Sunday, June 19, 2011

Numbers 6:22-27 "Go, My Children, With My Blessing"

NUMBERS 6:22-27
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.”

- His name
- His blessing
- Our response

THE INTRODUCTION: (at the beginning of the worship service)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen

Have you ever become so familiar with something, that you loose sight of how great it is? This being Father’s Day, one example that comes to mind immediately is our Christian fathers. Men who not only cared for our physical needs - they worked hard to put a roof over our heads, clothes on our back, and food in our belly - but our Christian fathers cared for something even greater. They cared for our souls. They made sure we were baptized in the name of the Triune God after we were born. From infancy, they brought us to church. They led table prayers and family devotions.

And yet, we became so familiar with the things our Christian fathers did for us, that we easily lost sight of how great these things were that he was doing for us. Seldom did we thank our Dad’s when they came home after a hard day of work. Work which they were doing to care for us. Seldom did we thank Dad for bringing us the word of God in our family devotions. Seldom did we thank Dad for taking us to church and making us do our memory work. These were just things that Dad did, which we became familiar with, and took for granted. It usually took days like the third Sunday in June or even the death of our father to make us pause and consider all the amazing things our father’s did for us. May our father’s forgive us for our thanklessness and thoughtlessness!

We all have experienced that feeling of being so familiar with something that we loose sight of just how awesome it is. I want to point you to another example this morning. It is a part of a worship service that we are all quite familiar with - the Benediction. I have seen elderly women mouth these words along with me as I’ve given them. I’ve seen youngsters in the pew mimic my hand gestures as I give the benediction. From the pastor standing up front, to the members in the pews, we are very familiar with the words of the Benediction.

And yet, how many times have we glossed over the words of the Benediction? To my shame I confess that sometimes I say the words without thinking about what I am doing. And I there were times, probably too numerous to count, when I was in your position and I didn’t really pay attention when the pastor was giving the Benediction. I imagine that most, if not all of you, know exactly what I am talking about. May God have mercy on me for taking for granted the amazing words of this blessing.

On this Trinity Sunday we want to remind ourselves of just how awesome this Benediction is. These are not words well-wishing, that some man decided would be a nice way to end a worship service. The words of the Benediction were divinely inspired - given by the Triune God Himself. He commanded His priests to bless His people in this way. We use these words of the benediction as we leave the Lord’s House and return to our lives in the world of sin and evil. Our theme is taken from that beloved hymn based on our text, “Go, My Children, with My Blessing.” Our text is taken from fourth book of Moses, Numbers, chapter six, beginning with twenty-second verse. Please rise for the reading of our text.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 23 "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, 'This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: 24 "The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; 26 The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace." ' 27 "So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them."

This is the Word of God. Amen.

Last Sunday we were privileged to attend my brother’s installation and ordination service at Ascension Lutheran Church in Batavia, IL. When it comes to the installation of a pastor, one of the neat traditions we have in our circles deals with the giving of the Benediction. You may remember from the various pastors you have had installed over the past decades, that the first words the pastor speaks to his new congregation after his installation are the words of the Benediction. And what better words are there a pastor can use to begin his ministry, then the words of the Benediction.

The giving of the Benediction has long been an honor for preachers of the word. It was an honor for the Old Testament priests since the days of Aaron and Moses, and continues to be a high honor some 3500 years later. One reason it is an honor is because of what the priest or pastor is doing when he gives the Benediction. The LORD says in the last verse of our text that in giving this Benediction the priest or pastor, “shall put My name on the children of Israel.” Let’s first remind ourselves of what this means, that in the Benediction the LORD’s name is being put on us.

First of all, what does it mean to “put one’s name” on something or someone. Well, when I was confirmed my parents got me a Bible as a gift with my name engraved on the front in gold letters. Why did they do that? Why put my name on a Bible? So that everyone would know that Bible belongs to me. It is my possession and no one else’s. Couldn’t we say the same when the LORD puts His name on someone? That person becomes His own special possession. We were purchased with that priceless blood of Christ. We were bought back by God. We are His own. He puts His name on us and blesses us.

