Christ Our Unleavened Bread from Heaven

 

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (text); Exodus 12:14-20; Leviticus 23:4-8; Deuteronomy 16:3-4; Matthew 13:33

© October 13, 2013 • Download this PDF sermon

Congregation loved by Christ: Whenever we hear of unleavened bread, our attention often turns to the question, Should we use unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper? What is the connection between unleavened bread and the Lord’s Supper? Obviously, the primary connection is that in the Passover meal that Jesus ate with his disciples on the night before he was crucified, they partook of unleavened bread.

"Returning from burial of Christ" by Nikolai Ge, 1859 (click image to enlarge)

“Returning from burial of Christ” by Nikolai Ge, 1859 (click image to enlarge)

We come now to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the second of seven feasts that God appointed for Israel in Leviticus 23. This feast is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month, a day after the Feast of Passover, for seven days. A holy assembly is held on the first and seventh day of the feast, and no work is done on these two days. All leaven is to be removed from their houses during these seven days, even the smallest of bread crumbs that are leavened. From the Feast of the Passover till the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, no one can eat leavened bread. Anyone found eating leavened bread during these eight days will be “cut off from the congregation,” which usually means being put to death. This feast is to be observed as “a statute forever.”

The first Feast of Passover was a sacrificial feast on the night that God slew all the firstborn of Egypt, while “passing over” the firstborn of Israel because of the blood of the lamb. This feast was a foreshadow of Christ the Passover Lamb who gave himself up to be a sacrifice in order to redeem us from slavery to sin.

The day after, the Israelites left Egypt, leaving behind their oppression and bitter life. So God appointed the Feast of Unleavened Bread as a memorial of their new life as God’s holy people. The day after Christ was crucified, he lay in a tomb, removing all the old sinful leaven of all believers, signifying a new life of holiness as God’s holy nation, the church. Believers are “a new lump,” and are like new leaven infecting their neighbors and whole world with their righteousness and holiness in Christ.

So “The Feast of Unleavened Bread” is our theme today under three headings: (1) “Cleanse Out the Old Leaven”; (2) “That You May Be a New Lump”; and (3) “A Little Leaven Leavens the Whole Lump.”

“Cleanse Out the Old Leaven”
Our text today is a portion of Paul’s words of rebuke against the church in Corinth for their laxity in dealing with the case of a man who was in an incestuous relationship with his stepmother. He commands the church to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Co 5:5). Paul wanted the church to declare that this man is an unbeliever and remove him from the church, so that in effect, he is under Satan’s kingdom (Lk 4:5–6; Ep 2:2; 1Jn 5:19).

This is the exercise of church discipline that most churches today neglect, to the detriment and confusion of the congregation. But the purpose of church discipline is not to permanently cast out the sinner, but “for the destruction of the flesh,” or the destruction of sin in his life. So if the offender repents of his sin, he will be restored and eventually saved when Christ comes.

Here Paul alludes back to the Feast of Unleavened Bread as he likens removing the unrepentant sinner from the church to removing all leavened bread from all the houses of Israel during this seven-day festival, saying, “Cleanse out the old leaven.”

What is this thing called “leaven”? Leaven is different from yeast. In our Lord’s Supper, we use pandesal or a loaf of white bread. Of course, these are also made using yeast. But they are also unleavened. In the ancient world, yeast was not common, so in order to get yeast, “leaven” was used. It was fermented or “rotten” dough, of which a tiny portion would be left from a previous dough. A household gets this little leaven, called a “starter,” from the neighbors, and then adds this to a new batch of dough. And so on. In this way, the household would never run out of leavened dough.

When the time of the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread came, all leaven was removed from the house, including all bread that was baked from the old lump. So it seems that “unleavened” bread is not bread without yeast, but instead a fresh new batch of dough, or a “new lump.” This is the contrast that Paul speaks of between “old leaven” and “a new lump.”

But the general principle involved in this text is that “a little leaven” in the church will silently spread to the whole church, with serious consequences.

