************ Sermon on Exodus 12:14-20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 20, 2003
"The Feast of Unleavened Bread"
We are looking this evening at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Because the Feast of Unleavened Bread (a seven-day feast) begins the day after the Feast of the Passover (a one-day feast), often the two feast days are blurred together. In fact, during Jesus' days the two feasts together were called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lk 22:1,7) or the eight days of Passover.
A couple of days ago, on Good Friday, we looked at the Passover and were reminded by the Word and in the Lord's Supper that Jesus is the Lamb of God offered up for our sins. This morning we looked at Jesus' resurrection and celebrated that He is the resurrection and the life. Now, we need to ask: so what, what difference does this make? To answer that question I want to look at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, as you will find out, is a call for godly living on the part of God's redeemed people.
I The Feast in Old Testament Israel
A Unleavened bread was part of the celebration of the Passover. When Israel was instructed to kill the lamb and to eat it standing up and ready to go, they were also instructed to eat unleavened bread.
We see in Exodus 12 that the matter of unleavened bread was serious business. I don't know whether you caught it or not, but two times we are told in our Scripture reading that anyone in Israel who eats anything with yeast in it during the time of the feast is to be "cut off" from the community (Ex 12:15,19). This doesn't just mean he is kicked out of the house or excommunicated from the community or shunned by family and friends; it means that he is to be killed. So, this is serious business indeed. God is very clear about this. He expects no leaven, no yeast at all, in the bread that they ate.
B The symbolism is two fold. First, the unleavened bread symbolized haste. They were to leave Egypt in such a hurry that they was no time for bread dough to rise. In fact, the Egyptians were so anxious for them to leave that they urged the people to hurry and leave the country. "For otherwise," they said, "we will all die" (Ex 12:33).
Second, the unleavened bread also symbolized a break from the past. In Egypt the Israelites would use a pot of starter to make their bread. This would be a piece of old leaven, of fermented dough, that would percolate through the whole loaf and form tiny gas bubbles which would cause the dough to rise. A piece of the new dough would be ripped off and put into a cup or bowl, covered, and put away in the cupboard to be used as starter for the next loaf of bread. Now, God was saying "I don't want you to take Egypt's starter with you into the wilderness and the Promised Land. I do not want you to take anything of Egypt with you. I want you to leave Egypt behind. Egypt was the land of slavery and the house of bondage, it was a place of suffering and misery, and that is now going to be left behind." So they were supposed to take no leaven with them.
C Exodus 12 tells us how the Israelites ate unleavened bread as they left Egypt. And, in the wilderness until God provided manna they ate unleavened bread. You see, when you travel you don't have time to make starter and you don't have time for the bread to rise. This situation continued evev when they first arrived in the Promised Land. Joshua 5 tells us about the day the Israelites crossed the Jordan into Palestine. That very day, we are told, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain (Josh 5:11). Of course they ate unleavened bread – there is no leaven yet; they had no time yet to make starter.
D I want you to notice that Israel was not only told to eat unleavened bread but was even told to remove the yeast from their houses (Ex 12:14). So before the first day of the Feast, on the day of preparation, the women of Israel would clean their homes. Then they would go through their homes and look for every bit of leaven; they would look for bread, rolls, Dunkin Donuts, Crispy Cremes, old leaven or starter, and so on. Whatever they had that was leavened would be removed.
E Now over the years this Feast, like all the others, developed certain customs and practices. So over time, do you know what the women of Israel began to do after they had totally cleaned out their homes and got rid of all the leaven? They would take a piece of leavened bread, break it up, and hide ten little pieces around the house. On the night before the Feast of Unleavened Bread the father would lead the children on a search for the ten pieces of leaven. And in the process of searching for leaven he would use four things. He used a candle to lighten every corner in his search. He used a feather so that he would never touch the leaven himself. He used a wooden spoon to collect the pieces. And he used a linen cloth to wrap the bits of bread, the feather, and the wooden spoon. This was tied with a thread and set aside to be buried the next morning. So, with children in tow, the father would go through the house looking for the pieces of leavened bread that were still in the house. As he was doing this the father explained to the children about the leaven of Egypt, about the importance of breaking with Egypt, and so on.
II The Meaning of the Feast Today
A What does this have to do with us today, on this Easter Sunday, after celebrating Good Friday and the Lord's Supper?
