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The Night of Watching

Three thousand five hundred years ago, Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, an event known as the Exodus. 

Moses wrote this about that night, the night of the Exodus; he says, “That night was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring his people out of the land of Egypt; and so, every year, this same night is a night of watching for all the people of Israel.” 

God had been looking forward to that night for more than four hundred years. For more than four hundred years his people had been in slavery, and he had been waiting for the exact right moment to deliver them. For him it was like waiting for his wedding day, or the birth of a child! — a Night of Watching for the Exodus to begin. 

And it was a Night of Watching for God’s people also. Moses had given them very strict instructions: “kill a lamb, splash its blood on the door of your house, go inside and do not come out until I call you!“ Why not? Because during that night, God would pass through Egypt and kill every firstborn son in every house — but he would “pass over” every house with lamb’s blood on the door. Anyone caught outside one of those safe houses would experience God’s judgement. 

And during that Night of Watching, while the people watched for Moses’ signal, they ate a meal together: roasted lamb, bitter vegetables, and chapathi. They ate that meal standing up, their bags packed, dressed for travel: ready to go. 

Every year after that, on that same night, the Jewish people would eat that same meal together — roasted lamb, chapathi, and bitter vegetables — they would stay up late, “watching”, and they would remember how God “passed over” their houses, saving them from judgement and slavery. So they called this feast “the Passover”, or the “the Feast of Unleavened Bread” — the Feast of Chapathi. 

Tonight, in this passage, we are going to witness another “Night of Watching by the Lord”. Jesus has been looking forward to this night for uncounted thousands upon thousands of years. For thousands and thousands of years mankind has been in slavery to Satan, and God has been waiting for the exact right moment to send his Son to deliver his people. 

Now the time has finally arrived — a Night of Watching for the New Exodus, the Final Exodus, to begin. 

… 

[1] Now the Festival of Chapathi, called the Passover, was approaching, [2] and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were terrified. 

Why? Because every year during the Passover, religious Jewish pilgrims would come to Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire. And every year religious tensions would come almost to the breaking point. Religious Jews hated their Roman conquerers, and seeing Roman soldiers in their holy homeland during their holy week drove them crazy. Imagine if the US military was in Mecca during the Hajj! — that is the kind of tension we are talking about. 

And now, suddenly, here is this Jesus guy claiming to be the Messiah! The priests think Jesus is just waiting for the right moment to make his official announcement and start a revolution against Rome. 

No wonder they are terrified. Jerusalem is like a religious bomb waiting to explode. And Jesus is the cellphone. 

The priests have to stop him. 

[3] Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. [4] And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. [5] They were delighted and agreed to give him money. [6] He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. 

So we see that this will also be a Night of Watching for Satan. 

Satan also has been waiting for years for this moment. Way back at the beginning of Luke, Satan met Jesus in the desert and tried to negotiate with him. After Jesus refused, Luke says this: “The devil left Jesus until an opportune time.” For years now the ancient serpent has been watching while Jesus destroyed his demon army, watching while Jesus set his people free, waiting in secret for the exact right moment to strike. 

And here it is. 

But we should notice that none of this is a surprise to Jesus. Just last week Jesus warned his disciples, “You will be betrayed by family members, by your best friends!” 

Now Jesus is being betrayed by one of his best friends. His prophecies are already beginning to come true. 

… 

Then, finally, the day itself arrives — the day when the Passover lamb must be sacrificed. So Jesus sends Peter and John to arrange a room for them to eat their meal. He tells them in advance what they are going to find! — this man carrying water who will meet them and lead them to a house with a large upper room. 

And we should notice that this episode is much like the time Jesus arranged a donkey for himself, the day he entered Jerusalem. And the reason Luke records this episode is the same as that other time: Jesus knows what is coming. His betrayal is no accident. Satan’s moment is actually God’s moment. Everything here is happening exactly according to plan. 

… 

And then, finally, the hour arrives, and [14]…Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 

By this time the Passover had become highly ritualized. So the father of the family — Jesus, in this case — is supposed to begin by pouring a glass of wine for everyone. And then, while everyone drinks, he is supposed to retell the Exodus story. 

