Purge out the Old Leaven

“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” —I Corinthians 5:7

AS THE time approaches for observing the annual Memorial Supper (which this year will be observed after sundown on Sunday, April 15th), the thoughts of consecrated believers in the ransom of Jesus begin to dwell on the scriptures associated with this important event. Our text, the words of the Apostle Paul, instructs us how to prepare for this observance: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Pass-over is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”—I Cor. 5:7,8

Unleavened bread is a symbol of purity, truth, and righteousness. All of these qualities were characteristic of our Lord Jesus. He was pure: “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (Heb. 7:26) He was the truth: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) He was righteous: “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant Justify many.” (Isa. 53:11) However, when Jesus used unleavened bread as an emblem, it was to represent his perfect humanity, his perfect body, offered for our redemption. So that very night, as Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover supper, he “took [unleavened] bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matt. 26:26) Human perfection, which Jesus possessed, had not been seen in the world since Adam was disobedient and lost his standing as a perfect man. Adam’s sinful condition was passed down to his progeny and has tainted the entire human race ever since. This permeating aspect of sin has been well symbolized in the Scriptures by the similar qualities of leaven. Leaven has been used to represent sin and was so defined by the Apostle Paul when he likened leaven to malice and wickedness.—I Cor. 5:8

The Lord gave Israel very specific rules concerning leaven at the time of the Passover, as described in Exodus 12:15: “Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.” Unleavened bread was to be eaten for seven days. This ordinance became known as the feast of unleavened bread, and because it was linked to the Passover, Israel viewed the two events as inseparable. The Lord’s commandment for keeping this feast is given in Exodus 12:17. “Ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance forever.” A further elaboration is found in Exodus 12:18-20: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.” Later this ordinance is repeated in Exodus 13:6,7, stressing again the complete elimination of leaven: “Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters.”

Unleavened bread was also offered as a part of the many sacrifices ordered by God for the Tabernacle rituals. The law of the Lord was that no leaven was to be associated with the blood of these sacrifices. “Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.” (Exod. 23:18) This ordinance is also repeated in Exodus 34:25. However, there were exceptions. In the seventh chapter of Leviticus, offerings are described which were to be made subsequent to the Day of Atonement. These typified consecration, vow, trespass, peace, and thank offerings which the world of man-kind will make to God in the Millennial Age. In the type, all except one of these were offered with unleavened bread. In each instance the unleavened bread pointed to the purity of Christ. The exception was the peace offering described in Leviticus 7:11-13, which was presented with both unleavened bread, pointing to the perfection of Christ, and leavened bread, to call attention to the imperfection of the offerer. The Millennial Age work will eventually free the people from sin and its effects. But until they reach that condition, their offerings, though imperfect, will be acceptable through recognition of their need of the ransom Jesus provided.

We can have a greater appreciation and a better understanding of the illustration of leaven by taking a closer look at leaven as it was used in Biblical times. The Hebrew word translated leaven means ‘fermented’, and is equivalent to the yeast of our day. Yeast is a fungus growth, and the term is applied to a number of cell plants and bacteria which cause fermentation to occur if supplied with nutrients. In Biblical times, the method used to grow yeast used for leavening was to take a small lump of highly fermented meal or dough (very much like the sour dough that is used today) and to place it within a large lump of new, fresh dough. This larger batch or lump of dough would be permitted to ferment over a long period of time until it became a sizable quantity of concentrated yeast. Whenever it was needed for baking bread, a small piece was taken and inserted in the bread dough. The method of producing more yeast was to place these lumps of dough in a convenient spot that was warm and dark. The older the leaven, the more active it would be in its leavening power.

In like fashion, sin can grow and spread as a small bit of “old leaven,” when placed in a large new lump. The Apostle Paul was prompted to use leaven as an illustration of certain sinful conditions that were growing in the church at Corinth. However, his lesson is basic to all sin, which, if not controlled can affect all who come in contact with it. Israel was commanded by God to search diligently and cast out any leaven that they found before partaking of the Passover. The penalty for failing to comply was severe—they were to be cut off from among the people.

