GOD BLESSES YOU THREE TIMES OVER
- With the Father’s providence
- With the Son’s grace
- With the Spirit’s peace
Text: Numbers 6:22-27
Service video (sermon starts at 32:35)
Ite, missa est. No, I’m not speaking in tongues. Ite, missa est are Latin words that are very loosely translated, “Go, for the mass is ended.” For centuries, Christian worship concluded with this somewhat terse way of dismissing worshipers. If we really wanted to be cynical, I suppose we could translate, “Go home! We’re done!” So when Martin Luther arrives on the scene in the sixteenth century, he proposed two options with a slightly more elegant ending to the Sunday service. One option was the closing words of Psalm 67: “God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.” The other option was the blessing God himself gave in today’s First Lesson, a blessing that was to be spoken over the ancient Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.”
You hear those words every Sunday. Just before the final hymn, the pastor raises his hands, and intones those familiar words in a familiar way that you can almost hear before he speaks each syllable. But familiarity breeds contempt—or at least it leads us to tune out because the end of the service is in sight! There is much to be found in these words of blessing from God, and the fact that these words were chosen to be read on Trinity Sunday tells us that there is much to be learned about our Triune God in these words of blessings. So let’s do that. On this Sunday that occurs eight weeks after Easter, a Sunday that has been set aside to review the Bible’s teaching that there is one God who is nevertheless three persons at the same time, let’s find out what this ancient blessing has to say to us and teach us about the Triune, three-in-one God. Today’s First Lessons shows us how God blesses us three times over! Our triune God blesses us with the Father’s providence, the Son’s grace, and the Spirit’s peace.
“God bless you.” Sometimes people will say that after someone sneezes. I doubt that most people actually offer an unspoken prayer for God’s blessing when they offer a post-sneeze “God bless you.” For better or worse, “God bless you” has become little more than a nice-sounding religious cliché.
The first part of the triple blessing from God in today’s First Lesson sounds a little bit like the phrase, “God bless you.” But it’s no cliché. Those seven short words (only three in the original Hebrew) are packed with significance. Verse 24 says, “The LORD bless you and keep you.” One interesting point to note is that all the verbs are in a future form. In other words, this isn’t just some hopeful wish for God’s blessing; this is a statement that God will bless his people: “The LORD will bless you and will keep you.” The first verb, “bless,” means much more than what we usually mean when we say “God bless you” after someone sneezes. The term in Hebrew means to endow someone with power for success and prosperity. In this statement from God, we hear his promise to bless us and bestow on us everything we need for our daily life and then some. And the next statement adds more to the picture. “The LORD…keep you.” That term emphasizes God’s great care for his people. God isn’t like a parent who throws lots of toys and games at his children just to keep them quiet and out of his hair. No, he takes great interest in our lives. He blesses us with so much not to keep us quiet, but to demonstrate his rich kindness and love for his people.
If our goal on Trinity Sunday was simply to review the Bible’s facts about our three-in-one God, we wouldn’t have much to talk about. But this blessing from the book of Numbers takes our celebration of Trinity Sunday to a higher level. The three sections of this blessing shows us how our Triune God blesses us three times over. Notice how the first section of this blessing points us to the work of God the Father, the first person of the Triune God. Not only does the Bible tell us that God the Father is the Creator of heaven and earth, but the Bible also attributes the work of protecting us and providing for us to the Father. Our triune God richly blesses us, and one way we are blessed is with the Father’s providence. That important term, “providence,” refers to all of the many ways God provides for our daily, physical needs, and all of the ways God preserves and protects us in this life. God’s gracious providence provides you with the ability to earn a living, with all of our daily needs, with blessings far above and beyond what we need or desire, with caring friends and family, even with the comfort that the sad and sobering situations we come across in life will still work out to be a blessing for us. God blesses you three times over, and the way the Father blesses you is with his providence.
Scattered among the many pieces of mail you receive each week are probably several requests for donations. There are plenty of organizations and causes that would appreciate your help. What do you do with all of those requests? Chances are you ignore some of them but respond to others. If you have a favorite charity or cause that’s near and dear to you, you are likely more than happy to support that group, because you see it as an opportunity to help people who have a real and serious need for your help.
That concept of helping someone in need comes out in the middle statement in God’s three-part blessing in Numbers chapter six. Verse 25 says, “The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” We’ve been taught many times that the Bible term “grace” means “undeserved love.” That’s absolutely correct, but the word that is translated “gracious” in this verse is not the usual Hebrew word for “grace.” The word used here is somewhat similar; it describes a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give and is able to help someone in need. For example, a favorite charity of yours sends you a request for a donation, along with the story of some of the people that they have been able to help and some of the people who need help. You hear those stories and your heart is moved. You send a check in to the charity because you’re in a position to help someone else who is in need.
