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"Again He asked, 'What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.'" Luke 13:20,21 (NIV).
When two or more parables appear together, called a 'chain', to interpret them correctly one must look for the common theme. This story follows the one about the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed, which grows into a tree large enough to shelter the birds. This story tells about a small amount of yeast that leavens a large amount of dough. So what's the point?
Yeast is often used in Scripture to illustrate the permeating power of evil. During the period of the Passover celebration, the people of God had to remove all yeast from their homes. The apostle Paul picked up on this when he was dealing with the Corinthian church's failure to deal with a member who had fallen into gross sexual sin. "...Don't you know that a little yeast works through a whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed." 1 Corinthians 5:6,7 (NIV).
In Jesus' parable, however, yeast is not about evil but about the power of a small amount to permeate a large amount of dough. Such is the power of God's kingdom to spread its influence across the entire globe. God does not work by force but by influence. Other religions tend to equate power with force. "Believe what we tell you or suffer the consequences." God's Spirit works by persuading and convincing, by appealing to the mind and conscience.
There have been times in history when people have turned to the Lord en masse in unusual circumstances like, for example, when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers on the day of Pentecost, and during great spiritual revivals. However, God's way is also the slow but sure way of people influencing people one by one. Great revivals have swept people into the kingdom of God by the thousands, as have huge evangelistic campaigns all over the world. But the witness of a transformed life is able to influence the mind and convince the heart that Jesus is Lord.
Look, for example, at the experience of the Apostle Paul, a one-time Pharisee and religious fanatic, persecuting believers to the death because he thought he was right. When he was faced with the courageous witness of Stephen, the first of many who laid down their lives for the truth of the gospel, Saul of Tarsus was profoundly moved, although he was only finally convinced on the Damascus road when Jesus Himself confronted him.
The influence of Jesus' love-slave, Paul, just one man, has touched the entire world throughout all the generations through his preaching and writings, a small amount of yeast permeating the lives of millions of people for two thousand years.
Evil produces revulsion in the hearts of sane-thinking people. Threats of death may manipulate behaviour but only the powerful influence of the gospel of Jesus can transform hearts, change behaviour and redirect destinies towards unselfish service, usefulness and eternal life in the presence of the Most High God.
This simple truth gives great encouragement to God's children. However insignificant we may feel, however little we may be able to do, there is enough power in our little to influence those around us and to change our environment. As people see the kingdom in action, those who have a heart to respond, receive the King and experience His gracious transforming power that slowly affects those around them.
And so on, and so on...
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