“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. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:14-20)
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
In the Passover, the Israelites were instructed to eat the Passover meal with unleavened bread. There is such significance to this that God immediately follows the Passover meal up with the Feast of Unleavened bread, which was to be observed and remembered each year with the Passover. The feast of Unleavened Bread began the day after Passover. It was essentially a part of the Passover Feast, while remaining a separate part of it.
When it comes to the unleavened bread they were to eat in the Passover meal, and specifically in the actual Passover in Egypt, the first and most obvious reason for this was that unleavened bread was bread that was much quicker to prepare, which was necessary for The Passover. The Passover meal in Egypt was to be eaten with haste as they were to stand ready and prepared for their departure from Egypt as God delivered them. They simply did not have the time to wait for the typical process of making bread, considering the time it took for the bread to rise and be prepared.
The process of even obtaining leaven, or yeast, is a time consuming process. The typical way of leavening bread was by maintaining a starter dough, preserving the leaven in the dough, that would be used to start the next loaf as the yeast would work its way through the next batch of dough in the leavening process. It is something that can just keep going and keep being preserved. Especially in those days, you did not want to lose that starter. The process of obtaining leaven was much more difficult.
With this in mind we can begin to see the weight of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As we read, they were instructed to totally remove all the yeast from their homes. They couldn’t simply just not use it, they had to totally remove it from their homes. This meant that they would lose that starter, the yeast would go bad, and they would have to start over completely after the feast. Thus, we can begin to see here that the Feast of Unleavened Bread in connection with the Passover celebration was about more than simply their initial haste in departing from Egypt.
Symbolism of the Feast
So what was the point of this? What was God showing and teaching them with the unleavened bread, both in the Passover and in the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Look at verse 17, “And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, FOR [OR BECAUSE] on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt.” So the first thing we see is that they were to remove the leaven from their bread and homes, to remind them of when the LORD removed them, His people, out of the land of Egypt. So it is to be a reminder for them of God’s rescue and salvation, as well as the separation and distinction that God made between them and Egypt.
Deuteronomy chapter 16 is another passage that contains instructions for Passover with more explanation for the unleavened bread. Deuteronomy 16:3 says this, “You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction – for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste – that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.” So the unleavened bread is called their bread of affliction, but it was to remind them of when they came out of Egypt in haste, and to never forget the salvation and separation God made between them and Egypt.
So the removal of leaven from the Passover bread and from the home during the feast was not about the leaven itself being bad or wrong to eat, it was about what the removal of the leaven was teaching them and reminding them. There are some who will say that leaven is evil because it is a symbol of sin in the Bible. But this is not the case. Leaven is not a symbol of sin. They were to remove it to remind them of God’s salvation. Their salvation from Egypt began with a cutting out of Egypt, which also meant that it was a new beginning. So it symbolized a cutting off and a new beginning. The leaven itself was not evil, because if they had to remove it from their homes for the feast, then that means they were regularly using it and eating it throughout the year. Furthermore, in Leviticus 23, around verse 17, you had a grain offering that was to be a wave offering before the Lord during the feast of weeks. And for this wave offering, they were to offer up loaves of bread that they are specifically told to bake with leaven. This feast offering obviously symbolizes something different than the feast of unleavened bread. Leavened bread is a finished product, a finished work, a fully risen product from the starter. It shows time and work and maturity.
So, leaven itself, throughout the Bible, is not a symbol of sin, but a symbol of growth, maturation, and of rising up. In different contexts, the leaven can symbolize either good or bad. Leaven represents growth. There can be growth in evil and sin, but there can also be growth in righteousness and good works, which is the growth that we want. Both are possible.
So, to reiterate, the removal of leaven during this feast reminded them of God’s rescue of them, which was a cutting off from Egypt, and a new beginning. So they were to have the Egypt cut out of them, as they were taken out of Egypt. None of Egypt’s leaven was to pervade Israel. Israel was to be a “new lump” as they were “unleavened.” It is no wonder God wanted to remind them of this in this feast each year, as they constantly were tempted to turn away from God and turn back to longing after the comforts, ways, idols, and gods of Egypt. God was showing them that His salvation meant a radical break with evil. The evil of Egypt was not to be tolerated in their midst. There was no compromise to be had with darkness. There was no syncretism that could be maintained. Nothing short of a total and comprehensive cutting out of evil would do. They were to be a totally new lump, without the old leaven.
And consider this: as they removed the old leaven from the lump and from their homes, where would they get new leaven from? It wouldn’t be Egypt. Eventually it would be from the new land, the promised land. It’s basically a picture of death and resurrection. You totally cut out the old leaven, it dies, but there is a resurrection with a new leaven and a new lump. So the removal of leaven symbolized a cutting off, but also it symbolized a new beginning. They weren’t just being taken out of Egypt, they were being made into a new nation, and being given a new land, with to them what was new laws and religious ceremony under the one true God. The old had to be exhaustively cut out, so that the new could begin and grow.