What name is used in the Benediction? The name LORD, in all capitals. This is the unique name of our God, like Allah or Baal are unique names for two false gods. Any time you see the name “LORD” in all capitals, this is the great “I AM” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He is not “I was” or “I will be,” He is “I AM.” He is the eternal, unchangeable God. He is the Covenant God who makes promises and sticks by them. The God who promised to send a Savior to rescue us from our sins and has done just that in Jesus.

The fact that the name “LORD” is repeated three time in the Benediction is of great significance to us, especially on this Trinity Sunday. He is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God, three separate, but equal persons. The God who created and preserves us, the God who died to save us, and the God who converts us and makes us His children. It is this God who commands this blessing because He wants to put His name on His people to bless us.

In verse 23 He commands Moses to tell Aaron to bless the Children of Israel in this prescribed way. Think of that! The great “I AM,” the unchangeable covenant God, desires to bless His children! He wants to bless YOU! And He wants you to know that with these words He is blessing you. “I will bless them,” the LORD says at the close of our text.

This is His blessing. First of all, with these words He is blessing us and keeping us. To bless means to shower favor upon. The Triune God wants to shower His favor upon us. And He has done just that, hasn’t He. Think of all the countless ways God has given you. All you need to do is survey your bedroom at home to see all the ways the LORD has blessed you.

But the LORD blessing you goes far beyond showering favor on you with material blessings. The LORD has showered many spiritual blessings on us. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (Eph 1:3) He has given His one and only Son to die for us and take away all our sins. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our huge debt of sin has been paid for and removed forever. By the work of the Holy Spirit we have been adopted into the family of God. He is our Father and we are His children. By the faith the Holy Spirit has worked in us in Christ Jesus, we have become heirs of eternal life.

The LORD also keeps us. That is, He defends us from all danger, He guards and protects us from all evil. It is true, He may test our faith from time to time by causing hardship to come into our lives. And even when those trials come, the God who keeps His promises tells us that He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13) He keeps us. We leave God’s house knowing He has put His name on us and will continue bless us and keep us in Christ.

But the words of blessing continue from our Triune God. “The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.” It is a terrible thing to have the Triune God turn His back on you. He is the worst enemy any one can have. And because of our sin, that is the relationship we have by nature with the LORD. But all that changed on the cross of Jesus Christ. There God forsook His Son, on whom He had laid the sin of us all. There Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt 27:46) There God turned His back on His Son. Because Jesus endured the suffering of separation on account of our sins, the LORD face now shines upon us in Christ Jesus. Just as the sunshine after a storm brings us joy, even more so the face of the LORD shining on us brings even more joy as we hear how He has been gracious and merciful to us in Jesus.

“The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” To lift up ones countenance upon someone else, is to look with favor on someone. In the Benediction, the LORD is looking with favor on you. This is only be possible through Jesus Christ. Only cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, can the LORD possibly look with favor on us wretched sinners. But He does! And He wants to! And He wants you to know that because of Christ and in Christ He looks on you with favor. You are His own beloved child!

The result of the LORD blessing and keeping us, making His face shine upon us and being gracious unto us, and lifting up His countenance upon us, is peace. He gives us peace. Peace for our troubled consciences in the knowledge of sins forgiven. Peace with Him because we have been reconciled unto Him in Christ. Peace with our brother and sister in Christ. This is the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. Peace is the culmination of Christ’s redemptive work, the culmination everything you have heard in the worship service, and the culmination of everything said in the Benediction.

How do we respond to this amazing blessing? In our liturgy we sing a “triple amen” to the LORD who wants to put His name on us and bless us. And that is the perfect response to this amazing blessing. Contrary to what our little ones think, “Amen” does not mean “all done” or “the end.” “Amen” means “YES!” Or as our catechisms explain it, “Yes, yes, it shall be so.”

