U.S. Army. The first day on the job, after six weeks of intense training on an anti-aircraft missile system. I had scored high on all the exams. Practiced like a madman on dummy rounds. Drove a tracked loader. Memorized system stats. Before I knew it, I was onboard an army bus headed to the top of a mountain, where live missiles sat perched on launchers. My assigned crew took me into a world of lights, switches, levers, knobs, and cables.
I didn’t know what to do.
Call it the paralysis that comes from inexperience. Fortunately, I knew better than to start punching buttons like some kind of chimp. My platoon Sergeant also had a good way to keep “the new guy” from accidentally starting World War Three. “Here,” he said, and gave me a broom. That was my first exciting day on the job, defending my country.
The most important component in tackling new territory usually has to do with remembering things. I had been trained, had seen demonstrations and practiced. Mostly I just had to remember. That was step one.
I needed to remember to move my head when the loader boom swung around, remember not to put gasoline in a diesel engine, and a bunch of other things which, if you didn’t remember, would earn you a place in the stupidity hall of fame.
If remembering stuff is important for the first day on the job, then it’s got to be ten times more important when it comes to following God. God had told Israel to remember. The old saying is apt: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
For Israel that would have meant being doomed to repeat the slavery of Egypt. Doomed to confinement in the homeland of foreign oppressors. Those people simply had to remember what God had done for them.
God isn’t interested in re-doing His salvation work. What He does the first time is so perfect He doesn’t need to add anything to it. God’s foundational, finished work move His people forward. The applications and implications of it keep reaching into the present. That’s what makes it so perfect. You can’t get into a situation that makes it irrelevant.
That’s why God said, “Remember this day” (Ex. 13:3). You can’t ever really hope to move forward with Him while forgetting your past with Him. The Israelites were in no danger of forgetting that God had demolished Egypt through ten plagues, and had saved their lives through the blood of a lamb. Probably the fact of the Passover was not in any real danger of being forgotten.
Still, reciting a fact or recalling a story was not going to be sufficient, so God gave His definition of what “remember” would mean:
- For seven days annually the people were to hold a feast that included “unleavened bread” (v.6).
- “No unleavened bread” (v.4).
- “Unleavened bread” was to be eaten and no leavened bread was to be seen with them or even in their vicinity (v. 7).
With this much repetition, it was clear that eating unleavened read was the way to remember “What the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt” (v.8). If the people stopped doing this, then that would functionally mean they forgot what He did for them, even if they recycled the story for their kids at bedtime every night for generations.
What is leaven, except a bacteria we put in flour to make bread taste better? Yet God obviously selected leaven here in the Old Testament as a symbol of something He can’t stand. So what was it meant to represent?
Before we answer that question, it’s probably better to find out what the larger idea of “feast” really means. The Apostle Paul provides us with an interpretive key by when he urged the Corinthian Christians to “keep the feast.” Paul used the phrase to represent the span of a Christian life (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
In the gospels, Jesus also often compares salvation to a great feast. He never characterizes it as draining—something so unrewarding that we would almost long for time apart from Him.
God portrays life with Him as a festal celebration. He has no concept of a “Christianity” that checks its watch and wishes for the drudgery of worship to be over. That’s not the Christian life as it was intended to be, but some sort of religion that youth get trapped in or men get roped into by insistent wives.
The bag of bricks version of Christian faith has nothing to do with the glory of the Son of God dying, rising, and living in us through the Holy Spirit.
I have to admit I also lose sight of “feast” in the thick of ministry, personal concerns, and the busyness of life. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and lay there for a few minutes, trying to gather the motivation to roll out of bed. During those moments, God seems to impress on my heart His own winsome anticipation for a day spent with me.
Are you ready?
Well, I suppose. Today is admin day. Planning, letters, emails, follow-up, and some boring stuff.
Ahhh. Follow up, emails, and boring stuff. It’s going to be good!
Tuesday rolls around.
Writing day. Early morning meeting, blog post, book projects for the church. Concentration. Making
myself sit still. Don’t fidget. Don’t eat so much.
Yes! Written ministry!
Message prep. I’m a little behind. Get caught up. Some things still not clear.
Thursday and Friday.
Meeting people. Problems.
Ahhh! Face to face ministry!
Rest. Nothing scheduled today. Just hanging out. Really not a big deal.
Big day. Busy. Seeing everybody. Visiting. Talking. Pressures. Gotta get the message straight and not mess it up.
Looking forward to it!
I’m in the middle of an otherwise ordinary schedule, but God goes into it looking forward to feasting and celebrating with me and the rest of the church. There aren’t any ordinary days. Nor are there any ordinary housewife days or salesmen days or accountant days.
God has deliberately engineered His salvation to work like a feast. The potential for joy is always there, even if suffering and sadness are there as well. Think of Paul in a dungeon with his feet in stocks, singing hymns of praise to God. This odd union of discomfort and joy don’t contradict each other, they actually fit together.
But Paul warns that there’s something that might ruin the celebration. He tells the Corinthian Christians to keep the feast not with the old leaven. Which brings us back to our initial question: What does leaven mean? Paul interprets it as malice and evil.
Malice, that is, unchecked hatred, will obviously ruin your experience of church. It’s like having a birthday party, and twenty people show up—seventeen of which you hate. The party can’t be over fast enough.
Leaven also stands for the corruption of personal evil. Try to live a double life and you’ll end up hating yourself just due to simple conflict of conscience. It’s like trying to convince everyone you’re Superman while you’re hooked up to a lie detector machine. Not fun.
Yes, thank God He has forgiven your sins through the cross of Jesus, but that is so they can be purged out of your life, not kept alive for fun. Bottom line—when leaven turns up, don’t pretend it isn’t there. Don’t hide it. Confess it to God. Keep the feast, as Paul says with sincerity and truth.
Too many times I’ve had to admit I let my sin ruin my feasting. It didn’t just insult the glory of God, but while in an unrepentant state, it also ruined my enjoyment of salvation.
I had to say, “Lord, today is supposed to be a celebration. Sorry, I’ve lived it as though it were a funeral. I’m not supposed to be this way—despondent, upset, anxious. I’m supposed to live like a free man who has the Holy Spirit living in Him.” We should want all that salvation guarantees and provides.
This is precisely how God likes to be remembered.
Get ready for a great day.