February 6, 2022 Stories


February 6, 2022



Scripture: Matthew 13:31-35; 44-46.


Jesus is telling stories. Parables are simply stories about everyday life that illustrate a spiritual truth.


As we just read:


All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.[1]


When Matthew writes that all Jesus did was speak in parables, he is using hyperbole. Hyperbole is exaggeration in order to bring attention to a saying. Of course, Jesus taught plainly without using parables, as well. Most of the Sermon on the Mount is straightforward teaching with only two short parables among the three chapters. Matthew means to say that Jesus used stories in his teaching a great deal.


Stories are helpful in that they are more memorable than raw teaching. It is easier for us to remember a story than it is to remember the elements of a teaching without a story. Also, stories are more interesting than plain teaching. They hold our interest.

This first portion contains two very short parables. We interpret these parables by assigning meaning to the elements within the parables according to their previous identification in Scripture. This is allowing the Scripture to interpret itself.


The mustard seed is small. This is the way the word of the gospel began, in a small way, in a tiny country, even in an unimportant region of a small country (Galilee). But it grew in a great way, in an abnormal way, becoming a tree instead of an herb plant. It becomes so large that birds rest in its branches. Birds represent evil spirits according to the Parable of the Sower in this same chapter.


Verse 32 says that the birds of heaven come and roost in the branches of this tree. Instead of producing fruit, this tree is a roost for birds. Because the birds in the first parable signify the evil one, Satan (vv. 4, 19), the birds of heaven in verse 32 also refer to Satan’s evil spirits with the evil persons and things motivated by them. They lodge in the branches of the great tree, that is, what has become to be known as “Christendom.”


“Christendom” is a designation that is used to name the outward structures of those institutions that claim to be part of the church. It is very broad. It includes all the denominations, even the apostate ones, as well as nations that purport to follow Christ. As such, it is very extensive and includes many people who follow Christ in name only. Many in Christendom do not truly follow the Lord.


 “The birds refer to the evil one and to evil persons, evil matters, and evil things—in short to all evil pertaining to the evil one. In today’s Christendom, there are many evil persons, evil things, and evil matters. Christendom has become a big tree producing no fruit, but having become a lodging place for so many evil things.


When this parable was spoken by the Lord, it was prophecy; but today it has become history. In the Vatican we see the fulfillment of this parable. The Vatican is even an independent country, formed by an agreement between Mussolini and the pope. From that time onward, the Vatican and various nations of the world have exchanged ambassadors. This is a further indication that the Christian religion has become a big tree. Today there are approximately eight hundred million Catholics in the world, perhaps one fourth of the world’s population, under the authority of the pope. Such a large number of people is under the papal system. Although Christianity has become a big tree, in Luke 12 the Lord Jesus called His church the “little flock.” We should not be in the big tree, but remain in the little flock.”[2]


Our Lord told this parable as a prophecy. He warned us that evil persons would be present in this phase of the kingdom, that is, in the outward appearance of the church. As a reason for not attending the meetings of the local church, the lost will often say that there are hypocrites present. The real reason why the lost avoid church is not because of hypocrites, because there are hypocrites everywhere – at work, at sporting events, at parties, at the Rotary Club, at the gym, literally everywhere. If you wish to avoid hypocrites then never leave your house ever. But even then you couldn’t avoid hypocrites because you have a mirror at your house! The real reason why many of the lost avoid church is because they are trying to avoid actually living for God, which the church helps us to do. But, Jesus went way beyond this. Not only hypocrites, but evil people are there. We can even tell those that avoid the church this very thing: “It’s interesting that you said that. Because Jesus said something along those lines. But he went further than you did. He told the parable of the Mustard Seed.” And then tell them about the parable and what it means. Conclude with, “What is even more interesting is that he taught that, despite the negative things present in the church, we should not neglect gathering together (Mark 10:28-30; Hebrews 10:24-25 [the Lord teaching through the apostle that wrote Hebrews]). This is because that, besides the occasional evil person, you will enter into deep friendships that will bless your life.”


