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  • Adam Schell

Better Not Bitter



Lent: More Like Jesus

Last Sunday was the first Sunday in the season of Lent. And Lent is a season where we reflect on who we are and who God wants us to be. And in Romans 8:29, we’re reminded that ultimately God wants us “to be like his Son” Jesus. But, when we look at our lives, we realize there are areas where we aren’t like Jesus. So Lent is a time when we commit to be more like Jesus.

Lent is a time when we commit to be more like Jesus.

And as we started to think about what we need to do to become more like Jesus last Sunday, we took a closer look at the story of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. But last week, we focused on what happened before dinner was served. This week, as we continue to think about what we need to do to become more like Jesus, I want to talk about the meal Jesus and his disciples ate. So what did Jesus and his disciples eat for his last supper and why did they eat it?


Well, the first thing we have to remember here is that Jesus and his disciples weren’t just getting together to have any old dinner that night. But the disciples had absolutely no idea when they sat down for this meal that Jesus would be arrested and executed just a few hours later.


So, if Jesus and his disciples weren’t just having dinner and if the disciples had no idea that this was the last meal that they were going to share with Jesus, then what were Jesus and his disciples doing that night? They got together that night to commemorate an event that happened over a thousand years earlier.


Now, I want you to think about something for a minute: how many things do we still celebrate today that happened over a thousand years ago? Chances are that you can’t think of very many things that we still celebrate today that happened over a thousand years ago.


Personally, I can only think of two things – Christmas and Easter. And at Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the day that God became one of us. And I think we can all agree that’s a pretty big deal. And at Easter, we celebrate the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, the day that God defeated sin and death once and for all. And I think we can all agree that’s a pretty big deal.


So Christmas and Easter are both pretty big deals…and if they weren’t such big deals then we wouldn’t still celebrate them thousands of years after they happened. We wouldn’t celebrate anything for more than a thousand years if it wasn’t important. So this means that the event that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating on the night of the Last Supper must have been a big deal too.


But what made this particular event such a big deal? Well, on that night more than a thousand years before Jesus and his disciples sat down to share the Last Supper, God freed his people – the people of Israel – from 400 years of slavery. And on that night, God’s people – the people of Israel – started their journey back to the land God had promised them and their ancestors centuries before.


And that’s a big deal. And it’s a big deal because, on that night, there was no doubt that God was reaching out to his people. And on that night, God definitively showed us that God always keeps his promises. And that’s a big deal.


So there’s no wonder why Jesus and his disciples got together that night. They were remembering and celebrating the day that God reached out into the lives of their people – the people of Israel – ending their suffering and keeping God’s promise to them.


But just because this was a big deal, it doesn’t mean it was easy to get there. Remember what I just told you, the people of Israel had been enslaved for 400 years. For 400 years their slave masters – the Egyptians – had used them and abused them, and they weren’t going to give up their slaves easily. The truth is that the Egyptians weren’t going to let the people of Israel go until the Egyptians had suffered almost as much as their slaves had.


So before the people of Israel are let go, ten plagues fall on Egypt. The Nile River – which was the primary source of water for most of Egypt – was turned into blood, leaving the Egyptians without much clean water to drink. The land was then infested with frogs, and gnats, and flies. Livestock began to die. Boils started popping up all over people’s bodies. Hail fell from the sky and killed anyone and anything that didn’t seek cover. Locusts swarmed and destroyed all of Egypt’s crops.


And at this point, after all of that suffering, you’d think the people of Egypt would be ready to let their slaves go free. I mean, if I were one of the Egyptians, at this point in the story I would’ve been in there helping the people of Israel pack their bags and load up their cars so they could get out of town before anything worse happened.


But all of this still wasn’t enough for the Egyptians to let the people of Israel go free. So there was one last plague, a plague that forced the people of Egypt to feel the same pain God had felt for 400 years as he watched his people suffer and die as slaves.


During this plague, every firstborn son in all of Egypt – from the people to the animals – would die. That is every firstborn son would die unless the people did something to ensure that God would pass over their homes.


And that’s where the name of the event that Jesus and his disciples were commemorating more than a thousand years later came from. That event is called Passover – the day that God passed over the homes of the people of Israel, and the day that the people of Israel were finally freed from their slavery.


So what did the people have to do to make sure that their homes were passed over? Let me show you. If you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone, go ahead and open it to Exodus 12. Exodus 12. And, while you’re finding it, I want to point out that the book of Exodus records this entire story. It tells us how the people of Israel exit – which is what the word exodus actually means, it means exit – their slavery and start heading back to the land God had promised them and their ancestors.


So in Exodus 12, we’re going to see what the people had to do to have their homes passed over so that they could be part of this exodus. So let’s take a look at Exodus 12 together. We’ll start reading in verse 6, which tells us:


6 Take care of the animals until the fourteenth day of the month. On that day all the people of the community of Israel will kill them in the evening before dark. 7 The people must take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 On this night they must roast the lamb over a fire. They must eat it with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the lamb raw or boiled in water. Roast the whole lamb over a fire—with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You must not leave any of it until morning, but if any of it is left over until morning, you must burn it with fire.


Exodus 12:6-10 (New Century Version)


So, in order for their homes to be passed over, the people of Israel had to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on their door frames. Then they had to roast that lamb and eat every last bite of it, along with bitter herbs and bread that was made without yeast.


