Description / Transcription
This sermon originally delivered by Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is all we have and need, and we need to hear from him now. We ask for your help, not simply because that’s what we do before a sermon, but because we really mean it. I really need your help, Lord, to preach your Word with boldness, unction from the Holy Spirit, clarity, and truth. We need your help if we’re to hear, listen, receive, and obey. Thank you for saving your people from the Egyptians and the Babylonians, and for saving us from ourselves. Speak to us from the Scriptures, that we might see you, know you, believe in you, and obey you. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. 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. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. Exodus 12:14-28
If you were here last week, you might think, “Didn’t we just have a sermon text on the Passover?” And if you are here next week and the week after that, you may think the same thing. The events surrounding the 10th plague—the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt—occur in five consecutive sections of the book of Exodus. The plague was foretold back in Exodus 11. Last week, on Easter Sunday, we read the initial instructions for Passover in Exodus 12:1-13. Today, we again read instructions for the feast of Passover and the feast that coincides with it, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Then, in Exodus 12:29-42, the 10th plague is executed and the Exodus occurs. So we’ve just been hearing about it, but we haven’t actually got to where it happens in the narrative. Then, from the end of Exodus 12 into Exodus 13, we see the institution of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Why this repetition as we go through parts of the Bible (the Old Testament in particular) and get to ritual sections where there are sacrifices or feast days like this? We don’t do this, because we revere this book, but as modern people, if we were to take our red pen and cut down the word count, we would tend to look at some of these passages and say, “That’s a bit redundant. Can’t you just scope this down? Maybe add a pie chart, a graph, or something. Do we really need to hear this over and over again?” As contemporary readers, these are the parts that we tend to want to skip over or skim through.
Yet we get them time and time again, which says something to us about their importance, especially for the original audience. They had to do these things and get them right. As we heard last week and will hear again this week, Christ is that final Passover lamb. This system of Old Testament feasts, rituals, and sacrifices has now been superseded and fulfilled in Christ. That’s why we don’t do these things. But imagine the initial hearers, readers, and teachers. They’re thinking, “Okay, what was that again? We have to do it just like this?” You hear the severity. They will be cut off from Israel if they have leaven in their household—if they don’t do this just as God has commanded them to do it.
The Importance of the Feasts
The other reason for this repetition is that we see different aspects of the celebration in the different tellings of it. That’s what we are going to see this morning. We see at the beginning how important it was for the Israelites to commemorate this holy day. It’s a bit confusing, but we now realize that it wasn’t just 1 day, but (depending on how you count) 7 or 8 days. Their days went from sundown to sundown the next day, so it’s a different reckoning of the day than we would have. You had the Feast of Passover on the 14th day on the 1st month. Then, the next evening (the evening of the 14th or the 15th) and then, depending on how you count it, to the 21st or 22nd of the month, you have these two festivals. First Passover and then the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
We see just how important it was in the religious life of Israel that this festival or these two coming together would be commemorated.
This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever… Exodus 12:14a
And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. Exodus 12:17
You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. Exodus 12:24
This is a permanent feast. You can see how the language here just begs the question. “We need something cataclysmic to happen to no longer celebrate these feasts, as long as God’s people will be guided by this Mosaic covenant.” I think that’s the sense here. So Passover blended into the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Deuteronomy 16, Passover is lumped together as one and the same.
The Feast of Passover also involved the not using of leaven in the bread, so there was an element of unleavened bread in the Passover. Then they moved to the next feast, which was a week long, and was fully about the lack of leaven. So there were two separate holidays, but they could easily blend into one.
In verse 14, as it begins to recount this day, it probably refers to the daytime after the night on which Passover was eaten. God speaks to Moses first, and then (in verse 21 and following) he relays the message to the people through the elders. We likely have here a condensed version of what Moses relayed to the people.
One of the things to realize here is how we should take pains to remember the past. It’s not the main point, but it’s worth thinking about for a minute. We don’t celebrate these feasts. Christ has come to be the Passover lamb. We recall the Exodus in the cross and the empty tomb. But we do see, throughout the Old Testament in particular, the importance of remembrance, of commemorating certain times, seasons, and days.