Typology of the Feast
So in order to begin to grow, you have to first cut out the old. In order to have resurrection you have to have death. The Apostle Paul understood this, and actually applies this practice in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, of cutting out the old leaven, to a situation in the Corinthian Church. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes the Corinthian Church because they were apparently allowing a man to sleep with his father’s wife, and they weren’t doing anything about it. They weren’t only tolerating it, but Paul also makes the comment that they were arrogant, telling them they should be mourning over what is going on instead. So Paul’s instruction to them is to remove this man who is doing this from among them. Cut him out, and Paul actually says, “deliver him up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” So Paul wants them to totally cut him out of the body of Christ, for him to be removed from them. Which is just like how the Israelites were to totally remove all of the leaven from their homes during the feast. Just as their homes had to be cleansed of all leaven, so cleanse this man from your house. Then he references the Passover, the unleavened bread, and the feast of unleavened bread, saying this in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your boasting is not good. 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.”
So in this passage, leaven is used to show the effects of bad growth, which is a growth of sin. Leaven is not always bad like sin, but sin is like leaven, in that just a little bit of sin that is allowed to remain will grow and pervade the whole. The way sin is to be dealt with is by total removal – which is to say repentance. So Paul says remove this unrepentant man from among you, and remove the boasting that is among you, for even that little boasting will grow to be a great monster if it is not repented of. So this is the cutting out aspect of the removal of leaven, and the unleavened of the Passover bread. Cut out the old.
Then in verse 7 we see Christ as our Passover, or Passover Lamb as we have seen in previous weeks. But then verse 8 Paul says, “let us therefore celebrate the festival, or feast, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This is very important because Paul here does not instruct the New Testament Church to continue to celebrate the literal Passover and Unleavened Bread Feast. That was for the Jewish nation of old, because now we have Christ who is our Passover and Passover Lamb, and the Passover lamb was a sacrifice so there is no more sacrifice because Christ has been sacrificed, and then Paul tells us the typology of the unleavened bread. Yes, keep the feast he says, but not in that old literal way, but in the true way. Not once a year, but every day. And he tells us that the old leaven we are to get rid of is sin, malice, and evil. Sin is to always be cut out of us and not allowed in our homes or the household of God. And in place of the old leaven, we celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, which we are always to have and grow in. So now, instead of once a year literally ridding our homes of leaven, we spiritually keep it everyday by practically removing the bad leaven of sin and evil, and live sincere lives of truth. That is how we keep the feast.
While Christians are called to live everyday lives of cutting out the leaven of the old man which is sin in our lives, that is not the only way the New Testament talks about leaven. There is a good leaven which is also a part of our lives that is being worked in and through us as well. While the first step is removal of the old leaven of sin, there is a new leaven that is at work.
Jesus tells a very short parable, Matthew 13:33, “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 in this section of Matthew, Jesus is telling a string of parables, many of which are describing what the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God is like. Here he compares it to leaven that is worked through the whole lump. That is what the Kingdom of God is like. It starts small, like a little leaven, like with just 12 disciples, and it is worked so that over time, and slowly, it grows, increases, and spreads. So this leaven of the kingdom is obviously a good leaven. It is the leaven of righteousness as people grow in faith and knowledge of Christ and how to obey him and submit every area to Christ and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. It takes time to grow in learning and knowing how to do that. And this is what the kingdom of God is like, this is how it grows and increases. It doesn’t come immediately, quickly, instantly, or all at once, but it does succeed. You can see this easily when you boil it down to someone’s personal sanctification. By definition, sanctification is not instant, immediate, or quick. It takes a lifetime.
In terms of the Kingdom, Christ Himself is the new leaven. It is the Word of Christ that is worked throughout the world and overtime it increases and grows and fills the whole earth.
When we think about this in terms of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the typology really begins to come alive, so to speak. When Christ was crucified, He was crucified at the time of the Passover. There is some debate on the exact timeline and day, but it is clear from the gospels that it was sometime during the Passover Feast. How fitting this is for Jesus as our Passover Lamb that was sacrificed for us. It was truly, at the right time. All of the sins of the elect were put upon Him, as our Passover Lamb. He took the old leaven of sin in His body, and was cut off, cutting off that old leaven in Him. Then He rose again on the third day, which would’ve been during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and He rises like leavened bread, with the leaven of the kingdom of righteousness. Sin was cut out, and the new beginning began. And in His rising like leavened Bread of Life, He begins the leavening process of victory, working His Kingdom out in the world, working sanctification in His people, cutting out the old, working in the new.