So, guess what was on the menu when Jesus and his disciples got together to share the Passover meal? Along with a few other elements that had been added in over the centuries; they ate roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread.


Now, let’s take a little time and talk a little more about these three items. And we’ll start with the easiest one to understand: the roasted lamb. Why did Jesus and his disciples eat roasted lamb? They ate lamb because that’s what the people of Israel sacrificed to God so that their homes would be passed over. So when Jesus and his disciples ate the lamb, they remembered how God had saved their people from the final plague. So the lamb was a symbol of God’s faithfulness to his people.


And what about the unleavened bread, or the bread that was made without any yeast? Why did Jesus and his disciples eat that? Well, on the actual night of Passover – the night that the final plague struck Egypt – God knew that the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh, would finally agree to let the people of Israel go. And God wanted the people of Israel to be ready at a moment's notice to pick up and leave. God even tells the people of Israel to eat the Passover meal fully dressed, with their sandals on their feet and with a walking stick in their hands so that they can move quickly.


But what does any of that have to do with bread? Well, leavened bread, or bread with yeast in it, needs time to rise. And how much time does it need to rise? Somewhere around 45 minutes. So by telling the people of Israel to eat unleavened bread, God was telling them that they may not even have 45 minutes' notice before they were freed from slavery. They may not even have 45 minutes to get their bags packed. They may not even have 45 minutes to get ready to leave behind the only homes they had ever known.


So the unleavened bread became a sign of Israel’s faithfulness to God. They trusted that God could change their lives in an instant.


And that brings us to the last item on the menu for Jesus and his disciples…the bitter herbs. So why did Jesus and his disciples eat these bitter herbs?


To answer that question, we need to dig a little deeper. And the first thing we need to do is understand the way that our tongues detect different tastes. And there are essentially five tastes that our tongues can detect. Our tongues can detect when something is sweet, like when you’re eating a chocolate ice cream cone on a warm summer day. And our tongues can detect saltiness, like when you’re snacking on a soft pretzel at a baseball game. And our tongues can detect when something is sour, like when you suck on a lemon. And our tongues can detect when something is earthy, like when you eat a mushroom. And finally, our tongues can detect when something is bitter, like when you drink a cup of black coffee.


But out of all the flavors our tongues can detect, we are the most sensitive to bitter tastes. We have about two dozen genes that help us taste bitterness, which is far more than we have to help us detect any other basic taste. So why are our bodies genetically wired to be so sensitive to things that are bitter?


It’s because in nature bitter taste is usually a warning sign to stay away from a plant that may be poisonous or meat that may be rotting. So our ability to taste bitterness, at least scientifically speaking, can be a matter of life or death.


So because of this, bitter flavors stick out to us. Bitter flavors hang with us. Bitter flavors cause certain visceral reactions, where our bodies try to keep us from ingesting them. And if you don’t believe me, just watch a kid drink coffee for the first time. The first time we drink coffee we have this visceral reaction where we want to scrunch up our faces and spit the coffee back out because our bodies believe that coffee might kill us.


So why did Jesus and his disciples intentionally eat these bitter herbs? They ate these bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of slavery their ancestors suffered through for centuries. But that’s not all that the bitter herbs reminded Jesus and his disciples about. When Jesus and his disciples ate the bitter herbs they were also reminded that even though that bitter taste may linger in their mouths for a few moments, the bitterness didn’t last forever. The bitterness came to an end, just like the enslavement of their people.


So, yes, as they ate those bitter herbs they were reminded that their ancestors had been enslaved. But they were also reminded that they couldn’t hold on to that bitterness. They had to let it go.


But what does all of this talk about bitterness have to do with us? And what does bitterness have to do with becoming more like Jesus?


Well, whether we want to admit it or not, one of the biggest things that keeps us from living like Jesus is our own bitterness. We’ve all experienced things in life that have caused us to hold grudges and to become more cynical. We’ve all experienced things in life that have caused us to resent other people and to struggle to trust them. We’ve all experienced things that have made us bitter.

We’ve all experienced things that have made us bitter.

And if there was ever a person who had every right and every reason to become bitter, it was Jesus. Right after Jesus was born, his parents were forced to flee from where they were living because the ruler of that region was afraid that Jesus was going to take his throne. When Jesus got older, he was rejected by everyone in his own hometown because they didn’t like what he was teaching. Everywhere Jesus went people doubted him and questioned him. There were times when people got so upset with Jesus that they tried to stone him. Ultimately, Jesus would even be betrayed or denied by his closest friends and followers.


So if there was ever a person who had every right and reason to be bitter, it was Jesus. But despite everything he went through, Jesus never became bitter. And God doesn’t want us to be bitter either. In Ephesians 4:31, we’re told:


31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil.


And then, in the very next verse, God tells us how we should live. In verse 32, we’re told:


32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.


Ephesians 4:31-32 (Common English Bible)


So, if we want to be more like Jesus, we have to let go of our bitterness.

If we want to be more like Jesus, we have to let go of our bitterness.

We can’t hold grudges. We can’t always be cynical. We can’t resent everyone around us. We can’t believe that everyone will let us down.


If we want to be more like Jesus, we need to be more kind, more compassionate, and more forgiving. If we want to be more like Jesus we have to be better people…not bitter people.



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