I wonder if it is even remotely possible to describe the true significance of this Sunday, the day known to us a “the Lord’s Day,” the day in which Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Consider the events of so long ago in Palestine.
Jesus of Nazareth, after some 12 hours of five court appearances, in which he was mocked, flogged, insulted, beaten and in other ways assaulted, and after having no sleep for perhaps some 24 hours, was then led to the executioners’ hill, Calvary. There he was laid upon two wooden cross beams, his hands and feet being pierced with hammer driven spikes and then, with a ligament-jarring-thud, his cross was planted in the ground. There he hung for several hours in the midday sun, being laughed at, spat upon, and identified with the scum of society. Added to this was the shame of being naked.
For this to happen to any man, especially to an innocent man, is a travesty of both justice and common decency. But for this to happen to the God-man is humanly inexplicable. But, as Scripture clearly reveals, those horrific events were the fulfilment of God’s provision of the Passover Lamb; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of all those who killed him.
But even though on one level “Good Friday” was the finishing of the work which the Father had given Jesus to do (John 17:4), there was still one more event that needed to occur in order for the gospel to be complete: Jesus had to rise from the dead. In other words, for that scandalous night to be also a beautiful night, for that horrific Friday to be Good Friday, there had to be a Resurrection Sunday. And of course the reason for this is that the resurrection was the historic and eternal vindication that Jesus Christ is indeed God’s Son and thus the Saviour of the world. The resurrection proved that he was truly the second man, the last Adam from heaven (see Romans 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15: 45-47). And because of this, in his resurrection, we find our justification (Romans 4:25).
Without debate, the resurrection changed the course of world history. And the change began with a small band of disciples.
A group of men (and women) quickly went from being fearful, apprehensive, confused and disillusioned to becoming such bold witnesses of the risen Lord that they became a threat to the establishment of both Judaism and eventually the Roman Empire. Once they realised that Jesus was risen, they realised that indeed their sins had been forgiven, that God was their Father, that Jesus Christ was Lord of all and that the Holy Spirit was doing something new in history. And all you need for confirmation of this is to read the book of Acts.
In that inspired and thus fully accurate account of the early church, it is clearly apparent that the redemption that they experienced through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ resulted in a dramatic change in their life’s direction. In other words, the death of the Passover Lamb promised a whole new life. And the resurrection of the Lamb produced this. Their lives would never be the same.
In this study (originally preached on “Resurrection Sunday” 2009) I want for us to focus on this promise and product of a whole new life through the death, burial and resurrection of the Passover Lamb. And we will do so by returning to Exodus 12 where we have the account of the one-of-a-kind historical Passover in Egypt, with the instructions for the annually-celebrated Passover Feast, also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The first 28 verses if this chapter can be divided into three sections: the Initiation of the Passover (vv. 1-13); the Institution of the Passover (vv. 14-20); and the Implementation of the Passover (vv. 21-28).
In the first section, Yahweh initiated the Passover, which was the means of the deliverance of the people of God from death in Egypt (vv. 1-13). That is, this Passover would deliver them from dying at the hands of God. This Passover would involve the appropriation of the lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread.
In the third section the people obeyed the Word of the Lord and were spared from the plague of death that came upon the land at the hand of the Destroyer (vv. 21-28). This was the implementation of the Passover.
But in between the initiation and the implementation of the Passover we find the instituting of the Passover. In vv. 14-20 God commanded the children of Israel to observe this feast “for ever.” And they were to do so as a means of remembrance of the great work that God had done in redeeming them.
The emphasis of the annual celebration was placed upon the matter of “unleavened bread.” They were told to observe this feast in the context of homes in which no leaven could be found. They were to eat only unleavened bread, and if anyone violated this ordinance then they were to be cut off from the congregation (vv. 15, 19). Think about the severity of this: God was saying that if any Israelite (or alien) violated the prohibition of using leaven in these stipulated seven days, they were to be excommunicated! They were to be treated as being outside of God’s saving covenant. That is serious indeed!
The question naturally arises, what then was so significant about this matter of leaven, with specific reference to the matter of “unleavened bread”? And this leads to the question, what relevance does this have for the believer in the 21st century?
