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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:God gives the richest blessing for his people
Text:Numbers 6:22-27 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Administering God's Blessing
 
Preached:2009
Added:2013-12-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 121

Psalm 115:1,6,7,8

Psalm 67

Hymn 1

Hymn 83

Scripture reading:  Revelation 21:22-22:6

Text:  Numbers 6:22-27

 

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,

Our text for this New Year’s Eve contains some familiar words.  We hear them at the conclusion of every Sunday morning’s worship service.  It’s easy to hear these words mindlessly, just as it’s easy for a minister to speak them mindlessly.  But whether you’re standing up here or standing over there, nothing in our worship should be done mindlessly.  After all, it’s God whose presence we’re standing in.  The holy God meets us in public worship and so everything should be meaningful and thoughtful.  No one should check their brains at the door.  So, just from that perspective, it’s worth our while to periodically give some attention to these words. 

But even more so this evening as we leave _____ behind and enter into ____.  With these words, we receive assurance from God that he was our God in this year gone by and he will be our God in the year ahead.  God has blessed us in ____ and he promises to continue blessing us in ____. 

So, I preach to you God’s Word tonight with this theme:

God gives the richest blessing for his people

We’ll see that this blessing includes a promise for:

  1. Protection
  2. Grace
  3. Peace

Our text seems to appear out of nowhere in Numbers 6.  The first part of that chapter deals with laws pertaining to Nazirites and then all of a sudden we get these words from God to Moses about the blessing.  Yet we know that these words were spoken while Israel was in the desert on their way to the Promised Land.  We know that these words were spoken around the time that the priesthood was instituted and the tabernacle constructed and so on.

The LORD, Yahweh, came to Moses and gave him the instructions we find in our text.  Moses was to pass these instructions on specifically to Aaron and his sons, in other words, to the priests.  Whenever the priests would send away the people, they would send them away with a blessing from God and these words were to be used for that.  It was the job of a priest to represent the people at certain points and God at other points.  When the blessing was spoken, the priest was representing God.  Similarly, today ministers also speak for God, also when this blessing is given at the conclusion of our morning worship services. 

It’s important that we recognize that the people to be blessed were those in covenant with God.  God had established his covenant of grace with Abraham and these people were caught up in that covenant.  God was their God, and they were his people.  The covenant of grace is in the background of this passage and we shouldn’t take that for granted.  God blesses the people who are his, to whom he has bound himself in a covenant.  This priestly blessing is not indiscriminate, it’s not directed to every member of the human race; instead, it’s very particularly focussed on those who have received and embrace the signs and seals of God’s covenant promises in faith, together with their children.  This was true in the days of Moses and it remains true today.      

When we begin looking at the blessing itself, there are some interesting things about its form.  It’s obvious that it has three parts and those three parts in turn each have two members.  Some have connected the three parts with the Trinity, but that seems to be a stretch.  More relevant is the number of words in the blessing.  In Hebrew, if you leave out the three mentions of Yahweh (the LORD), there are twelve words in the blessing.  Many commentators of the past and present believe that this is symbolic of the twelve tribes who originally received this blessing.  There seems to be something to that and that would again highlight the covenantal nature of this blessing.

But the most important thing when we look at this blessing as a whole is that it builds in intensity from beginning to end.  It starts off with very general words of blessing and becomes more specific and more glorious as it moves on.  In fact, the second member of each part explains the first member.  So, for instance, verse 24 says, “The LORD bless you and keep you.”  There “keeping you” explains what it means that the LORD will “bless you.” 

“The LORD bless you and keep you” – ‘blessing’ simply means that God is going to send good things your way.  Of course, God gets to define what is good for us.  We might have our own ideas of what is good and sometimes they overlap with what God says is good for us, but not always.  Our heavenly Father always knows what is best for us, even if we can’t see it from his perspective.  We trust his good will towards us and his love for us.

Then God keeping us explains further what it means that he will bless us.  That refers to God’s protection.  What is God going to protect us against?  Well, we have enemies, don’t we?  As believers, we have sworn enemies in the devil, the world, and even our own flesh.  God promises to protect us against these enemies.  He has done so in the past, and we can be confident that he will continue to do so in the future. 

