Why do we say what we say? - The Benediction
As a child, I remember entering my bedroom and thinking, “I didn’t leave that toy there.” The logical conclusion that my young mind drew is that my toys must have been playing without me and I nearly caught them in the act. So when Toy Story came out in 1995, I thought, “Ah ha! I knew it!” The thought that perhaps my toys were moved as my mom was putting my clothes away never crossed my mind.
In Toy Story, Buzz, Woody, Slink, and the other toys belong to a little boy named Andy. Andy would write his name on his toys to claim them as his own. One of my favorite scenes is when Woody is separated from Andy and he lifts up his foot to look at the bottom of his boot. There, it says, “Andy.” When he sees the name that has been placed upon him, Woody is reminded of Andy’s love for him and his love for Andy.
In the benediction in Numbers 6, God does for us something similar to what Andy does for his beloved toys. In Numbers 6:24, the LORD instructs the priests of Israel to bless the people by saying, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Then, in verse 27, the LORD says this, “So shall they (the priests) put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
God, the creator of the universe, places His name upon you in the benediction.
By writing His name upon you, the LORD is saying that his desire is to bless you, keep you, be known by you, forgive you, and give you peace. Think about that. God claims you. God accepts you. God loves and cherishes you. What a tremendous comfort this is!
I remember my first Lutheran pastor singing a children’s song I was familiar with growing up, but with a twist. Instead of, “O be careful little eyes what you see… for the Father up above is looking down in love…” He sang, “O be careful little eyes what you see… for the Father up above is waiting to smite you!” He was teaching us that our tendency is to think that God is constantly waiting to catch us doing something wrong.
Make no mistake, God will indeed reveal the fullness of His wrath upon the hard hearted and impenitent sinner. But, as Pastor Antal wrote only a few weeks ago, God wants us to know about his wrath so that we would repent of our sins and trust in Him. Isaiah 28:21 calls God’s judgment and wrath poured out upon the impenitent His “alien work.” It is his “strange deed.”
However, the benediction gently and lovingly reminds us of God’s good will toward creation and specifically toward His people. God’s desire is not to exercise his alien work upon you but as Isaiah 30:18 says, “...the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.”
We can learn more about the benediction when we consider its placement at the conclusion of the worship service. Since benediction simply means “to speak well of” or “to bless” and given its position at the end of the service it is a reminder of what Jesus did immediately before he ascended into heaven.
“And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:50–53, ESV)
So, each Sunday, as the pastor raises his hand and speaks the words commanded by God, it is a sort of reenactment of that day as well. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that Jesus even used the words of Numbers 6 as he blessed the disciples that day.
The benediction is a perfect and beautiful conclusion to the service. It is a reminder of God’s care for you that you can carry with you throughout the week. So, when you question if you are saved, when you question if you truly love God, when you question if you are loved by God, you can think back to the last words of the service which talk of God’s love and desire for you, and you can know exactly where you stand with God.