Hiding leaven in buckets of flour (Matthew 13:33)

Here’s a fun reading of Jesus’ parable about someone trying to hide their leaven in three bucket-sized flour containers.

Apparently, the kingdom of heaven is like leaven a woman took and hid in three buckets of flour — until the whole lot fermented! (Matthew 13:33) What’s that about?

Jesus believed the kingdom of God was rising. You can try to punch it down, but once the leaven is in the dough it only rises more. Jesus expected God’s reign to permeate everything, the whole lot.

The parable’s core meaning is clear, but the details are puzzling:

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Planting seeds is better than cracking hard hearts (Matthew 13:11-17)

How do you get through to a resistant culture? Wisdom from a master teacher’s experience.

Jesus faced a daunting task: sowing the kingdom of God in a world gone feral. Refusing our one true sovereign, earth was overrun by self-proclaimed rulers. Even back in Jesus’ time that was a long story: the powers of Rome, Greece, Babylon, Assyria, all the way back to the oppressive Pharaoh of Moses’ day.

Those powers conflict with the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God’s anointed has been raised up as our global leader. Those who hold the political, social, and economic capital have little interest in yielding to him. You could say it would be easier to get a camel through a needle’s eye.

But Jesus wasn’t planning a war to rid us of these leaders. He used stories. His stories were not bombs to destroy existing power structures; they were seeds of what could be, opening people’s eyes and ears and hearts to the hope of life under God’s reign. Seeds can grow into trees. Living roots can crack hard rock. Life is more powerful than death. That’s why the sower went out to sow his seed (Matthew 13:3).

“Why don’t you deliver a clear, direct message that everyone can understand?” his disciples wondered (13:10). “Because they don’t understand,” was Jesus’ reply (13:13).

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Academic or devotional? How do you read?

Is formal study of Scripture different to personal devotional reading? How do we keep them separate? Should we?

How do I balance my academic reading of Scripture with my devotional reading? It’s a question I get from friends, students and pastors. I understand why: if we read the Bible only to write papers or deliver sermons, we may be missing the main point: the revelation of God.

But I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have separate times for academic and devotional reading. I don’t read sometimes for theological, structural, and critical analysis of the text, and other times for personal sustenance and development.

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God’s call and the human response (Isaiah 6:1-13)

How do kingdom servants handle the dissonance between God’s authority and people’s unresponsiveness? They’re both real, as God showed Isaiah.

“Why speak in parables instead of explaining the kingdom clearly?” Jesus realized people want autonomy rather than authority. It’s why, “they close their eyes, block their ears, and obstruct their hearts so they won’t see, hear, and respond” (Matthew 13:10-17).

In mediating the heavenly king’s message to his earthly kingdom, prophets struggled with the same frustration. Calling Isaiah as his spokesman, God revealed to him both sides of the kingdom relationship:

  • the heavenly king, devoted to his people (Isaiah 6:1-8);
  • the earthly kingdom, with closed eyes, blocked ears, and obstructed hearts (Isaiah 6:9-13).

The second part only makes sense in the context of the first. Only if God is sovereign does it make sense to keep calling people to live as his kingdom. When Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 in response to a question about the kingdom, the context of seeing God on his throne is assumed.

Jesus and Isaiah were kingdom proclaimers in different contexts. To handle this quotation well, I’d like to devote this post to Isaiah’s proclamation of the kingdom of God established by the Sinai covenant. Then we’ll do a follow up post on Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God as a new covenant that includes Israel and the nations under God’s throne, and how we as kingdom proclaimers handle the same frustration that Jesus and Isaiah faced.

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Farming frustration and harvesting hope (Matthew 13:18-23)

The Sower Parable is inspiring insight into the frustration we feel and the fruitfulness we anticipate for God’s farm.

Jesus’ kingdom stories are at the heart of Matthew’s Gospel. The lead story is one Jesus titled the parable of the sower (13:18). So, who was the sower? What was he planting? And why bother when many seeds don’t grow?

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Making God known (podcast)

In Australia today we’re seeing Christianity shrink back towards being a minority religion. How should we respond? What does God want us to do? How can we help people discover the invisible God?

The Book of Acts traces the development of the church from 120 Jewish believers to Rome. Within 400 years, it had reached Britain, the edge of the Empire. What did Christians do that was so credible while they were still a minority religion? What can we learn from how they followed Jesus?

What is the one thing we should focus on?

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A church “in God”? What’s that?

One of the earliest references to the church describes it as a people “in God.” What does that mean? And how does it help us understand our identity and mission?


What was the first New Testament Scripture? It was one of Paul’s letters, probably Galatians or Thessalonians. This was written within 20 years of Jesus’ resurrection, around AD 48:

1 & 2 Thessalonians 1:1 (my translation, compare NIV)
Paul and Silas and Timothy, to the assembly of Thessalonians in God our Father and our Lord Jesus his anointed. Grace to you, and peace.

Did you notice the unusual address? In later letters Paul wrote to the church in Corinth or in Philippi. What did he mean by writing to the Thessalonians in God?

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What is Church? (podcast)

How would you describe the church? What does God expect us to be? Where do we focus our limited resources and efforts? These are crucial questions for our time.

This podcast looks at what the word ekklēsia meant before Christians used it to describe their meetings. Our identity is the people who gather around King Jesus. Our mission is implementing God’s government in his world. So, what should we do?

