One of the first places we see the kingdom of God is in the Book of Daniel. Daniel is a strange book – full of visions and prophetic diatribes. But it remains one the most influential books in the Old Testament. Why? Because Jesus referred to it a bunch of times. For example, the term “Son of Man” (Jesus’ own name for himself) comes from Daniel chapter 7. And Jesus refers back to Daniel’s understanding of God’s kingdom when he talks in parables like the one we just read. In the second chapter of Daniel, the prophet describes the kingdom of God for us. The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had a dream that disturbed him deeply. He called all his sorcerers and wise men together and ask them to tell him the interpretation. They said, “Sure. Tell us the dream.” But Nebuchadnezzar expected them to tell him the dream and its meaning without any clues at all. They said, “Uhhh…we can’t do that.” Nebuchadnezzar got really angry and ordered the execution of all the wise men.
In steps Daniel. He tells the king not to kill all his subjects and that he’ll tell him the dream and interpret it, too. Pretty gutsy thing to do. And that’s exactly what Daniel did under the power of the Holy Spirit. In his dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue of a man composed of layers of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay. Now, prophecy buffs spend a lot of time deciphering the nations represented in that statue. But the important part comes after that. Daniel said that in the dream next to the statue a rock was cut from a mountain, but it was not cut by human hands. That rock struck the statue and smashed it into powder. The rock lands on the ground and begins to grow into a mountain and fills the entire earth. And here’s what Daniel says: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever.” In other words, nations will rise and fall. Some will be more impressive than others, but the kingdom of God will always reign. Its growth is slow but certain. And the fact that human hands did not create it means that it is supernatural in its essence. We are not to build our own kingdom. We are to embrace the kingdom of God.
The gospels are full of references to the kingdom of God –what it looks like and how we enter into it. I chose this parable of the yeast because it is so simple but it tells us so much about how God works in our world. And once we know how God works, we can join him on his terms. We get this backwards sometimes, we assume that we have a good idea (and usually it is) and so we spend countless amounts of energy attempting to make it a reality. And that’s where we miss it. There is no shortage of “good” ideas. But there is a shortage of people willing to look past a good idea to a God idea – the idea that furthers God’s kingdom in the way he wants it advanced. Sometimes, those kingdom ideas look vastly different from what we consider a “successful” ministry opportunity. And that’s why it’s vital to understand Jesus’ words in the parable of the yeast.
Okay – so on to the text itself. Once again, what Jesus says seems very simple almost boring to modern readers…but let’s unpack the background and we’ll see that Jesus (as usual) is saying something humorous and outrageous to his listeners. There are some things happening here that make this story unusual. The woman in this story is not your average woman. Here’s why. Though making bread was stereotypically considered female work, she is doing it with more stereotypically male energy. We’re not talking about a couple of loaves of bread for dinner here. She’s a professional baker – a male-oriented profession at the time. Let me translate the measurements she uses. “Three measures of flour” (in Greek, a sata) is approximately a bushel of flour. That may not mean anything to you. But 128 cups of flour might. And I know that 16 five-pound bags of flour certainly will! To make that much bread you would need to add around 40 cups of water. Mixed together, this woman was kneading over 100 pounds of dough!
Why is that important? Because the imagery that Jesus uses here is absolutely ridiculous. And he knew that – that’s why he used it. The “kingdom of God” depicted as 100 pounds of raw dough before it rises, reinforces the fact that we can’t do much with that amount of anything. And that’s the point. The kingdom of God is bigger than us. It smashes national interests and political wrangling underneath the weight of what really counts in this life: those things that impact eternity. And like the yeast in this parable, the impact of the Holy Spirit goes much further than what any group of people can do in their own strength.