Think about it: once this generation had passed, all they would have were the stories, the memories, the eye-witness accounts, perhaps the written record, and the oral tradition. You can imagine that this generation that was alive may have thought, “Surely we’ll never forget the wonders of the Lord. How can we forget? Lord, we will serve you forever. We were there. We saw it with our own two eyes. You came with one plague after another. There were nine of them, and then you killed the firstborn. We remember huddling together in our homes, waiting and watching to see what would happen. Then, praise YHWH, nothing happened as the destroyer passed by our homes and set us free!” You can imagine how they might have thought, “Oh, we will always remember.” But, of course, we forget. Wonder wears off. Amazement fades. Faith leaks. The coming generation would forget. Those yet to be born would never see it. They would only have the stories. You know the story of the history of Israel. It wasn’t long before even those who saw it were themselves quite forgetful.
There’s a lesson for us. Some of you, even now, can think of times in your life when God was so real to you or he did amazing things. You know, you prayed one of those prayers: “O God, if only you do this, I will serve you forever.” And he did it, and you said, “Or to the end of the week.” “Just get me out of this mess.” “Thank you, God. I’ll be back next time I’m in a mess.” We forget.
Even for the times when we prayed and prayed and someone didn’t get better, or something didn’t turn out the way that we wanted, we can look back now and say, “I wouldn’t want to go through it again, and I wouldn’t wish it on my friends, but I wouldn’t trade it either. I can see now what God was doing. I never would have learned those lessons. I never would have seen God’s faithfulness. I never would have experienced the love of the body of Christ. I never would have learned that about myself if I didn’t have to got through that trial.” You look back and recall. The problem is that we don’t recall. We forget. And those times that were so real begin to fade and fade. We need to take great pains to remember our past, to share our history, and to rehearse the story of God’s faithfulness.
Some of you do this. You keep a prayer journal or a daily journal of the events that happened, or you keep track of things you prayed for and when God answered. Perhaps you just have good friends, and when you get together—that’s one of the rich things about having friends that you’ve known for years—you can just slip into those stories and remember. And as you’re sharing those stories, hopefully it’s not just, “Remember when our favorite sports team did this? Oh that was great. Remember when we took this trip? Remember that laughter?” Remember God’s faithfulness to you.
This is why it’s important to celebrate milestones: to get together for funerals, marriages, births, and anniversaries. It’s why we should commemorate our own history individually and collectively. This is not all meant to be a commercial for the 50th anniversary committee that’s working in our church, but I will insert a commercial here. You’ve seen in your bulletin to mark the date on your calendar this coming November. There are people working hard for this very reason.
Yeah, we want to have fun and celebrate 50 years of University Reformed Church meeting for corporate worship. But more than that, we want to rehearse the story of God’s faithfulness. Whether you’ve been here for all of those 50 years or for all of 50 minutes, we want you to hear and understand it. We all want to remember and learn, because as God’s people we are (first of all) people heading to the same place, but over time we also become a people who has seen the same things.
That’s part of the joy of living together as the body of Christ: having the opportunity to live with some of the same people for a long time. Some of you can look around and think, “I remember when you looked good. I remember when Pastor Kevin had dark hair instead of it getting lighter and lighter. Or when Pastor Jason had hair.” Well, we won’t go there, but you remember the life that you’ve lived together. We love to have people who have been here for years. We love to have people who are just coming and visiting. We want to welcome you into that. That’s part of it. Not only are we heading to the same place and worshiping the same God, we are on our way to that glory! But over time, say, “Remember that? Remember those tears we shed? Remember when we saw God show up there? Remember how hard that was? Remember when we prayed and cried with that family? Remember when we raced to the hospital then? Remember when we rejoiced with that birth and cried with that death?” This is what God is doing. Don’t forget your own history.
Passover: the Plague that Wasn’t
Verse 26: “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’” This is why you have a place for tradition and repeating. This is why you have a place for some sort of ritual. Over time, the kids and grandkids see it again and again, and they say, “Why do we always do it like this? What does this mean?” That’s what they are saying here with Passover. When it happens, “you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”” “This is the plague that wasn’t—that should have come upon us, but it came upon the Egyptians only.”
It was a bloody holiday, we see in verses 22-23. Most of us, unless we’re dissecting something or in the medical field, don’t deal with blood. We’d rather not deal with it. Of course, in an agrarian society, you can’t escape the raising of animals, the killing of animals, and especially the sacrificing of animals. But even for them this is bloody. “You have a bowl of blood. Take these branches from the hyssop plant, and put it on the top and sides of your door.” This was a bloody, messy holiday.
