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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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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Our king’s great commission (Matthew 28:16–20)

The Cyrus connection gives us accurate aim for the Great Commission.

“Great Commission” is the label we use for Matthew’s closing paragraph. Raised from tomb to throne, the Christ commissioned his followers to train the nations in his enduring presence.

The Old Testament also ended with a great commission in the Hebrew Bible. Chronicles was the final book of the Writings (after the Law and Prophets), so this is how the story of God’s reign ended before Christ:

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Jesus’ dying question: Why have you abandoned me? (Matthew 27:45–51)

Jesus wasn’t losing his faith; he was losing his life, and talking to his Father about it.

The final words of the crucified king in Matthew are these: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? What did he mean?

Is this the dark night of the soul, the road ending in utter despair, all his hopes dying with him? Or should we ignore his emotion and seek a theological reason, like Jesus took on the sin of the world so his Father couldn’t stand him and rejected him? Was the trinity falling apart if Father and Son split up? Did Jesus lose his faith in the end? People raise all kinds of questions to try to make sense of Jesus’ cry of dereliction. Few of those ideas are supported by the context.

These words are not unique to Jesus. He was repeating the words of others who felt abandoned too. These are the opening words of Psalm 22. If you’ve ever found comfort in the words of the Psalms as you faced abusive treatment, you’ll understand what Jesus was doing.

That’s the irony. He feels abandoned, forsaken, cast aside by God. But he’s not alone with that feeling. It’s how the people of God have felt for centuries. It’s the unresolved story of his people, the anguish of their history and songs.

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How do you value Christ? (Matthew 27:1-10)

The tragedy of Judas was how he valued Jesus. Whatever his reason, he chose to hand Jesus over to the temple leaders, accepting whatever they offered (Mark 14:11 || Luke 22:5).

The chief priests set the price (Matthew 26:15). Thirty silver coins was a small price to be rid of the prophetic voice that exposed them as mere actors (23:13-29), rulers relying on death (23:27-32), leaders leading the city to destruction (23:33-39).

Jesus was heaven’s life-giving leader for the earth, and Judas was the leading example of trading Life for something less:

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Wonderful Counsellor (podcast) (Isaiah 9:6)

Why did the wonderful counsellor begin with the place that went dark first? Can his mediation resolve the violence and oppression to restore peace to God’s world?

From cards to cantatas, Isaiah 9:6 is part of Christmas. The child who is born, the son who is given is recognized with throne-names like Wonderful Counsellor.

What did wonderful counsellor mean in Isaiah’s time? How does it relate to Jesus?

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“Tell us if you are the anointed ruler” (Matthew 26:57–68)

Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin was all about whether he claimed to be king.

Why was Jesus called to stand trial before the Jerusalem Council?

It won’t do to say, “Well, Jesus claimed to be the second person of the trinity (Son of God), and the high priest thought that was blasphemous.” The notion of a triune God was not formulated until much later. The high priest was not investigating a Christian dogma when he said, I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. (26:63 ESV).

Peter had used those titles: Christ, Son of God (16:16). We saw that the Gospel writers treat the two phrases as meaning the same thing (epexegetical). The Christ is the anointed ruler who represents on earth the reign of the heavenly sovereign. In that sense, he is the son proclaimed by the eternal sovereign. That’s what son of God meant to the high priest. It was the language of kingship (Psalm 2:2, 7), the language of God’s promises to David (1 Chronicles 17:13).

But the kingship had failed. The final Psalm in Book III laments the disconnect between God’s amazing promises and their experience of the failed kingship:

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Why did Jesus have to die? (Matthew 26:47-56)

How did Jesus’ death “fulfill the prophetic Scriptures?” Here’s the explanation he gave in Gethsemane.

Fight or flight? Many kings have faced that choice. In a field just outside his capital, the true king rejected both options. Neither would bring peace to a divided world.

If you don’t flee and you don’t fight, you could die. Not very attractive, but it is an option: stay and die.

Instead of taking flight, Jesus stayed in Gethsemane, consulting his Father, the architect of human history. He triple-checked for any other alternatives (26:36-46). When the crowd with swords and clubs arrived to take him, he rejected the fight option too.