Instead: 

[15] He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 

“This is my Night of Watching, dear friends! — the meal I have been looking forward to before I go out to rescue my people. 

[16] “For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” [17] After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. [18] For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 

So instead of retelling the story of the Exodus in the past, he talks about the Exodus that is coming: the day he will return to lead us into our promised land, the new heavens and the new earth. The bible describes that day as a feast where all God’s children will sit down at their Father’s table. 

Now, for the next step in the ritual, the father is supposed to take the chapathi, give thanks, break it, and pass it around to the family. So Jesus does: [19] And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them. 

Normally the father would say, “This is the bread of suffering our fathers’ ate when they came out of Egypt. Eat and remember!” 

Instead, Jesus says, 

“This is my body given for you; eat and remember.” 

What does that mean? Why did he change it like that? 

In those days, a king would make a speech to his people before going into battle. And one thing kings used to say was, “I give my body for you.” It was a way of saying, “I’m going out there to fight and die to save you from our enemies. I’m going out there to suffer for you!” 

Jesus was supposed to say, “This is the bread of our fathers’ suffering during their Exodus. Eat and remember.” 

Instead, he says, “The is the bread of my suffering during our Exodus. Eat and remember that I am going out there to fight and die to save you.” 

The ritual meal continues. They would have sung Psalm 113 together, then Psalm 114 — which is a song about the Exodus from Egypt. Then they would have eaten the main course: roast lamb, and more bread. They would drink a third cup of wine, and sung Psalms 115, 116, 117, and 118. A lot of singing at this meal! — and, of course, three glasses of wine helps. Maybe you don’t sound great, but you think you sound great! 

And then, after the meal, one last cup of wine: [20] In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 

And again, when a king said, “I will pour out my blood for you,” this was battlefield imagery. This is what a king does for his people. This is what a husband does for his wife. This is what a mother does for her children. 

And in this sentence, Jesus is quoting from two Old Testament verses. The first “blood of the covenant” was the animal blood that Moses used to sprinkle the people in order to make them God’s people. But God’s people broke that covenant — they were unfaithful to their God, and suffered the consequences. So later on the prophet Jeremiah talked about a “new covenant”, an unbreakable covenant, the kind of covenant where even if God’s people are unfaithful to him, they will not have to suffer the consequences. 

Jesus is saying, “That new covenant begins now, tonight. I will pour out my blood for you. From now on, my blood is the sprinkled ‘blood of the covenant’ that makes you people my people!” 

On the night of the first Passover, lamb’s blood was splashed on the door as a sign: “This family belongs to God.” Now, on the night of the last Passover, Jesus is saying that his blood will be poured out for his disciples in order to say, “This family belongs to God.” 

That is one reason we baptize as we do: to remember Jesus’ “blood of the new covenant”, sprinkled upon his people. And that is also why we are willing to baptize whole families, not just individuals. 

… 

Now, so far, Jesus has been using battlefield imagery with his disciples. Right at the beginning he told them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Then he talked about “giving his body” and “pouring out his blood” for them. 

By this point the disciples would be getting excited! They are hearing all this and they’re thinking, “Okay, okay, okay! All the ancient prophecies are correct: here is the Passover, here is the Messiah, he is about to start the revolution…!” When Jesus says he will give his body and pour out his blood, they think he is just making an inspirational speech before leading them into battle. They don’t think he is literally going to die! Death means defeat! — and the Messiah cannot be defeated, right? 

Jesus wants to make it clear that he is going to die. So he goes to say: [21] But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. [22] The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him! 

“I am going to die, friends! Really! Literally! I am going out to battle, and one of us — one of my best friends, one of my captains, here at this table right now — is going to sell me to the enemy. Don’t worry, God will judge him for that! — but not before I fall.” 

So quite naturally, [23] they began to question among themselves which of them it might be! 