There’s a story that I came across about Steven Spielberg, when he was working on The Prince of Egypt about 15 years ago. It’s the cartoon version of the Moses/Exodus story. It’s actually pretty good—better than a lot of other versions. It was told that, as he was working on this and crafting some of the scenes or lines, he initially wanted the reference to be to a sign on the doorposts, thinking that we didn’t need to get into all of this mess with the blood. He could just say it was a sign on the doorpost. True, it was a sign, but in the course of working on it, some religious advisors for the movie said, “That’s not going to work. You can’t tell the story accurately if you just call it a sign. You have to mention the blood.” So they did.
The question may come to us, “Who was actually responsible for killing the Egyptians?” In verse 23, it sure looks like the Lord, YHWH. He will “pass through to strike the Egyptians.” So this is the act of the covenant God. But at the end of verse 23, it says “the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” So it seems to be not the Lord but someone else (the destroyer) who is coming in, and he’s preventing it. But then you come again to verse 27. “It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he [that is, the Lord] passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”
So there again it seems like YHWH is the one who is striking down the firstborn of the Egyptians. It’s confusing. I think that the best way to understand it is that the destroyer is what elsewhere in the Old Testament is referred to as the Angel of the Lord—who is, in some sense, a different being, and yet is the angelic manifestation of YHWH himself. So, it can be said that YHWH is preventing the destroyer, and at the same time, the work that the destroyer (the Angel of the Lord) is doing is the representation and act of YHWH himself.
The point is that life for God’s people would come through death. Protection would come through provision. Salvation would come by substitution. If you do not understand that, you do not understand the heart of Christianity. You don’t understand what we just celebrated in the cross and the empty tomb. You don’t understand the gospel. You may say that it’s messy, violent, and bloody. You don’t like it. Yet it’s the way God designed it because of the severity of sin and the need for punishment. We can only figure that, because of this, we can see God’s love for us more clearly than we could have any other way: that he sent his only Son to die for us, to be that substitute and sacrifice for our salvation.
We know from the rest of the Bible that Christ is the ultimate Passover lamb. Think of all the parallels. They were to select a lamb, a male, a year old. What does a year old mean? It means a lamb entering the prime of his life, without blemish. What do you have in Christ, who is called the Lamb of God? Obviously a male. He’s in his early 30s, we figure—entering the prime of his life. The New Testament makes clear that he was without blemish. There was no fault in him. He was like us in every way, except without sin. He was pure and spotless.
Think about this. Do you recall what Jesus drank on the cross when he said, “I thirst”? Do you remember? It’s in John’s gospel. Jesus is on the cross, and someone is down below. They took a sponge full of sour wine and they lifted it to him on a hyssop branch. They applied the hyssop branch to his mouth. Surely there is a deliberate connection, though those men lifting the branch may not have realized it, with verse 22: “Take a bunch of hyssop…” We read about the hyssop in Psalm 51 as well. “Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin…” Even the very plant used to spread the Passover blood on the doorpost was the same lifted to Christ on the cross to give him drink when he was thirsty. The connections could not be clearer.
He is without blemish, without sin, the spotless Lamb of God, the fragrant offering lifted up to the heavenly Father. Let me just ask you a pointed question. If the destroyer were to pass through the camp of East Lansing tonight, through your neighborhood—if somehow you could even peek through a curtain and see whatever the visible representation would be: a specter, floating through the neighborhood, deep in the middle of the night—would you be safe? Would you be secure? How confident would you be?
The Bible tells us that it is appointed for man to die once and then to face the judgment. You may say, “Well I believe in God, but I don’t have a god like that, who is going to strike and punish people.” Well, you have to do something with this story in Exodus. You have to do something with the cross. You have to do something with the whole book of Revelation, and I daresay you even would have to do something with your conscience. I think most of us know, feel, and can sense deep down (if we ever allow ourselves to be quiet for just a few moments, turn off the TV, be somewhere alone, put the phone away, and actually have to be left in that scary place with just ourselves) that we are accountable to someone. We have to give an account somewhere, sometime, and someplace.
Isn’t that what so many of us want? We want to know deep down that we’re okay. We want someone to say, “I love you.” We want somebody to say, “It’s alright.” We want somebody to tell us, “You’ll be fine.” We’re looking for that from our parents, from our work, from our wife, or whoever. We know we are accountable. We know that we have to stand before someone or something who’ll say, “You, you’re good.” Are you really confident that you are good enough?
