We saw last Sunday that Jesus had begun to teach in parables. The "par-ab-ol-AY" (Greek) is a comparison, usually in the form of a story that illustrates a difficult truth.
Jesus began with the parable of the sower, in which He taught us that the Word of God lands on several different kinds of hearts when it goes forth. The person with a hard heart won't receive the Word. The shallow person won't last long in the faith because he won't study the Word. And the continually sinful person won't grow because his sin chokes the Word. It is only the good and honest heart in which the Word can grow and flourish properly.
Now, as we continue through the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel, we see that Jesus is still teaching in parables...
This parable talks about tares being sown among good wheat. Tares are a poisonous weed called "Bearded Darnell" that looks nearly identical to wheat while growing. It is not until ears of wheat grow that the two are distinguishable from each other. According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, the grains of this plant, "if eaten, produce convulsions, and even death."
And so here is a parable which talks about the kingdom as having two nearly identical-looking plants growing in the same field. One is good, the other evil. And to protect the good plants, they must both be allowed to grow next to one another until the harvest.
This second parable speaks of a mustard seed. Now, the mustard seed is quite small, and if you were to plant the seed of this garden herb, you would get a shrub which, if incredibly healthy, might grow as high as your waist. But certainly wouldn't become a tree in which birds could make nests.
And so as Jesus speaks of this growing into a tree, we must recognize that this is abnormal and unnatural growth. The mustard plant is an herb, and herbs don't become trees, they are completely different species. So, Jesus is describing something of a monstrosity, a deformation of what nature intended, foreign in its form.
Notice, too, that the birds are nesting in its branches. Remember that in Mark's account of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus asked the disciples,
Mark 4:13 ..."Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?"
He was there telling them about the principal of "expositional constancy." That is to say that the symbols that He is using in the parables are consistent throughout all of His parables.
The birds in the Parable of the Sower represented satan (Mark 4:15), the devil (Luke 8:12), the evil one (Matt. 13:19). Using the principle of expositional constancy, we know that the birds will always be representative of evil in the parables.
This is certainly a strange story. Let's read the third parable.
This third parable talks about three measures of flour, which was the Jews' traditional fellowship offering. This was introduced back in Genesis, when the Lord visited Abraham's tent. He told his wife,
Gen. 18:6 ..."Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes."
In this fellowship offering, the woman hides leaven. Now, we wouldn't think twice about leavening bread flour, but the Jews would consider it an abomination, for leaven was expressly forbidden, because it typifies sin.
Leaven is yeast, which as you know, makes bread dough rise. But how does it do this? Yeast is a microorganism, a single-celled fungus. It's 160 different species can cause human infection, fermentation, and spoil food. Yeast metabolizes, releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is how bread rises - it is corrupted by being puffed up with worthless inflation.
This sounds very much like pride, doesn't it? When we're prideful, we're puffing ourselves up with empty and worthless inflation. That's why leaven is used as a symbol of sin all through the Bible:
The Corinthian church had the leaven of malice and wickedness (1Cor. 5:6-8), the Pharisees had the leaven of hypocrisy (Mark 8:15), and Herod had the leaven of pride (Mark 6:26-27). Plus, it was forbidden by the Lord in the sacrifices:
Lev. 2:11 "No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven..."
This is why the woman "hid" the leaven in the flour. The Greek word for "hid" is "eng-KROOP-to," from which we get our word "encryption." It means to hide or to conceal. She wasn't leavening the flour to make Wonder Bread. She was concealing the leaven, and it spread throughout the flour, corrupting it entirely.
Believe it or not, all three of these very different stories are illustrating the same truth. How? Let's hear Jesus' explanation...
The disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable of the tares. He clarified for them that while He was sowing good seed in the world, the devil was sowing identical-looking but deadly counterfeits. In other words, there are sons of the devil mixed in with the sons of God, and until the end, we will have difficulty telling the difference.
Jesus had warned us before about wolves in sheep's clothing. In this parable, He is essentially saying that the kingdom has way more plants in it right now than just the wheat.
These tares are sown when the workers are sleeping. This should be a warning to us: The more we're sleeping on the job, the more tares the enemy will sow among us. Paul had warned the leadership of the church in Ephesus,
Acts 20:28-31 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert..."
They listened to Paul's exhortation and obeyed. Later, that church was congratulated by Jesus for not sleeping on the job:
Rev. 2:2-3 "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary."
In our field of wheat, there are tares. Plants that look like us, plants which, if uprooted now, would devastate us. And so God allows them to grow next to us, waiting for the day of judgment.
In the next parable, He is saying that the plant has gotten larger than it is supposed to be. A huge monstrosity, far bigger than it was ever intended to be. A place where the devil's emissaries make their nests. The huge mustard tree with the birds is just like the field with the tares.
And in the third parable, Jesus is saying that the entire fellowship will be corrupted by the introduction of a corrupting influence. The fellowship will be enlarged, but not in a good way. Hidden sin will permeate the place and make it far larger than it is supposed to be.
The promise is that God's got it all sorted out already. It is still His kingdom, and He knows who the righteous are. They will be rewarded and shine brightly, while the lawless ones will be thrown into the fire.