(The First Sunday After Pentecost) June 3, 2007
246, 243, 746 [TLH alt: 248], 800 [TLH alt: 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.”
Dear fellow Christians:
My first bicycle was a bright red Schwinn. There were thousands of others just like it, but this one was special because it was mine. Before my dad wheeled it out of the shop, the owner put a plastic label on the frame with my first and last name on it. I think it stayed there until the bike was passed down to my brother.
Whether it is a bike or some other possession, when something is valuable to us we put our name on it. We write it in magic marker, print it in indelible ink, engrave it. There may be millions of other objects just like it, but this one is different because of the name. It is set apart as yours. You pay special attention to it. You take care of it and protect it.
But who takes care of you? Are we even noticed? In the big picture we are very small. Our local newspaper published a satellite photo of Florida taken 21 years ago from 20,000 miles above the earth. The article called attention to one tiny wisp of cloud off the coast. It didn’t look like anything significant, but it was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in which seven people lost their lives. It was a devastating tragedy from our perspective and yet the article’s author commented on how small and quiet it looked from the perspective of space.
In comparison with the entire universe, we are just tiny, temporary specks, like ants scurrying across the backyard. Who is going to notice or care whether we get stepped on? But someone does notice and care—God does. This is extraordinary because God is as big as we are small. He fills heaven and earth. He made all things. He needs nothing. It would be understandable if He viewed the earth as just a human ant hill. But instead, He cares about you personally. You are valuable and precious to Him. You can be sure of it because He has put His name on you. That name sets you apart from everything else in the entire creation.
The name of God is more than the specific names He gives Himself in Holy Scripture. God’s name is everything He reveals about Himself. In this short three-part blessing He tells us a great deal about His name. The blessing was first spoken upon the Israelites in the wilderness. They knew how small and helpless they were. Where would they find food and water for two million people? How would they find their way safely to Canaan through rugged terrain with no freeways or road signs? Many feared the whole nation would perish. But it didn’t happen because God put His name upon them.
Aaron the high priest was to say: “The Lord bless you and keep you.” The name “Lord” refers to God’s eternal nature and His absolute faithfulness and love. The people had nothing to worry about because the Lord would provide for every need—and He did. Over four decades He gave them manna to eat, fresh water to drink, and even saw to it that their clothing and shoes did not wear out.
Now the Lord puts His name on you. He blesses and keeps you. He provides the natural resources of the earth, food, health, jobs, education, and so many other things. We are small, but He is almighty. So why worry? “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:26 NIV).
Why worry? We have round-the-clock protection from our heavenly Father and His angels. The same Lord who closed the mouths of the lions to protect Daniel is our protection when we face the dangers of surgery, violence, unseen viruses, and accidents. The Lord says to you: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned” (Isaiah 43:1 NIV). The heavenly Father, Lord of all, puts His name on you. He will bless and keep you. You are precious to Him!
The Lord puts His name upon us, not because of, but in spite of us. A certain pastor had spent several tedious hours carefully sorting through screws, nuts and bolts, and various other pieces of hardware. He had put them into 40 different baby food jars, labeled them, and lined them up on his garage workbench. Not long afterward, he noticed that his two toddlers had been unusually quiet. He discovered them in the garage just as they were dumping out the last jars into one large pile on the floor. Do you think his face was shining on them? They certainly did not deserve that!
What about God’s attitude toward Israel? After He had rescued them from Egypt, what did they do? They set up a golden calf and praised it as the god who had saved them. They grumbled and complained about God’s goodness. God had every reason to show them the storm clouds and the thunder and lightning of His holy anger against sin. But instead, He put His name of blessing upon them. Aaron was to say, “The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The Lord smiled on them with His undeserved love. He forgave their sin through the sacrifices He commanded. He required the bloody death of lambs and goats to appease His anger and thereby save His people.
We are just like those two toddlers and the people of Israel. We know we don’t deserve to have God smile on us. We get excited about all the wrong things—little things like ball games, making money, taking vacations, and buying things. We seem to have boundless time and energy to devote to them. But when it comes to worshiping the Lord, learning His Word, telling others, caring for and cleaning His house, then our schedules are suddenly filled, and our energy level takes a nose-dive. We grumble, complain, and second-guess God when things don’t work out as we want them to. We sin. That should terrify us, because sin damns. “For we know Him who said, ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay.’ The Lord will judge His people. ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’” (Hebrews 10:30-31 NIV). We are guilty through and through. We deserve to have the Father pronounce His judgment upon us.
Instead, He smiles on us. The Lord makes His face shine on you and is gracious to you. He welcomes you with open arms as the father hugged the prodigal son on his return home. It is all the more amazing when we see that God could only do that at great cost to Himself. His justice had to be satisfied. In the same way that the law of our country demands satisfaction for crimes, God’s law demands payment for our sin. To save us, the Judge stepped down from the bench and put Himself in our place. God’s Son became man to be judged, convicted, and executed for us. God turned all of His anger against Jesus on the cross. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). For Jesus’ sake, God now can smile on us with the free and full grace of forgiveness.
We are small and helpless. We deserve to be forsaken and forgotten because of our sin. But God has put His name on us. He smiles on us through Jesus’ substitutionary life and death. We are valuable and precious to Him!
That truth results in still another blessing of God’s name. If you could have anything you wanted, what would you choose? What if you were living in Iraq, where shootings and bombings are a daily threat in your neighborhood? What if an argument were keeping you from speaking with a family member? In these cases wouldn’t peace be the greatest gift of all?
God put His name on Israel and said, “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Through the military victories of David, God did give His people peace for many years. But the peace God speaks of here is not primarily peace between people and nations. It is a higher, more vital peace between people and God.
God puts His name on us and blesses us today with the same peace. It comes to us from the Father through Jesus in the working of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:26-27 NIV). The Holy Spirit brings the peace Jesus won on the cross into each of our hearts. He teaches us what Jesus has done for us and gives us the faith to believe and receive that peace with God.
There will always be trouble and problems in our world and in our lives because of sin. But knowing that we are at peace with God gives peace of mind and the comfort that we are the Lord’s beloved sons and daughters. Peace with God also enables us to be forgiving and to live in peace with others around us.
We are small, mortal, helpless people who deserve nothing but eternal death. At the same time, we are precious, all-important, and valuable—not because of anything we have done, but because the one and only triune, eternal God has put His name on us. By that name the Father blesses and keeps you day by day. By that name the Son smiles on you with His forgiveness. By that name the Spirit comes to you with the gift of peace. May we welcome that name, and receive the blessing in gratitude and joy! Amen.
I the Lord will bless and keep you and give you peace;
I the Lord will smile upon you and give you peace.
I the Lord will be your Father, Savior, Comforter, and Brother.
Go, my children; I will keep you and give you peace. [WS 800:4]
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.