That’s the idea behind the second part of this Old Testament blessing. And what better way could we describe the life and saving work of Jesus Christ? We needed something and he could provide it. We needed a rescue from sin. We needed a Savior from hell. We needed a replacement life for our sinful lives. We needed help, and Jesus was the only one who could give us what we needed. His face shone upon us. The Light of the world endured the darkness of our sin and now shines his righteousness into our hearts. His heart was moved to give us what we needed, and now our hearts and souls are filled with the gracious love that he has provided.
If our goal on Trinity Sunday was simply to review the Bible’s facts about our three-in-one God, then we wouldn’t have much to talk about. But this blessing from the book of Numbers takes our celebration of Trinity Sunday to a higher level. The three sections of this blessing show us how our Triune God blesses us three times over. Notice how the second section of this blessing points us to the work of God the Son, Jesus, the second person of the Triune God. When we compare the first two parts of this blessing side by side, we realize that God the Father’s providence would be meaningless were it not for God the Son’s grace. A steady income is a wonderful blessing, but it cannot provide us with the righteousness God expects from us; but Jesus, the Son of God, did just that we he lived a flawless life under his Father’s law on our behalf. A roof over our heads is a wonderful blessing, but it cannot release us from the chains and shackles of sin; but Jesus, the Son of God, did just that when he shed his blood as our Savior. The free nation in which we live is a wonderful blessing, but it cannot free us from death’s grasp; but Jesus, the Son of God, did just that when he burst out of his three-day prison and rose from the dead. God blesses you three times over, and the way the Son blesses you is with his grace, his undeserved love that rescued you and me from the eternal consequences of our sin.
A few days ago I saw a graphic that someone had prepared in connection with Memorial Day, listing the number of servicemen who have given their lives to protect our nation in war. It is easy to forget their sacrifice. It is also just as easy to forget how much war, not peace, has been a part of human history. As much as modern Americans want to believe that lasting world peace is attainable, any student of history will likely see things differently. Sad to say, war has been the “natural order of things” throughout history. The fact that many of us here this morning are used to peace time rather than war time, and that fact that many people in our world think that peace is the “norm” goes to show just how much we take peace for granted today.
Peace was not the natural order of things between us and God, either. But the last section of the three-part blessing from God bestows peace on the Lord’s people. Verse 26 says, “The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” You might notice that the way we usually hear this blessing varies slightly from the NIV’s (New International Version) translation of this verse. In our end-of-service blessing, we usually hear the final phrase spoken this way: “The LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.” Our NIV translation is more literal to the exact Hebrew words, but the version we use in our services communicates the idea behind the words. Through Jesus Christ, God looks with favor on us, and the result is peace. Here is the Holy Spirit at work. In our spring quarter Bible Class on conversion, we just finished several weeks learning about the Holy Spirit’s role as the One who brings us to faith in Jesus and places the peace of Jesus’ forgiveness into our hearts and souls.
If our goal on Trinity Sunday was simply to review the Bible’s facts about our three-in-one God, then we wouldn’t have much to talk about. But this blessing from the book of Numbers takes our celebration of Trinity Sunday to a higher level. The three sections of this blessing show us how our Triune God blesses us three times over. Notice how the final section of this blessing points us to the work of God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God. Jesus accomplished your peace with God when he took the guilt of your sins away by his death, but it is the Holy Spirit who delivers that peace into your heart. He first placed that saving peace into your soul the day he brought us to faith—for many of us, that was the day of our baptism. And in many ways today, he continues to assure you of the peace you now enjoy with God. By your status as a baptized and adopted child of God; by the words of forgiveness that you hear spoken in this church regularly; by your own personal time spent in the Bible; by the body and blood of Jesus that we miraculously receive in the Lord’s Supper; any time the gospel message of Jesus’ forgiving love is heard, the Holy Spirit is delivering God’s peace into your heart. God blesses you three times over, and the way the Holy Spirit blesses you is with his peace, placed into your heart along with faith in Jesus Christ.
Here’s one more interesting item to note about this blessing in Numbers chapter six. In English, we use the word “you” to refer either to one person (singular, you vs. me) or to a group of people (plural, you all). In Hebrew, there are two different forms, one singular, one plural. The word “you” shows up a number of times in this blessing, but every time it appears, it’s the singular form. Isn’t that interesting? Every time Aaron, the high priest, would stand up, raise his hands, and speak this blessing over the ancient Israelites, each person in the crowd would have heard that blessing addressed to himself or herself personally, not just to the whole group at large. That says a lot about the God whom we worship. Whether it’s the Father’s providence, the Son’s grace, or the Spirit’s peace, God blesses you, his child, individually and abundantly. Your Triune God really does bless you three times over. Let that comfort place a renewed appreciation for the blessing you hear in our services, and let it also fill you with a joy and peace that can only come from your gracious three-in-one God. Amen.