It is my purpose in this study to provide answers to these questions. And the answers have everything to do with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Instructions Necessary for New Life
The first and last days of this prescribed feast were to be treated in the spirit of a Sabbath; that is, no work was to be done (except, of course, in the preparation for the Feast itself). The congregation of the children of Israel were commanded to gather together on these sabbatical days; it was to be a holy assembly. They were to corporately remember this great act of God.
But further (and what receives a lot of emphasis in this passage), is the matter of the necessity of purging the household of all leaven. Whatever the reason for this (we will explore this question below), it is specifically stated and repeated that all leaven was to be removed from the household before the Feast began. As mentioned, anyone in violation of this would be excommunicated from the community—cut off from the covenantal community of Israel. From the severity of the penalty it is quite clear that this matter of being “unleavened” was important to God and thus was to be important to the children of Israel.
The Intention: A New Life!
What then was the significance of this matter of the household being “unleavened”?
Many people assume that the significance of the command to eat unleavened bread has to do with the typical/symbolic image of leaven being a type of sin. For example many of the offerings were to be offered without leaven (Leviticus 2:11; 6:17, etc). The Lord warned the disciples about the false (read, “sinful”) teaching (“leaven”) of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6). Clearly in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 the apostle Paul likens leaven to the sins of “malice” and “evil.” And in Galatians 5:9 once again Paul indicates that false teaching can spread like “leaven.”
It should however be noted that sometimes leaven was, by divine mandate, to be used in offerings, such as that of the firstfruits at the Feast of Pentecost (Leviticus 23:17). The prophet Amos called for offerings of thanksgiving to be offered with leaven (Amos 4:5) and the Lord Jesus Christ likened the spread of the Kingdom to leaven: It would spread invisibly, slowly but pervasively and convincingly.
Therefore, in light of the biblical evidence, we need to be careful of dogmatically asserting that leaven is always a type of sin, for clearly it is not.
We should note that, up until this point in revealed history (Exodus 12), there has only been one mention of “unleavened bread” (Genesis 19:3). There, Lot made a feast for two angels of the Lord and the text tells us that he used unleavened bread. We are not given any reason for the making of this bread, although a good case could be made for the fact that this meal was prepared in haste and therefore unleavened bread would have been the bread of choice. There was perhaps not time for raised bread. In other words, time was of the essence: The meal needed to be prepared in haste and thus there was not enough time to bake bread that would need to rise.
Having said all that, the text of Exodus 12 really does not leave us in the dark as to why this bread was to be unleavened: It clearly states that the reason for such instruction was that when the firstborn sons in Egypt were killed, the Israelites would be compelled to leave in “haste” (vv. 11, 33-34, 39). Since they would need to leave quickly there was not sufficient time for the making of normal bread. This matter of “haste” is confirmed in Deuteronomy 16:1-3 where Moses (instructing the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, some forty years later) informed them that the bread of the Feast was to be unleavened because they left Egypt “in haste.” (It also points to the affliction that was associated with the “destroyer.”)
Thus the primary, initial significance of eating unleavened bread was due to the practical nature of the need to leave Egypt—and to do so fast! Someone has well said that before the Passover, Israel could not leave Egypt; and after the Passover they could not stay in Egypt.
Let’s not miss the significance of this: The Passover having been accomplished meant that a whole new life was to begin for the children of Israel and therefore they were to start that new life—immediately! They were to quickly rise and follow Yahweh upon the immediate benefit of the completed substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb. That is, they had been delivered from death, and now they were to quickly embrace the full reality of that by leaving their former life for a new life; they were to leave their old masters and to become the privileged slaves of their new Master, Yahweh. And if they did not, then they would die. It should be noted that upon Israel’s departure from Egypt Pharaoh once again hardened his heart, changed his mind and sent his army to destroy them. Had they lingered at all during this time they would have certainly been destroyed (see chapter 14). This highlights for us the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints: You must persistently lose your life if you will save it.
On Passover night they had the historical evidence that their redemption had been provided and secured. But their redemption would not be fully realised until they crossed the Red Sea. And that is why they had to get moving quickly, for a whole new, blood-bought life awaited them. And the same thing occurred some 2,000 years ago when the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross and then rose three days later. Consider the evidence.
