June 16, 2019 The Benediction
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
For this Trinity Sunday observance, we’ll focus on these verses from Numbers 6:
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’ So shall they put My name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
The Lord called this HIS blessing; we refer to it as The Benediction = a Latin word meaning: /to say well, /to speak a good word upon someone; /to give your approval or blessing. The speaking of this Benediction, at the close of our church services, is a command that goes back 3,500 years; that’s when the Lord told Moses that these words were to be pronounced over His own people as God’s own blessing.
And ever since that time it’s been used; /in the OT temple, /in the synagogue services of the Jews, /in the churches of the NT with the ‘new’ Israelites = the Christians, /& even today among those who use Holy Scripture seriously. This blessing has been used regularly at our worship times; which we call ‘Divine Service’ because God comes to serve us with His Word & Sacrament, to give us His forgiveness, and peace in Christ Jesus our Savior.
So, the Benediction is very familiar to us, but could we explain what it means if someone asked? This is called ‘The Aaronic Blessing’ because it was first spoken by Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was the first high priest of the Jews, at the time of the Exodus. And because this blessing repeats the name of the Lord three times, we also refer to it as ‘The Trinitarian Blessing.’ If you’ve ever wondered why it seems to repeat itself a few times, that’s no accident.
The One True God IS Tri-une; 1 being, 3 persons; each are God together: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sometimes people are under the impression that the Triune God was not known to the people of the Old Testament = but that’s not true; God made himself known to them. Adam & Eve would’ve known perfectly the true nature of the God who said: ‘let us make man in our image’ (Gen ). Certainly they would’ve taught that to the generations after them.
But, because of man’s sinful nature, without being reminded, people would’ve forgotten who God is. *Do you know someone who grew up Christian & fell away, & now their children don’t know who God really is? That’s how forgetting God happens; but God wants us to know Him. The blessing God told Aaron to speak shows that they were constantly reminded that there are 3 persons in God.
Some years ago, there was a Lutheran missionary to the Jews in New York City whose name was Nathaniel Friedmann. He had been a Jew himself before he became a Lutheran pastor. In order to prove to his fellow-Jews that the true God is the Triune God, he wrote a little pamphlet, and in proving his point, he used only passages from the Old Testament. He showed also that the ancient teachers of the Jewish church believed that God was 3 persons together.
All faithful Jews repeat a prayer every day called the ‘great shamah,’ from Deut. 6, which begins with the words: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, Yahweh is one.” One of the ancient rabbis, who lived shortly after the time of Jesus, wrote, “There are actually three names mentioned here; Lord, God, & Yahweh. How can three be one? …Only by the revelation of the Holy Spirit can we understand this.”
The Bible teaches very plainly that there is only One God. Besides Moses, Nehemiah writes: “You alone are the Lord.” (9:6) And Isaiah quotes God saying, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God.” (44) God tells Moses His personal name to give to the Israelites, it is: Yahweh, which means -singular- ‘I am.’ And yet, as Genesis 1 says, when God made man, He said, “Let US make man in OUR image.” If there was only one person, that verse would instead say, “Let ME make man in MY image.”
There are many such passages in the OT; and as Jesus comes upon the scene in the flesh, the Triune nature of God becomes even more clear = as Jesus establishes his own credentials as The Son, called ‘Immanuel’ = God with us, & is one with the Father. Jesus commands us -in Matt.28- to baptize all people in the name of the F,S, HSp. And in 2Cor 13: there’s an alternate benediction used by St. Paul, where he says: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Because the teaching of the Bible is so clear to be both One and Three, it is vitally important that we continue to confess the truth of the Athanasian Creed
“So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise, the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.” Our human reason may ask with that old Jewish rabbi,
“How can three be one?” But we know that God knows himself better than we can ever know him. And if he tells us in his Holy Word that there are 3persons but only one God, we don’t ask, “How can this be?” We simply believe His Word knowing it must be so.