Do you think that’s what the Israelites were thinking on that Passover night as the destroyer passed over, and YHWH himself walked through the camp? Do you think anyone was huddling in their home, thinking, “I’m sure glad I’ve been a nice parent. I’m sure glad I’ve really tried to be a good person. Blood? I don’t need blood. It’s not like I’ve had an affair. I haven’t killed anyone. I’ll be fine. I’m not perfect, but I’m better than them, and I do my best.” I hope not. Surely not. They knew there was no hope in that. The hope is in the blood. There’s no salvation without substitution. You see it in verse 22: “None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.” “Don’t risk this! Don’t be caught in someone else’s house. This is not the night for having a sleepover. This is not the night for wandering off into someone’s house not knowing if they have the blood on their doorpost. This is the night when you’d better be sure where you are and what is outside your door.”
Would you have bothered to care on that night? Is there not something deep inside you telling you you need a mediator? That you are not good enough? That your own righteousness is not trustworthy? That you need a substitute on your behalf? When you have that, even when your faith wavers—and all of our faith will waver—you can be secure knowing that the blood is on the doorpost. You see, even if they are in the house and are sort of unsure—some of them have some doubts and don’t feel like their faith is strong—they are still under the blood. They are in a house that will be passed over. Faith, though it may be weak, is nevertheless saving faith.
Unleavened Bread: the New Life that Was
I said at the very beginning that one of the reasons for repeating these instructions is because we see different aspects of God’s work coming through. We can see that we are saved. We see that in the Passover. We’ve been rescued, delivered, and set free. But now we see that we are not just saved from something, but to something. We have hints here in Exodus 12 of what we are going to see in the rest of Exodus, after we get past the 10 commandments especially, and what we’ll see in the rest of the Pentateuch: that God saves his people for worship and holiness. We are saved to be sanctified.
We see this in the instructions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Look at that. It’s in verses 14-20. You know what leaven is. It’s yeast used to make bread rise, and make it so good.
There are only three things I know how to make. I know how to put meat on a grill with fire. That’s one thing. I know how to make Jello, which is the Dutch word for salad. If you ever have the opportunity to eat my Jello, I put ice cream in it and it makes these layers. It’s really good. It’s the best salad you’ll ever have—although when we were in Iowa, they also introduced us to Snicker salad which puts in Snickers. It’s is a very good salad also.
Believe it or not, the other thing I learned how to make was French bread. I don’t make it anymore, but I worked for a summer when I was in college doing research with my professor. I hardly ate anything, I came back sick, and I was even 20 pounds lighter than I am now. I just looked terrible. But I was with this other student who loved to cook. He was a gourmet guy and he taught me all this stuff. “Here’s how you make Chicken Gorgonzola?” “What? Do they have that at KFC?” He taught me how to make French bread. It was a very laborious process: to let the lump be leavened with a little packet of yeast, let it rise, roll it out, slice a little bit, and roll it out several more times. You have these layers, and you have to keep basting it with water. I actually did it. Sometimes it actually was edible.
You’ve all cooked before. You go to the store, and you get that little package of yeast. You know what it does. Here, both in Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, God says, “I don’t want any of that around. I want it out of the house. Nothing left. No possible contaminant.” Notice the severe penalty: you will be cut off.
…that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. Exodus 12:19b
If you are found with yeast in your home, leaven in your home, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, you are cut off. What did this entail? There’s a lot of discussion about it. Some people say, “Well, only God would know what is in your house or not, so God must be doing the one cutting things off.” Other people would say, “This is more of a divine curse than an actual legal guideline. Maybe the violator would be cut off from God’s benefits to Israel. Maybe he would be removed from the feast itself. Maybe it meant he forfeited eternal life.”
I think the best understanding is still the traditional one: that ‘cut off’ refers to some kind of ostracism or banishment. “…cut off from Is” (verse 15) “…cut off from the congregation of Israel.” (verse 19) “…cut off from among his people.” (Exodus 30:33) “…cut off from his people” (Exodus 30:38) Exodus 31:14 says, “put to death if you break the sabbath”, and then, “cut off from among his people” It’s quite severe, however you understand it—whether it’s the Lord meting out the judgment, the community banishing the person from their midst, or if it refers to death in some cases.
There are well over a dozen instances in the Pentateuch where the penalty is to be cut off. Failure to practice circumcision. Illegally making or using sacred anointing oil. Violating the Sabbath. Eating sacrificed food while you are ritually impure. Eating the fat or blood of a sacrifice. Slaughtering a sacrifice outside the tabernacle. Forbidden sexual practices. Child sacrifice. Trying to contact the dead. Failure to observe the day of atonement. Defiant, intentional sin.
