Monday, September 9, 2013

What's Floating Invisible in the Air Around Us?

My mother spent much of my high school years baking homemade bread.  Somewhere along the way, she got a Ziploc bag full of "starter," and after that, our house was an aromatic long as we remembered to feed the starter.

What looked like little more than a glob of flour and water loosely mixed together could rise into a pock-filled mound after being plied with sugar and water. Back then, I didn't understand how it worked.  I just appreciated the end result.  Who knew my world could be rocked just by learning about how that sourdough starter really worked.

Bacteria. fermentation. lactic-acid-producing yeast. When taken to the pages of Scripture, this knowledge reveals even more about our need for a Savior.

Earlier this year, this blog hosted a series on the Jewish Feasts in our quest to learn more about this Jesus we serve.  One celebration we looked at was the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread, which begins the day after Passover.

As part of their preparation for this celebration, the Jewish people obeyed the command in Deuteronomy 16:3-4, which required the entire community to clean their homes of any products containing leaven: "Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days." 

Such an action symbolized God's people separating themselves from sin, literally "removing" sin from their homes and, by extension, from their hearts.

In the New Testament, Paul furthers this metaphor wherein leaven/yeast is a symbol of sin.  He writes, "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 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" (1 Cor. 5:6-8).

In other words, a person's sin in one aspect of his life affects all of his life, makes his entire body unclean before the Lord, makes all his offerings and acts of service unclean before the Lord.  In fact, if sin is left unchecked, it contaminates others, leads others into sin.  Sin is contagious. 

Since the Jewish people understood this symbolic connection between sin and leaven, they wanted to be certain they had removed any and all leaven (and sin) from their lives as part of Passover.  That means any packaged foods in the house containing yeast, baking powder, baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate had to be removed.  Imagine going through all your cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer, and reading all the labels to determine if a leavening agent were in the pre-packaged food.  It's a bit like Spring Cleaning, and we all know how long that can take if done properly.

By the time you sat down for the Passover meal, you may have spent hours, even days, on this task, may have meticulously placed your hand on every food product in the house to ensure there was no leaven remaining within your walls.  In a metaphorical sense, you had "worked" hard to symbolically remove all sin from your life.

Yet, there was a problem with this process.  If it were this easy to work and remove sin from our lives, then why would there be a need for Passover?  Why the need for a sacrificial lamb to be slain for our sin?  Why the need for a Savior?

The truth is that even with all the work, the attention to detail in removing leaven from the home, there is no way we could remove all the leaven out of our houses just as there is no way we can work hard enough to remove all the sin from our lives.

No matter how hard I work to remove it, there will always be leaven in my home.


Although science wasn't advanced enough in Jesus' day to explain it, we now understand that there is wild yeast that floats in the air around us.  Mix a batch of flour and water, leave it exposed to the air for a week or so, and you'll experience firsthand the joys of wild yeast (and some yummy sourdough bread, too!).

This understanding of wild yeast in the very air we breathe further explains why the need for Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.  The image of the wild yeast still in our houses shows that even after all our good works, even after every attempt to rid our lives of sin, there is still sin in our lives.  We still need a Savior to make ourselves acceptable to God.

I don't think I'll ever eat a slice of sourdough without thinking of myself as still being sinful even when I think myself at my most righteous.

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