The 1st Sunday After Pentecost June 11, 2006
246, 252, 245, 244
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”’ So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
In the name of our Triune God, dear fellow redeemed:
Our festivals in the church year usually correspond with an event. Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost are all linked to specific events in the life of Christ and the history of His Church. Today we celebrate a festival in the church year that is not linked to any event, but rather it celebrates a teaching. Today we celebrate the fact that our God is Triune.
This fact sets the true God apart from every false god. After all, all false gods can be understood in their essence and in their activity. However, we cannot adequately explain the fact that our Lord is three-in-one. We are worshiping Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God, but three distinct and co-equal persons in the Godhead. As we read in our Scripture readings, the triune nature of God is beyond our comprehension and that’s a good thing. If we could understand God like we can any other person then He wouldn’t be much of a God at all.
Today our focus will be not so much as to the essence of our Lord, but how this Triune God uses that essence and His divine nature to bless us.
The words before us today are words that we hear every Sunday shortly before we depart from God’s house. These words have been used to bless believers in God for thousands of years, beginning with Aaron and the children of Israel. This benediction is not full of empty words or well-wishes, but are a record of what our God has done for us and how He continues to bless us. The three blessings spoken here are by all appearances a reference to our Triune God. While we will never understand the doctrine of the Trinity due to our human nature, we pray that we will learn well how our Triune God has blessed and will continue to bless us. He has I. Preserved us out of divine love, II. Brought us out of darkness by grace, and III. Given us peace out of compassion.
We take quite a bit for granted in this life. We are certain that the sun will rise tomorrow. The universe is so orderly and predictable that we even know what time it will rise and set. We know where the moon will be on any certain day and time. The laws of nature are always reliable. We don’t worry that one day gravity won’t be there. It is right to expect all of this, but it is not right to forget who is causing it to happen. If not for God’s sustaining hand the world and the universe would fall apart. We would not be able to function as human beings without God providing for us and keeping us in His care. As it is written in Acts 17, “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Not only do we take the sustaining of the world for granted, but we also do so with the sustaining of self. So often we feel that our lives and our futures are in our own hands. We assume that if we eat right, keep ourselves in shape, and take our medicine that we’ll keep functioning. We assume that if we work hard and save our money we’ll automatically have a nice nest egg for retirement. What we don’t realize is that life is fragile. This seems more obvious when we’re talking about infants or the elderly, but it is true for every human being. We just don’t know when a debilitating disease may strike, or when death may occur without warning. At every age we are dependent upon the keeping and the preservation of our Heavenly Father.
Our Heavenly Father does provide in abundance. He does bless, keep, and sustain us. He provides enough food to feed the over six billion people that populate this planet. There is food and water to spare. He has provided natural resources in abundance. This planet is really a marvelous piece of work. Even though at times we misuse and abuse what God has given us, He still sustains us.
God does this out of His divine, Fatherly goodness and mercy. He knows what we need and then blesses us with those very things. This is true of both body and soul. This does not mean that those who have more possessions or better health are more loved by God. This does not mean that when natural disasters strike or when there are tragedies that afflict a person that God is not blessing and keeping that person. God’s ultimate goal is to preserve your soul. The fate of your soul will determine the fate of your body. In His wise providence, God may afflict your body knowing that it will be good for your soul. In all circumstances He is blessing and keeping His children as a Heavenly Father knows best.
The next two references that we have in the benediction have to do with the face of God. We are told in the Scriptures that our God does not actually have a face because He is a spirit. Yet, many times He speaks in term of a human body in order that we might better understand what He is talking about.
In this case we are told that He makes His face to shine upon us. In the Scriptures light is often used in reference to holiness and truth and salvation. Darkness has to do with sin and evil and hopelessness. The LORD causes His face to shine upon us in order to rescue us out of the darkness of sin and condemnation. He does so in order to show graciousness to us.
God’s graciousness is exemplified in Jesus setting aside His glory and taking on the form of a servant. As a servant He willingly went to the cross to take away our sin and to procure our salvation. In Scripture we find the Father sending the Son, the Son willingly going, and the Holy Spirit then connecting us to the Son and the forgiveness that He won on the cross. In this way His face shone upon us as He looked upon us with graciousness.
Such graciousness was indeed needed because we presented a miserable sight. The whole mass of humanity was a stench to God because every single person has been infected by sin. We needed rescue because we were unable to save ourselves. We had no right to stand before God and demand that He would come and save us. There is no merit or worthiness within us.
This is a mystery as deep as the Trinity itself—that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Why? Simply out of grace, undeserved love. In the benediction God is revealing His continued mercy in our lives.
In the regular Sunday liturgy we make confession of our sins and then receive the assurance that we are forgiven. Almost immediately after this assurance we sing: “Lord have mercy on us!” We recognize that we need God’s face to continually shine upon us and be gracious unto us because though we are forgiven, we also remain weak and foolish. In the benediction we have the comfort that God is promising to shine upon us with His grace and bless us with His mercy.
The final part of the benediction also has to do with the LORD’s “face.” The word countenance is the same word in the Hebrew as face, but in this sentence it has more to do with a facial expression. Your countenance is your expression. The Lord asked Cain in Genesis 4 why his countenance had fallen. Cain was angry, jealous, and sad and this could be seen in our face (Genesis 4:5f). Our faces show those same emotions. Our eyebrows go down. The corners of our mouths go down. Maybe even our entire head droops down.
When a countenance is lifted it has a happy expression. This kindly face is what God shows to those who are His. When you hear this last part of the benediction think of God looking kindly and lovingly upon you, His child.
We deserve God’s look of anger and wrath. I cannot imagine how horrible it will be on Judgment Day for those who have to face that anger of God. It will be so frightening that words cannot adequately describe it. But by the grace of God that is something a believer will never have to endure. God will look upon you the same way that He does now because you have been reconciled to Him. The Holy Spirit’s work is to make the forgiveness of sins personally our own, and to give us peace with God. He does so by connecting us to Jesus through faith.
What price can you put on peace with God? I think of those Master Card commercials. Add up the weight of guilt on your conscience, the accusations against you by Satan and other people, perhaps estrangement from family and friends. That’s a terrible price that sin has rendered. And then, peace with God… priceless.
For centuries Christian worship services have ended with the words of our text. We continue to do so today, marveling at not only the essence of our Triune God, but the fact that He sends us out into the world truly blessed in the fact that He preserves us, is gracious to us, and gives us peace.
May this blessing continue to echo in your ears and hearts knowing that God has not left you. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.