Matthew doesn’t name Peter as the disciple who unsheathed a dagger. It’s too late for flight. He sees no option but to fight for his king. He swings his sword. The high priest’s servant sees it coming and drops his head to one side. The blow aimed at his neck slices off his ear.

The king orders him, Put your sword back in its place! All who take the sword will destroy themselves with the sword.

What astounding insight! Jesus wasn’t merely saying that those who rely on weapons for survival probably won’t. He said the very act of choosing weapons to kill humans destroys our own humanity (ἀπολοῦνται = future indicative middle).

Ask returning soldiers who’ve seen killing whether Jesus is right. Ask them how many friends they’ve lost to the spectrum from shellshock to suicide. War destroys more than the enemy.

But what sort of option is stay and die? Is that what the Scriptures required of him? It’s not what previous kings had chosen.

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What did Jesus sing? (Matthew 26:30)

The first worship song in the New Testament

Here’s the only record of Jesus singing:

Matthew 26:30 And having sung, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Singing would be unremarkable today. Churches spend lots of time doing it. But this (|| Mark 14:26) is the only time the Gospels mention Jesus or his disciples singing.

So, what would they sing? I mean, it wasn’t from a Wesleyan hymnbook or a Hillsong stream.

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With you in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29)

What was Jesus referring to when he spoke of celebrating anew with them in his Father’s kingdom?

Closing his Last Supper, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, from this moment I will not drink the vine’s produce with you until the day when I drink it with you anew in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29).

What did he mean? According to some communion talks, Jesus was referring to the big banquet at the end of time when everyone is under God’s authority. But that doesn’t really work: within a few days, Jesus was eating with them again (Luke 24:30, 43; John 21:5-13; Acts 1:4).
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Strike the shepherd (Zechariah 13:7-9)

Why was the shepherd of God’s people struck? Why did Jesus relate Zechariah’s message to himself and the scattering of his little flock?

Open Zechariah 13:7-9 and Matthew 26:31-32.

The night he was arrested, Jesus expected his friends to abandon him. He knew they would because the prophets said so.

Matthew 26:31 Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (NIV)

Reading Zechariah 13, it’s not immediately obvious why Jesus would apply this to himself. To make sense of how Jesus understood the text, we need to read the prophets in the context of the story they were telling.

Who was “my shepherd” in Zechariah 13:7?

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The one they pierced (Zechariah 12:10-14)

“They will look on me, the one they have pierced.” What does this mean in its OT context? How does it relate to the Messiah?

Open Zechariah 12:10-14.

How do you understand this astounding statement from the Old Testament?

They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son (Zechariah 12:10).

There’s a strong temptation to simply read this through the lens of the cross: Jesus the Father’s only Son, God pierced for us. That may be how the story plays out (compare John 19:37), but we miss the richness if we don’t ask what it meant in Zechariah’s context.

When Zechariah says, “They will look on me

  • they = “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (12:10a).
  • me = God, since Zechariah is speaking for God (“the word of the Lord” 12:1).

How could they pierce me?

And how can God’s people piercing him be compared to grieving for a firstborn son?

Zechariah is unfolding a very specific story: the story of God’s anointed (the Davidic king) representing heaven’s authority (the kingdom of God) in a world where people (both the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the nations) resist God’s reign.

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Thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13)

How the temple valued Jesus’ leadership is no different to how they valued God’s leadership in the past.

Zechariah 11:12–13 (NIV)
12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

Thirty silver pieces? Isn’t that the price Judas got for Jesus? Is there a connection? We’ll need to see what this means in Zechariah first, to understand what Matthew 27:3-10 makes of it.

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The king is coming (Zechariah 9)

How does Jesus fulfil the promises of Zechariah 9 about dealing with their enemies and restoring divine kingship?

The humble king, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 is an outstanding prophecy, worth exploring in context.

The previous eight verses say that God was opposed to their neighbours to the north (Syrians) and south (Philistines). How does that fit with Jesus? Didn’t the previous chapter promise that the nations would come to seek the Lord? (8:20-23) As always, we need to appreciate the wider context.