Here we see the presence of leaven. Why was it such a big deal? Well, as we saw last week, it is (at least on the face of it) a reminder that the Israelites left in a hurry. When God says go, he means “Go now!” They were leaving Egypt, and they didn’t have time to do the laborious process with the bread. They had to have unleavened bread: a dense, thick cracker. That’s one reason. “Get rid of the leaven to remember when you left Egypt in haste.”
But I think there is more than that. The unleavened bread also symbolized a sharp break from the life they had known. They were, quite literally, sweeping the house clean from any remembrance or influence from Egypt. This is where my little illustration is misleading. I talked about that little package of yeast, and that’s probably what you all use if you are making some sort of bread or cinnamon rolls. But they didn’t have a store to go to and buy a little premade package of yeast. So what did they do to leaven their bread? They simply used a scrap of dough left over from the previous loaf. That was their leaven. They didn’t have a little neat package. They’d take some bread that had already been leavened, save a bit of that, and mix it in with a new batch. Then that leaven would work through the whole bread and you would leaven a new batch. Then, when you wanted to do it again, you’d just save a little bit of the old and use it for the new.
The annual removal of leaven from the house was a reminder that they had left behind the life they had. It wasn’t just, “Get rid of the little packages of yeast.” It was, “Get rid of whatever the old lump is that you are holding onto. You think, ‘I need that old lump’. No, you don’t. You don’t need to hold onto anything from old Egypt. I’ll give you the plunder from the Egyptians. You’ll have what you need, but this lump here represents what you were in Egypt. You don’t need to hold onto that anymore.”
I love the way that Phil Ryken puts it in his commentary: “God wanted to do something more than get his people out of Egypt. He wanted to get Egypt out of his people.” This is about leaving behind the old life. Remember the passage I mentioned last week?
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Joshua 24:14
“…and in Egypt”. Some of these Israelites were idolaters. After being in Egypt for 400 years, you can understand how. They came to adopt some of their customs, their gods and goddesses, and their idols. God is setting them free, and wants them to be out of Egypt. He also wants Egypt to be out of them. He’s saying, “Don’t go back. Don’t hold onto that lump. You’ve left that. You’re not a slave anymore. Don’t go back there.” It’s going to be a continual struggle for the Israelites. Though they are free, they keep saying “Egypt!” Where they were slaves! They’d rather have the slavery that they know than follow the God they can’t see. Egypt!
Have you ever played Capture the Flag? That’s a wonderfully stressful game. That was one of the highlights of the week when I was a camp counselor at Camp Geneva. I have some real battle scars and wounds from capture the flag. The idea is that you divide the camp. You have your team and a little sock in your shorts that someone’s got to pull out. You have to go and find out where they hid their flag in their camp. But if you are over on their side and they grab you and take your sock out, then you have to go to the prison. If they’re on your side and you get them, they have to go to your prison.
The only way to get free is if someone from your team fights their way through without getting caught, snakes through, jumps in, and gets all the prisoners free. I don’t have the time to tell you how many times I did that, but I was so fast. That was my role. I was the deliverer. I was the Moses of the camp. I can tell you how frustrating it was to set free these 5th and 6th graders. You would get free passage for 30 seconds back to walk back to your side of the camp without getting caught. I’d free everyone, and then those yokels would just wander back over into the other side. They can’t even run. They just walked about until someone grabbed them like they don’t care. And they went back in jail! I have issues, so I’m still working through this.
It wasn’t until later that I thought, “What an insignificant thing.” I don’t know that God gets frustrated, but in his holy anger, he must look and say, “I set you free from that. Why would you go back? At such a cost, I set you free from Egypt, from sin, from Satan, from the life that you knew, from the person you were, from that life, from those addictions, from those perversions, from all of that. I set you free! Why are you going back like it’s not a big deal?” That’s what it means. Sweep out the leaven. Get rid of the lumps of leavened bread. Leaven was about remembering their departure in haste, but also about being cleansed and free from their old life, because the Exodus was not just about leaving, but about going somewhere.