It is good to be reminded that there are two phases of the kingdom. There is the present phase of the kingdom. It began when Jesus came the first time and it will continue until he returns to the earth, which he promised to do. This is the mystery of the kingdom because it was barely revealed in the Old Testament and, even now, it is hidden. It is hard to see. The lost don’t se it at all. They look at the church and do not perceive that Christ is ruling here. All they hear about is all the failures and sins. Of course, we have already seen that Jesus prophesied that there would be evil in the present phase of the kingdom.


When Jesus returns the kingdom will be established in its fullness and it will cover the whole earth. This has been called the manifestation of the kingdom. All the parables in chapter 13 are about the present age, the mystery of the kingdom.


Next, our Lord tells the very short parable of leaven, just one verse:


He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” [3]


As with the Parable of the Mustard Seed, we should allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. There are two understandings of this parable. One says that the leaven represents the gospel and the meal represents the world. In that view, the gospel will permeate the whole world until all the world is converted. This is a very positive outlook. Unfortunately, it does not cohere with the way Scripture elsewhere uses “leaven.” Leaven always represents negative things in Scripture:


Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.[4]


In the Old Testament, leaven represents sin.


How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [5]


Here, leaven represents the bad teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.


Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. [6]


Since leaven is always used to represent sin and evil, it means the same in this parable.


Either this parable is teaching that the world will be made holy by the church or it is teaching that the church will be made corrupt by the world.


And isn’t this what has already happened? The church has been corrupted by the world. Not only so, it continues to be so.


As for the remaining symbols of the parable, the woman and the flour, one is easy to identify and the other difficult. The flour represents the church. Flour, of course, is used to make a loaf of bread. And we are identified as being such:


The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.[7]


In I Cor 11, the apostle Paul likens the bread of the Lord’s Table to the physical body of Christ. But in I Cor. 10 he likens it to the spiritual body of Christ, the church. Thus, the bread of the Lord’s Supper represents both the physical body of Christ and the ourselves, the spiritual body of Christ.


Hence, the flour for making bread represents the church in this parable. The “three measures” likely means enough flour for a full meal or a full loaf.  Abraham instructed Sarah to use three measures when feeding his guests.


The woman has been variously identified as Israel, Rome, the Roman Catholic Church, the world in general, or the devil. We are not even certain that the Lord intended the woman to represent something or someone specific, because not every element in a parable always has an intended representation. All we can say is that she is an evil agent. She “hid” the leaven in the flour. She was deceptive about it.


What the Lord intends for his disciples, including us, to learn is that leaven – false teaching and evil things – will be present in the mystery form of the kingdom, the church, in this age. We should not be discouraged by this. Rather, we simply need to be on guard. Test all things by Scripture. Be noble as the Bereans were noble.


Then Jesus tells another story:


“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. [8]


The man here is Christ, who found the kingdom of the heavens in 4:12 to 12:23. The treasure represents his elect, the church. The treasure is us! He then hid the treasure in 12:24 to 13:43, and in His joy went to the cross in 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19; and 26:1 to 27:52 to sell all He had and buy that field—to redeem the created and lost earth—for the kingdom. Christ first found the treasure when He came out to minister, declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” He called his disciples right after his call to repent. When the Jews’ rejection of the Lord reached its peak, He forsook them. From that time onward, He hid the treasure. Then He went to the cross to buy not only the treasure, but also the field, and He thereby redeemed the earth created by God.


Our Lord sold all that he had: he left his heavenly home of glory, he emptied himself (Phil. 2:7), and he gave up his life at the cross. We are not the “man.” We have nothing to sell in order to gain the treasure. We are empty-handed. Further, the man buys the field, which represents the whole world (13:38), and we are never told to buy the world. In fact, we are told to forsake the world. Thus, the man is Christ.


Do you see how much Christ loves the treasure, the church? He loves it so much that he gave up everything to obtain it! This knowledge should evince two realizations:


First, if you belong to Christ, you must see that Christ loves you deeply. He loves you so much that he gave everything he had to obtain you. You will revel and enjoy this love and it will be a divine motivation to walk in the ways of the Lord. When we realize the depth of the Lord’s love for you, then you, in turn, will love Him more. The more we love Him, the easier it is for us to follow Him.