What about the significance of this festival for Israel? First, God wanted Israel to always remember that he delivered them from their affliction in Egypt. This is why the unleavened bread was called the “bread of affliction” reminding them of their bitter life of slavery in a foreign land. The unleavened bread also reminded them that they ate the Passover meal in haste—they could not wait for the bread to rise. Therefore, the LORD appointed the Feast of Unleavened Bread so “that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt” (Dt 16:3). This was also the day following the sacrifice of the Passover lamb to redeem their firstborn children from the angel of death.

After his “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went straight to the Temple to look around the goings-on there (Mk 11:11). Then, since it was getting late, Jesus and his disciples stayed overnight in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The next morning, he proceeds again to the Temple and cleanses it of moneychangers and traders, condemning them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mk 11:17).

Jesus cleansed his own house of “leaven”—the leaven of corrupt swindlers and traders. His Temple where his people from all nations were supposed to worship his Father had become “a den of robbers.” The leaven of sin of Israel’s civil and religious leaders had infected even his own house. In effect, these people were found to be guilty of having “leaven” during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, his words of condemnation against them was a prophetic warning: they will be “cut off” from the congregation of Christ if they do not remove the leaven of sin in their lives by believing in Christ and repenting of their sin.

This is why Jesus repeatedly warned his disciples against the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 16:6). At first, they thought he was speaking about bread since they were hungry, but later understood that he was talking about their teaching (Mt 16:11-12). Luke says that Jesus also warned them not only against their teaching but also of their wicked character, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1). Like leaven, the sin and error of a few teachers infected the whole nation.

What about you, people of God? Do you have a leaven of sin in your own life? In your own home? In your own church? Often, removing sin from our lives or from our church involves making sacrifices, leaving behind ungodly pleasures, and painful decisions. But as the people of God, you are to be holy, because God is holy, no matter what it would cost us. You are to celebrate the feast, not by eating unleavened matzos, not with “the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminded Israel to remember that the LORD delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. Second, the Feast of Unleavened Bread signified a new beginning for Israel after their redemption from slavery. They have become “a new lump.”

“That You May be a New Lump”
When they left Egypt, Israel was to bring no leaven from their homes. They have to make brand-new dough from scratch, not using the “starter” dough that they have been using for the last year. The exodus from Egypt was a new beginning, a new life of freedom from slavery for them. They were leaving behind the “house of slavery,” with its “bread of affliction” to go to the Promised Land of milk and honey, bread and oil and wine.

When they had arrived there, the LORD commanded Joshua to remove all the “leaven” from the Promised Land. What kind of leaven had to be removed? These are the pagan nations living in Canaan. Before they entered the land, the Israelites were commanded by God:

In the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction … as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God (Dt 20:16-18).

If they are not completely removed, even a few pagans with their idol-gods would be like leaven that will corrupt the whole holy nation. At first, the Israelites obeyed God’s commandment, but in time, they were captivated by the plunder and the women of these nations. So God’s warning came true—Israel became idolaters just like their pagan neighbors.

Finally, God poured out his righteous wrath on them for bringing the leaven of idolatry, sexual immorality, and other kinds of corruption into their homes. Babylon destroyed their house of worship which was overflowing with abominable leaven, and the conquerors took them into foreign lands to serve as slaves once again. But God was merciful to his people even when they were wayward. He restored a small remnant back to the Promised Land, and a second Temple was rebuilt.

When our Lord Jesus Christ came, bread was a common theme in his teachings. He even rebuked Satan after the devil tempted him to make bread out of stones when he was hungry, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).

Later, during one of his trips to Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus taught about the bread from heaven, saying, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35). And this bread is “the bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:41). There is no mistaking for the Jews, whose leaven was their false teachings, that Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

And how is Jesus the bread of life who came down from heaven? He continues, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:51). It is his body he gave up to be crucified on the cross that became the Unleavened Bread to give eternal life to his people. Now “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hb 10:19-20). Christ our Unleavened Bread brought us out of the leaven of malice and evil into the most holy place of sincerity and truth.

Everyone who eats his body by faith through the Spirit has eternal life. Just as the Israelites were nourished by manna from heaven and water from the rock in the desert, we are nourished by Christ’s body and blood whenever we partake of his Holy Communion. Because Christ ate the bread of affliction in his sufferings and death, he is able to strengthen us by his Word and the elements of the Lord’s Supper in our earthly pilgrimage of afflictions.

