Bitter herbs

September 1, 2019

New Covenant 2019

Bitter Herbs

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This morning I have a mini-mystery to share with you. This is not a major mystery like…

--What is the purpose of my life?

--How is God three and one?

--How can God know the future and not know the future at the same time?

--How come I can’t hit a golf ball the same way twice in a row?

The mystery this morning is just a mini-mystery. The mini-mystery is… 

What happened to the bitter herbs?

I’m sure you have wondered this before. But, perhaps, some context will help understand our mini-mystery.


As God was delivering the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, He instituted a holiday to remember their deliverance. The holiday is called the Passover Feast. Listen to the LORD’s instructions about how the children of Israel were to celebrate the Passover. 

Exodus 12:1-8 The LORD said to Moses… "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household… Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.

For the last 3,500 years the Jews have celebrated the Passover Feast. They have used these three major elements; a Lamb with its blood; unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Each of these three major elements became powerful symbols down through the years.

--The blood of these Lambs remembered the blood on the door facings. They remembered their deliverance from the 10th plague. They remembered their salvation.

--The unleavened bread was symbolic of the need to obey God quickly. They were ready to leave. No time to knead the bread; no time for bread to rise; just throw it in the oven and cook it in haste… Be ready for the LORD. 

--And, and, they were to do the Passover feast with bitter herbs. Bitter herbs reminded them that they were once slaves. The herbs were to remember their suffering. The herbs were to remember their slavery. They were to remember the absence of God in their oppression.

From the night of the 10th plague down through history the Jews have been faithful to God in their observation of the Passover… blood = deliverance; bread = haste; herbs = absence in slavery.

Now, our mini-mystery is… What happened to the bitter herbs? Let’s keep investigating. 


On the night Jesus was betrayed Jesus observed the Passover feast like all good Jews of his day. 

Luke 22:7-13 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So, Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it." They said to him, "Where will you have us prepare it?" He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there." And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

--The disciples would have purchased a lamb from a vendor. They would have taken it to the Temple to be slaughtered. They would have prepared the lamb to be eaten. 

--They would have gone to the market to buy the wine from a wine merchant. Probably the best wine they could afford. 

--They would have bought some grain. Made up the dough; baked the bread without any yeast; in haste.

--While the lamb and the bread were cooking, they would have bought some bitter herbs to place on the Passover plates.

--They would have cleaned the upper room and made everything ready for the feast that night!

It was big deal. It would be like grandma cooking Thanksgiving dinner. It was like grandpa buying the 4th of July fireworks. It was like Mom and Dad buying Christmas presents. Well, sort of. When everything was ready Jesus gathered the 12 in the upper room. 

Luke 22:14-16 And when the hour came, Jesus reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired (with longing longing) to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."

Jesus wanted to share this precious holiday with the 12 one more time before his death. It was a poignant moment. It was a precious meal.  It was an evening they would remember. 

At the highlight of the evening, when they were reliving their escape from the 10thplague, when they were thinking about hasty deliverance from Egypt; when they were remembering the bitterness of slavery, Jesus changed the script. Jesus forgot the bitter herbs.

Luke 22:19-20 And Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." (no longer haste, but my body) And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Not remembering an old covenant; cutting a new one.)

“Wait a second, what happened to the bitter herbs?” On the plate in front of Jesus was the unleavened bread. In a cup in front of Jesus was the wine; the blood of the lamb. But, there on the plate, also, had to be, the bitter herbs… Jesus forgot the bitter herbs? He used the bread. He used the wine. He forgot the herbs. 

Thus, our mini-mystery… What happened to the bitter herbs? Let’s keep investigating.


Our actual mini-mystery is why did Jesus not use the symbol of the bitter herbs? Why didn’t he transform it into something else?

--The unleavened bread was for remembrance of the escape from Egypt, now becomes the symbol of the body of Christ; his death that creates a new body.

--The wine which used to be the symbol for the blood on the door facings which was a covering; a protection, now becomes the symbol of the blood which cuts a new covenant! Jesus blood cuts the new covenant… that’s the main thing! The wine remembers the sacrifice.

--But, the bitter herbs, which was symbol of their suffering in slavery; the absence of God in their pain… is not used by Jesus. 

I think I know why. “Seriously?” I think I can solve our mini-mystery.

In the beginning; in the Garden of Eden, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. After their sin, God no longer walked with them like he did before. There grew a distance between God and humans. The story of the Old Testament is a story of a God who wanted to have a people to love. But it is a story of people not loving God in return. 

The Old Testament is a sad story. The Old Testament is a bitter herbs’ story. 

--The world devolves from the Garden till the days of Noah when it gets rebooted. Certainly, very bitter herbs. God regrets that he even made us.

--There is a great man Abraham, who talks with God, who is faithful to his God. But there is still an overshadowing bitterness. There is a longing, a promise that one day there would be a time when God would be with a loving people.

--Moses is called by God. He leads the people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Moses builds a Tabernacle so God could be with his people; sort of. Not walking in the cool of the evening, but at least in the Holy of Holies; above the Ark of Covenant; the Shekinah of God’s presence was with the people; sort of. 

--In the days of Solomon, the Temple houses the presence of God; sort of. 

--Through the time of the Judges and the kings there was lots of bitter herbs as God’s people repeatedly moved away from God.

--They are exiled to Babylon. More bitter herbs; a long way from God!

--After the Exile the temple is rebuilt. But no presence of God is in the temple.

It is a story of bitter herbs. 

It is bitter herbs all the way down to the days of Jesus. But in that moment, in that precious moment, in the upper room, Jesus forgets the bitter herbs because… in the New Covenant, the covenant cut with his blood, God will dwell with his people again! No more bitter, herbs. 

Mini-mystery solved. Jesus leaves the bitter herbs on the plate because the dwelling of God is once again with his people in the New Covenant!


Jeremiah 31:31-33 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people… declares the LORD.” 

There are no bitter herbs in the New Covenant because the God dwells in his people.

Joel 2:28-32 "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

The next day, after the upper room, after the forgotten herbs, Jesus dies to cut the New Covenant. Three days later he rises from the grave to vindicate his words! 50 days later on the next Jewish holiday; the Pentecost, Peter quotes Joel…

Acts 2:14-17 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.’”

There are no bitter herbs in the New Covenant because God pours out his Spirit on all flesh. 

Hebrews 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.

There are no bitter herbs in the New Covenant because we can draw near to God!

Bam, mini-mystery solved! 

Tim Stidham

September 1, 2019

Los Alamos Church of Christ