And then, [24] a dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 

Now, that might seem like a strange transition: to go from “who is the betrayer” to “who is the greatest”. But actually it makes sense. All we have to do is imagine the conversation: 

First Peter looks over at his brother Andrew and says, “I bet it’s James. That guy has always been one kind one you know!” 

But James overhears him and says, “What? Betray Jesus? I’m Jesus’ best disciple!” 

And then someone says, “Uhhh, no, you’re not the best disciple. You know how I know? Because I’m the best disciple!” 

And what is especially painfully ironic here is that by doing this, all the disciples betray Jesus. Jesus has told them again and again, “Don’t be like the religious rulers here who are obsessed with power and greatness!” 

And here the disciples are acting exactly like the religious rulers of Jerusalem. They are not thinking about suffering and sacrifice. They are only obsessed with power and greatness. 

So Jesus rebukes them. Verse 25: “Guys! The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. [26] But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 

“Don’t fight with each other for the top position! Instead, fight with each other for the lowest position! Fight to be servants, not kings!” 

[27] For who is greater, the one who is at the table — the diner? — or the waiter, the waitress? Obviously the diner at the table is greater than the waiter. 

“But I am among you as one who serves. 

Jesus is saying, “Have you noticed, guys, that throughout this meal, I have been the waiter?” Who served the wine? Jesus. Who served the bread? Jesus. 

In Satan’s kingdom, in the world’s system, kings rule over everyone else. The poor feed the powerful in Satan’s world. The poor die for the powerful in Satan’s world. 

In Jesus’ kingdom, the king serves everyone else. He feeds us; he dies for us; not the other way around. And that fact will change the way his followers live. 

So anyway, that was unpleasant. It’s no fun when the family fights during the family reunion. And it’s no fun when the father has to scold everyone. And Jesus knows that. So instead of scolding and then going away and leaving that awkward silence — you all know what I’m talking about — 

Instead, Jesus comforts them. He says, in verse 28, “But look, you guys are those who have stood by me in my trials. You’re with me, I know that — even if you are a bunch of screw-ups! Remember, this is the New Covenant in my blood. You belong to me, and I am not going to let you go!” 

“In fact, let me remind you about what I’ve already promised: (verse 29) I’m giving you a kingdom, just like my Father gave me a kingdom. And you’re gonna eat and drink at my table in my kingdom. And you’re gonna sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” 

Remember, Jesus spent months training these disciples to take over management while he is gone. Jesus is telling them, “Yes, I did just have to scold you a bit. But don’t worry! You are still going to get your promotion, okay?” 

Now, so far Jesus has been quite calm. He has been talking about his own betrayal, his own death, and it does not seem to bother him — because he knows that his death actually means victory, not defeat. 

But here, suddenly, he bursts out with emotion: [31] “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 

“Satan has asked my Father for permission to test your loyalty. And my Father has given him permission! And I already know that each one of you is going to fail that test!” 

Jesus already knows that all of his disciples are going to abandon him. They are going to betray him…again! 

But then he speaks to Simon again: [32] “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 

Simon’s loyalty is going to fail. But Jesus has prayed that Simon’s faith will not fail. 

Now…how is that possible? If you betray Jesus isn’t that the same thing as losing faith in Jesus? 

Well, no, actually. Simon is going to betray Jesus, along with all the other disciples. But faith in Jesus means trusting that he can even forgive betrayal. 

So Jesus is saying, “Simon, Satan is going to test your loyalty to me, and you are going to fail. But I have prayed that you will remember my love for you. I have prayed that after you fall you will remember my forgiveness, and you will help all your brothers remember my forgiveness as well.” 

But Simon forgets that Jesus is the Messiah and a Prophet who is never wrong. So he says, [33]…“Lord, I am not going to betray you! I am ready to go with you to prison and to death — if necessary!” 

[34] Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me. 

“Before the sun rises you are going to betray me three times.” 

Jesus began this section by saying, “One of you will betray me to death.” Then he said, “Actually, all of you are going to betray me.” Then he said, “Peter, you are going to betray me three times before sunrise!” 

Followed by what was — no doubt — an awkward silence. 

