Sweep Out the Leaven

On the night of His betrayal, Our Lord commanded his disciples to go ahead of Him and prepare an upper room for the Passover feast. That night, the day before Passover, Jesus shared a meal with the disciples during which He instituted the Lord’s Supper. Thus, we have always associated the Lord’s Supper with the Passover. Both are memorial feasts celebrating God’s mercy and salvation. Both center on the sacrificed Lamb. Both require unleavened bread.

This final requirement explains Jesus’ sending the disciples ahead to prepare. In the days leading up to Passover, faithful Jews must scour their houses free of any leaven. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” so the house must be cleaned fastidiously to remove the threat of leavening the Passover bread. The threat is expressed in Ex 12.19-20: “For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.” As we have seen in other contexts, being cut off is the gravest punishment of the Law of Moses.

Let us consider today that the Gospel of Christ likewise requires us to sweep our houses of leaven.

Like the Law, the Gospels use leaven as a symbol of corruption. Jesus warns the disciples, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16.6). In the context of Matthew 16, this refers specifically to their lack of faith, since the Pharisees and Sadducees require Jesus to show them a sign (16.1). Later, the disciples are given to understand that Jesus means the teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees in general (16.12). This includes hypocrisy (Luke 12.1) and a lack of faith in the resurrection and in the spiritual realm (Acts 23.8).

The Kingdom of God is real, including the parts which we can’t see: the saints who have gone on before us, the angels who watch over us and fight on our behalf, and the Holy Spirit who works through us. Beware your skepticism of these things. They are leaven. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”

The Kingdom of God lays requirements on all of us. It does us no good to rail against a lawless world if we ourselves are lawless. “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Rom 2.23-24). Beware your complacency over your own sins. That is leaven. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”

The Law speaks of sweeping the house, and the Gospel speaks likewise of our souls. However, the Gospel carries an additional warning, which we hear in the parable of Jesus: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matt 12.43-45). Our spiritual houses must be swept and put in order—but all of that can amount to nothing if we do not secure the house against further corruption.

Thus, as the Law of Moses commands Israel to sweep their houses of leaven, so too does the Gospel of Christ command us to sweep the houses of our souls clean of spiritual leaven.

For this very reason, it is significant that we partake of unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. The body of Christ calls us to remember not only His crucifixion but also our calling in Him. The unleavened bread is a symbol of how Christ has freed us from the corruption of sin. We are to be like Christ, who was Himself unstained by sin.

As we eat the unleavened bread, we must examine ourselves, as Paul commands in 1 Cor 11: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor 11.27-32).

Let us approach the sacrifice of Christ, our Passover Lamb, with the reverence that He deserves. Indeed, His blood saves us from destruction. Do we discern the body of Christ as we partake of it? Have we swept our own houses clean of leaven? Or have we left the leaven in the floorboards?