In Luke 22 verses 14 to 18, Jesus makes some powerful statements. First, he says he eagerly desired to eat this Passover with them. But why? Was this a normal eagerness, or something special? Second, he mentioned his coming suffering. What is that about? Third, he said that he won’t eat it again — why not? — Until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God. What is that about?
Now, we’ve heard lots of sermons about the Passover meal, about the significance of the cup, about Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, and about the coming of the kingdom of God. The fact that we have ideas about what all of this means does not mean that the disciples had this same clarity. In fact, from what we read elsewhere, we can be pretty sure that they had ideas that were misguided at best and foolish at worst.
What they did have was the profoundness of the experience of being with Jesus at this crucial moment. But it was only afterward, as they reflected on what they had experienced, that they began to realize what had happened, and what it meant for them as disciples who were commissioned to continue the work that Jesus had made possible.
So what’s the point? I think it’s this: faithful discipleship means that first we obey — we follow. Then, we understand later — maybe. Some things we will never know. Only after we have entered into the story and encounter Jesus as the disciples did — only after we have come to Jesus as little children — do we have the opportunity and privilege of reflecting to gain additional clarity and understanding. Faith comes first.
Here again, we have an example of Jesus meeting people where they’re at. But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus’ redemptive work connects with the commitments of his disciples in the context of their faith as Jews of the old covenant, but it goes beyond that to the new work God is doing in Jesus the Messiah.
I’m sure the disciples thought they knew what Jesus was talking about over dinner. They certainly would have known what the Passover meal commemorated. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, come to bring deliverance and to establish the Kingdom of God. They had been told that Jesus’ mission involved suffering, and they showed a willingness to persevere and embrace their share of that suffering. But what they did not realize was that these pieces went together in a way that they did not appreciate. And it is that reality that God was taking something familiar and making it new, that they had yet to grasp. Yes, they were eating the Passover, as Jews had done for centuries. But this time it was different. The Passover wasn’t simply an affirmation of their Jewish identity as God’s chosen people. It wasn’t an occasion to pump them up in anticipation of a conflict against the Roman authorities. In verse 19, as Jesus identifies his body as being given for them, he was identifying himself as the Passover sacrifice. I am not even certain that the disciples caught that in the moment. Certainly they did later. But let us not miss it.