Speedily lead the branches of thy favorite Stem, redeemed, to Zion joyously.” “Next year in Jerusalem!” How many said these words as they finished the Seder feast, celebrating the Passover, this year? How many felt a thrill of expectancy? How many are living day by day hour by hour, as if they truly believed the Messiah might really come to fulfill all the years of looking forward, and that indeed there might be a meeting together in Jerusalem within the year? The gap between “saying” and “meaning” can be great.

This year a very special Seder feast was set out in L’Abri, our study center in the Swiss Alps, by two Jewish Christian girls, better described as two fulfilled Jews. They had devoted many hours to preparing the traditional Passover service, carefully removing anything that would not fit with Scripture perfectly and adding, after the meal had been eaten, at the time of the “third cup,” the communion service. For it was after they had eaten the Passover meal that Jesus took the bread and the cup and said, “This is my body broken for you.… This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.”

Twenty-four people, four fulfilled Jews and twenty Gentile Christians, gathered to partake of the Passover together. We looked back to the wonders of what God had done in taking his people out of Egypt, when the angel of death passed over Egypt and spared the first-born sons in the houses where the blood of the lambs had been placed on the doorpost. Then in the communion, led by the pastor of our church, we looked back to the Lamb himself, who came two thousand years ago and made it clear that he was the Lamb who would take the sins of those who would come to him believing.

It was a memorable experience to be sitting there, on a tiny point of geography in the Swiss Alps, at a tiny point of history that April night in 1976, and to know that both the Passover, instituted when Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, and the Lord’s supper, instituted when Jesus explained in the middle of the Passover feast what would soon be taking place, have meaning today. The continuity of the people of God is wonderful to think about.

This continuity from the very first promise of hope ahead, hope of the healing of the abnormal state brought about by the fall, became a vivid thing to me that night. I realized that God meant all of his people to partake of the Passover year by year through the centuries before Jesus came in order to help them watch. That word is given as a command in both the Old and the New Testament. There was to be an expectant watching for the Messiah to come. Simeon was watching. Anna was watching. But every believing Jew was supposed to be watching, even as Abraham and Isaac were supposed to be watching. Believing the promises of God that told of the coming Messiah, God’s people were to have an attitude of mind and heart that would be expressed in prayer to God and in communication with other believers. The attitude would be one of watching for the coming Messiah. The first coming of Christ was meant to be hailed by watching believers.

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As we met together in the chapel on Good Friday, the reading of Scripture was a wonderful one of completeness, the following through of the events after the Passover, right through to the death of Jesus. It struck me forcefully because of my concentration on the importance of “watching” that what Jesus asked the disciples to do in the Garden of Gethsemane was, “Watch with me.” This watching was to be an involvement with Jesus; the disciples were to think about him and feel somewhat what he was going through and intercede for him with some measure of understanding of his death, which he had told them was coming.

This request, “Watch and pray,” was unique because of the crucial central moment of history they were living through. Yet they slept. “How could they?” we may ask. “If I had been there I would never have slept.” How sad to have heard the words, “Sleep on now …,” to have suddenly realized that the time was forever over for “watching” in response to the request of the Son of God.

In the midst of talking about the future and his second coming, after speaking about the two in the field and the two grinding at a mill, one of each pair taken and the other left behind, Jesus gave this clear command: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.… Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:42, 44). Again after the parable of the virgins who were foolish and didn’t have enough oil for their lamps at the time of the coming of the bridegroom, Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 25:13).

After speaking about his second coming in Mark 13, Jesus gives the command to watch with the same clear force as he gave it to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:32–37).

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We are meant to be actively watching for the second coming of the Lord, and there is danger that we, like the disciples, will sleep instead of praying. Prayer is to be a demonstration before angels and demons that we take seriously what God has told us to do, that we believe he will fulfill his promise to return. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I also am in bonds: that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak” (Col. 4:2). There is, among other important aspects of our watching and praying, the need to pray for one another, to ask that others will find open doors of “utterance,” open doors for making known the truth of God’s Word.

We may feel sad when we think of all the Passover ceremonies through the centuries during which people were only saying words, only having a festive time, not being serious about watching for the coming Messiah. We may feel sad to think about the many Jews celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem at the same time Jesus was celebrating it who did not recognize the One for whom they were supposed to be watching. We may feel sad about the many who take communion in this century with no belief in the reality of who Christ was, for whom it is only a succession of religious words when they say or hear: “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show forth the Lord’s death till he come.”

But what about our use of words—are we doing what we are verbalizing? Are we really watching and praying? Or are we sleeping?


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