(This article was originally published in January 2002. I am including in this month's edition as I feel it bears repeating. Its lessons apply not only to Christmas, but all areas of our lives.)
Parable of the Leaven
My husband and I were talking about how this Christmas (2001) was so different than past years. I just couldn't seem to get into the celebrations and joy that usually accompany the holiday -- with the exception of services at church on Christmas Eve, which were exceptional. After talking for a while we finally figured out what was wrong. Ever since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9-11 my heart has been heavy beyond belief. Yes, our world has changed, but more than that I think I've come to realize just how close to the end we are. No, I don't know the day or the hour, but things are looking a bit dicey from a worldly perspective. And that has given me a new sense of urgency for the lost -- and for those who grace the pews in churches across this country every week and say and think that they are Christians but are not.
In the Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 13, we find the seven kingdom parables. I'd like to take a closer look at one of those right now. In verse 33 we find a very short and widely misunderstood parable about a woman who introduces leaven into three measures of meal. “Another parable He spoke to them: `The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.'” That's all that's said, but in these few words Jesus spoke volumes.
In the Scriptures leaven always represents sin. (Matthew 16:6; 11-12, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1, I Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:9) Yet somehow throughout the centuries it has been taught that the leaven in this parable represents the church and how it will grow to take over the world. If Jesus was likening the kingdom to leaven, we're all in big trouble.
In Jewish culture three measures of meal, or three loaves, represent a fellowship offering. This stems back to when the Lord and two angels visited Abraham and Sarah and they were offered three measures of meal. These measures or loaves are always unleavened. It would be unthinkable to add leaven to this offering.
Rather than look at the leaven as the kingdom of God, let's look at the unleavened meal as the representation of the kingdom.
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. - I Corinthians 5:6-8
In this passage we can see quite clearly that believers are warned against allowing leaven to corrupt their lives. If this is the case, then in the parable of the woman and the leaven, the leaven would represent sin (in any form it may take) that has been introduced to the church and has raged unchecked until the whole church has been infected. This could be through wrong teaching, allowing secular agendas to rule rather than Christ's agenda, or any number of things. It could also take the form of marrying non-Scriptural traditions to celebrations of Scriptural events. Unfortunately this happens a great deal at Christmas.
I'm not talking about the fact that Christmas is a converted pagan holiday. I honestly believe that it has been celebrated long enough for Christians to have come to the realization that while the roots of this winter celebration are indeed pagan, our focus is on the birth of our Savior and the priceless gift God has given us through that birth. In our modern society we more often see the marriage of this celebration of Christ's birth with the secular traditions of Santa Claus and the doors that can throw open if we are not diligent in protecting our children from the barrage of Christmas television specials that make absolutely no mention of Christ. In fact, some of these specials are blatantly and overtly occultic. And because it is these sorts of shows that millions of children watch, the vast majority of them don't know that Christmas has anything to do with Christ. Their only knowledge of the holiday is of magic and presents galore.
Just a few weeks before Christmas our three-year-old son and I were talking and he mentioned Santa. I was a little surprised that he very clearly recognized Santa even though we don't have any Santas in the house. I explained to him who Saint Nick really was and that he is a good representation of the spirit of love and giving that people have around this time of year. I was also quick to explain to him that the real reason we have Christmas is to celebrate Jesus' birthday and that Jesus being born was the most precious gift God has ever given to us. So we give each other presents to remind ourselves of God's great gift. And we have a tree because the sole purpose for Jesus being born was to grow up and die on a tree for us. Jesus took an instrument of hideous torture and destruction and made it into the most beautiful thing in the world. So we decorate trees to remind us of Jesus' sacrifice for us and the beauty He brings to our lives.
When we, as believers in Jesus, blindly accept errant teaching or the traditions of men, we are harboring leaven in our lives. And just like a pinch of leaven will indeed leaven the whole lump of dough, that little bit of sin will invade our lives like a cancer. But thank God that He is gracious in showing us where we have leaven so we can be diligent in removing it from our lives. We, as the bride of Christ, are called upon to keep ourselves clean while waiting for the return of our Bridegroom. Let's ask God to daily reveal to us the things in our lives that are not pleasing to Him so we can indeed be ready for His soon return.