When the Lord Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30), it was finished! That is, the death and blood of the Passover Lamb meant that all those who had killed the Passover (that is, all for whom He died) were redeemed. But as can be seen by the behaviour of the disciples immediately after the crucifixion, they did not yet realise this. They were still hanging around Jerusalem in disobedience to the Lord’s clear command (Matthew 28:16; Mark 14:26-28). They clearly did not believe that His cross work was effective. They had no concept that they had been redeemed. In fact they believed that they were in a worse case than before. Though the Passover had been effective, the disciples’ response was defective.
But the awareness of the resurrection changed all of that. Once they heard that Jesus had been raised from the dead their lives began to change dramatically and, yes, quickly. They received word to quickly go to Galilee where he would meet them, and they did so. Once the Lord ascended to the right hand of the Father, they quickly obeyed him as they selected another disciple to replace Judas. Once the Spirit descended they quickly went about the task of making disciples of the Lord Jesus and they quickly embraced a whole new lifestyle (Acts 2:42-47).
You see, though they were indeed redeemed by the death of Christ on Calvary, they did not realise this until they knew that Christ had risen. It was then that they had the proof; and once they had the proof, they “with haste” began their dramatically new life. This realisation of the resurrection was the impetus for a whole new life. The resurrection proved that the death of the Passover Lamb really did secure a new life for them and upon this realisation they, like the children of Israel after the Passover in Egypt, began a whole new way of life—and quickly! They became in a hurry to live holy! Just as the morning after the Passover in Egypt brought the assurance that God was for his people, so the resurrection morning on the first day of the week did for the disciples (cf. Romans 4:25).
And so it is for sinners who have experienced the new birth: They are called upon to make a quick and immediate exit from the old life (in the kingdom/power of darkness) to the new life (in the Kingdom of God’s dear Son). They are not to linger but rather they are to run as fast as their reborn will will take them!
When God commanded the children of Israel (in Egypt) to eat unleavened bread, he was preparing them to quickly leave a place that would otherwise prove destructive to them. This newly formed nation (note that the Exodus indeed was the birth of Israel as a nation) faced the danger of lingering when the time came for them to leave. To linger would be to invite both physical and spiritual disaster.
The lesson for us is that when the Lord calls us to leave our sin and our past, when he calls us to leave the kingdom of Satan, we need to leave—and fast! Unleavened bread may not be as tasty as rye bread but if we wait for the tasty product of leaven, we may not live to enjoy it!
But what is it that will compel sinners to leave their sin? The same thing that did so for the first disciples: the reality that Christ is risen! There are no doubt many in our world today who have symbolically recognised the significance of the Passover Lamb—the Lord Jesus Christ—and yet they have not treated this event with urgency. They confess that they are sinners, and to some degree they say that they need a Saviour, and yet they enjoy the appetising aroma that the bread of the world has to offer far too much to be willing to leave it behind. Such individuals may attend church, and may even be zealous defenders of “Christian holidays,” and yet they see no urgency to leave the world—immediately—to follow Christ. And would you not agree that such an attitude is not only foolish, but sinful as well? Thus, in this very important sense, we can see that indeed leaven here does represent sin; the sin of responding like Egyptians, the sin of a worldview which is, to be plain, “worldly.”
“Worldliness” can be defined as “emphasising that which is temporal and fleeting; that which is superficial.” The Bible describes these things as “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.” There are many who live their lives dominated by the quest for this “leavened bread,” which is far more attractive than the unleavened, and sometimes tasteless, bread of that which is essential and eternal. That is, there are many people who will not experience deliverance through the Lamb because they are too busy focusing on the tempting smell of the loaf; a loaf of immediate gratification, ease and comfort, flesh-craving appetites, prestige and things. And thus, even though the Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, the effects are not experienced because of a lingering for the sensual.
Such people need to lose their life so that they can save it!
But what is it that will overwhelm such superficial living? Not merely the knowledge of the cross confined to the events of Good Friday; but rather the events of Good Friday combined with the events of the following glorious Sunday. In other words, the only way that one will hurriedly leave their old life for the new life in Christ is by the realisation that the Passover really worked—and we only know this by the resurrection of the Passover Lamb!
