How many of you have ever visited another country like Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, or one of the African or other Latin American countries? Then you know the first rule of foreign travel, don’t you? And what’s that? “Do not drink the water!” Why not? Because there are bacteria in the water that the nationals may have learned to tolerate, but which will make tourists deathly ill if they drink it. Have you had that experience?
I learned that lesson again on our mission last trip to Nicaragua three or four years ago. We had visited Central America several times before, so we were careful to drink nothing but bottled water or soda. But with just two days to go, which we hoped to spend at a beautiful resort on Corn Island, we ate a parting meal with our friends in the Blue Fields. Again we were careful to drink nothing but bottled water. But silly me! I forgot about the ice. So when our dear Christian brother asked me, “Would you like some ice in your drink,” I said, “Sure,” and spent the next two days so sick I was sure I was going to die and disappointed when I didn’t. It wasn’t until our host took me to the doctor, who prescribed something to kill the bacteria, that I finally got relief.
Of course, having served five years as a missionary in Romania, I should have known better, because we never drank the water there or even brushed our teeth with it, it was so bad. Yes, that’s a picture of our daughter Rebecca sitting on the edge of the tub in our apartment in Timisoara marveling at what was coming out of the tap. So for five years, we purified everything we drank. The purifier we used could distill three gallons a day. So that along with soda or bottled water is all that we ever drank. That’s is why I used to say, when we first returned to the States five years later, that my favorite thing to do was to stand in the shower and drink the water right out of the tap, because that’s something we could never do when we lived in Romania.
So what’s the point of my illustration? My point is: As careful as we are about the things we put in our bodies, so we don’t make ourselves sick, you’d think we’d be just as conscientious about the condition of our souls. But we aren’t. The amazing thing is how flippant and lackadaisical people are skipping into God’s presence as if it makes no difference how dirty our thoughts or actions are. But God cares. In fact, the Bible says He is infinitely more fastidious about who can enter His presence than we could ever be about the things we put in our bodies.
For example, Psalm 24:3 asks the question: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place?” The answer is: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” So Jesus preached, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Hebrews 12:14 adds, “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord.” So we find ourselves in a precarious position because the truth is: None of us is very holy. On the contrary, Romans 3:10 insists, “There is none righteous. No not one.” Isaiah 64:6 adds, “We are all like an unclean thing and all our righteousness is as filthy rags.”
So how are we ever to get cleaned up enough and fit to enter into the presence of God? The answer is found in the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Last week we began a new study based on the feasts of the Lord, and we learned that even though Israel was the nation commanded to celebrate the feasts, the feasts do not belong to Israel nor are they about Israel. Instead, Leviticus 23:4 says, “These are the feasts of the Lord,” and that’s also who they are about. They are about Jesus, each one picturing something He promised to do for us as our Savior. Four feasts are in the spring and were fulfilled at His first coming, but three remain and are about to be fulfilled when He comes again.
The first feast is Passover which we studied last week. It pictures the first step in our walk of faith when we trust Jesus for our salvation believing that just as the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death in Egypt, so the blood of Jesus, God’s Lamb, is able to wash away our sins. This week we continue with the second feast, Unleavened Bread, picturing our sanctification in Christ. Leviticus 23:5 says: “On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover,” and verse 26 continues, “on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.” The second feast begins the day after Passover and lasts for seven days during which time the only kind of bread the people could eat was unleavened bread. So let’s ask: How did it begin and what does it picture?
1. Its Origin
The answer to the first question is that it began in Egypt that very evening after the lambs were slain and the blood applied to the doorposts of their homes. To see that, turn in your Bible to Exodus chapter 12 where I want to look at several verses together. First, notice that the Lord is speaking to Moses and Aaron as the chapter opens, giving them instructions for the Passover. The people were to take lambs for their families on the 10th day of Nisan and set them apart for five days until the 14th day of Nisan. That will become important later on as the five-day period of time during which the priests inspect the lambs to make sure they’re fit for sacrifice. Then on that fifth night, after the lambs are slain and their blood applied to the doorposts, the people were to roast the lambs and eat them with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and to do so in haste with sandals on their feet, belts around their waists, and a staff in their hands.
They were also told that this was to be a seven-day feast which would serve as a lasting memorial throughout their generations. Why seven days for this feast compared to just one day for the Passover? Because of what this feast pictures! Passover pictures our salvation which took place once and for all when Jesus shed His blood on the cross for us. That was a one-time event whose effects continue forever, whereas Unleavened Bread is a weeklong feast which pictures our ongoing walk with Christ which grows holier and holier the longer we know Him. Notice also how fastidious they were to be in removing the leaven from their homes. This was so important to the Lord He says anyone caught eating leaven during this seven-day period of time would be “cut off” forever from His people. That’s all Moses and Aaron were told at this point.
