Jesus’ Perspective on Influence

Jesus, the Bread of Life

Preparation

Before arriving at church, pick up one or more warm, freshly baked loaves of bread at the bakery. Better yet, if you are able to bake your own, go ahead and bring a fresh, warm loaf in. Wrap it up well so that you can open it up at the worship service for those nearby to smell the fresh, tasty bread. This will set the tone for the service.

Introduction

The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of Jesus. And Jesus uses bread and wine as our commemoration instruments. In fact, Jesus referred to Himself as The Bread of Life. Today, we are going to look at one of Jesus’ parables that provides us insight into how Jesus understood the signifigance of bread in the scriptures.

Scripture

Matthew 13:31-34

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables.

Modern vs Jewish ears

To our modern ears, we acknowledge that Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is a place of radical growth and influence.

But to the Jews who listened to him, they immediately picked up on the fact that Jesus was referencing an extremely well known account in the Torah. Although the male listeners knew this passage by heart, it was the women who really understood its depth and meaning. The key is Jesus term, “a large amount of dough“. Literally, He is saying “three seahs” of flour.

Which woman?

Interestingly, the idea of “three seahs of flour” only appears one other time in the Bible – at the pregnancy of Sarah. Jesus was referencing Sarah in Genesis 18:6, the only other passage in the Word that references the “three measures” or rather three seahs of dough used to bake bread.

To understand what Jesus is referring to, let’s read Genesis 18:1-15.

1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[b] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” 13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

This passage may be new to you – but it was not new to the Jews who heard Jesus. When a man encounters God, it is a historic moment. When the father of faith, Abraham encounters God – on the eve of Sarah’s pregnancy, then it is an account to be remembered, celebrated and meditated on. This is exactly what Jesus did.

Abraham and Sarah were childless. They had been promised a child by God more than 20 years prior to that point. And now the Lord appears as a person and visits Abraham. Abraham makes the most of the opportunity and says, “Please, do not pass me by.” He begs them to stay, and he offers them hospitality. He doesn’t have much, not even a home to offer them as shelter. But he gives them what he can. And he is generous. And the Lord is also generous – in the time it takes to bear a child (9 months), you will have a son.

There are several lessons we can learn from Jesus here.

Jesus compares the Kingdom to a woman

First, Jesus did the unthinkable and compared the Kingdom of God to a woman! In a world governed by men, Jesus refers to a woman to represent the Kingdom. In a world where women were property, Jesus uses a woman to represent the giving nature of God. In a world where women were shown little respect, Jesus consistently lifted them up. Consistently.

Super hospitality

According to Clarke’s Commentary, she baked 56 pounds of dough. Do you know how much bread that makes! A lot! If “3 seahs” represents about over 50 pounds of dough, then the whole point of Jesus specficially mentioning this amount is to point to generosity. Sarah baked WAY to much bread for these men. According to Barnes Notes on the Bible, three-tenths of one seah was enough for a man for a day. So three seahs was enough to richly feed this band of men for days and days! Sarah wasn’t just providing enough to get by. She wasn’t providing just enough to be super hospitable for this one occasion. She was providing them enough for today, tomorrow and the rest of their journey. She wasn’t being careful or cautious with her supplies. She was giving them more than enough hospitality. That is the heart of the Kingdom. That is why Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a hospitable woman!

The irony of generosity

What does Jesus teach us about the irony of generosity in the Kingdom of God? Sarah give the Lord great amounts of bread, and He gave her life – her one and only begotten son, Isaac. She provided Him shelter and hospitality, and He provides her legacy and family, a hope and a future. He provides us the fulfillment of our dreams, and we thank him in the best way that we can – by welcoming him and trying to be a respectable host. That’s the irony of the Kingdom.

The yeast has purpose

But even more so. Jesus loved to use yeast as an illustration – for it is almost a miraculous ingredient. It turns a little bit of dough into a huge amount of bread.

Like the parable immediately preceeding it, Jesus points to an astounding phenomenon in nature. He teaches that something extremely small (a small seed) can become something extremely big and powerful (a tree). But the tree has purpose – to meet the needs of the birds in the air, to give them shelter from the heat and provide them a home.

In the same way, the yeast has a purpose. It only takes a tiny bit of God in our lives to permeate thoughout our whole being and make us into a strong person of character and influence. Yet bread isn’t meant to be baked and then placed in the window for display. No, bread has one purpose – to be consumed. Bread is baked to meet the needs of the family at the table as well as the guests who join you for dinner.

In the same way that Sarah’s bread had the purpose of being consumed by the guests and providing hospitality, the church is meant to be a huge loaf of bread (or bushel full of loaves) that smells awesome, tastes awesome, draws in everyone walking by, fills the hungry stomachs, and on top of all of that, it provides the emotional support and love that comes with warm hospitality.

Prayer

Lord, we thank you for your generosity. You are never cautious or careful in your generosity. While we offer you our service, you offer us life! And you take our somewhat useless dough and turn it into warm, delicious bread that meets the needs of those around us. Lord, we give you permission to you use us, change us and grow us into something huge, powerful and giving. We pray through our Lord, Jesus – Amen.

Reference

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus – by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, P38f

Barnes Notes on the Bible: http://bible.cc/genesis/18-6.htm

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible: http://bible.cc/genesis/18-6.htm

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