Once we realise that He has risen indeed, then—and only then—will we know that we are redeemed indeed. The redeemed run away from sin as they run to the Saviour in the race that he has set before them.
Oh that we might use each and every Lord’s Day to remember that our redemption was secured because Jesus Christ is no longer dead! He is alive and therefore we have new life in Him. We need not dwell in Egypt any longer. We can leave behind the evil and wickedness of the old life as we embrace the sincerity and truth of our new life in Christ.
Again, this symbolises for us the reality that, unless we are willing to leave behind the old life, we will not enter the new life.
When I think of homemade bread I naturally tend to think of home, a place of comfort. For centuries the children of Israel had become accustomed to life in Egypt. It wasn’t the greatest place but they had made it their home. Perhaps it was for this reason that the Lord had commanded them to celebrate this feast; perhaps this was God’s way of highlighting that now they would have a new home—complete with a new appetite. And they would need this reminder, for it would not be long until they were remembering the “delicacies” of Egypt. The unleavened bread would therefore serve to remind them of how bad life really was in Egypt: so bad that they had to flee.
God’s intention is the same for believers today; that is, he desires for us to leave the old life and to pursue the new life that awaits us—and to do so with haste.
At a time of year such as this, I think of the many may be “moved” on Good Friday, but who will remain lingering in Egypt only to be eventually destroyed. They may claim to believe, but be unwilling to leave family, friends, lifestyles, sins, etc. Like the rich young ruler, they find themselves walking away from Christ disappointed because they were unwilling to lay it all on the line as the cost of obedience.
Upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ the emphasis was upon “haste” regarding the disciples’ response to this truth. The command to the women at the tomb was clear: “And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word” (Matthew 28:7-8).
And the same is true for us. There is a sense of immediacy in our call to obedience. Just as the disciples were to hurry to get to Galilee and meet with the Lord (rather than morbidly dwelling in Jerusalem), so we must, with a sense of great urgency, leave behind the old life and press on to a life of wholehearted obedience to Christ.
It is interesting that the book of Acts makes at least 14 references to the resurrection of Christ, and that even more references are made to the appropriate response to the knowledge of the risen Lord. That is, as the risen Lord gave commandments (or as declarations were made in his name) the immediate response was for the disciples to “arise” in obedience—“immediately,” or “with haste.” Consider just a few examples:
- Acts 8:26—“And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.”
- Acts 9:6—“And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”
- Acts 9:11—“And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth.”
- Acts 9:34—“And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.”
- Acts 9:40—“But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.”
- Acts 10:20—“Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.”
- Acts 11:7—“And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.”
- Acts 12:7—“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.”
The New Testament is not ambiguous about this matter of believers leaving the old life for the new. Rather, it clearly commands us that with “shoes on our feet, gowns girded, staff in hand and unleavened bread in our pack” to set out for the new life with haste: It pictures a life of constant perseverance (which was pretty much the same picture presented by the annual Feast of Unleavened Bread).
For example, in Ephesians 5:14 Paul writes, “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” And to the Colossians the apostle wrote, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
And one day in the future, the Lord will command our dead bodies to arise, “with haste,” when he returns to redeem our bodies. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Therefore, with the promise of the new life secured, let us with haste respond to his commands to embrace this new life. He has passed over us not only to deliver us from death but also to deliver us to a new life!
The Illustration of the New Life
As we bring this study to a close let me make some practical remarks regarding the resurrection and the haste with which we must both leave the old life as well as the speed with which we must respond to the commands of Christ. The early church certainly illustrated this. Let’s look at an example, as recorded in the book of Acts, and see what this is also is to look like in the 21st century.
The early new covenant church was bold in its proclamation and uncompromising in its commitment to truth. This passionate commitment to truth is displayed very clearly in the early chapters of Acts. Consider, for example, the record of Acts 4.
In Acts 3, Peter and John had healed a man lame from birth. The general populace had responded with absolute amazement, and Peter had taken the opportunity to preach the gospel to them. He made it clear that it was not by their own power that the healing had taken place, but by the power of God, who had raised his Son from the dead. The religious rulers were angry that Peter was so flagrantly preaching the resurrection of Christ, and so the apostles were promptly arrested.
