(The 1st Sunday after Pentecost) May 26, 2013
23, 776 [TLH alt. 37], 800 [TLH alt. 245], 50
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:
It occurs almost every Sunday near the end of the worship service. It is over in less than a minute. Children like to imitate the pastor while doing it. It is the Benediction. It is the short conclusion at the end of a worship service when the pastor raises his hands, makes the sign of the cross, and speaks the words we have just read. If our flesh is tired, it is easy to reach the Benediction and sigh with relief, “I’m almost able to go home.” The Benediction might be so familiar that we hear it and don’t take time to consider it.
At the end of the worship service when we hear the Lord’s blessing pronounced upon us, it is more than wishful thinking for a “happy rest of the day.” It is more than a poetic way of saying we’re almost to the end. The words we use in the Benediction are words that God gave to Moses to give to Aaron, the first high priest. They are words of God to be pronounced upon the people. Therefore, the words of our benediction have scriptural reference all the way back to the Children of Israel. The words of the Benediction are a reminder that God is triune because there are three distinct segments to the Benediction. Also wrapped up in these words is a summary of our salvation and every blessing we have from the Lord our God.
Today, as with each time we gather for worship: THE LORD BLESS YOU! We will consider that I. The Lord’s blessing is graciously yours, II. The Lord’s blessing is abundantly complete, and III. The Lord’s blessing is unwaveringly sure.
Consider what it means to bless. Someone may sneeze and we say, “God bless you.” We might encourage someone with the prayer, “The Lord’s blessings be with you.” We may also speak of “blessing” God. God blesses us, we bless Him, and we bless one another. These are all in some way similar, but yet different. When God blesses us, He is the one doing the action. When we bless God we are giving Him praise for who He is and what He does. When we extend our blessings to someone else, we are ultimately praying that God would bless them. God’s blessing is an action. Our blessing is a prayer.
To “bless” is to speak well of someone, to share a good word with or about someone. When we bless God we are speaking a good word about Him—praising Him, giving him thanks, glorifying Him. When He blesses us, He speaks a good word to us and accomplishes what He says. God blesses us by watching over us. God blesses when He cares for us. God blesses us when He gives us the things we need for both body and soul. Every good and every perfect gift is from the Father of lights (cf. James 1:17). Everything that we receive for our benefit is a blessing—a good thing coming to us from God for our benefit.
The Lord’s blessing is yours not because you’ve earned it, not because you are such a fine person, and not even because of the sanctified Christian you have become. As the epistle reading instructed us, God’s blessing has been upon you since before time began. Even before God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), He chose you. He chose you in connection with Christ. He chose you in connection with what He would accomplish for you through Your Savior, Jesus. He chose you to be His own and then sent Jesus to be your Savior. All of this was done out of His grace and love—completely undeserved. The Lord blesses us purely by grace.
This truth is evident in the name that God uses to bless us. “The Lord—Jehovah—bless you. The Lord—Jehovah—make His face shine upon you. The Lord—Jehovah—lift up His countenance upon you.” The God of promise, the covenant God, the God who in His grace and mercy sent a Savior to redeem us from our sins is the one who is blessing you day-by-day and through the words of the text.
The Lord’s blessing is not just a widespread general blessing that spread out to benefit whomever it might reach. Rather, The Lord’s blessing is very specific, “The Lord bless you—singularly, personally, each one of you. God is so great that He doesn’t paint His blessings with a wide brush and just give everyone the same. Instead He says, “I will bless you—each of you individually, in your needs, to strengthen you in your weaknesses.”
The Lord blesses you when He says these words through the pastors or other fellow believers just as He did through the priests of the Old Testament. It is a personal blessing for you, concerning your sins, concerning your daily life, concerning your fears, your weaknesses, and everything else imaginable. The Lord bless you. It is to you He speaks. It is you whom He blesses out of His grace and mercy.
As you see the sign of the cross when the words of blessing are spoken, you can be assured that Jesus’ redemption on the cross by God’s grace is what gives you, personally, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
This blessing which is graciously yours is also abundantly complete. The words of the blessing continue: “The Lord keep you.” [v.24]
There is a story of an older man in Europe who was asked by another gentleman, “How are you keeping?” In other words, “How are you doing? How’s life?” The elderly man replied, “I am kept.” In those simple words the man confessed faith and a sense of security. How is my day going? How is my life turning out? How are things, generally speaking? The answers to all of these questions is wrapped up in the fact that “I am kept by my Lord and Savior.”
The Lord keep you is God’s promise and active blessing that He is keeping guard over you, watching you, protecting you, keeping you safely in the palm of his hand. In Psalm 121 we read, “He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand…The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” (Psalm 121:3-5,7-8)
The Lord promises and accomplishes your protection and your preservation whether your going or coming. Sometimes we don’t know what we are doing. It feels like we are going and coming and are completely at a loss, but in all of that God says, “I keep you. I send my angels to protect you. I control the things of this world to protect and provide for you. I will keep you by My grace, strengthen you in your faith, and preserve you for your heavenly goal.”