Brothers and sisters, God’s people can be confident that God will keep them in his care.  Nothing can truly harm the people who trust in the LORD.  Yes, we can be assaulted and tempted and all kinds of things can happen.  But God promises to keep us through it all and lead us forward to the age to come.  In the days of Moses, Israel trusted God because of his covenant promises.  Those promises were fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  So, in the New Testament, we hear Paul saying things like, “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  Since we are in Christ and united to him by faith, we can be sure that God will guard our hearts and minds, and indeed everything in our lives.  God can be trusted!           

God then instructs the priests to bless the people by saying, “The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”  Having God’s face shine upon you is always a good thing in Scripture, always a positive thing.  For example, in Psalm 80, there is a repeated refrain, “make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”  There God’s face shining upon his people is the same thing as salvation.  It is God looking down upon his people with favour and love.  It is God being near to his people and their being confident of his presence – after all, you can see his face shining on us.  There’s no question, no doubt, that God is there and he cares. 

And what God’s face shining upon his people means is further explained by “the LORD be gracious to you.”  Grace is a word that we use so often and it’s so easy to cheapen it by our frequent use of it.  It may even be possible that we no longer get its meaning.  It just becomes part of our jargon, our insider language, our church language furniture.  So, we need to think about this:  what is grace?  What does it mean for God to be gracious to us?  You’re going back to work on Monday, what would you say if someone there said, “Hey, you’re a church-going person, what is ‘grace’?  What does that mean exactly?”  Grace is receiving the opposite of what you deserve.  That’s it.  The opposite of grace is justice.  Imagine if the priestly blessing said, “the LORD give you exactly what you deserve.”  If you know your sin well, you know that wouldn’t be a blessing, but a curse.  Instead, the priests say and we still hear today, “the LORD be gracious to you, Yahweh gives you the opposite of what you deserve.”  You deserve eternal punishment, he will give you eternal life.  You deserve his eternal wrath, he will give you his eternal love.  You deserve to be his enemy, he will always be your Father and you will be his child. 

Loved ones, grace is receiving the opposite of what you deserve.  Others have explained grace by making it into an acronym for “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”  That explains the basis of God’s grace.  For the people of Israel, again it was on the basis of God’s promises leading up to the Messiah.  It was also on the basis of the sacrificial system which pointed ahead to the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  For us, the basis of God’s gracious blessing is the work of Christ accomplished on our behalf.  He lived a perfect life for us.  He suffered and went to the cross for us.  He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven for our benefit.  We are richly blessed because of everything that our Saviour has done for us.  Because of our Lord Jesus, whenever we hear the words of the priestly blessing today, we can count on it that God will be gracious to us.  We could depend on his grace in ______, we can depend on it in _____.  A lot of things may change in the year ahead, but God’s grace towards his people will not. 

The last part of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6 says, “The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  God turning his face toward you again is something that’s always to be desired.  If God turns his face away from you, that’s a big problem.  But when God is said in Scripture to turn his face towards someone, it’s God demonstrating his love for that person.  If God turns his face toward you, you are assured of his presence.  You can be confident that he wants to communicate with you, and implied in that is the fact that he accepts you.  If God turns his face toward you, you can be sure that God will never ignore your requests for help.  He will always answer you, even if he doesn’t give exactly the answer that you’re looking for.  Having God turn his face toward you is life. 

And it also results in peace, “the LORD give you peace.”  This is the climax of the priestly blessing, it’s all leading up to this.  Peace is where it all comes together.  This is what God really promises for his covenant people.  The word used in Hebrew there is “shalom,” a familiar word to many of us.  “Shalom” doesn’t really mean ‘peace’ as in the opposite of war.  It can certainly include it, but it’s a richer concept.  “Shalom” refers to harmony, wholeness, completeness.  When there is “shalom,” everything is the way it was created to be and everyone involved is content and happy.  Such a state of affairs can only take place in a limited way in this age.  For the fullness of “shalom,” we have to wait for the age to come.  To be sure, Christ has given us the peace of God which passes understanding.  In John 14:27 he says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you...”  While we have peace with God through the blood of the cross, there is still sin and wickedness in our lives and in this world.  It’s only when this chapter closes and the final chapter begins that we find the genuine “shalom.” 