"Jesus Carried to the Tomb" by James Tissot (1886-94)

“Jesus Carried to the Tomb” by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

On that Good Friday 2,000 years ago, Christ gave up his unleavened body and soul so that we might be freed from sin’s slavery and go to our Promised Land. The next day, Jesus’ body lay in the tomb, the only means by which the leaven of sin can be purged from our body and soul. Because of his unleavened sacrifice, we are now cleansed from the leaven of sin, a new lump in Christ.

This is why Paul says we are a “new creation” in Christ. Jesus says that all believers are “born again,” brand-new creatures, pure and without any blemish or spot or corruption. We celebrate this feast not just for seven days every year, but for the rest of our lives, until Christ, our Unleavened Bread comes down from heaven a second time. We are to be committed to remain unleavened, set apart from the leavened world, holy unto the Lord, serving God in all that we do.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us of our freedom from sin’s slavery. It also represents sin and error that must be removed from our lives and from the church in order that we may be holy to the Lord.

But leaven in the Bible does not represent only bad things. Jesus also used it positively.

“A Little Leaven Leavens the Whole Lump”
An age-old proverb says, “One bad apple spoils the bunch.” How can one rotting apple spoil a whole bunch of apples with it? Because a rotting apple gives off ethylene, which spreads to the other apples, hastening the rotting process.

Perhaps this proverb came from another ancient proverb which Paul uses twice, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” one usage in our text. The other one is in Galatians 5:9, where the little leaven is the error of a Judaizer in teaching that Gentiles need to be circumcised in order to become a member of God’s covenant family. Paul also says, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1Co 15:33) to warn the church against drunkenness, one of the consequences of the false teaching that there is no bodily resurrection. In Hebrews 12:15, the preacher warns, “See to it … that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” A bitter person in the church will easily spread his unhealthy attitude to the rest of the brethren.

But in Matthew 13:33, Jesus uses leaven in a positive way once, “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.” Here, Jesus uses the metaphor of leaven positively. The kingdom of God starts in a very small way, hidden from the eyes of the unsuspecting world. In the previous parable, Jesus also likens the kingdom to a minute mustard seed that grows to a big tree.

It started with Jesus, then to his 12 disciples, then to 120 at his ascension, then to 3,000 converts at Pentecost in Jerusalem, and finally spread to Samaria and to all the nations! Even with all the opposition, persecution, and false teachings throughout its 2,000 years of history, the “gates of Hades” has not overcome it.

This is possible only because conversion starts with the inner transformation of the mind and heart of individuals by the Spirit. It is not through the sword, or money, or charismatic leaders. It is through the removal of the leaven of sin from the heart and error from the mind.

This is one of the reasons why the use of unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is not required by most churches. Leaven does not represent only the spread of sin, but also of the gospel. True, Jesus used unleavened bread at the Passover meal. But do we do everything that Jesus did then: reclining at the table, or washing his disciples’ feet, or following every ritual of the Passover meal?

Leavened bread was also used in other sacrificial meals: peace offerings for thanksgiving (Lv 7:13; Am 4:5); grain offerings of bread (Lv 23:17). So leaven can symbolize both “malice and evil” of sin and error, and “sincerity and truth” of the gospel. So which one do we choose to highlight in the Lord’s Supper?

Dear friends in Christ: The Feast of Unleavened Bread encourages us to separate from sin in our lives. Not as the monks and separatists do. But like the Israelites, leave behind your old leaven, and become new lumps. Leave behind what you were in the former days when you were “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ep 2:2-3).

You are now a “new creation” in Christ (2 Co 5:17; Gl 6:15). In your pilgrimage to the new heaven and new earth, you are still “in the world,” but you are not “of the world.” This means that you have an entirely different desires, thoughts, motivations, goals, and most importantly, a different God.

The leaven that you have in you is not the leaven of malice and evil, but of sincerity and truth. The gospel of Christ is the leaven that you have. Infect your own world—your family, friends, classmates, officemates, businessmates—with the leaven of the kingdom of God!

When you do, they will be as new lumps in Christ, and the church will rise and grow in number and maturity until our True Unleavened Bread comes down from heaven!

 

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