As Israel searched for and purged out the old leaven during the seven days of the feast of unleavened bread, so we as the Lord’s people are to do the same. In the Scriptures, seven represents completeness. Therefore, our search for sin is pictured as continual. The search for sin in our hearts has as its purpose the recognition of existing weaknesses of the flesh. But before anything can be done to remove sin or to control a fleshly weakness, its presence must first be recognized. Some in Israel might have been unaware of the presence of leaven in their homes, if it were stored and forgotten. The search would reveal it. Likewise we need to be thorough In searching our hearts for sins end weaknesses.

Discovering sins and weaknesses is one matter. The elimination of them Is another. Although we cannot hope to remove all sins and weaknesses of our flesh, we must daily put forth an effort to do so. Many homes in Israel may not have succeeded in finding and eliminating leaven, but the penalty was for deliberately eating it, which implied knowledge of sin, and deliberate, willful sinning against God. The punishment for this willfulness was death.

The Passover experience of Israel pictured in a panoramic fashion the full deliverance of mankind. The firstborn who were in jeopardy that Passover night personified the church of the firstborn of the Gospel Age. Israel illustrated the world of mankind in bondage to Satan, pictured by Pharaoh. The Passover Iamb represented Jesus. During the nighttime, symbolizing the Gospel Age, the destroying angel passed over or spared the firstborn who resided under the blood of the Passover lamb. This preceding deliverance of the first-born led to the deliverance of the entire nation of Israel, who finally crossed to safety through the Red Sea, picturing second death, and observed the destruction of Pharaoh and his armies.

The preparatory measures taken by Israel for this great deliverance included the slaying of the Passover lamb and the sprinkling of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of every home. Prier to the slaying of the lamb, they cast out all leaven from their homes. Those who have been called in this Gospel Age fulfill the reality by making great efforts to remove sin. This is not possible in the flesh by reason of imperfection, but ca.’ be accomplished in the heart.

However, we must always remember that if it were not for the slaying of our Passover Lamb, there would not be any deliverance. The acceptance of Jesus as our personal Redeemer should stand out as the most dominant event in our lives. It should so inspire us that we daily give thanks to God for this provision of grace. Every opportunity should be used to express our appreciation for and dependence upon the ransom merit of Jesus. The assembling of ourselves for observance of the Memorial is exactly that type of opportunity. It is a witness to our brethren, acknowledging our need for the merit of our Lord’s sacrifice, pictured in the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine, of which we gladly partake. How can we show our appreciation for so great a sacrifice? By continuing to make every effort against sin, and to rely on the righteousness imparted through his ransom sacrifice, and to lay down our lives with him.

When the Apostle Paul encourages us to purge out the old leaven, he also says that the church should not be contaminated with sin because she is justified by the blood of Christ. This text in the Revised Standard Version uses the expression fresh dough (no leaven), “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be fresh dough, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Paschal Lamb has been sacrificed.” Therefore, the church, too, is pictured by the unleavened bread because of her justification accomplished through the sacrifice of the antitypical Passover Lamb, Jesus our Lord.

In another instance the Apostle Paul asks, “How shall we, that are dead to sin [dead as a sin-offering], live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2) We have been given the privilege of sharing in our Lord’s sufferings so that we can share in his glory. This privilege is amplified by the Apostle Paul most eloquently in Romans 6:3-12: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.”

Consistent with the apostle’s reasoning in these texts, we see important significance in the Memorial emblems. The unleavened bread represents the perfect humanity of Jesus, broken for us, and the fruit of the vine represents his blood, or his life, shed for us. In partaking of the ransom merit of Jesus’ sacrifice, there opens to us the great privilege of laying down our justified humanity and pouring out our life in joint-sacrifice with our Lord. When Paul tells us, in I Corinthians 5:7, that we too are unleavened, as pictured by the unleavened bread, he later tells of our common participation with Christ in the privilege of being joint-sacrifices, and uses both the bread and the cup to illustrate this. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”—I Cor. 10:16,17

As the time approaches for the partaking of these emblems, we must not only have in mind their significance, but also must partake of them in sincerity and truth. May our first thought be of deep appreciation for the love of God and of our Lord who provided the ransom for our redemption. May our second thought be one of thankfulness to God and to Jesus for the privilege of being invited to share in the Lord’s sufferings. May we show our appreciation for the gifts and favors of our Father and his Son by continually searching for leaven and removing it so that we can be truly unleavened. “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”—I Cor. 5:8

Dawn Bible Students Association
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