So when we sing our triple Amen after the Benediction, we are saying, “Yes, LORD, bless and keep us! YES, LORD, make Your face shine upon us and be gracious to us! YES, LORD, lift Your countenance upon us and give us peace!” “YES, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit put your name on us and bless us!” What a fitting response to this amazing blessing!

It is true that familiarity breeds contempt. That is, the more familiar we are with something, the more we take it for granted. We must confess that has been true when it came to our Christian fathers. But just because that is the case, doesn’t mean that is right. Even more so with this blessed Benediction which we get to hear every Sunday. Let us rejoice and cherish the Benediction as the Triune God puts His name on us and blesses us as we leave His house and hear Him say, “Go, My Children, with My Blessing!” Praise be to God the Father, praise be to God the Son, praise be to God the Spirit, great Jehovah three in one! Amen, that is “yes, yes, it shall be so!”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension Day - Ephesians 1:16-23 "The Greatness of the Power of God"

Text: Ephesians 1:16-23
- Worked in Christ
- At work in us

In the name of Jesus, who has gone up with a shout, and ascended to the right hand of God the Father, almighty, grace and peace to you in His name!
How powerful is God? Some have posed the silly question if God could use His power to make a rock so big that not even He could move it. I call it silly, because God doesn’t use His power for such silly demonstrations.

None of us would deny the power of God. We see it all around us in the world and universe He created. But how does the power of God impact our lives? How does the power of God affect us personally?

Sometimes we loose sight of God’s power. Though we know in our head that God is all-powerful, we often forget with our heart. We have a problem in our lives, whether it be with our health, our family, our finances, or our personal life, and we don’t go to God first in prayer with our problem. We try ever other avenue to take care of our problem, rather than casting our care on Him first. Sometimes we might even go so far as to think that we don’t want to bother God with our problem. When we do this, we are making God smaller than He really is. It amounts to thinking that God is so busy with the affairs of this world that He either doesn’t have the time or, even worse, the ability to help you with your problem.

But when doubting or forgetting about the power of God really affects us, is when we begin to doubt our salvation. We wonder whether God has really forgiven all of our sins. We wonder whether we are really going to heaven. After all, our conscience keeps reminding us of those dirty, filthy, embarrassing, and secret sins. And if we know about them, God, who tests the heart of man, knows about those sins too. And if God knows about them, how could we ever expect Him to allow us into heaven?!

This is one of the tremendous blessings of Ascension Day. Ascension Day is a day in which we see the greatness of God’s power. We see it at work first of all in Jesus and are reminded that the same great power is at work in each one of us! Let us therefore turn our attention to the Word of God as recorded in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1. Verses sixteen through twenty-three are included in the text to give us some context, but tonight we will be especially focusing in on verses nineteen through twenty-three.

(I) do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

So far the Word of God.

The power of God is so great that the Apostle Paul has trouble describing it. Take a look at verse 19 again. How many different words for power or strength does he use in that one verse? He writes of the “exceeding greatness of His power” and of His “mighty power.” Even the word “working,” from which we get our English word “energy,” implies power. In verse 19, Paul heaps synonym upon synonym to describe the power of Almighty God. The point we take away from this is that the power of God is so great that there really aren’t enough words in the human vocabulary to describe it.

To help us see the greatness of God’s power, Paul points us to two specific events in Jesus’ life. First is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. “According to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” Could there be any greater evidence of God’s power than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? After all, death is the one thing that no man has power over. No medicine, be it ever so strong; no doctor, be he ever so wise, can stop or over come death. Only the mighty power of God could give life to the dead.