Of course, those who were astute should have realized that something was up and that this was actually a prophecy of what was about to happen to them. Because verse 31 says it was that very same night at midnight after the Lord struck the firstborn of Egypt dead that Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to leave his land immediately for fear that his whole nation would be destroyed. And because they were in such a hurry, they didn’t have time to let the dough rise or make provisions for their journey. From that moment on they’d have to depend on the Lord alone, which is a good reminder to us—not only to depend on the Lord, but also that when He comes again for us, there won’t be time to get ready. We need to get ready now, holding everything loosely in our hands, because Jesus warned, “I’m coming at an hour when you least expect it!”
They were to eat bread without leaven to remind them of how quickly they had to flee from Egypt. But there’s also a second, even more important reason for it, and that’s because of what leaven pictures in the Bible. Leaven is a symbol of sin. Jesus referred to this when He warned His disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, “which is hypocrisy.” For even though the Pharisees looked holy on the outside, Jesus said that inside they were full of pride and greed and other terrible sins. So the people were to remove every trace of leaven from their homes as a symbol of the holiness that God desires in us. So the Israelites would go to work scrubbing their floors, their walls, their ceilings, their furniture, and all the utensils and cooking ware used in the kitchen because nothing in the home could contain even a trace of leaven.
Jewish families practice the same tradition today. In fact, for modern Jews, the week before Unleavened Bread is the traditional time for spring housecleaning when everything in the home is thoroughly cleaned and every trace of leaven is removed. At that point the family plays a holiday game together called Bedikah Chametz, which means “Search for the Leaven. It involves a feather, a wooden spoon, and a candle. In fact, the game is so popular they sell kits for it in Jewish bookstores. By this time the house is completely free of leaven. But the rabbis teach that there must be a final inspection the last night before the feast. So the game begins with the mother hiding 10 crumbs of leavened bread in different places around the house. The children are then given candles and told to search for the leaven. And when they find a crumb, they call out to their father who comes and gently brushes the crumbs onto the wooden spoon with the feather. Then once the leaven is collected, the father says a benediction over their home and the leaven is burned in the fire. The game is intended to teach the children the importance of removing sin from our lives. But there’s also a beautiful picture in it for us—that if we walk in the light as He is in the light, the Holy Spirit shows us our sin, at which point we call to our Heavenly Father who gently removes it by placing on the cross of Christ pictured in the wooden spoon.
By the way, it’s not only their homes that are to be free of leaven. The same is true of their workplaces. For example, I read about a Jewish businessman who owns a bakery in Israel. So what does he do with his bakery during the Feast of Unleavened Bread? He sells it to a Gentile for seven days and then buys it back once the feast is over. That’s how the feast began and how it’s celebrated down to this very day. But what ought to interest us even more is what it pictures because that’s the chief purpose of every feast—to give us a prophetic picture of the work of Yeshua our Messiah.
2. Its Symbolism
What we find in the Feast of Unleavened Bread is that Jesus is not only the Unblemished Lamb of God who shed His blood for our sins; He is also the Unleavened Bread of God who came down from heaven to give life to our souls. Consequently, where was He providentially born? In Bethlehem, the city of David the great king, which means what? Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”
You’ll see that that’s how Jesus referred to Himself, if you turn to John chapter 6, which begins with the feeding of the five thousand. Actually it was more like twenty thousand because John says they only counted the men. So when you add their wives and children, it means there were more than twenty thousand people in the crowd that day, all of them hungry. So Jesus performed a miracle. He took the lunch of a little boy who was brought to Him by one of the disciples, divided it, and fed the entire crowd with just five loaves and two fishes, and afterwards there was so much left over it filled twelve baskets—enough to feed Jesus and His disciples the rest of their journey. For where were they and the crowd headed that day? Do you see it in verse 4? They were headed for Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, which gave Jesus a perfect opportunity to teach them an even greater truth about Himself.
I encourage you to read the whole chapter as soon as you have time. But for now, let me quote just a few of the things He said about Himself starting with verse 48 where He says, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” In other words, Jesus is not only what the Feast of Unleavened Bread was intended to symbolize; He is also what the manna in the wilderness was meant to foreshadow. For as miraculous as the manna in the wilderness was, it only kept their fathers alive for forty years. But Jesus the Messiah and true Bread from Heaven promises to give us who believe in Him the power to live forever. Amen!
The only reason He can do that, of course, is because He Himself was without sin. Otherwise, all it would be is one helpless sinner trying to save another, and you know how fruitless that is. But Jesus isn’t a sinner. He is the pure and holy Son of God! 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Think about those words again for a moment. He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus His only begotten Son) who never committed any sin to be sin for us (In other words, He placed our sins on His Son at the Cross), so we could receive His righteousness as a gift. Can you think of a greater truth than that! And that’s only one verse! The Bible is full of verses that say the same thing—Jesus is the Unleavened Bread of God who is free of sin and able to satisfy every need of our souls.