As you think about the people of Israel leaving the land of Egypt, I want you to realize everything that leaven meant. It meant not only the starter that made their bread but it also meant the influence of Egypt. God wanted them to break with Egypt. They were there for 430 years. Think of how Egypt must have influenced their life and their culture and their language and their worship and their lifestyle. We see this, don't we, when the Israelites get out into the wilderness and Moses goes up on the mountain for forty days and the people become worried and they get Aaron to make them a god. Do you remember the god Aaron made for them – not just any god, but a golden calf, a god of Egypt, a god they were very familiar with after 430 years. The children of Israel were shaped and influenced by the Egyptian concept of god. So God wants them to break with Egypt. He wants that leavening influence of the Egyptian religious mindset to be broken in His people. He wants the Israelites to break away from Egyptian worship, Egyptian culture, Egyptian practice, Egyptian custom.
Jesus does something similar with the notion of leaven in the New Testament:
(Mt 16:5-12) When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. (6) "Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (7) They discussed this among themselves and said, "It is because we didn't bring any bread." (8) Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? (9) Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? (10) Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? (11) How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (12) Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.Notice that Jesus, like Moses, is talking about another kind of leaven – the kind of leaven Moses was telling Israel not to take out of Egypt. It wasn't starter or yeast for bread that Jesus was talking about. Jesus was telling His disciples that in His kingdom, as followers of Jesus Christ, they must be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees and scribes and elders because these teachers of Israel don't teach the truth about God and His Word.
This leaven, these teachings of the Pharisees, continue to be taught in our day. There are people today who continue to think they can make themselves right with God by doing good works or being involved in religious activities or by fasting or by confessing sins. Or whatever. We need to watch out for such leaven. And, we all realize there is false teaching all around us – not just about salvation but about the second coming and about the church and about godliness and about the place of the Law and so on. So Jesus tells His disciples and us to be careful. Watch out for the leaven, the false teaching, of false teachers and the cults.
B There is also another kind of yeast or leaven mentioned in the New Testament. We find it in 1 Corinthians 5. The context is an immoral church member who is sleeping with his step-mother even though the Corinthian church had been boasting about how religious she was. Paul writes:
(1Cor 5:6-8) Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? (7) Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (8) Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.Paul is not talking about yeast and starter and bread. He is talking about ethics and behavior.
"Get rid of the old yeast," says Paul. What does this mean? Paul gets very specific about this in the next couple of verses. He says:
(1Cor 5:9-11) I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- (10) not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. (11) But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.Paul has no problem with Christians dealing with the people of the world who are immoral. In fact, he tells us to expect them to be immoral because they don't know Christ. But his concern is that we tolerate and embrace and turn a blind eye to sinful, immoral practices within the church.
What is Paul telling us to do? He wants us to pull out the candle, and the feather, and the wooden spoon, and the linen cloth. And he wants us to go through the body of believers looking for old leaven, for sinful and immoral and godless behavior. But he wants us to do this not, first of all, with a judgmental or fault-finding spirit in which we look at every one else. He wants us to start, first of all, with ourselves. Remember how Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our own eye before we try to take the speck out of our brother's eye? Paul is saying when you have come to Jesus Christ, when you have been set free by the blood of the Passover Lamb, when you have been delivered from bondage, don't keep hold of the old leaven or yeast of sin. Leave Egypt behind.
This is a negative way of saying a positive thing. What Paul wants us to do is to pursue holiness, godliness, sanctification. We must pursue holiness in the body of believers. It is one of the marks of the true church. The true church takes the candle, the feather, the wooden spoon, and the linen cloth and pursues holiness in the lives of her members.
C I said on Friday night that all the feasts are rehearsals, they are shadows, of the reality in Christ. So, how is the Feast of Unleavened Bread fulfilled in Christ?
Do you know what happened at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread some 2000 years ago? I told you Friday night how Jesus was led to the cross at the same time the Passover lamb was staked to the altar. How Jesus died at the same moment the high priest slit the throat of the lamb and said, "It is finished." After Jesus died we read in Scripture of how Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus' body. He took that body off the cross and He wrapped it in linen and buried it in a tomb at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The same thing was done with Jesus and at the same time as the fathers of Israel did with the old leaven from their homes.
This symbolizes something for you and me. When Jesus died on the Passover, you in principle died with Him. And when Jesus was buried on the Feast of Unleavened Bread you, in principle, were buried with Him (cf Rom 6, Col 2 & 3).
The result? Because of Christ – His death and His burial – you are dead to sin and the leavening influence of sin has been swept clean from your life. That's how the Feast of Unleavened Bread has been fulfilled in Christ.
Now, as you all know, we must work at making this real in our lives. Our old leaven has been buried with Christ but now we must live like the old leaven is gone, like Egypt has been left behind.
We must get out the candle, the wooden spoon, the feather, and the linen cloth and search for old leaven in our homes, our marriages, and our churches. We must search it out and collect it and bury it so that we, as people cleansed by the blood of the Passover Lamb, can be the holy people God has called us to be.
That's the message of the Feast of Unleavened Bread for God's redeemed people today: get rid of sin and pursue holiness.
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