Please read 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
As I prepared this week’s message, I was determined to avoid mentioning COVID-19 entirely. I want our worship time to give all of us a respite from the wearying anxiety caused by talking heads intent on making it an apocalypse for some form of personal gain.
Obviously in the world in which the Apostle Paul lived there was no knowledge of viruses and how they spread. He used a familiar symbol – yeast – to describe how sin can work its way through a church. So rather that mention COVID-19 even once, we’re going to make use of Paul’s symbolism instead!
CONTEXT – Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth dealt with a number of issues on which the church members had been divided. Ironically, chapter five focuses on an issue in which they were united, but in the wrong. There was an act of gross immorality among members of the church (v. 1). Instead of confronting and condemning those involved, they were inexplicably PROUD of the sin (v. 2). Paul promised he would deal correctly with this problem when he arrived if they did not get to it themselves (v. 3). In our passage, Paul explained why it was disastrous for the church to condone sin and coddle sinners.
The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.
- Dishonest loaves are corrupted by yeast.
The prohibition of yeast goes back to the original Passover. In Exodus 12:14-20 we read God’s instructions for an annual Feast of Unleavened Bread, to be held on the week following the Passover. This was a commemorative event.
However, the prohibition of yeast began as a practical consideration, unique to the historical moment that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt. In Exodus 12:33-34 it is written, THE EGYPTIANS URGED THE PEOPLE TO HURRY AND LEAVE THE COUNTRY, “FOR OTHERWISE,” THE SAID, “WE WILL ALL DIE!” SO THE PEOPLE TOOK THEIR DOUGH BEFORE THE YEAST WAS ADDED, AND CARRIED IT ON THEIR SHOULDERS IN KNEADING TROUGHS WRAPPED IN CLOTHING. All of this happened DURING THE NIGHT (31). None of the slaves wanted to wait until morning for the dough to rise, so they didn’t add any yeast, but left Egypt as soon as possible. The Egyptians didn’t want the Hebrews to wait around either – they were afraid for their lives!
The Apostle Paul, like Jesus, used yeast as a symbol of unresolved sin. Jesus used it in Matthew 16:1-12, where He warned His disciples to be wary of the influence of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Every baker knows that when mixing dough, the amount of yeast is a lot smaller than the amount of flour and other ingredients, yet that yeast multiplies and has an effect on the whole loaf. Similarly, the falsehoods of these hypocrites seemed very religious but would had a corrupting influence on one’s spiritual life.
In our passage,Paul used the same symbolism in regard to their ill-advised pride over a conspicuous sin. He wrote, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT A LITTLE YEAST WORKS THROUGH THE WHOLE BATCH OF DOUGH? and GET RID OF THE OLD YEAST THAT YOU MAY BE A NEW BATCH WITHOUT YEAST – AS YOU REALLY ARE.
The OLD YEAST is a symbol of sin and worldliness, vices like MALICE and WICKEDNESS. Bread made without the OLD YEAST is characterized as having SINCERITY and TRUTH.
- Honest loaves are saved by sacrifice.
The practice of sacrificing a lamb goes back to the original Passover. God commanded a year-old male sheep or goat be sacrificed at TWILIGHT, the beginning of the feast day He called the PASSOVER (Exodus 12:3-6).
Only on the very first occasion, the original Passover, the blood of the sacrifice was to be collected and painted on the door frames of the houses (Exodus 12:7). The blood was a SIGN for those within the house that they would be spared the plague of the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:12-3). On that night, the angel of death passed over the houses where the door frames were marked with blood.
Under the New Covenant, sin is resolved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb. Several New Testament passages, identify Jesus as a “lamb.”
In John 1:29, John the Baptist used this symbolism:
THE NEXT DAY JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM AND SAID, “LOOK, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!” In 1 Peter 1:9 Peter wrote about THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST, A LAMB WITHOUT BLEMISH OR DEFECT. In Revelation, John used a LAMB as a symbol for Christ 31 times.
The New Testament confirms Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, but only Paul specifically identifies Him as the “Passover Lamb.” Paul’s purpose was to use the Feast of Unleavened Bread in a symbolic way to explain what Jesus has done for us. The symbolism is fitting as there are similarities between the Passover lamb and Jesus.
The first is purity. The lamb had to be WITHOUT BLEMISH – that is, having no physical defect. Jesus was sinless, the human equivalent of being WITHOUT BLEMISH.
The second is function as a blood sacrifice. Being under the lamb’s blood saved the firstborn of Israel. By faith, we place ourselves under the blood of Jesus and are saved.
The third is having bones unbroken. In His commands regarding the Passover meal, God made it clear that the bones of the lamb should not be broken. In the John’s Gospel, it is clear Jesus’ bones were not broken after His death on the cross (John 19:33-36). The significance of unbroken bones is not clear to me at the moment, but an educated guess would be respect for the sacrifice.
The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.
When Paul wrote, LET US KEEP THE FESTIVAL he wasn’t thinking only of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Continuing his use of that FESTIVAL as a symbol, he referred to the entirety of our life in Christ. The way we do that is having a similar attitude toward sin that the Israelites were to have toward yeast. In Exodus, they were commanded to get the yeast entirely out of the house; to have a “zero tolerance policy” toward it. That’s what our attitude toward sin should be.
Unfortunately, our first instinct is to look around for someone on whom this policy can be enforced. This policy starts with self first. Jesus made it clear we don’t complain about the speck in someone else’s eye while we look cross-eyed around the log in our own eye. He used that silly image to put His followers on notice: clean the yeast out of your own house first. Help others to do the same only as the Holy Spirit directs you and only in loving, positive ways.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #10, W. Harold Mare
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Pfeiffer and Harrison