Consider a few examples of how that’s pictured in this feast. It is first seen in how the matzah or unleavened bread is prepared. Because there’s no Temple today, where a lamb can be sacrificed, the rabbis say the matzah serves as a substitute for the lamb. So it must be baked according to strict guidelines giving it three distinct features. It is pierced with tiny holes in rows giving it a striped appearance and brown spots that look like bruises, which pictures what Isaiah 53 says about Messiah. He was pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and by His stripes we are healed.
Even more exciting is a tradition that takes place during the Seder or Passover meal. A pouch with three compartments called the matzah tosh is placed at the head of the table with a piece of bread in each of the compartments. The matzah in the middle compartment is taken out during the meal and broken in half. This half piece is called the afikomen meaning “he or that which is coming.” It is then wrapped in a napkin and hidden and the children hunt for it when the meal is over. The child who finds is given a gift. The Jews believe the pieces of bread represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But Jesus expanded on that tradition by taking the middle piece of bread and saying, “This is My body which is broken for you.” He referred to Himself as the middle of bread because He is the Second Person of the Trinity. Nor is it a coincidence that the middle piece of bread is wrapped in a napkin and hidden, for that’s what happened to Jesus. Having died on the cross for our sins, He was wrapped in linen, and buried in a tomb. But three days later, He came back to life and was exalted to the throne of heaven at which point Ephesians 4:7 says He gave gifts to men, pictured in the child who finds the afikomen and receives a gift at the end of the meal.
But the most important fact of all is what happened on the first day of this feast. Jesus was buried in the tomb. That surprised Pilate the governor, because the whole point of crucifixion was to put the victim through a slow and agonizing death usually taking three days, so as to terrify the populace as they walked by and saw the victim’s suffering. That kept everyone from daring to defy Rome’s authority. But in Jesus’ case, it took only six hours for Him to die. The Bible says He was crucified at 9 o’clock in the morning and died at 3 o’clock that afternoon. So to make sure he was dead, the centurion on guard at the cross pierced His side with a spear. Of course, looking back on it now, it’s no mystery why He died so quickly. Our Savior was on a schedule and had to be wrapped for burial and laid in the tomb by the time the sun set. For just as Passover pictures His death for our sins, Unleavened Bread pictures His burial, and Jesus was never late for any of the feasts. So at 3 o’clock sharp He gave up His spirit. As He said in John 10:18, “No one takes My life from Me. I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again.”
So Jesus was buried on the first day of Unleavened Bread. Why does that matter? It matters because of what He took with Him to the tomb! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Paul says the burial of Jesus is of first importance. Why? Because it proves He died a real death for our sins and then took our sins with Him to the tomb never to be seen again! As the hymn says, “Living He loved me; dying He saved me; buried He carried my sins far away.” That’s why the Feast of Unleavened Bread is important. It pictures the purity of Christ and His final victory over sin. So how do we apply its truth to our lives today?
3. Its Application
There is only one way to do so. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 says, “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The only way to celebrate this feast is by purifying our lives of the sins that so easily entangle us and pursuing the purity of Christ. That’s how we began this study, you remember, with the commandment to “pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord.”
So where do we begin? We begin with those flagrant and obvious sins just like we do when we clean the house. We wash the dishes, we scrub the floor, we wash the windows, and we clean all those things which are obviously dirty. But have you ever noticed that the more you clean, the more you find to clean—dust on the bookcases, mold in the shower stall, dirt behind the refrigerator? It’s an endless job but it has to be done. In the same way, we need to be thorough about our spiritual cleaning. After all, wouldn’t it be just like a Pharisee to wash the outside of the cup and leave the inside of it dirty? That’d be the hypocrisy, and we don’t want to be guilty of that. So let’s wash away not only our flagrant sins in the blood of Christ—the lying, the lusting, and the cheating, but also those sins of which only we and our Lord are aware—the pride, the bitterness, and the envy—and let’s keep this feast not with the leaven of malice and bitterness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Are you familiar with this saying? “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” But it all begins with our minds. So that’s where the solution must come as well. And I know, like most cleaning jobs, it seems like an endless project. But the good news is you don’t have to do it alone. Make it a game of Bedikah Chametz. Take time today and every day this week to let the Word of God shine on you, asking the Holy Spirit to show you any unleavened crumbs that need to be removed. And when He does, simply call out to your Father in Heaven to gently sweep them onto the Cross of Christ, and He will. For that’s why He came. To make you pure in heart, so you can see God.
Sources used in this sermon series: “The Seven Feasts of Israel” by Zola Levitt, “Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts” by Richard Booker, “Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts” by Michael Norten, and “Life Principles for Worship from the Feasts of Israel” by Rick Shepherd.