The following day, during the trial, the apostles were questioned about their proclamation of the resurrection. The religious leaders had one agenda: to get the apostles to renege on their earlier proclamation. However, displaying uncompromising commitment to the truth and absolute confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture, the apostles remained firm in their testimony.
Of course, the evidence was unmistakeable. Despite what they wanted to believe, the religious leaders could not deny that a man who had been lame from birth had been healed. The apostles maintained that it was by the power of the risen Christ that this miracle had been performed, and though they wanted absolutely to deny the authority of Christ, they could not argue with the miracle. In desperation, they ordered the apostles to remain silent about the resurrection, but Peter and John were unwavering: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). It should here be noted that the same Caiaphas that was responsible for the crucifixion of Christ was now threatening Peter—who previously had denied Christ! Now Peter boldly stood up against him!
Naturally, this was not the end of the opposition. In the very next chapter the apostles were once again arrested and imprisoned because of their declaration of the resurrection. An angel of the Lord released them from prison that night, and the following day the mystified religious leaders found them back in the temple preaching the resurrection. Angered, the high priest ordered that the apostles be arrested again and brought before him. “Did not we straightly command you,” he asked, “that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” To which the apostles replied, with bold confidence, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:28-29). Once again, the apostles boldly declared the resurrection of Christ.
There are still Christians in our world today who face the threat of physical intimidation for preaching the resurrection of Christ. Many reading this would face no such physical threat, but the preaching of the resurrection is always opposed in one way or another by those who reject it. We may face persecution in the form of verbal mockery, or severed relationships. Whatever the case, there is always a cost involved in an uncompromising commitment to the truth. Nevertheless, with the early church, we are called to preach those things of which we have been assured. We are called to obey God rather than men.
But that was not the end for the early church. Coupled with their bold proclamation was the issue of believing prayer.
As soon as the apostles had been threatened and released in Acts 4, they returned to the church to rehearse to the congregation all that had happened. Rather than cowering in fear and packing their bags to emigrate, the church rejoiced in the power of God. Their response was telling: “And when they had prayed” (Acts 4:31). They responded to the threat of persecution with the prayer of belief.
They in no way minimised the reality of the threatened persecution. They took the conflict very seriously, but they took prayer just as seriously as the threat of persecution.
In our day and age we need an unwavering commitment in our local churches to believing prayer. We pray to a living, resurrected Lord. Our Father is Creator and King of all. Are we fervent in our prayers to our heavenly Father? Far too often prayer suffers, even in the hands of those who claim to believe the resurrection. But we cannot allow prayer to be ignored. We must be wholehearted in our commitment to believing prayer, as was the early church.
Finally, we see in the Acts record a church-wide commitment to brotherly compassion. Immediately following the record of the apostles’ proclamation (and subsequent threatening) and the church’s commitment to prayer, we read of the church’s concern to meet the needs of the body. A material need arose in the church, and rather than materialistically holding onto their possessions, “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” So serious were they in this commitment that they sold what they had and pooled their resources together to relieve those in the church who were afflicted (Acts 4:32-37).
Are we committed in similar vein to the body? Are we concerned about the needs and the welfare of others? We cannot expect to enjoy the new life in Christ if we are individualistic and materialistic. Just as we must mimic the early church in our commitment to bold proclamation and believing prayer, so must be mimic the early church in our commitment to brotherly compassion.
No doubt most reading this would claim to have been saved by the blood of the Passover Lamb. The question to be asked, however, is whether there is evidence of this in that you have moved from your old, leavened life, to a new, unleavened life in Christ. Have you, “with haste,” left behind those things that God has called you to leave behind and moved forward in wholehearted obedience to Christ?
Unbeliever, repent and believe the gospel today! Believer, are you convinced that the God who changed a small band of cowardly disciples into bold apostles who turned the world upside down can change your life today? With this confidence, leave behind the leaven that besets you, and move toward the new life in Christ—because, by his grace, you can!
Let us move forward to the glories of the new life because we can do all things through the risen Christ who strengthens us.