In the rest of the Bible, we see this connection between Passover and repentance—Passover and a new start. The whole thing comes together. We see it in Hezekiah’s day in 2 Chronicles. He says, “Consecrate yourself. Get rid of the filth from the Holy Place.” Then the service of the temple is restored and they celebrate the Passover again. We see it in Josiah’s day. He breaks down the Asherim and the false idols. He cleanses Judah of idolatry. They find and obey the Law. They reinstitute the Passover. We see it with Ezra, as the exiles come back. The Temple is finished and dedicated. True worship is once again restored, and they celebrate the Passover. And you may recall Jesus speaking this way:
Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6
And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:15
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Luke 12:1
He says it over and over again. Here we have the leaven as a picture. He says, “Beware of this that works its way into your psyche and your people.”
Let me just take you, before we finish, to another passage which you may not have noticed before. It’s God’s divinely inspired commentary on the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Turn to 1 Corinthians 5. You want to know what these two feasts mean for us as Christians? Paul tells us what they mean. 1 Corinthians 5:6. “Your boasting is not good.” Here’s the context. At the beginning of chapter 5, he says, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” A man is sleeping with his step-mom, or perhaps his father has died. We don’t know the situation, but it’s scandalous. And they’re arrogant. They’re boastful. They think this is just a measure of their tolerance, their self-expression, and their freedom in Christ. Who knows? But here’s what Paul says in verse 6.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 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. 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. 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
Right there is divinely inspired commentary on the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Paul says, “You want to know what this means for you? It means you have a Passover lamb in Christ. He died to set you free—to sweep your house clean from leaven, to get rid of the old lump of your old life. Why are you holding onto it? Why are you boasting about it? Why are you still living in it? Get rid of that evil, that sensuality, that immorality. You’re to be unleavened Christians—the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
You can see what happens when a church, a denomination, or a Christian school fails to take sin seriously. Things always slide toward the more tolerant. It’s always easier to say, “That’s not a big deal. Just let that one go. That shouldn’t be so concerning.” But it works its way into the whole batch of dough over time by imitation, by habit, and by simply making sin look very normal. It’s no big deal. Jesus never asks us to prove our love by being tolerant of sin.
We see it not only collectively but individually. It works its way through. Are you an unleavened Christian, or have you been tolerating what seems to you to be a small sin? A television show that you’ve convinced yourself you watch because it has a really good plot, well written, and well acted. You’ve convinced yourself that the skin that you see and the sensuality and what it does to arouse you that is not really a big deal.
Maybe it’s as simple as being on the internet and clicking on one of those articles: “25 Movie Stars Who Are Gorgeous Without Their Makeup.” You know, these things pop up. You’re sort of curious. It just bombards you.
Maybe it’s not sensuality. Maybe it’s convincing yourself, “Oh I can handle a few drinks. No, I don’t have a problem. A few extra pills.” Maybe you are no longer fighting your own rage. Maybe you’ve become comfortable with lying, and a little lie just works itself into bigger and bigger lies, and before you even know it you’ve forgotten how to tell the truth.
To be at peace with your sin is to be at war with God. Are you an unleavened Christian, or have you snuck in a few morsels of that old lump of bread? “I can handle it. I’ll just nibble on this every once in a while. I still have this. I have my life. It’s untouched by that, but just once in a while.” No, no, no. It’s going to work its way into the whole batch, the whole lump. It will grow and spread until it corrupts everything. Sweep it out! Don’t hang onto that old lump of dough.
There is such confusion in our day about justification and sanctification. We act as if God were uninterested in our holiness, so long as we are happy to be with him. But what is it to be happy in God if it is not to be holy as he is holy? God saved us from Egypt for himself. Do not think that you can celebrate Christ, the Passover lamb, with the old leaven of malice and evil. It won’t work. It’s not what we are called to be. It’s not where we are. It’s not who we are. We have, in this feast, the Christian’s perfect response to the cross.
We see at the very end of our passage, in Exodus 12:27-28, two things: they worshiped (verse 27) and they listened (verse 28). That’s what it is. You’ve got the cross, the gospel, forgiveness, salvation, justification by faith alone, and your sins are forgiven. You’re cleansed. You’re free. Now what? What’s your response? We have it in these two feasts. Worship says, “I submit. I agree. I cooperate. I give thanks. I rejoice.” And verse 28 says, “Then the people of Israel went and did so…” They did as they were told. If you want this Christ to be your Christ—if you want to be his people—if this Passover you have the blood over the door of your heart, this tells us to bow, obey, rejoice, and do as he says.
Let’s pray. Father in Heaven, thank you for your word. There’s so much to learn in your word, from feasts, to commands, to stories from the Old and New Testament. We pray that you would work by your Spirit so that each one here is under the blood of the Passover lamb. Give us faith to run to you, and then to walk with you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.