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Lord of hosts (Zechariah 8)

Zechariah uses the same name for God 18 times in one chapter. What was he saying? How does this help us understand Christ and our life in him?


What does it mean to call God the Lord of hosts? What are the hosts under his control? Angels? People? Armies? Israelites? Foreigners? How does this relate to Christ? And what is our role in relation to the Lord of hosts?

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How Jesus fulfils the prophets (Zechariah 8)

With a chapter never quoted in the NT, we see how Jesus fulfilled what God promised through the Prophets.


The hope Jesus proclaimed was deeply rooted in the promises of the prophets. Matthew keeps telling us that Jesus fulfilled the prophets, using phrases from Zechariah far more than we do today.

Many of us struggle to make sense of how the NT writers used the prophets. Read Zechariah in context, and it may not sound like predictions. For example, the blood of the covenant in Zechariah 9:11 seems to refer back to the Sinai covenant (Exodus 24:8), yet Jesus used the phrase for his Last Supper (Matthew 26:28).

Maybe our understanding of “context” is too narrow. You probably know to check a few verses either side of a quotation, so as not to take it out of context. In a limited sense, that’s true. But for Jesus and the New Testament writers, context was much broader — their place in the story of God.

When Jesus announced the good news of the kingdom, his context was the Jewish world that had not been a kingdom since the exile. Most of them lived in other countries, scattered like sheep without a shepherd. That’s how Zechariah had described them 500 years earlier (Zechariah 10:2; 13:7 etc), and it still described their context in Jesus’ day (Matthew 9:36; 10:6; 15:24).

Jesus fulfilled the prophets not merely by doing some particular thing they predicted. That happened, but it was far more: everything God promised to restore was finally fulfilled in his Anointed. That’s the scope of what Jesus fulfilled: All the promises of God find their Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, let’s take a chapter the NT writers never quoted. How is Zechariah 8 fulfilled in Christ?

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Rulers of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 4)

Two olive trees supporting the menorah? How does this relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 4.

Matthew promotes Jesus’ agenda — the kingdom of God — as the fulfilment of the promises God gave through the prophets, with numerous allusions to Zechariah. We’re looking at how Zechariah’s visions informed Jesus’ agenda.

When the kingdom fell apart and the people were exiled to Babylon, Zechariah delivered God’s call for the exiles to return (1:3), declaring that God would lead them home like a new exodus (2:6-12). He said they would see the twin signs of God’s leadership over them: Joshua the cleansed high priest in God’s house, and “the Branch” of David’s house who would reign as God’s anointed (3:8).

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Priest of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 3)

How does Zechariah’s story about a high priest in filthy rags relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 3.

The prophets inspired Jesus’ kingdom vision. After God’s nation disintegrated in the exile, prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom. He said that God had scattered them among the nations because of their unfaithfulness, and God would gather them as his kingdom again because of his covenant faithfulness (Zechariah 1–2).

The two markers of God’s kingship in Jerusalem were gone: the house of God (the palace for his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kingship representing his reign). Zechariah addresses these two problems in Chapters 3 and 4.

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Zechariah’s hope of kingdom restoration (Zechariah 1–2)

Prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom after the exile. What they said informed Jesus’ kingdom ministry.

Jesus was not the first to proclaim the kingdom of God. That was already Israel’s story when God anointed David to rule on earth, and when God established Israel as his nation at Sinai. It was the hope for the nations promised to Abraham. It was the covenant God made with all people through Noah. By design, humans exist as images of the heavenly sovereign in his earthly creation.

What was unique was Jesus’ vision of how the kingdom of heaven would be restored to the earth. There was a whole history of getting off-track in the generations of Adam, Noah, Israel, and David. Then it completely fell apart when Babylon took the nation into captivity, destroying the symbols of God’s kingship: the house of God (with the ark that represented his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kings who that represented his reign).

So, how did Jesus envision the restoration of God’s reign? In part, his kingdom vision was shaped by the promises God gave through the prophets, particularly Zechariah.

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