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Some lumps—like a lump of coal—are consumed until they are used up.

Some lumps—like cancer—destroy the body.

Some lumps—like leaven—are good for baking bread.

There are many instructions and parables in the Bible that revolve around a lump of leaven.  In the Old Testament leaven was not a bad thing, but there were certain occasions that required unleavened bread to explain a spiritual truth.  In the New Testament Jesus referred to leaven in some of His parables.  Sometimes leaven was used to explain sin (Matt 16:6-12, Luke 12:1-3); but at other times leaven stood for something good (Luke 13:20-21, 1Cor 5:6-8).

In my experience, I have found that many people are not familiar with leaven, so for them this analogy in the parables is not easily understood.  What is leaven, anyway?  If you go to the market or a grocery store looking for leaven or leavening, you probably won’t find it.  Let me give you a brief history of a mere 6,000 years.

From the beginning, it was usually the women who made the bread in conjunction with preparing meals for the family.  She knew that she needed a little leavening in each batch of bread dough, to make it rise.  If her bread failed to rise, the bread would be flat and impossible to chew.  The leavening came from setting aside a lump of dough from each day’s batch, to be used the next day.  She would add more flour, a little sugar, and water to the lump, then cover it and put it in a dark place.  Overnight, the lump would grow to double its original size and be ready to be incorporated into the large batch of dough for the day’s meals.  Lumps of leavening were passed down for generations.

In recent times we still use leavening, but today we call it yeast.  It stores more easily and it is readily available anytime we feel the urge to bake bread.  That urge to bake bread is becoming less common these days, because bread is easily available in the market and grocery stores.  Although many people no longer use or have ovens—and others are not interested in baking breads—we need to see how yeast (leaven) works so we can understand the meanings in the Bible.

When I see the power of yeast, my thoughts go to a modern-day parable.  When you add yeast to warm water, it just gets wet.  But when you add a little sugar, it feeds the yeast and the mixture grows.  In only a few minutes, the mixture will overflow its container.  There can be good and bad correlations, but I prefer to see the good implications.   I compare the container of warm water to my life.  It starts out plain and empty.  When I add Jesus to make a wet mixture, that is a good decision; but it needs to grow.  Finally, when I add the sweetness of prayer and Bible study (the sugar) to my life, it changes me and the righteousness grows within.  Ultimately I can rejoice with King David when he says, “My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalms 23:5b-6 (NASV)

Jesus had to explain so many of his parables for the disciples and us to understand.  In typical fashion, he had to explain what he meant when he talked about leavening.  He must have wondered how they could miss the meanings in something as simple as leavening.  In Matthew 16:6-12 the disciples had to ask Jesus again to explain one of his references.  Jesus cautioned the disciples to beware of the “leaven” (yeast) in the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Their false teachings can grow and infect the hearts and minds of their followers (the “lump”).  Jesus further stated that there is nothing wrong with yeast in bread.  Yeast was only the analogy, or parable, He used to make His point.

In Luke 12:1-3 Jesus expands on his explanation of the power of yeast when He states, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.”  Yeast that is left too long to rise, will overflow its container and make a mess.  If you forget about it, it will eventually be revealed as a bad outcome.

On the other hand, yeast is a very good thing.  In Luke 13:20-21, Jesus was responding to the disciples’ request for details about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus indicated that it was like leaven (yeast) which was incorporated into a large amount of meal.  After it was hidden for a while, the entire batch was leavened (made to rise or grow).  We may not see the growth of the Kingdom, but eventually we will see God’s wondrous hand at work.

In Galatians 5:6-8 Paul admonishes the boasters and reminds them that their sins of malice and wickedness will infect their whole lives, and impact others to a life of sinfulness, just like leaven (yeast) will cause the whole batch of bread dough to rise.  Paul instructs them to clean out the “old leaven” of their lives so they become unleavened.  Now they are like “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  This was a reference to the unleavened bread used in Passover celebrations.  The implication here is that we can now fill our lives with a new leavening that will produce righteousness.

Now that we understand leavening (yeast) for what it can do, let’s go out and be that lump of leavening that infects the world, and brings people to Christ for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

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