The Lord’s Supper
Let’s take some time now and consider some applications of these things. First, what about communion bread in the Lord’s Supper? As you know, we use normal leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. We have taught on this in the past, so this is not going to be an exhaustive treatment of the issue, but let’s just consider the communion bread we use in light of the typology and Scriptures we’ve looked at today. First, let’s begin with Christ. Communion bread is called the body of Christ. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says to His disciples, “Take, eat, this is my body.” Now we understand that Jesus isn’t saying the bread is His literal body, just as He wasn’t saying He is a literal door elsewhere. But He is at least saying that “this bread represents my body.” And if that is true, then normal leavened bread in communion is the perfect representation of His body. Just as the leavened bread has risen, so has His body risen from the dead.
In the old nation of Israel they did not yet have the substance of what was promised. The promised for the Messiah was yet to be fulfilled. In the New Covenant, we have the substance of the promises. We have Christ, He has come in bodily form, lived, suffered, died, and rose again from the dead. We have the promised salvation and redemption in Him. Leavened bread shows us that we have Christ. We have the substance that all the types pointed toward, and that God’s people waited on for so long.
In a similar way, consider how one of the reasons for unleavened bread in the Passover was because it needed to be made in haste. In this sense, unleavened bread is immature. It doesn’t need any time to mature and grow. It is fitting that our New Covenant meal have bread that is more mature and has had more growth, for the New Covenant is more mature than the old.
Furthermore, as Paul shows us that one of the points of unleavened bread was to show the necessity of cutting out sin and evil, that is certainly valid symbolism related to the Lord’s Supper as we are sanctified through it. However, I would argue the cutting out of sin should be seen when we confess our sins and repent BEFORE we come to the table. We are not to come to the table if we have unconfessed known sins between one another. We are to get that right first, and then come. First, removal and cutting out of evil, then the working in of righteousness.
So I want to encourage you to do that today. Confess and forgive sins among one another. Confess your sins to God. Come to the table having done all that depends upon you to be right with one another.
Cut Out the Old Leaven
Some more application: keep the feast: cut out the old leaven of sin. If there is sin in your life and home that you tolerate, and do not confront and strive against and confess, then, like leaven, it will grow and grow and pervade your whole life and home, and will grow into a great loaf of death. Sin must be cut out, confessed, and fought against, not tolerated as acceptable. We are commanded to keep the feast, which means cut out sin like leaven out of bread and our homes. As John Owen famously put it, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” Maybe there is pride or arrogance in your heart, like the Corinthian church. Cut it out, or, as pride does, it will grow and lead to destruction. Maybe there is pornography in your life. You absolutely must cut it out. If you do not, it will grow into greater evil and greater perversions and will be a beast you cannot control. Cut it out. Maybe there is bitterness or unforgiveness in your heart. Cut it out. If you do not, it will work like poison and turn to rot inside you. Maybe as a parent, you have grown lazy and complacent in parenting, and you allow continued disobedience to go unchecked in your home from your children. If you love them, cut it out. You must use God-ordained discipline for them, for, as Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly [or foolishness] is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod drives it far from him.” Love your children, do not allow the leaven of sin to pervade their lives. If you do, then as they grow older and older, that sin you allowed to go unchecked will mature into worse and worse sin and rebellion. That’s the general way of things. So, keep the feast, cut out the old leaven of sin and evil. Wherever the spirit of Egypt may remain in you, cut it out and leave it behind.
Work in the New Leaven
Next, work in the good leaven. Let the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth pervade and be cultivated in your life and home, as well as the leaven of Christ, the leaven of the Kingdom of Heaven. Practically, this looks like faithful church membership, fulfilling the “one another’s” of Scripture, spurring one another on to love and good works, and weekly partaking of the means of grace. It looks like maintaining godly disciplines in your life, spiritually and in the whole of life. If you have children, it is daily teaching and instructing in how to think and live from a biblical worldview. It is regular family worship. Praying, singing, doing good works, serving the body, doing evangelism together. Just as sin grows when given permission to live, so Christ works in us as we work out our salvation, and His grace grows and increases in our hearts and lives. He keeps giving more and more grace. Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more! Shall we sin then that grace may abound? By no means!
Finally, remember how the kingdom of God works, remember how sanctification works – like leaven being worked through a lump of dough. So settle in. Do not expect instant and immediate results. Be committed to slow and steady growth. Be committed to the long term. This is not an excuse for sin, or a reason to tolerate it. We should cut out sin with the urgency that we might die tonight, because we might. It is to help us be patient and long suffering with one another and with the church, both the local church and the church catholic. It is to help us remember to forgive and forebear, and forgive again. Christ is doing His work in His people, working them over like leaven through dough, but He does not work on our time table, or by our standards, because we are also who He is working on.
“Your boasting is not good. 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 5:6-8).