A story has been told about a Russian czar who was strolling around the palace grounds and saw a guard standing in a neglected, barren patch of dirt. He approached the guard and asked him why he was standing alone in this spot. The guard said he had orders to do so.
The czar called the captain of the guard, and the captain said that there had always been orders to post a guard there. No one knew why. A search of the archives showed that at the time of Catherine the Great a prized rose bush grew in that part of the palace grounds. A guard had been posted to keep people from picking the roses.
The problem was that Catherine the Great—and the prized rose bush—had died many decades before. Year after year a guard was posted in a meaningless spot, and no one knew why. It had become tradition.
Traditions can be good, and traditions can be bad. Do you practice some religious traditions that may be diverting you from what God actually wants in your life?
Traditions can get in the way of authentic Christianity
Like the sentry in the story of the czar and the rose bush, could you be diligently standing guard over religious traditions that have no real spiritual meaning?
Traditions can be a very beneficial part of life. We have meaningful family traditions, community traditions and religious traditions. Traditions can create a sense of belonging and bring people together. They can remind us of what is really important amid the clutter of daily life.
Traditions can also trap us into a wrong way of thinking that simply accepts that “we don’t know why we do it this way; it’s just the way it’s always been done”—like the guard and the rose bush.
Some religious leaders came to Jesus and asked Him, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (Matthew 15:1-2).
This tradition of the Jewish elders had nothing to do with hygiene. It was a religious ceremony concerning ritual purification. It was a ritual designed to help people remember their need to be good and pure before God.
How do you think Jesus would answer such a question?
He said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3, emphasis added throughout).
Think about what Jesus said. He said that it’s possible for religious traditions—no matter how well meaning—to lead people to disobey God. This is why it’s important for all of us to examine our religious traditions to see if they are in accordance with what the Bible teaches!
Jesus was quite direct in condemning the approach of the religious leaders: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7-9).
What Jesus clearly teaches is that it’s possible for a religious tradition, even one that seems to honor God, to actually separate us from God.
What about Easter traditions?
Let’s go a little deeper and compare one traditional religious holiday with a biblical festival. The first is a tradition that most people observe without much thought—like the sentry standing guard in the story from Russia. The second is one observed by the earliest Christians as recorded in the pages of the Bible.
Have you ever wondered about the Easter tradition?
The reality of Jesus Christ’s death and His resurrection three days and nights later is central to Christianity. Without those events there is no Christianity.
Jesus shared the very sign that He was Messiah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
The Easter tradition is based in Christ’s prophetic sign that He would be in the grave three days and three nights. So He died on Good Friday and was resurrected on Sunday morning, right?
Here’s the truth: The Good Friday–Easter Sunday tradition doesn’t fit the very sign Jesus gave that He is the prophesied Messiah!
Try as you might, there’s simply no way to fit three days and three nights between a Good Friday burial and a Sunday morning resurrection. The most you can squeeze in is only one full day and maybe small parts of two others, plus only two nights. You can do the math yourself—the time frame just doesn’t work.
There is a clear biblical solution that fits Jesus’ words perfectly, but it in no way fits the Good Friday–Easter Sunday tradition. However, that’s another story we don’t have space to cover here (download or request our free study guide Jesus Christ: The Real Story to learn more).
The Gospels describe the death and resurrection of Jesus in detail. The rest of the New Testament records the story of His followers over the next 60 years or so. The apostle’s letters give us insight into churches that were raised up in Judea, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome.
In all of these accounts there are no examples of any Christian congregation observing the Easter tradition. Among those earliest Christians there was no tradition that tried to fit Jesus’ sign of three days and three nights in the tomb into an impossible Good Friday–Easter Sunday timetable.
The Christian observance of the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread
But we do know of a festival period observed by the earliest Christians that commemorated Jesus Christ’s death and being raised to lead their lives. It was a festival period—actually two festivals right next to one another—that provided a profound connection between much earlier commanded observances and the Messiah. And most importantly, these observances were biblical—not mere human tradition.
One of the places we find this festival period mentioned is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
We know that the Corinthians were primarily Greeks who had converted to Christianity. For example, Paul tells them to stop being involved in traditional pagan practices that Jewish Christians would not have observed.