… 

Quick! Jesus! Change the subject! 

[35] Then Jesus asked them, “Hey guys, do you remember how, way back in Chapter 9, I sent you out to preach for me, and I told you not to bring anything with you, but just live by faith? How did that work out for you?” 

And the disciples say, “Yeah, man, that was great!” 

Then Jesus says, in verse 36: “Well, those days are over. From now on, if you have a purse, take it. Pack a survival bag. And if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak — sell your PS4 or whatever — and buy a sword. Because: [37] in the Old Testament it is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors’. That means, guys, that from now on I am going to be considered a criminal. They are going to arrest me for sedition. They are going to execute me as a terrorist! — and they are going to be hunting you too. 

“So be ready. Be ready to run. Because I’m telling you all those old prophecies about the Messiah are about to come true.” 

But all the disciples hear is the word, “sword.” And they think, “Yes! Revolution time, finally!” So they say, [38]…“See, Lord, here are two swords.” 

“That's enough!” Jesus replied. 

And this last thing Jesus says here, “That’s enough!” is actually really hard to interpret. He might be saying, “Sure, two swords are enough to start a revolution!” — in which case he is clearly being sarcastic. Or he might be saying, “That’s enough of that kind of nonsense!” 

But whatever Jesus means here, one thing is clear: he is scolding his disciples again. They think he wants them to fight. But he doesn’t! 

So what did Jesus mean when he told them to grab their money, pack their bags, and buy a sword? 

Well, remember that they are still sitting at the Passover table. And what was the Passover about? It was about remembering how God fought against the Egyptians and rescued his helpless people from slavery. And God gave the people very specific instructions on that first Passover. He told them, “Get your money, pack your bags, find a walking stick, be dressed and ready to go: the Exodus begins tonight.” 

In the same way, here, at the last Passover, Jesus tells his disciples, “Get your money, pack your bags, find a sword, be dressed and ready to go: our Exodus begins tonight.” 

Jesus is not telling his disciples to get ready to fight. Throughout this whole Passover meal Jesus has been telling his disciples, “Stand back! I am going to fight for you! I am going to lay down my life for you! I am going to spill my blood for you! All you have to do is eat, drink, and be ready to go!” 

… 

And here, two thousand years later, we are still a lot like the disciples. We want to do. We want to fight. We want to start a revolution and change the world. We forget that our king has already fought and already won the war for us. Two thousand years ago, on this Night of Watching, Jesus set something in motion that has been slowly spreading throughout all the nations of the world ever since. 

So, if we are not to grab our swords and fight, what are we supposed to do? 

Well, let’s look at what Jesus commanded his disciples to do that night, and then see if those commands also apply to us. 

First, he said, “Eat this bread and remember how I fought to the death to rescue you.” 

Then he said, “Share this wine. Drink it and remember how my blood, poured out for you, has bound us together into one unbreakable family.” 

Finally, he said, “Get your money, pack your bags, find a sword, be ready to travel. Remember that from now on you will be refugees in this world. You don’t belong here anymore! — you belong to the kingdom that is coming.” 

And Jesus was right. From that night onward, the disciples lived as spiritual refugees in a world that had rejected them and their king. They lived as spiritual pilgrims, never settling down, always moving forward toward the promised new heavens and new earth, a country of their very own. 

Does all this apply to us now, two thousand years later? 

Yes. We are the descendants of those disciples. Christianity is a refugee faith. The Church is a pilgrim church. We live as strangers in this world. Sometimes we enjoy peace and stability; sometimes we are hunted and hated. We purchase homes, we have careers, a Christian family might live in one place for generations! — but always we live in the light of this truth: we do not actually belong here. At any moment our situation could change; at any moment Jesus could call us to give up everything we have and go somewhere else. 

And that can be a scary thought! None of us enjoy instability, uncertainty. It is scary to be a refugee. We wonder, “How are we going to survive? How am I going to feed my family?” 