“The Lord make His face shine upon You and be gracious unto you” [v.25] The Lord is gracious as He blesses us. His face shining upon us is His face turning toward us with His forgiveness and in order to give us every needful thing.
God is holy and for that reason He cannot look upon sin with a shining face. He looks upon sin with a face of judgment. In His grace, God’s face does shines upon us because our sins are removed. The Lord’s face shines upon us when He sees us clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. His face shines upon us when He sees us as children of His grace and then gives us even more grace and blessing.
There are a number of examples in Scripture that help illustrate the significance of the Lord’s face shining upon us. Psalm 80 has three stanzas. At the end of each stanza, the hymn repeats the chorus: “Restore us, O God of hosts; cause Your face to shine and we shall be saved!” (Psalm 80:3,7,19). The Lord’s face shines on us when we are restored after we have fallen. The Lord’s face shines upon us when we return in repentance and have our sins forgiven
In Psalm 119, the psalmist writes, “Make your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:135). The Lord’s face shines upon us when He sends His Holy Spirit so that as we spend time in His Word we learn the statutes of God and learn the truth about Him and the salvation He provides. The Lord’s face shines upon us as our faith and understanding grow by His blessing.
Daniel prayed to the Lord acknowledging his nation’s sin and asking the Lord for his mercy: “Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate…O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act!” (Daniel 9:17,19). Things were dark for Daniel and the people of Israel. God had judged them and they were in captivity. From the midst of the darkness, Daniel’s prayer was: “Lord make Your face shine. Chase away the darkness, chase away the fears, chase away the depression and uncertainties. Shine into our lives and give us the joy and hope of Your salvation.”
“The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” [v.26] The Lord’s countenance is the same as His face but directs our attention more to the expression on His face and how He “looks.” Though some people are better at this than others, almost everyone can tell at least something about another person’s mood by what is on his face.
Old Testament Cain was grumpy with Abel and jealous, that turned into bitterness and hatred and eventually murder. God came to Cain and asked: “Why are you angry and why has your countenance fallen?” (Genesis 4:5-6). Cain’s countenance had fallen because he was jealous and filled with hatred. Someone whose countenance is bright exudes happiness. Someone whose countenance is downcast shows his sorrow. Someone whose countenance is stern shows the anger that lies behind his eyes. The countenance of God is lifted upon us as He looks upon us with His grace and mercy.
“The Lord lift up His countenance upon you” is God’s way of saying that He will direct His gaze graciously toward you and give you peace.
The blessing of peace pulls the whole benediction together to this one point. The peace with which the Lord blesses us surpasses all understanding (cf. Philippians 4:9). I guarantee you that no non-Christian can or ever will understand the peace which you have. You understand that peace because you have it through Christ. You have it as a blessing from the Lord.
The peace from the Lord is the peace you have when you know that a loved one who has died in Christ is not gone, but is with our Savior in Heaven. When everything seems to be going wrong, when there seems to be no control in this world because everything is such a big mess, the peace you have is knowing that someone is in control. He who made heaven and earth is controlling all things with His power for your benefit and blessing.
The peace of God is knowing that even though we sin often every day those sins are all forgiven. The peace of God is knowing that we don’t need to fear death and we don’t need to fear judgment because our guilt and condemnation is washed away and gone.
Jesus spoke of this peace when He told His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27). This is also the peace prophesied in Isaiah, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:3-4). The peace which God gives to us as His blessing is the peace of knowing that He is on our side; and if God is for us, who can be against us? (cf. Romans 8:31).
The peace and every other blessing which the Lord gives is unwaveringly sure. After God prescribed the words of the blessing to Moses He continued: ’ So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” [v.27]
As you leave a worship service you can be confident that having heard the blessing of the Lord you are going out the doors into the world with more than just a prayer. God did not tell Aaron to pray, “May the Lord bless you…” Through Moses God told Aaron to put His name upon the people. Aaron put God’s name upon the people through the Word of God and by pronouncing the blessing of the Lord upon them. Through those words of blessing God Himself would bless the people who heard the words and by His grace believed them.
When you hear the words of God’s blessing at the close of a worship service you are at that time actively being blessed by God Himself. That blessing and everything it involves is so sure because it is a blessing from the Lord —Jehovah, the unchanging God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Hebrews 13:8).
The Lord bless you is, in our worship context, much more than an ending. It is the joy of the Lord’s blessing as we go forward into the rest of the day and the new week. It is the confidence of knowing that God is actively watching and keeping us, that He is giving us all that is needful, and that He is being faithful to His every word.
“There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?” Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:6-8). 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.