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March 25, 2018
Ultimate Spring Cleaning
It’s Spring, so we must be cleaning! That has long been a tradition in our culture—when the weather begins to warm, out come the brooms, mops, and dust rags. Granted, today spring cleaning isn’t what it once was. Now, there are self-wetting mops, vacuum cleaners—even “magic erasers” for that stubborn dirt. In 19th century America, most people cleaned in March for very practical reasons: it was warm enough to raise the windows and cold enough that there were no insects, brisk March winds would carry dust out of the house, the coal furnace or fireplace wasn’t in operation and you could clean all the soot from inside the house without fear of dirtying it up again, and finally, the wind would also blow away any fumes.
Actually, cultures from around the world have similar traditions of cleaning as Spring begins. It may surprise many to note that this “Spring” cleaning is first spoken of—actually commanded—by God. It came about when the Israelites, under God’s hand, were preparing to leave Egyptian bondage. Most people are somewhat familiar with the Passover and the accompanying Feast of Unleavened Bread, but how many consider the “cleaning” commands which preceded the festivals? These commands were so important, that their neglect would result in a useless feast—not only would the feast be useless, but it would cause the offender to be cut off from Israel. “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15). “Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders” (Exodus 13:7).
Jewish people today still understand the command’s importance. Quoting a modern Jew in Israel: “All over Israel every man, woman and child will soon be busy cleaning their closets, shelves, drawers and vehicles in order to be ready for this most important celebration. In obedience to the … commandment that God gave … to remove leaven from their houses, every nook and cranny must be emptied, sorted and wiped in order to make sure that each dwelling place is free of chametz before Passover begins. Rabbinical Judaism has taken this single commandment and transformed it into a system that would weary the hardiest of women. All dishes, cutlery, pots and pans, even dishrags used during the feast must be “Kosher for Passover.” Many women completely clean their kitchen to such a degree that it sparkles like it did when it was new.”
All this over a little leaven?
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Galatians 5:9). Jesus and the apostles certainly grasped the import of leaven—not only of leaven in the physical sense, but leaven in the spiritual sense, too. Often, leaven symbolizes sin. It is a powerful metaphor for learning about God and living a life of holiness.
In our society, we are most familiar with yeast. Yeast is a fungus that causes dough to rise by burning the carbohydrates and giving off carbon dioxide. It takes almost no yeast to start the process. By the way, leaven is in the air! Wet some grain or flour, leave it exposed, and yeast will attach itself and fermentation will begin. Just like leaven eats away at the carbs in the dough, sin eats away at us and contaminates our lives with God.
Many times, God is very specific about “leavening” sins.
Leaven and arrogance
“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1Corinthians 5:6). The Corinthians were proud and boastful of impurity in their midst. They had “become arrogant and have not mourned” (1Corinthians 5:2). They thought they were just fine—they were Christians, after all. Arrogance can have deadly consequences. Remember the Titanic? It sank just over a hundred years ago on April 14, 1912. The Titanic and her sister ships, the Olympic and the Britannic, were the biggest ships ever made. They were supposed to be the world’s safest ships. The experts, in their arrogance, believed the Titanic to be unsinkable. What happened? It sank straight away after hitting an iceberg. So many lives were lost.
Leaven and wickedness
Leaven is systemic—like an infection. Just like an infection, leaven—sin—must be dealt with accordingly. Paul makes use of the imagery of Passover and the cleansing of the leaven to exhort the Christians in Corinth to get rid of the malice and wickedness among them so as to truly honor the feast. This is tied directly to their arrogance at having sin in their midst. “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1Corinthians 5:7-8).
Leaven and false teaching
Speaking with His disciples, Jesus admonished, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). They, at first, were confused. They thought that they were being rebuked for forgetting to bring bread to eat. Jesus reminded them that they had seen Him twice feed multitudes—it has nothing to do with bread. He again spoke: “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11). They finally realized what He meant—“light bulb” moment—He was not referring to bread, but to teachings that weren’t from God. “Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12). This teaching warned against was from men. “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN’” (Matthew 15:7-9).
Leaven and hypocrisy
You notice from Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah, that false teaching wasn’t the only leaven the Pharisees and Sadducees had in their lives—they had the leaven of hypocrisy. Luke records, “When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say. Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy’” (Luke 11:53-12:1). Leaven of hypocrisy is so dangerous because at first you don’t see it. The scribes and Pharisees were supposedly righteous folks. However: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites …” (Matthew 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29).
Looking for leaven
To prepare for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, modern Jews have a custom called, “search for leaven.” The father will hold a candle and guide his family around the house. Even the young ones search for any remnant of chametz by the light of the candle. They search every nook and cranny for any crumbs of bread—the mother will hide some for them to find—this continues until every crumb of leaven is removed. They are placed into a bag then burned the next morning. A special prayer is recited in case any leaven has been missed.
Are we this careful with our Spring cleaning? Do we get down on our hands and knees with the light of God’s word and search every nook and cranny of our lives for leaven? Do we move the stove or refrigerator to see what neglected contaminants may be found and removed? Cleaning is a command of God. A lot of cleaning needs to be going on individually and collectively so that there can be an acceptable feast. Don’t be cut off from God’s people because you don’t clean!
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.