Let Us Celebrate the Festival | 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

This Good Friday sermon was preached in 2022.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV

Preaching through Exodus I have been struck by the fact that the Israelites never really asked to leave Egypt. They certainly groaned under the bitter yoke of their slavery and cried out to God for deliverance. Yet after 430 years of life beside the Nile, the people of Israel loved Egypt.

Do you think I’m exaggerating?

When they encountered troubles in the wilderness, did they not repeatedly long to return to Egypt? “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Or why did Joshua, after they had already conquered much of Canaan, still call the Israelites to put away the gods Egypt that their fathers served? One commentator said it best: “God wanted to do something more than get his people out of Egypt; he wanted to get Egypt out of his people.”

Seen from this light, the drama of the plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart make much more sense. God was breaking the Israelites of their Stockholm Syndrome. He cast judgment upon Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt in order to show His people the futility of Egypt. He ruined prosperous Egypt yet exalted the Israelite slaves, making a distinction between the two nations.

Yet in the tenth plague, the LORD revealed the cost of that distinction. He pledged to come down to Egypt and strike all the firstborn, and that ‘all’ would include the Israelites as well, unless they followed the commands that God gave them.

Why did God seemingly all of sudden lump the Israelites together with the Egyptians? Why did He place His own people under the same threat of death at His own hand? I believe it was to show that the distinction between the two nations was not based upon Israel’s superior morality. When Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), he was not speaking in metaphor. The actual consequence of sin is death, and the Israelites were no less sinners than the Egyptians. Therefore, as God came down to give idolaters their just reward, the God of perfect justice and righteousness could not simply overlook the sins of His people. Thus, a substitute was provided. A lamb without blemish was slain, and its blood was splattered across the doorways of the Israelites’ homes, as a sign that death had already come to that house. God’s justice was, therefore, maintained (He did not simply overlook His peoples’ sins as if they were held to a different standard), yet His mercy was also shown (they were spared the death that they rightly deserved).

Yet as the Israelites huddled in their homes, sheltered from God’s wrath by the blood of the lamb, the LORD gave them another sign. They were not only to eat the lamb but also to eat unleavened bread (and would continue doing so for a whole week). This sign also represented the separation of Israel from Egypt. Without instant yeast to leaven breads, the ancients would leaven their bread by pinching off a piece of dough and letting the fermentation process begin for the next day’s bread. In this way, each day’s loaf of bread was connected to the day before, and that unbroken line of leavening could easily extend generations as a mother pinches off a piece of dough as a gift to her newly married daughter. Unleavened bread, therefore, was a severing of that continuity. Thus, it was a sign of Israel’s break from Egypt, and a continual testament that, again, God was not only taking His people out of Egypt but was also taking Egypt out of His people.

All of these Old Testament images are crucial for understanding our primary text, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul begins these verses by saying, “Your boasting is not good.” What boasting? As the opening of the chapter tells us, the Corinthian church had a man that was sleeping with his stepmother, which Paul notes that even the pagans would have condemned. The Corinthian Christians, however, saw this man’s sin as an opportunity to rejoice in the grace and freedom of Christ. Indeed, their understanding of the gospel had shifted from the reality that Christ is victorious over our sin to Christ being victorious in or through our sin. They were essentially answering Paul’s rhetorical question from Romans 6:1 (“Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”) by saying, “Absolutely!”

Yet Paul goes on to ask them, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” As any baker knows, the leavening agent (whether yeast or baking powder) is a relatively small ingredient in proportion to the rest of any given recipe, yet once it is worked into the dough, it is inseparable and the whole dough begins to rise. So, it is with public, unrepentant sin within the church. If left uncheck and unrebuked, it has a way of corrupting the whole body of believers.

Therefore, Paul commands, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump…” Some other translations say to purge out the old leaven. I believe that is a better word for what must be done. If a person accidentally takes two incompatible drugs or drinks a toxic chemical, what must he do? He must purge himself, forcibly expel the dangerous compounds. Likewise, if a person was found with leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, he was to be cut off from the congregation of Israel. If sin’s wage is death (and not simply physical death but also the second death, death everlasting), should we not take its ingestion just as seriously? If the apostle’s words sound drastic, it is likely because we fail to see the lethality of sin?