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Celebrating 6 years

This is the short version: what I’ve learnt from 6 years of blogging on the kingdom.

Six years ago (23 April 2016) this blog was launched as an investigation into why Jesus made the kingdom of God the centre of his thinking, and how things would turn out if we did the same.

Talk about mind-expanding results! God restoring the earth as a kingdom under heaven’s management through the leader he anointed for us — this is the good news. God is calling us all to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord — our response to the gospel.

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A lesson in leadership and confrontation (Matthew 15:1-20)

When to confront? When to step away? What can we learn Jesus’ responses to other leaders in his community?

What is it that isolates us from each other? I don’t mean Covid, though that has certainly contributed to feeling cut off from each other in recent years. What are the things that drive wedges between us, leaving us feeling withdrawn and distant?

I’m trying to learn from how Jesus related to people. He often taught the priority of sorting things out when we fall out with our sisters and brothers. Other times the disciples were bewildered to see Jesus giving up on community leaders in the rough and tumble of Galilean life without reconciling. His responses contain insights I need for leadership and relationship.

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Signs of the times (Matthew 16:1–4)

It’s easier to predict the weather and to see the climate change.

Just once we find the phrase, signs of the times. As fascinating as it sounds, it’s not a priority in Scripture. In fact, it occurs in a critique:

Matthew 16:1-4 (my translation, compare NIV)
1 Pharisees and Sadducees approached to put him under pressure, asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
2 In reply he said, “At dusk you say, ‘It will be calm, for the heavens are red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the heavens are red and threatening.’ You do know how to discern the face of the heavens, but you are unable to discern the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Leaving them behind, he moved away.

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Mountains and mustard seeds (Matthew 17:14-21)

“Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20)


As a young pastor, I preached this text calling for an expectant faith that moves mountains. God does amazing things. But with the benefit of a few more years, I can also identify with the disciples who, on this occasion, failed to give the boy his healing.

I still have much to learn, so I’ll comment from just one angle — the kingdom perspective.

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Significance of Passover (repost)

What did Passover mean in its original context (Exodus 12-13)?

What’s the message of the Passover story? What comes to mind for you? Do you picture a lamb being sacrificed for the people of God to be forgiven their sins?

Would it surprise you to know the Book of Exodus never says anything like that? We can’t understand what Scripture says if we smuggle in assumptions about sacrificial theology that aren’t there.

This matters because Passover is so significant. Even today, it’s still one of the most significant weeks in the Jewish calendar, celebrating the birth of their nation. More than 3,200 years ago, God released them from serving Pharaoh, to be something new and privileged: a nation directly serving the divine sovereign, a kingdom of God.

So what does Exodus say?

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Who makes God happy? (podcast) (Luke 15)

Who makes God happy? The sinners? The righteous? What do you think?

Jesus answered that question with three stories. We love the parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost (prodigal) son. But did we hear the answer he gave?

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The rich texture of atonement (Matthew 18:23–35)

There’s more than one model of atonement in the pages of the New Testament.

I’ve never liked the oboe. Clarinets are agile and joyful. Saxophones are versatile and soulful. An oboe sounds mournful, a bruised reed, a blanket of grief. Yet even an oboe can contribute its mellow hues to an orchestral arrangement. Who can forget the haunting tones of Gabriel’s Oboe?

Atonement is as rich and polyphonic as a symphony. At its heart, to atone is to make at-one. God reconciles the world to himself, and that ultimately makes us at-one with each other.

But when we press in to how atonement works, we cannot reduce it to a single instrument. Like light reflected from a multifaceted diamond, atonement has many angles in the New Testament.

For example:

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And if I don’t forgive? (Matthew 18:35)

How will God treat us if we don’t forgive?

Jesus gives a single-sentence explanation of his parable about the unforgiving servant:

Matthew 18:35 (my translation, compare NIV)
“And that’s how my heavenly Father will treat you [plural], unless you each release your brother or sister from your hearts.”

Now we know who’s who in this story, and how they relate:

  • The king is God — my heavenly Father.
  • The servants are you (plural) — the kingdom of the king.
  • The Son of the sovereign (implied by my heavenly Father) teaches kingdom ethics.
  • The Son counts the servants as family — brothers and sisters.
  • Counting offences (verse 21) doesn’t count as forgiving from the heart.

Most unsettling is the way Jesus presents his Father. God is like a king who in anger handed him over to the torturers (verse 34), and that’s how my Heavenly Father will treat you. Disturbing?

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When forgiveness outweighs repayment (Matthew 18:23–35)

Should people pay for their mistakes, or is it better to let them off the hook? Which works best in the long-term? Jesus had an opinion about that.

What thoughts spring to mind when you read forgiveness in the Bible? If your first thought is personal guilt and asking for salvation, you may struggle with the stories of Jesus, where it sounds like salvation is contingent on your works. It might make more sense to read them as stories about corporate restoration.

This one is about the kind of kingdom our king expects to run, how he expects his servants to represent him in his realm.

Jesus’ story

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Three decrees that gave Christ authority (Psalm 110)

How much of Psalm 110 did Jesus have in mind when he quoted the first verse?

Psalm 110 proclaims three edicts from heaven that reconfigure authority on earth. Jesus quoted the first, and that was enough to silence his opponents (Matthew 22:41-46). The second would have put them in an unenviable position. And the third would have been too frightening to face.

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