The answer to that question is the same answer Jesus gave to his disciples. Actually, it’s the same answer God gave to his people when they first escaped from Egypt. During that first Night of Watching, when Moses said, “Go!” the bible tells us that the Israelites left Egypt carrying their chapathi dough in big tubs on their backs, covered with wet cloths. 

But the bread didn’t last. And then they cried to Moses, “How are we going to survive?” 

God answered them with bread from heaven. And when they ran out of water, he saved them with water from a broken rock — the Rock of their Salvation. 

Now, just like the children of Israel we all carry what we can. We all work. We all save for the future. We invest in the nations where God plants us — but we all eventually discover that these things are not enough. And then we cry out to Jesus, “How are we going to survive?” 

This table here is Jesus answer. This loaf is our bread from heaven that feeds us with the knowledge that Jesus fought and died for us. This cup is our water that flows from the broken Rock of our Salvation — except that now it has been transformed into the wine of joy, the joy of knowing that we belong to him forever. 

Physically we may not always look like refugees and pilgrims. But spiritually we are. We eat and drink this physical food in faith that our Lord Jesus will lead us safely all the way home. 

So, if we are not supposed to grab our swords and fight, start revolutions and change the world, what are we supposed to do? 

These are Jesus’ commands for us: eat and drink. Remember what he has done for us, and be strengthened for the road ahead. Keep your money close, your bags packed, and your sword in hand — because we don’t actually belong here. 

Okay. So now we know what to do

But what does this mean for us? How does this meal make the Christian life different from any other kind of life? 

This is what it means: because we are pilgrims fed by our king…we do not have to get too attached to places or things, social status, wealth, power. Everyone suffers loss along the way. Everyone loses jobs, homes, children, parents, spouses. Everyone at some time in their lives will experience a serious illness in themselves or in someone close to them. Many of you know that in my own family we are living with chronic illness right now, chronic pain. We Christians are human beings! we suffer alongside all mankind. So what is the difference then? The difference is this: we do not suffer or grieve like people who have no hope. This meal is our king’s promise that one day, when we arrive at our destination, he will restore to us everything we have lost, every good thing we ever longed for and never received. Have you experienced mental, emotional, physical, sexual abuse at the hands of someone who should have protected you? Our king will restore every single moment that was stolen from you. Have you spent your life longing for a loving father who is proud of you? You will have that. 

We will have all these things added to us. 

That is what this table means. 

… 

At midnight on that first Night of Watching, Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, and the first Exodus began. Three months later they arrived at the mountain of God, Mount Sinai in Arabia — and there God met them, and made them his people. 

At midnight on Jesus’ Night of Watching, he led his disciples out of the upper room…and the final Exodus began. It is still happening today. And it is open to everyone. So if you are here today and you have realized that you are in slavery to one thing or another, if you have reached the end of yourself and you don’t know where to go from here, if your life feels like one endless Night of Watching for disappointment and further loss — then say so. Pray and tell Jesus that you want to join his Exodus. And he will lead you to freedom. 

If you do pray that prayer today, then please let us know. And if you do pray that prayer today, I want to encourage you not to eat and drink with us yet. The very first Passover meal was restricted: it was only to be eaten by Jewish people inside a house that was sprinkled with lamb’s blood. In the same way, this bread and this wine is restricted: it is only for Christian people who have been sprinkled with the waters of baptism. This meal is fuel for people on pilgrimage. If you have not yet joined our pilgrimage, then I encourage you to wait until you can be baptized. 

But, if you are here with us today and you have already joined Jesus’ Exodus, then please obey our Lord’s commands: 

One: eat and never forget that Jesus fought to the death so we do not have to! 

Two: take this cup and share it with one another, because this is the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, the blood that makes us one family with God. 

Three: keep your money close, keep your bags packed, keep your sword in hand. In other words: don’t get too attached to the here and now. We are still on the way to the mountain of God, the promised land, the new heavens and the new earth. Our Night of Watching is not yet over: we are looking forward to the day when all that we have lost along the way will be restored.  

So let us eat and drink and be strengthened once more for the road ahead. 

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (Part II)