins.” Like that failed cake with the wrong ingredients, we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And so we are like salt that loses it saltiness, which Jesus says is “good for nothing except to be thrown out.” We are like a tree that does not produce good fruit, which Jesus says “is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
But, Paul continues in Colossians with the Good News, “When you were dead in your sins . . . God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” The yeast in the parable represents Christ, and the Good News proclaimed to you through the Word and Sacraments that your sins are all forgiven. The yeast in the parable represents what Christianity is all about, summed up in the word that means Good News: the Gospel. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
In the creation of the first man, the Lord formed him out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into a lifeless lump the breath of life, his Holy Spirit. In the same way, the Lord came to you, like a lifeless lump of dough, dead in your trespasses and sins, and through his Word and Sacraments kneaded into your soul the yeast of the Gospel, making you a new creation, born again.
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” Paul says in Romans, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The Greek word for “power” in that verse is “dynamis,” from which we get dynamite. Like the dynamic, transforming power of the yeast in the parable, the Gospel has a dynamic, transforming spiritual power, to bring you to faith.
Hebrews says, “the word of God is living and active.” You’ve seen dairy products with the label “Live and Active” cultures, meaning they provide yeast-like organisms which your body needs for good nutrition. God’s Word, like the yeast in the parable, is living and active, giving your soul spiritual life and nourishment.
Peter proclaims in Acts, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children.” Holy Baptism is also like the yeast in the parable. The King James Version says the yeast is “hidden” in the dough. Through Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit himself was hidden, implanted, in your heart and soul. Like the yeast which causes the dough to rise, by the power of the Holy Spirit implanted in you, you grow in faith and the grace and knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Paul describes Holy Communion as “the cup of blessing.” This Sacrament also is represented by the yeast. As Martin Luther explains:
“The Word, Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar are the only prescription for our sin and death. We must take this medicine daily and let it work, in order to drive the poison of sin from our heart and take us from death and hell to eternal life. It penetrates like yeast, as Christ says in the parable. Then the heart, like rising bread, grows and grows in faith.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” The dough in the parable first of all represents you, and the yeast is the transforming power of Christ in your life. By nature you are like a lump of lifeless dough, but by the yeast of Christ working through his Word and Sacrament, by the yeast of the Gospel, God gives you new life in this world, and the promise of eternal life in the world to come.
The second significance of this parable is that the yeast is “worked ALL through the dough.” Sometimes we think we can still reserve some part of our lives to ourselves, that we can compartmentalize Christ into one section of our life, but hold back some of the other parts selfishly to ourselves, or conceal in some secret compartment of our lives what is contrary to Christ and his Word. But, the Lord proclaims, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” He’s not satisfied with just a part of you or your life, he wants it ALL—ALL your life dedicated to him, like yeast that works its way ALL through the dough.
Tim Farron, who until recently was leader of one of Britain’s political parties, experienced this in his life. Because he was known to be a devout, Bible-believing Christian, during the recent election campaign there he was relentlessly pressured by the media to renounce certain “politically incorrect” tenets of his Christian faith. But, he remained steadfast, gave a graceful Christian witness, and bravely would not yield to demands that for the sake of political expediency he must STOP dedicating ALL of his life to Christ. As he explained after the election, in a remarkably frank speech when he resigned as party leader:
“From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. . . At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again. . . I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader. . . To be a political leader . . . and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me. . . I seem to be the subject of suspicion, because of what I believe and who my faith is in. . . . [But] in the words of [hymnwriter] Isaac Watts, ‘[Love] so amazing, so divine, demands my [soul], my life, my ALL.’”
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked ALL through the dough.”
The final significance of this parable is that the dough also represents the entire world, and the yeast is the completely transforming, astounding effect the Christian Gospel has had, not just on individuals, but on society and culture. You may have heard “One Solitary Life,” which puts it this way:
“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpentry shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. When the tide of popular opinion turned against him, his friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies. He was tried and convicted. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never went to college. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompanies greatness. Yet all the armies that ever marched, and all the governments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected life upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.”
Several fascinating books have explored how Christ and the Christian Gospel impacted our world and totally changed the course of history: “What If Christ Had Never Been Born” by D. James Kennedy; “How Christianity Changed the World” by Missouri Synod pastor Alvin Schmidt; and, “What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us?: How It Shaped the Modern World” by Jonathan Hill. These books all show how much of what we take for granted about our world today is a result of the teachings of Christ and the principles of Christianity being worked into and permeating the very fabric of our society and culture, like yeast kneaded into and spreading throughout the dough.
The world into which Christ was born was a very different, brutal world. On the day he was born at least 25% of the world’s population were slaves. Women had few rights and were considered property. Children were treated brutally. We think the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem by King Herod recorded in Scripture unthinkable, but that kind of savageness, including human sacrifice and child sacrifice, was common.
It had all gone on that way unchanged for thousands of years. But, the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem was like God’s yeast, kneaded into the dead dough of the world. The Gospel Christ proclaimed eventually completely transformed every aspect of our society and culture. If you want to get a glimpse of what the world would still be like without the yeast of the Gospel, go to one of the Islamic or remaining Communist countries.
In fact, today’s parable ZEROS IN on exactly what the oppressive regimes in those countries really fear. It’s not bombs and bullets they fear from the outside world. What they fear most is an idea: the Son of God died to forgive all your sins. They fear the yeast of the Gospel. Because they understand the power the Gospel has, like yeast, to spread throughout their people, and permeate and transform their societies.
Last week Terry and I visited the remains of the Berlin Wall and toured in the former Communist East Germany. For decades Communists throughout Eastern Europe did everything possible to kill off the yeast of the Gospel. But, all along, the Gospel just kept on spreading. And now in all those countries Communism, like the Berlin Wall, has fallen—but the Gospel is still alive and still spreading! “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Like a cake without yeast, without the yeast of Christ and his Word and Sacraments, your life and our society and culture would be missing THE key ingredient—incomplete, flat, hard, tasteless. Like substituting baking soda for baking powder, we try to find something else to take the place of Christ in our lives, and our world: material things, pleasures, false religions or ideologies. But, nothing can substitute for the true yeast of the Gospel.Amen.