A New Beginning
Easter Sunday| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| March 27, 2005| 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
The most significant event in the history of ancient Israel was the Exodus from Egypt. The most significant event in the history of the Church is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Through the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea God set Israel free from the tyrannical slavery she suffered under Pharaoh. By the resurrection of Christ from the dead on Easter Sunday God sets us free from slavery to sin and the fear of death. Before the Exodus, the blood of lambs was shed. Before Christ’s resurrection, He shed His blood as the Lamb of God. Before the Exodus, the blood of the lambs was painted on the top of the doors and on the doorposts. This caused the angel of death to pass over those homes. This is why it was called the Passover. Where the angel of death saw no blood, he claimed the firstborn son of that home. Jesus is the true Passover Lamb. He shed His blood on the cross. Where faith lays hold of the blood of Jesus death passes over because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Just as the blood of the lamb on the lentils and posts of the doors protected Israel from God’s judgment against sin, so the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, washes away all our sin. There is no judgment against those who are in Christ Jesus.
In the Epistle Lesson for Easter Sunday St. Paul joins the Exodus and the Resurrection and shows us Christians the true meaning of the ancient festival of the Passover. In so doing he teaches us the true nature of the freedom we enjoy as Christians. In His wonderful Easter hymn, Martin Luther beautifully applies to us Christians the true meaning of the Passover:
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us.
He died on the accursed tree –
So strong His love – to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it, death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us.
The Old Testament festival of the Passover lasted for seven days. On the first day, the Israelites were commanded to rid their homes of all yeast or leaven. Nowadays we buy yeast in the store. It’s the ingredient that causes the dough to rise. In the olden days people would make their own yeast simply by taking some fresh dough out of a batch and setting it aside to ferment. The fermented dough has within it the yeast or leaven that can be mixed with future batches of dough to cause it to rise properly. In this way one batch of dough is organically connected to the succeeding batches of dough. The bread you eat is always a part of the bread you ate. You are what you eat, they say. But you are being set free. You are beginning a new life. You must break with the past. You must not bring your past slavery into your newfound freedom. Get rid of the yeast. Don’t take into your bodies anything that will bind you to Egypt.
Don’t take into your bodies or souls anything that will enslave you. Jesus has suffered and died to take away all your sins. Do not permit anyone to rob you of the freedom for which Christ has died. He is our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for us. There is no leaven from the past. There is only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Easter is an historical event. It happened. Jesus died. The spear brought water and blood out of His side. His dead body was put into the tomb. He rose bodily from the dead. The Exodus was a miraculous historical event. Christ’s resurrection was a miraculous historical event. Witnesses testified to it, wrote about it, and preserved for posterity accurate accounts of this central even of human history.
But Easter is more than history. It is our life. We worship on Sundays for a reason. No, God didn’t command His Church to replace a Saturday Sabbath with a Sunday Sabbath. We don’t set aside Sunday as our day of worship because of a legal command. We do so in order to make a gospel confession. We believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s declaration to the entire world of sinners that all of their sins are washed away and forgiven. We believe that Christ’s resurrection is the world’s absolution. There was no sin for which Jesus did not suffer on the cross. He rose from the dead after He blotted out the sin for which He died. Had Jesus failed to take away the world’s sin He would have remained dead. But He was raised again because of our justification. His resurrection is God’s emancipation proclamation to all the spiritual slaves in this world. We lay bound in chains to our own evil desires. We were slaves to the judgment of the law that revealed to us our own guilt. We were children of the devil who tormented us by alternately leading us into sin and then accusing us of that very sin. Then Jesus became our Passover Lamb. He died and rose. God then proclaimed to all sinners everywhere this gospel truth: You are free! See your freedom purchased on the cross where Jesus shed His blood. See Jesus face your death and destroy it. See the angel of death sheath his sword at the sight of Christ’s innocence bearing your sin. And look at the open tomb and see Jesus walk out of the grave. There is your freedom! There is your life! There is your future!
But there is something that would rob you of your future and bind you to your past. It is the leaven that is pure poison to your soul. Purge out the old leaven. It binds you to slavery. This poisonous leaven takes on two forms that appear to be opposites but are in fact twins. The one form of the old leaven is the idea that since we are forgiven of our sins we can live in sin without repentance and can celebrate doing whatever our sinful flesh wants to do. This was the problem the Apostle was addressing in Corinth. Members of the church were arrogantly flaunting God’s standards of right and wrong. One man went so far as to carry on an affair with his father’s wife. It was public knowledge and the congregation did nothing about it.
People have always turned God’s grace into license to sin. After Moses went up to Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God he came down to find the Israelites engaged in open revelry and immorality. God had set them free and what did they do? They returned to the very slavery from which God had freed them. There is no freedom in being controlled by the desires of our own flesh. It is in fact the worst kind of slavery.
The poisonous leaven that would bind us to our past sins also takes on the form of legalism. Legalism and license appear to be perfect opposites, but they are in fact twins. Legalists think they know how to deal with people who turn the gospel into license to sin. Their solution is to protect the gospel with the law. They teach that God’s forgiveness is not freely given to sinners and received through faith alone without any obligation on their part to do anything. Instead, they insist, you must conform to certain legal standards in order to receive God’s forgiveness. Legalists think that they are being responsible Christians because, after all, we can’t let people abuse God’s grace. We must oppose cheap grace, they say. They speak of Christian discipleship more in terms of conforming to religious regulations and less in terms of receiving the freely given forgiveness of sins that Christ’s death and resurrection provide. In the process, grace is obscured or even lost altogether. Christians learn to base their faith on how they are living instead of on the gospel of Christ. Their own personal commitment to God overshadows the central truth of our Christian faith, that Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. While Christ has given them new and free lives to live they continue to live in fear of the judgment of the law.
In response both to the leaven of license in Corinth and the leaven of legalism in Galatia the Apostle wrote: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9) Purge out the old leaven. Purge out the leaven of malice and wickedness. The gospel has freed us from lives lived in service to our own sinful flesh. Purge out the leaven of legalism. Christ has brought us freedom from judgment and we will not let anyone take this freedom away from us. Christ has risen from the dead. We are not afraid of our sins, or death, or an unknown future. We are not afraid of the threats of the law or an evil conscience.
The angels said to the women: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen!” We have found this crucified and risen Jesus and we have died and risen with Him. We are joined to His death and resurrection in our baptism and we have new lives to live. We will purge from our faith any leaven that would bind us to past sins that are washed away. We won’t permit anyone to place us back under the condemnation of the law. Jesus has born that condemnation. He has turned aside that judgment. He faced the angel of death and He met death’s demands with His own blood. By enduring death He destroyed its power. The angel of death sees Christ’s blood and passes over those who, through faith in Christ, are covered by it.
We celebrate Easter by keeping the festival of unleavened bread. We no longer observe the ancient Passover. It has long disappeared from the church. But we keep the festival by purging the leaven and leaving it behind. It remains in Egypt while we cross into the Promised Land. This is a land where there is no judgment to stand against us because our Lord Jesus bore that judgment and removed it from us. This is a land of freedom in which we may live our lives fully absolved of all guilt. The law does not define our relationship to God, as if we must look to see how good we are in order to know how much God loves us. No, our lives begin anew every day, as we lay claim to the new life, the innocent life, the eternally blessed life that is ours in our crucified and risen Savior.
And when malice comes into our hearts and we fall into sin we will not let it claim us. We belong to Him who destroyed our sin in His own body. He is our future. Our past sins can neither condemn us nor can they claim us. We are truly unleavened. For the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. He is risen! We shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever, even as Jesus is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.