Notice, however, that Paul does not end there. He does not simply command all unrepentant sin to be cut off and then the church will be pure. No, instead he says, “as you really are unleavened.” Wait, what? Did he not just compare the sexual immorality that they have been celebrating to leaven? How then can he say that they really are unleavened?

He explains further, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Just as the Israelites’ firstborn were only spared from death because unblemished lambs were slaughtered in their place, so too are we only saved from God’s just and righteous wrath against our sin through the blood of Christ. Again, God cannot simply overlook our sins, for to do so would be unjust. As Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.”

No, God’s holy character requires every sin to be justly judged. And because all sin is fundamentally against the Eternal One, all sin carries with it an eternal consequence. For many, this will be the lake of fire, the place of eternal dying, “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). This portion was prefigured by the Egyptian firstborn. Yet God, in His abundant mercy, has made another way. As the Israelites were shielded from death behind the blood of the lamb, Christ Himself is our great Passover lamb, whose blood shields us from the wrath of God. He accomplished this by dying in our place, by taking the consequences of our sins upon Himself. And since He is the Eternal One made flesh, He was able to pay our debt of cosmic treason once for all. By His blood, the judgment of God against our sins has passed over us, and we are saved.

We, therefore, rightly call this message the gospel, the good news, for what could be better news than this! And is it not interesting that Paul presents the gospel to the Corinthians here, and that he does so by way of reminder? For the very many sins within the church of Corinth, Paul still speaks to them as Christians, as those who have been saved by the grace of God in Christ, and as we see here, he repeatedly reminds them of their once-for-all salvation as impetus for their continued war against sin. In other words, Paul does not say to the Corinthians, “Stop sinning in order to be saved.” Instead, he argues, “You have already been saved through the blood of Christ; therefore, purge out your sin just as the Israelites would have purged out any leaven dough from their midst.”

Indeed, is that not what he says in verse 8: “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”? Matthew Henry comments that this means “the whole life of a Christian must be a feast of unleavened bread. His common conversation and his religious performances must be holy.”[1]

This fits with how salvation is always presented in Scripture. You see, we tend to only think of our salvation in terms of negation, what we are saved from, namely, our sin and its consequences. Yet our salvation also has a positive component, that is, we are saved for a purpose. We see this in Moses’ repeated message to Pharaoh, which we often think of as simply, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let my people go.’” However, the full proclamation was, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me.’” God rescued them from Pharaoh and slavery, yes, but He also rescued them in order to serve Him.

And so it with us. We are not simply saved from God’s holy wrath; we are saved now to be holy as God is holy. We are not merely shielded from His just punishment of our sin; we are saved to be adopted as His children and to know Him and serve Him forever, which is itself eternal life (John 17:3). We are not solely saved from the fires of Hell; we are saved for the pleasures forevermore of dwelling in our Lord’s presence.

Again, the Israelites would have been all too content for God to deliver them from their slavery while continuing to dwell in Egypt, yet the LORD desired to give the Israelites life in His presence within their own land flowing with milk and honey. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, therefore, was a continual reminder of their separation from Egypt and of the better things that the LORD prepared for them.

The sorrowful reality is that we would likewise be content to be delivered from the consequences of sin while continuing to walk down its futile path. But God does not merely rescue us from sin’s punishment but also from its futility. He offers to us joy unspeakable in communion with Himself.  Therefore, as we look tonight upon the cross and see Christ, our Passover lamb, let us rejoice anew that by His blood the wrath of God has passed over us, and let us also rejoice that He has saved us to Himself, to walk in the joy and peace of His presence. In this way, we should be continually celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not with the weeklong rituals that the Israelites enacted but by repenting of our sins and clinging to the joys that we have in serving our Lord.

Thus, as we come to the Table, let us drink of the cup that testifies to us of our once-for-all redemption through the blood of Christ, and let us taste of the bread that signifies our new life as the body of Christ, a life of sincerity and truth as the sons and daughters of the Holy One.

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentaries, Vol. VI, 530.


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