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Heaven on earth and what it looks like (2)

He put another parable before them, saying, “The heavenly realm is like (1) a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable. “The heavenly realm is like (2) leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of wheat flour, till it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13: 31-33)

In London’s wonderful British Museum many rooms are devoted to artefacts found at a place called Ur in ancient Mesopotamia. The artefacts date back to at least 2000BC – back in fact to the time of a man named Abraham.

Quite a few pages of the first book in the Jewish Bible are about Abraham. He had a grandson named Israel – the man who fathered today’s Jewish people. And the man after whom the present day nation of Israel is named.

This man Abraham is held in high esteem by the Jews and by Christians and by Muslims. All three religions greatly respect him. It could be said that Abraham is a fulcrum which divides present-day Jerusalem because of the seemingly endless disputes over the Temple Mount.

In the days of King Solomon, the son of King David (1000 – 970 BC) of Israel, a magnificent Temple was built on the site (previously known as Mount Moriah) where Abraham was tested by being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac.

That Temple was eventually destroyed, then rebuilt and destroyed again - twice. Then, in 1193 AD, the Mosque of Omar was built on that same site. Omar I (577-644 AD) was an early convert to Islam.

What has this got to do with “heaven on earth”? Take a look at the words of Jesus - (1) in bold above. Heaven on earth, Jesus said, is like a single grain of mustard seed – terribly small – which becomes a tree, surpassing all garden plants in size with its branches providing a haven for birds of the air.

‘Jesus invites us not to a picnic but to a pilgrimage.’ (Billy Graham, American evangelist, 1918 - )

Could this man Jesus be the tiny seed? He was a nobody, wasn’t he? Born in an animal stable, cradled in a cattle feeding trough, brought up in the pitiful town of Nazareth, living in a friend’s house, his only possession was his clothing. Today he has 2,180,000,000 who name his name across the world.

The tiniest seed of the man of Calvary would become - on earth - a refuge for millions in their need and hopelessness.

But Jesus’ next parable (2) in bold above - is a real mystery. Heaven on earth, he said, is like yeast that a woman took and hid in three measures of wheat flour, till it was all leavened.”  A woman? Three measures? Wheat flour?

There’s only one other place in the Bible which refers to a woman, three measures, and wheat flour. The woman was named Sarah. She was the wife of Abraham. The God and Father of Jesus Christ had promised the two of them a child in their old age. Abraham believed it. Sarah didn’t. When God’s messengers came to Abraham she prepared three measures of wheat flour for them.  At that very time, Sarah laughed at God’s promise. The messengers said to her, “Was that you laughing?” she said “No. I didn’t laugh.”

Sarah hid her unbelieving laughter whilst preparing three measures of wheat flour for God’s messengers.

Is that what Jesus was saying through his parable? Heaven on earth? Could it be that unseen and hidden – but within the heavenly realm on earth - are those who will not truly believe in Jesus and walk in his ways? Could it be that this kind of yeast is within every single part of heaven on earth?

‘When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there: the first wonder will be to see many people there whom I did not expect to see; the second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see; and the third and greatest wonder will be to find myself there.’ (John Newton, Author of Amazing Grace, 1725-1807)

Jesus had said several times that heaven on earth – the Son of Man - would welcome people who in all their need turned to him – and would provide them with a home to dwell in.

Now Jesus seems to be saying that, for a while at any rate, heaven on earth will contain many (the three measures of wheat flour are all leavened) people who in their inner being don’t really believe in him at all.

One final thought. I mentioned the three world religions which greatly respect Abraham. Followers of two of those religions today don’t want anything to do with Jesus. The Jewish faith and Islam. But their opposition is overt. Jesus was speaking about hidden opposition.

Richard Syvret

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