“Why Is This Night Different?” (Exodus 12; Luke 22:7-20)

Holy Thursday
April 1, 2010

“Why Is This Night Different?” (Exodus 12; Luke 22:7-20)

Earlier this week, in Jewish homes all around the world, families gathered and celebrated the annual Passover meal. A meal is served–the Seder meal, as it is called–with certain items of food and drink served in a set order. And a ritual is observed; the liturgical text that’s followed is called the Haggadah. As part of that ritual, the children at the table ask a series of questions about why they’re doing the things distinctive to this meal: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” the children will ask. “Why are we eating this type of food? On all other nights, we may eat bread made with yeast; on this night we eat only unleavened bread. On all other nights, we may eat any kind of vegetables; on this night we eat bitter herbs. Why is this night different?” And those questions then give the head of the household, the host at the table, the opportunity to recount the history of the Passover.

Well, a long time ago, at this time of year, another group of Jews gathered and celebrated the annual Passover meal. It was a Jewish teacher and his Jewish disciples, Jesus of Nazareth and his group of twelve, who met in a room in Jerusalem and ate the Passover together. The meal is served and the ritual is observed. But in the course of that meal, toward the end, the host, Jesus, does something a little different and varies the routine from the traditional Passover. And what’s more, he institutes this new thing as a meal for his disciples to celebrate for all time to come–including for us here tonight. And so on this night, on this Holy Thursday, we must ask the question, “Why Is This Night Different?”

Why is this night–this Jesus night, this Holy Thursday night, this Lord’s Supper night–why is it different from all the previous Passovers that went before it? To answer that question, we first need to understand the Passover that Jesus was working from. We need to go back to the first Passover, that night way back in Egypt that we read about in the Book of Exodus.

This takes us back to the time of Moses, when the children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt, as slaves, and the Lord God raised up Moses to lead them out and lead them to freedom. The Lord God had made a covenant with their forefathers, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now the Lord was remembering his covenant. He had heard the cries of his people and now was coming to visit them and bring them out and bring them up into the Promised Land. But Pharaoh would not let the people go. So the Lord sent a series of plagues upon Egypt, but still Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let them go.

The final plague, the tenth one, was the one that would finally make the difference. It was the plague of the death of the firstborn. All across the land of Egypt, the angel of death, the destroyer, would go to every house and strike down the firstborn living there. This would have included the homes of the Israelites also, save for the Lord providing a covering for their homes that prevented the plague of death.

It came in the form of a lamb, a lamb without blemish or defect. It came in the death of that lamb and his blood spread upon their doorposts. The blood would be a sign, and the plague of death would pass over that house, sparing the family inside.

And inside, the family would eat the Passover meal: the lamb, of course, and with it, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Why unleavened bread, that is, bread made without yeast? Because this bread was to be eaten in a hurry. No time for it to rise. The people had to be ready to go. For tonight, that very night, they would be moving out, leaving Egypt behind. And so this bread had to be “fast food,” literally, a “to go” order. Thus the unleavened bread. And the bitter herbs? To remind them of their slavery, the bitter bondage they endured before the Lord brought them out and set them free.

And so this is the meal, the Passover meal, that Jesus and his disciples would have eaten that night in Jerusalem. Also, as part of the meal, the host would fill his cup with wine at certain points in the supper and pass this cup around for everyone to drink from. This happened several times during the course of the evening. You see that reflected in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper, where it mentions one cup, then the bread, and then “the cup after they had eaten.”

So far all of this is according to Hoyle, or, I should say, according to Moses. Nothing new here. But it’s what Jesus does with the Passover ritual, how he reinterprets it–or, better yet, how he fulfills it–that makes it all new and so much greater than the previous Passover. Why is this night different? It’s different because of who Jesus is and what he does.

For Christ himself is our Passover Lamb. He is the Lamb without blemish or defect–indeed, completely without sin. He is God’s Son, God’s only Son, his beloved, the holy Son of God come in the flesh. And this Jesus is the Lamb of the sacrifice, killed so that we might live. His blood on the wood of the cross is the sign by which death passes over us, even as it falls on him.

And it is falling on him on this night, this night in which he is betrayed. Within hours he will be handed over to be arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. It’s all happening, starting now. This is the night. That is why this night is different–awesomely different, terribly yet ultimately wonderfully different. Jesus is fulfilling what the Passover lamb prefigured: the perfect, unblemished sacrifice by which death passes over and we are spared.

The bitter herbs of our bondage to sin and death–this is what Christ has delivered us from. Jesus will lead us out of our Egyptian slavery, out from under Pharaoh Satan, that cruel taskmaster. He will lead us into God’s Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

And so tonight we eat the unleavened bread, for we are a pilgrim people, a people on the way. But notice what Jesus says about this bread and why it is different from what went before. He says, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Yes, in, with, and under the bread of this meal, Christ Jesus is giving us his own body, the body he gave for us into death on the cross.

And notice what he does with the cup: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Bread and cup, body and blood of Christ, given for you, poured out for you, new covenant–all this is what Jesus gives us here in this meal. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Answer: Yes it is! And that is what is so different about this night.

Jesus calls it “the new covenant in my blood.” It is a covenant of forgiveness, God’s promise to us that our sins are forgiven, completely forgiven, by the blood of this Lamb. God will remember our sins no more. Our God binds himself to us, to make us his own people, and he seals this covenant in blood, by the death of his beloved Son. This meal that you receive here tonight–Christ’s own cup that he gives to you–is that very covenant in his blood.

Why is this night different? It is different because it goes far beyond the temporary, limited deliverance that God brought to pass in the first Passover. That Passover was specifically for one nation, Israel, to deliver them from earthly bondage in Egypt and from temporal death in the plague of the firstborn. The Passover that Christ institutes on this night is for all nations, for all people caught in the bondage of sin, to deliver them eternal death.

Why is this night different? This Passover meal here tonight, the Lord’s Supper . . . this covenant, the new covenant in Christ’s blood . . . this Savior, Jesus Christ, the perfect Passover Lamb, who willingly goes forth into death for you and me–my friends, this is the big difference that makes this night so special and makes all the difference in our lives now and for eternity.

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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