For 40 days after His resurrection from the dead, we read in Acts that Jesus gave many “infallible proofs” that He was truly alive. He wanted there to be no doubt in the mind of His disciples that He had truly risen from the dead. He showed them His hands and His feet. He let them feel His body, that He was not just a ghost or a spirit, but a living human being with flesh and bones. Though He did not need it, He ate food in their presence to give further proof that He was living. The disciples had a hard time believing He had really risen from the dead because it seemed impossible. But Jesus used those 40 days from Easter to Ascension to show them the greatness of God’s power.

Today we find ourselves 40 days from Easter. It was on this day that we see once again the greatness of the power of God as Jesus ascended from the earth to the right hand of God the Father almighty. Again we read verses 19 and 20, “According to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” Who do you know who has the power to overcome the laws of gravity? Certainly we can strap jet engines or rockets onto something and we are able to ascend from the earth. But no one has the power in and of themselves to do what Jesus did and physically ascend from the ground into the clouds.

But the greatness of the power of God isn’t just seen in Jesus’ physical ascension off of this planet. The greatness of His power is seen where Jesus went when He ascended. He left this universe to heaven itself, the dwelling place of God - “the heavenly places,” Paul calls it. And there Jesus was given a position of power at the right hand of the Father. Now the Father has placed everything under the feet of His Son. As powerful as some of this world’s rulers might be, Jesus is more powerful and He rules over them. None shall rise to the greatness of Jesus. All in the past, in the present, or in the future are under the feet of Jesus and are subject to Him, whether they want to be or not.

Think of the great power it took for Jesus to leave the world of time and enter eternity. Consider how He left the realm of the finite and entered the infinite. How He left the physical and entered the spiritual. Jesus went from being in one place at one time, to being all places all the time as He now fills “all in all.” Truly, on Ascension Day, we see the greatness of the power of God which He worked in Christ.

But what does any of this have to do with us? This has everything to do with and our salvation! As Paul offers up his prayer of thanksgiving for the Christians in Ephesus, he makes mention of the specific thing he prays for them. One of the things he prays for them is that they may know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ.” Paul says that the same great power that brought lift to Jesus dead body on the third day, the same great power by which Jesus ascended from earth to God’s right hand in heaven, is the same exact great power that is at work in every single believer!

It does indeed take great power to give life to the dead. And that is what God did in each of us when He brought us to faith. He gave spiritual life to a spiritual corpse. Paul goes on to write in Ephesians 2, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (2:4-5) By faith in Christ we are united with Him. The same great power that raised Jesus on the third day, raised us to spiritual life as well. He made us believers in Christ. He adopted us as His children and made us heirs of eternal life. What amazing power our God has!

But the greatness of His power at work in us does not end there. On Ascension Day we see a clear demonstration of God’s mighty power as we hear how Jesus ascended from the earth to the right hand of God in heaven. Do we doubt His power on Ascension Day? Of course not! Paul writes in our text that Christ is our head, and we the church is His body. And where the head is there the body will be also. Even so by His great power God has “made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (2:6) By the great power of God we are connected with Christ and in Christ. Heaven is our home. Christ has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven, and will return to take us to be with Him forever. This is all the great power of God at work in us to save us and make us His own forever!

So you see, dear Christians, the power for your salvation is not in your hands, but was in the hands of almighty God! Almighty God who showed us how powerful He was when He raised Jesus from the dead. Almighty God who shows us on this day, the greatness of His power as Jesus ascended to His right hand in the heavenly places. It is this same Almighty God who has done everything necessary for you to be saved. He put all of your sins - even those secret sins - to death in the body of Jesus. He raised you up to new life in Christ and made you alive together with Him. He chose you from eternity to be His child and worked faith in your heart by the greatness of His power. You are His own dear child and whatever the problem might be in your life, it cannot be bigger than rising from the dead. God has the power to do that and God has the power to aid you in every situation in life. May the power of Ascension Day ever cause you to rejoice knowing that it was the same mighty power of God that is at work to save you! In the name of our Ascended Lord, Amen.