The Future of the Church Hangs on the Blessing of God

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Numbers 6:22-27

The LORD said to Moses,

23 "Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to blessthe Israelites. 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 turn his face toward you
and give you peace."'

27 "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."

People of God:

There is an old and wise saying "I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future." That wisdom is at the heart of the Lord's blessing which we read as our scripture passage this morning.

In the past number of weeks, we have been looking at the determining factors of the future of the church and we have found first of all that the future depends on the Lord's presence with his people. It is the presence of the Lord that brings with power and authority the judgements and the benefits of the kingdom. Without his presence, our worship services are noise, our religion is just a powerless form, a empty tradition. With the presence of the kingdom, the keys work, powers are bound, captives set free, the kingdom comes among us.

The second determining factor for our future, the future of the church is the blessing of the Lord. You are certainly aware of this because we see it in our own lives and the lives of people around us all the time. What is it that determines the quality of our lives in the future? This world suggests that our future has everything to do with good planning, good investments, good management of resources etc. If you're a young person, make the right career choices today, it will determine a bright future for you. And of course the banks suggest that when we are young, give them our money for investment, it will determine free flying freedom at 55 years of age. And the wisdom of this world is that we ought not have to many children, after all they are expensive and with high expenses comes a depreciated quality of life. Our culture tells us that quality of life has to do with career, and money and financial security.

Now there is no doubt that right choices made a difference but they do not determine the future. There is no doubt that right investments make a difference but they do not determine a future. What all our planning and all our aforethought cannot do is control issues of health, accidents, market crashes, weather, fire, and many other things well outside of our control, the list goes on and on. You might choose the right career but your marriage might be extremely difficult, statistically that happens to in excess of 50% of marriages in North America. The truth is, long before quality of life has to do with money and financial security, it has to do with relationships, with health, with purpose and spiritual meaning - well being. And so many of those dynamics are not in our hands, they have everything to do with the one that holds the future.

Now we are talking about the future of the church, but the well being of the church has everything to do with the well being of its individual members. When one member suffers, the whole church suffers. When one marriage is in chaos, the church feels its pain. When individual members are spiritually dead or oppressed, the whole community feels the weight. The future well being of the church hinges on the blessing of the Lord in each one of our lives. That is why the blessing of the Lord has been so valued in the history of Israel and the history of the church. Many churches neglect to give the blessing, they think that it is just part of a liturgy, some words spoken as a form of worship. This morning though, I encourage you to notice that the blessing is more than just some words.

Notice the first and last verse of our passage

23 "Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
27 "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."

The priests were given authority by God to lead the nation of Israel into the presence of God through worship at the tabernacle/temple. As part of that worship, Aaron the high priest was to speak a blessing to the people of Israel, according to Leviticus 9:22, while raising his hands, symbolically laying his hands on the whole crowd of Israel, he pronounced this blessing upon them. But it is more than just words. Verse 27 makes it very clear that when the high priest spoke the blessing, God was present behind the words actually blessing his people. The spoken blessing is not just traditional words, they are words with divine power to set the future of God's people. Notice the phrase "So they will put my name on the Israelites" - to be people who have the name of the Lord placed upon us is to be people who receive the blessings of God that shape who we are in this world, a people called out of darkness into his wonderful light, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people blessed by God so that in turn they might be a blessing to the nations. These words have spiritual power to shape destiny, to determine a future, to turn curses into blessings, ashes to beauty, evil to good, all things to the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

In the process of talking about Aaron, I mentioned that he had been given a position of spiritual authority to lead the people of Israel into the presence of God. Blessing others is the heart of authority in the Christian life and in the church. The Israelites understood this very well. Kings would pronounce a blessing upon their people. Fathers would pronounce blessings upon their children as the patriarchs did upon their children. Blessings were given from older to younger generations even outside of official positions of authority as is clearly illustrated in the case of Simeon blessing Joseph, Mary and Jesus at the temple. Fathers and Mothers, Grandparents and great grandparents have the God given responsibility to bless their children with these words understanding that God's power is behind them. Scripture makes it clear that those in authority, whether elders or pastors ought to be pronouncing blessings upon God's people. Though it may be tradition in the Christian Reformed Chruch that only the Pastor may give the blessing in worship services, it is not just the official duty of a minister, it is the calling of all of us who have a position of authority.  The heart of authority is to bless others. Elders and deacons, as you have been called to a position of authority in the church, you have been called to bless God's people with your service, shape their future with you work, and see that the power of God is at work among us.

Let me spend just a few minutes looking at the exact words of this blessing that Aaron was to pronounce, the exact words that we often receive in the blessing.

"' "The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace."'

The Lord bless you (individually - results in community blessing)

The Lord give you well being, in your life, in your health, in your relationships, in your hearts, in your emotions, the Lord prosper you in your work, in your study, in your activities.

The Lord Keep you

Like a shepherd keeps the sheep, watches over them, protects them, corrects them, guides them, the boast of Psalm 23 is the heart of this blessing

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The Lord make his face to shine upon you

This basically means the Lord smile on you.  This is the smile of pride, acceptance, love, affirmation (vs. frown - see Psalm 80:3,4).  According to Psalm 31:16, when the Lord's face shines on us, we are not put to shame, rather we are honoured

The Lord be gracious toward you

May God give to you freely, undeserved though it is.

The LORD turn his face toward you

This is also translated "Lift up his countenace upon you."  It may be a repetition of smile but it more likely has the sense of the Lord pour ing out his special attention on you. Just as when you as a parent are in a crowd, such as the exibition, and your children are running around having fun - you keep your face toward them, you keep your watchful eye on them because in the crowd, they are your favourite, so to, this blessing includes that God treat you as  his favourite child.  One jewish commentator tanslates this:  "May God show his favoritism toward you."(//Joseph)(Hebrew commentator Devarim)

The Lord give you peace."' The Lord give you Shalomj- the rich Hebrew concept of peace which involves a whole lot more than just absence of war or turmoil,  it implies well being, joy, a life that works right, a peace that lasts through trials and suffering. The Shalom of God sets our lives back in order again, it re- energizes our strength, it re-roots our faith, it heals our broken hearts, it sets us free from captivating trauma.

The blessing of God determines our future.

You see, everyone of us, and we all together as the church are limited, by our limits, by our brokenness, by our weakness. But when Jesus comes to visit us, he gives us his peace, and in giving us his peace, his blessing, his healing, his strength, he opens an entirely new future of possibilities for us.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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