"The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace." For 25 centuries, believers have been holding God to these promises that he gave us to use as we bless each other. But what exactly are these words saying?
They are telling us how God is God for us, and how he has to be because he has promised. Notice, as we go through this three-part blessing, we can see the work of each of three persons of our three-in-one God. And in each stanza, we see the blessing going from the general to the specific.
As God tells us to command him to do these things for his people, he starts very generally. "The Lord bless you." In other words, "God, pour out on us all those blessings that you do and you have to because you promised them." Here, we’re covering it all — clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse, children, all we own and all we need. Look around, God is keeping his promise. Then it gets more specific. How does the Lord bless you? By keeping you, by guarding you.
I know it is sometimes easier to count on ourselves, or on our money, or our government, or our family for all that provision and protection, because we can see those things, we can quantify them. But God says "Make me do it." And it’s God, so you don’t have to worry about stock market crashes or political corruption or personal greed or selfishness getting in the way. The Lord blesses and keeps.
Because he goes on and says, "the Lord light up his face (cause his face to shine) on you and be gracious to you." We just got through graduation and confirmation season. Did you happen to watch any parents as their kids were getting awards, as their children were being recognized for their accomplishments? I’ll tell you — those parents were beaming with pride. Their faces were lit up. And with all the hard work their children expended and success they received, the parents were right to be beaming.
Now apply that to God. How should he be looking at us? We could go on all day with reasons God ought not let us see his shining face. His face should be hot with wrath. His holiness should consume us for all our failures. He knows those sins you think no one else knows about: Every image of you staring at the computer screen filled with perversity or the TV covered in immorality; every hurtful word and hateful thought, every self-serving action and hypocritical smile — God sees them all, and yet he tells us to command him to make his face shine on us like the proud parent of the successful student.
Why? Because he also tells us to command him to be what he is — gracious to us. He tells us to demand his grace — his grace that sent the Son, Jesus Christ, to pay our price and remove our guilt. All of those sins are truly gone because the Lord is gracious to us. That is the state we live in — grace.
So, we can go on to the promise of the third part of this blessing and hold God to his promise: "The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace." Through the gift of faith, God does look at us clothed in his Son’s perfection. Through the gift of faith, God sees us as holy. There is no greater result of that truth than peace, peace with our God and peace in our own hearts. So take God’s promises to heart…and hold him to them. The Lord bless you! The Lord give you peace.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.