That final chapter is found in Revelation 21 and 22.  There God will bless his people with his presence.  His face will always be shining on us and we’ll be able to see it clearly all the time, while here we sometimes don’t.  There God will always lift up his face upon us and no doubts about that will ever arise in our minds, while here and now sometimes they do.  Everything will be exactly as it was designed to be:  shalom.  As we go into this new year, we do so with the hope of the age to come.  Even as we wait for that next chapter, the final chapter in the drama of our redemption, we trust that God will continue to be our God and that we will be his people, the apple of his eye.

Verse 27 concludes our text with God saying that this blessing was to be the means by which his name would be put on the Israelites.  That’s an expression that we don’t find used anywhere else in the Bible.  Whenever these words were spoken by the priests and whenever they’re spoken today by ministers, God is putting his name on his people.  God’s name is simply himself.  With this blessing, God is giving himself to his people.  He is giving his presence in a relationship of fellowship, a relationship in which good is graciously given to human beings.

As we look then to this new year, God gives us his blessing.  He’ll do so at the end of our service in a few moments with these exact words from Numbers 6.  Loved ones, let’s hear these words in faith and trust that our Father will do as he promises.  We can trust him, because as we look to Christ, we know that God does what he says.  He promised a Saviour, and he carried through.  We look to Christ in faith, and we rest and trust in him, and as we do that, our God promises to be alongside us through whatever _____ holds. 

Before ending, I want to make just one more additional comment about the blessing.  I’ve heard people say, and you’ve probably heard it too, that they didn’t get anything out of going to church on this or that Sunday or this or that worship service.   “I didn’t get anything at all out of going to church today.”  A lot of times that has to do with the sermon.  Reformed churches consider the sermon the center of the worship service.  If the sermon fails to deliver, then some people view the whole service as a write-off.  While the preaching of the Word is important and it is central, the blessing in Numbers 6 reminds us that it is not the only thing.  God’s Word blesses us in our worship in more ways than just in the sermon.  Even if the sermon were to be a disaster, God’s Word is still there to bless us in several ways, not the least of which is the blessing at the end of the worship service. 

Think about this with me for a moment.  Let’s say you were to become deaf, unable to hear anything.  Today sometimes hearing aids and cochlear implants can do a lot for the deaf, but they don’t necessarily solve everything.  Let’s say you became deaf in a way in which there was nothing that could be done for you.  You were incurably deaf.  Would you still come to church?  Or would you “get nothing out of it”?  Oh, you might say, I could ask the minister and he could send me copies of the sermon and then it’d all be good.  But you could read the sermon at home, why bother coming to church?  Brothers and sisters, that’s not a hypothetical situation.  This happens.  I’ve known people to whom this has happened.  If something like that were to happen to you, then you’ll need to recall what I’m saying here about the blessing.  The blessing is there, even if you can’t hear it, even if the minister has preached a lousy sermon, even if you develop Alzheimer’s and can’t even remember your name (let alone what was just said in the sermon), God is here each and every Sunday in a special way to graciously bless his people.  It’s good to be here to receive it.    

The blessing is something special, it’s a weekly gift from God, and we should treasure it.  They’re familiar words, but they are precious words that speak to us of the gospel and the God who loves his people.  AMEN.              

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for your promise to bless us and keep us.  We’re filled with praise when we remember that you will always shine your face on us and be gracious to us.  Father, we love you because you have loved us and we see that in you turning your face toward us and giving us peace through Christ.  Father, we have so many reasons to be thankful!  We have so many reasons to be hopeful about this new year.  In the year gone by, there has been hardship and sadness in some of our lives, but here too we are still confident of your love for your love because of Christ and the gospel.  We pray that you would bless us in this new year and help us all to trust you each and every day.  Help us to to live out of our union with the Saviour and give glory to you with each day you give us.  And we pray Father that you would bring the day of his return with haste.  We pray that this coming year would be the year of Christ’s return.  Help us to always eager anticipate that great event and look forward to it with faith in him.  Please hear us as we pray in the name of our Redeemer, AMEN.         

 

    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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