The second realization is that, because Christ thinks so highly of the treasure, the church, we too must have a high estimation of it. Our estimation of the church must match the Lord’s. When a person finds a real treasure, say buried in the earth or at the bottom of the sea, it is not shiny. Whatever valuable articles make up the treasure, whether jewelry, crowns, or coins, they will be tarnished and covered with dirt. Maybe even corroded. But, the one who knows the value of the treasure will envision the appearance once the corrosive coverings have been removed. Once cleaned up, the articles of the treasure will sparkle with beauty.


So it is with the church. Presently, it is hidden in the earth and is dirty. But, one day it will shine with glory! The person who knows the treasure will love it for its great worth and its hidden beauty. So…love the church! It is of great worth to our Lord and its beauty is in the making!


You see the power of a story, when the story is true!


Then Jesus tells another story, very much like the treasure story:


Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. [9]


With the parable of the Pearl of Great Price one has the same difficulty with interpreting oneself as the merchant and the pearl as either salvation or the kingdom. How do we sell all that we have? We certainly do not sell anything to get salvation nor do we buy salvation. There is a sense in which we are called to give up all to obtain the kingdom (5:20, 48; 6:33; 10:37-39), but in all the parables thus far, except one[10], the main character is the Son of Man. Therefore, it is best to follow this pattern in interpreting this parable.


“In verse 46 we see the heavenly King’s work in gaining the one pearl of great value. At the cross He sold all, whatever He had, and bought that pearl. The pearl… is also the material for the building of the New Jerusalem. Since the pearl comes out of the sea, which signifies the world corrupted by Satan (Isa. 57:20; Rev. 17:15), it must refer to the church, which is mainly constituted with regenerated believers from the Gentile world, and which is of great value.


The Lord is not only seeking the kingdom; He also desires a beautiful church, the pearl. According to Revelation 21, the New Jerusalem is built with precious stones and pearls. In other words, the New Jerusalem is a combination of the treasure and the pearl. In Matthew 13 these are two, the treasure in the field and the pearl out of the sea. But in Revelation 21 they are combined in one entity. The New Jerusalem is both the kingdom and the church.”[11]


We are the pearl! This signifies how precious you are in the sight of our Lord! He found you and he gave everything that he had to buy you! “Thank you, Lord, that I am of value to you! Thank you, Lord, that you gave everything to have me!” This is a glorious and reassuring truth!


What are our take-aways from these stories?


  • From the Parable of the Mustard Seed we must see that birds have come to roost in the branches of the kingdom, the church. There are evil things in Christendom. This does not mean that there are evil things in every local church. No. A church can be pure, without spot or wrinkle. But, we must also realize that there are structures in Christendom that have evil things present. Thus, choose your place of worship carefully.
  • From the Parable of the Leaven we learned that evil things and false teaching can spread easily. And, it has. Therefore, test all things by Scripture, as did the Bereans.
  • From the Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl we saw that Christ truly loves the church. Therefore, you must know that Christ loves you greatly and you yourself must love the church.


These stories are for us! To you have been given the mysteries of the kingdom! The only question that remains is: Will you conform your thinking, and even your heart, to the truths of these stories?


This is the goal of our Lord. That you would conform your heart to his. This is why he told these stories. Therefore, do not allow these truths to slip away. Rather, go to the Lord in prayer and recommit yourself to Him and to the Pearl.



[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 13:34). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] These two paragraphs taken from Life-Study of Matthew, Message 38, by Witness Lee.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 13:33). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ex 12:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 16:11–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 5:6–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 10:16–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 13:44). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 13:45–46). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] In the parable of the Leaven, the woman is either the corrupted church (i.e., the Catholic Church, as per Lee and Govett) or the enemy of God, as per the one who sowed the tares in the parable of the Tares. In either case it is not the Son of Man.

[11] Lee, Message 39.