And so, this Triune God bestows His three-fold blessing upon us. The first part of the blessing refers especially to the love of God the Father, when it says, “The Lord bless you and keep you.” *How does He bless & keep us? We confess the truth with the Small Catechism:
“I believe that God has made me and all creatures; has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them; also clothing & shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children and all I have; he defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.”
This blessing spoken by the pastor is not a human wish, like: ‘I hope you have a good week.’ God said, “They shall put My name upon the children of Israel and I will bless them.” By the voice of the pastor, God blesses you, to provide for you & preserve your life. When you are here to hear those words, you receive His blessing; likewise, when you choose not to be here, you do not receive that blessing. This is true worship: not that we come to do something for God, but that we come to receive things from Him == all ‘three’ of Him == to strengthen us for another week of living in this faith.
But *why would God do that for sinners? Christians know from the Bible how God feels about sin; that it makes Him angry. Our sin denies Him, & ruined His creation. His face is turned away from us because we turn our backs to Him. It’s only because Jesus came to be with us that God’s face could be turned back in our direction. So, to assure us that the Father will be good to us now & in the future, His Benediction continues with part 2: “The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”
If God would treat us as we deserve, his face would never shine toward us; He would hide His face from us in anger & disappointment. We have broken his laws for living this life; we are spiritually unclean.
But when all these sins are covered with the holy & sinless life-blood of Jesus-the-Messiah, then God turns back toward us in mercy & grace. In love, His face shines upon us for Jesus’ sake; so part 2 is referring to God-the-Son. In John 1, we read: “for the law was given thru Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Now God can allow His face to shine upon us because He once turned His face away from His own Son on Calvary’s Cross; now all sin is paid for.
God’s face will shine upon us in grace; by grace & faith our life is stamped with Jesus’ holy name. As we leave His church, as His people, we can face /the problems, /the troubles, /& the sorrows of the week; we go out with our Good Shepherd and He leads us. Even if today should be our last day on the earth, He has spoken to us His blessing of forgiveness & peace. He has promised us that the door of heaven is open, where we will see him face-to-face, and his face will shine upon us, ever-more.
Finally, the benediction says, “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” With this third phrase, we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will help us. In the Scripture, the Spirit of God is not referred to as ‘it’ = like a force or mere energy; but the Spirit is called ‘He’, as a ‘being,’ like Jesus. The Holy Ghost is the Lord who brings real lasting peace to our souls; He’s who works faith in our hearts, so that we can believe that Jesus is God & Savior. As St. Paul says, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor.12) For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
As Jesus ascended back to heaven, He promised the Spirit-of-God, as the next counselor, helper, & comforter. As the Spirit rested upon Jesus at His baptism and during His earthly life, so Peter tells us that, as WE have been baptized into Jesus, we have also received the Holy Spirit.
God has a good ‘countenance’ or attitude toward us because the Spirit dwells in us; His countenance is kindness & mercy. The peace of the Lord is a peace of forgiveness, and of heaven-to-come. It’s a peace which the world cannot give us.
We live in a world that thinks ‘newer’ is always ‘better’; this attitude affects the Church. In Revelation, Jesus is referred to as ‘the ancient of days.’ God has made His ancient promise of salvation to us; our God has timeless blessings to serve His people with. There’s nothing we can do to improve on those. As we leave the House of God for another week of living as His people, we cannot improve upon the words of His own Benediction. With this 3-part blessing, our Triune God has promised to preserve us in faith -continually- until He brings us to our true home.
This is the Aaronic Blessing, or the Trinitarian Benediction. The Lord KEEP = that’s the Father, the Lord be GRACIOUS = that’s the Son, the Lord give you PEACE = that’s the Holy Spirit. 3 persons, one blessing.
And God has told us how to respond to Him. We are to say, ‘Amen’ = yea, yea, it shall be so! Lord, let it be to me as you have said.”
So now receive the name and blessing of God: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’ And all God’s people say: ‘Amen!’