Again, there is one spring-season festival period that Paul does tell this non-Jewish congregation to observe in 1 Corinthians 5:6—and it’s not Easter. To put Paul’s words in context, let’s begin with verse 6: “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (New International Version).
This statement may seem a little strange to us, but in a world where baking bread was a common activity it made perfect sense. A person would make dough and bake it into bread. Adding yeast, a leavening agent, to the dough would cause it to rise—become fluffy or puffed up. A small amount of yeast would work its way through the entire batch of dough until it was completely leavened.
Here Paul used yeast in bread as an analogy of how pride and boasting makes us puffed up or full of hot air.
Now let’s read what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7: “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (NIV). Paul expected his non-Jewish converts to know a lot about the Hebrew Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament. His statement about Jesus being the Passover Lamb would have had little meaning if they didn’t know about the events surrounding ancient Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.
Paul then explains, “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, NIV).
The Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread: holy for Christians today
Paul expected these gentile (non-Jewish) Christians to observe these festivals—not the Easter tradition.
In referring to yeast, unleavened bread and Jesus being sacrificed as the Passover Lamb, Paul is clearly talking about the biblical observances of Passover and the Festival or Feast of Unleavened Bread given to ancient Israel by God and observed by Jesus. These occasions Paul mentions here are the correct, Bible-based festivals that God wants Christians to keep!
Paul instructs the gentile Corinthians to participate in holy religious festivals based in biblical instruction, not human imagination and traditions. This doesn’t mean that the early Christians observed these festivals in the exact same manner as the Jews. As Paul’s words show, both Passover and the Christian Festival of Unleavened Bread were imbued with new spiritual understanding about Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Paul’s declaration of Jesus as God’s Passover Lamb sent to redeem people from death was unfathomable to many first-century Jews, as it is today. But for Christians, it should infuse the Passover with a spiritual depth and understanding of God that transcends even the wonderful and miraculous events of the Exodus.
Sincerity and truth
The Festival of Unleavened Bread involves the removal of yeast and foods containing leavening agents from the home and eating unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15-20; Leviticus 23:6). In 1 Corinthians we have insight into how this was symbolic of our spiritual life.
Paul knew that, physically, a small amount of leavening affected the entire lump of dough. He refers to the spiritual leavening of “malice and wickedness.” Malice involves underlying wrong attitudes, thoughts and emotions, while wickedness includes actions. Both constitute sin.
You will never be a true follower of Jesus Christ until you understand malice and wickedness, until you repent of the influence of spiritual leavening, and until you allow God to replace sin in your life with His “unleavened” ways of “sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8).
Paul’s use of the symbols of the Festival of Unleavened Bread to teach about God’s work in His followers is profound. And this is in the context of telling them, “Therefore let us keep the feast . . .” (1 Corinthians 5:8).
Sin separates you from God (Isaiah 59:2). It permeates every aspect of your life, just as leavening changes every particle of dough until it is puffed up with gas bubbles.
Let’s be honest: When you refuse to face the reality and consequences of sin, you effectively either believe God doesn’t care so much about your actions or you believe that He has no right to tell you what to do.
I know this can be difficult to hear, but to have God change your life, you must first understand the hidden work of spiritual leavening.
God wants to perform a miracle in your life. When you add yeast into dough, you can’t stop the process. You can’t deleaven leavened bread. Paul uses leavening as a symbol for sinful thoughts and behavior permeating our lives. God wants your life to be filled with sincerity and truth. God wants more than just a profession of belief and some human traditions. He wants to spiritually deleaven your life and give you new, unleavened life.
Replace the Easter tradition with biblical truth
Easter can feel like a wonderful tradition—a time of baskets filled with candy and colored eggs, a time for friends and family, a time to attend a special religious service. But understand this: It is a non-biblical tradition that actually comes from ancient paganism, from the worship of the fertility goddess Ishtar (Ashtoreth in the Bible). This is why Easter’s most popular symbols are eggs and rabbits—they’re ancient fertility symbols!
The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the other hand, are biblical observances ordained by God, observed by Jesus, taught to gentiles in the early Church and imbued with the Christian gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
This festival period is the biblical alternative to Easter—the right observance to choose. The Christian Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread are filled with rich and meaningful symbols of Christ’s death, resurrection and present work to spiritually deleaven—to spiritually cleanse and heal—those who turn to God. It’s more than human tradition. It is God’s revelation to humanity!