I had finished delivering the papers on my paper route early, so I thought I would reward myself with a treat. I stopped by the local bakery and bought several delectable pastries and promptly consumed them on the spot. But I was now feeling a little guilty—I was not supposed to go by the bakery without asking permission. My mother would find out. I thought I could cover my tracks in my conscience by buying the whole family a dozen doughnuts. The family would sing my praises when I walked in the front door. The delicious doughnuts would wash away all penalty of breaking Mom’s instructions.
As I triumphantly entered our home, the hero’s welcome I was expecting turned into a wild, frenzied panic. You see, this was right in the middle of the Days of Unleavened Bread! I was bringing leaven into our perfectly deleavened home—after all that cleaning, I had totally forgotten what time of year it was. I wasn’t focused on the lessons—I didn’t get it.
As teens, what should you be thinking and focusing on at this time of year? This is the time of year when your parents ask you to help scour every nook and cranny in the house, garage and car. To some this may seem as equally absurd as rabbits laying colored eggs and getting up early to watch the sunrise one day a year. But there is a purpose. Do you know what it is? Could you explain what it is if you were asked to do so? More importantly, do you believe it, or is it just something you have been putting up with? If you don’t prove these things for yourself from the Bible, then when pressure and questions come about your beliefs, you may struggle.
When I was a teen growing up in Long Island, New York, our Greek neighbors would always arrive at our home bearing gifts every spring. To a child, gifts were always a cause for some excitement in the house since we didn’t observe birthdays or Christmas. These gifts from our neighbors didn’t disappoint. They brought excitement all right, but not the kind you would think. You see, they would deliver to us a warm loaf of lovingly prepared bread with red colored eggs strategically and carefully placed within the braids on top. The glistening golden brown finish on the top was only surpassed by the sumptuous odor of freshly baked bread wafting in my direction.
To my surprise and much chagrin, my mother would graciously decline this wonderful gesture of neighborliness that would leave our kindly neighbors in a confused state—and me too. On a few occasions, I had been to their home and tasted the wonderful culinary delicacies from traditional Greek recipes handed down from generation to generation. They were mouthwatering treats that to this day still conjure up delightful memories of my youth. But why send this wonderful gift packing? Why be so rude to our neighbors? They had gone out of their way and thought of us—wouldn’t the right thing be to accept their offering?
There is a definite instruction that I was being taught as a child about this time of year. It was one of the major lessons of the spring holy days: Leavened bread was symbolic of sin.
Why pick on bread? There is nothing like a fresh loaf of bread. The steam as it is pulled out of the oven slowly rises and wafts around the room. You slice it gently and then spread a thick layer of butter over it, watching as it melts away into one of the most beautiful creations ever. How could bread, the staple of life, be symbolic of sin? After all, didn’t Christ call Himself the bread of life (John 6:35, 48)?
The reality is, it is not the bread. It is something in the bread that is symbolic of sin: leaven. As the Bible describes, there are both leavened and unleavened breads, but the key is the analogy of the leaven. Look at what Christ says in Matthew 16:11: “How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?” This example of leaven is a warning, and that warning seems to make leaven appear to be a bad thing.
Yet look at this example of how Christ describes the future coming Kingdom of God, using the analogy of leaven, in Matthew 13:33. “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” This verse uses leaven in a positive way. How can leaven be both good and bad?
Let’s look now what the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians in Galatians 5:9: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Now we are getting a little closer to the lesson of the analogy. It is not the leaven itself, just as it is not the bread itself that is important; it is what the leaven actually does. The fact that it only takes a small portion of leaven to permeate whatever it comes in contact with is the key. When we are exposed to attitudes of self-righteousness and sin, like Christ experienced with the Pharisees and Sadducees, we need to be aware of how they can invade our thinking until they take us over and we become “full of leaven.”
Conversely, Christ knows that when God’s government is set up on this Earth with new Jerusalem as the universe capital, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end …” (Isaiah 9:7). That small beginning, with Christ as the first of the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:23), will go on and on, just as leaven would spread through a bread loaf—except in God’s case, there will never be an end to the expansion of His Kingdom!
So what then is the lesson we should be focusing on at this time of year? Think about how the ancient Israelites lived and the various offerings they brought to God. You can read about those throughout the Pentateuch, particularly in the book of Leviticus. The ancient Israelites didn’t have God’s Holy Spirit available to them. God closed off the way to the tree of life from Adam after he decided to choose for himself what was right and wrong by partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All of humanity since that time, except for a few whom God has specially chosen, has been sentenced to go it alone without God. Mankind—especially without the Holy Spirit—needed physical reminders to keep them mindful of the penalty for disobedience and the blessings for obedience. God also used the physical symbols of the agricultural process to help the Israelites understand, on a physical level, the plan He has for all of mankind. God used the physical to symbolize or point to the spiritual. Using physical leavened and unleavened bread helps keep us in remembrance of these powerful spiritual analogies.
As a young teen, these lessons didn’t sink in as they should have. I didn’t glean the lessons from the leaven or lack thereof. These lessons can be really profound if we use the physical to point us to the spiritual. Looking back now, I remember it seemed odd that once a year we would turn the house upside down to get the leaven out, and I never truly grasped the spiritual depth of what that symbolized. I understood the thorough cleaning leading up to it—I would disassemble the car leaving the backseat on the driveway, mats strewn all about, and grab the smallest nozzle possible for the vacuum, sucking up every possible sign of an errant crumb that might be lodged in an unsuspected place. Maybe I was a diligent cleaner, but did I get the spiritual parallel that God intended? I thought I did—I had heard it so many times, year after year, one spring holy day season after another. Many of my peers thought they understood it too, but the reality was that we were just deep-cleaning physically and not learning the lesson of the leaven.
It’s so easy to overlook this, just as I did when I brought those doughnuts into our carefully deleavened house. As Christ warned us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, there I was—the poster child for the leaven of the Pharisees. Not only did I disobey my parents, breaking the Fifth Commandment, but I also tried to cover my tracks by pretending it didn’t happen and ended up breaking more commandments. God describes sin as the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). I had heard it all before: Leaven symbolizes sin. Coming out of Egypt symbolizes coming out of sin. I could recite all the right answers. But as it says in James 1:22: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” I had been a hearer of the word and not a doer. I had gone through the motions of deleavening physically, and on the surface I was clean, but spiritually speaking, I was guilty of not learning the lesson of the leaven.
How about you?