Blessed to Be a Blessing
Who thought you could preach an entire message about the benediction? While our church doesn’t speak or sing it at the end of services, many churches in our area do. Perhaps your church does. The goal of this sermon is for us to hear the benediction and be reminded of why we have been blessed.
Text: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67
(I played the IWU Chorale singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to start out.)
“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.” Many of us have heard that before. It’s “The Benediction.” It’s what we hear at the end of a church service.
I have two questions for you. First, what do you feel when you hear it? And second, why do we say it at the end of a service? I’m going to make a few guesses as to your answers to those questions. My guess is you feel good. You feel like the service is over, you’ve just heard a good message, and you’re ready to leave. It just seems right to end the service that way. You probably focus on one word: bless. You feel glad that God wants to bless you. That could be how you feel. And the reason why we say it at the end? Well, we’ve always done it that way. It’s tradition.
As we look at Scripture, you’ll find that both of those answers are wrong. The benediction is about much more than that. Turn with me to Numbers 6:22-27.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the 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.”’ So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.”
God tells Moses to tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you should bless Israel.” Say these words to them. And in doing this, they put the name Yahweh on the nation of Israel. In Scripture, a name is an expression of the nature of its bearer. When God says the priests will put His name on Israel, He is saying, “Israel is mine. It is to have the same characteristics as I have. It is to be like me.”
So saying these words we know as the benediction serves as a reminder that we are God’s and that being God’s means following His commands. It also means that if others want to find out who God is, they should look at His people. God has given us His name, and that’s a huge responsibility.
There are two types of gifts. The first is the type we give to one another, like at birthdays or Christmas. We give gifts to ones we love with the intent that they keep them and use them. We don’t expect to receive anything in return, and we especially don’t expect to receive the gift back. The second is the type God gives to us. These gifts could be things like our children and spouses, our talents, the money we have, and His Son Jesus. God doesn’t expect us to keep these. He expects us to give them back, to share them with others. The gift of God’s name is the same thing. He expected Israel and now expects you and me to bear His name and share it with others.
The writer of Psalm 67 understood this concept. He was on to something when he wrote. So if you have your Bibles, let’s look there and see what this giving looks like.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Does the first verse sound at all familiar? That’s right. It’s meant to make you think of Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6. The psalmist has taken those few verses and added to them. His emphasis is not on the blessing, but on what the blessing produces: salvation among the nations.
He shows us that the reason you and I are given gifts by God is so we can be a blessing to the rest of the world. When this psalm was written, the nations, the peoples, and the ends of the earth referred to people living without Yahweh as God. They were the pagans. In our day, the nations are those who are living without Jesus Christ as Lord.
Three things I notice about the gifts:
1. God gave them to US. Not once do I see a “me” or “I.” These blessings are given to a people. That means that the guy sitting in the pew across the aisle that you hold a grudge against gets the same blessing you do. That means the woman who’s just accepted Christ as Savior and become a part of the people of God gets the same gift you do. It’s not about tenure or popularity or any other standard we use when we give gifts. The only factor involved is being a part of God’s people.
So, here’s a stupid comment. You have to participate with the people of God in order to receive the blessings of the people of God. In the Old Testament, that meant going to the temple, offering sacrifices, obeying the Law of Moses. In the New Testament and now, that means attending a church, following after Jesus. God never called us to “Lone Ranger” Christianity. He called us to be a part of a larger group of believers who worship Him together. It’s as a group that we are blessed.
We’re camping out at Devil’s Lake this week and our campsite is surrounded by trees. It hasn’t rained yet, but they’re calling for rain this week. When it rains, every one of those trees is going to get wet. Maybe the shorter ones won’t get as much rain, but they’ll still get wet. What would happen if I chopped one down and burnt it in my campfire? Don’t worry, I’m not going to. That tree would no longer get the rain the others got. It’s the same way in the church. If you remove yourself from the people of God, you remove yourself from His blessings.
Have you been blessed by God? Yes. And I’m sure you’ve heard others share testimonies of how God blessed them individually. He does that. But His primary way of blessing so that the whole earth will come to know Him is through His people, the church.
2. God expects our gifts to be used so the peoples praise Him. Like we said earlier, God’s gifts are to be used. The psalmist speaks of the God’s salvation being known among all nations. He’s not talking about salvation like we think of salvation: getting saved, accepting Christ as Savior. He’s speaking more of deliverance from trouble. This word is used in Isaiah 33:2: “O Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” It’s also used in Psalm 3:2: “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.”
The same way that God delivered His people from Egypt’s hand, the hope is that He will deliver the nations.
And this is for all people. In these verses, we see “peoples” and “nations.” In Hebrew, the psalmist uses 3 different words, all meaning a group of people of similar culture or nation. He’s trying to emphasize that this salvation is for everyone. That’s kind of crazy considering Israel is this tiny plot of land and people didn’t even know America existed back then. Yet somehow this man’s prayer was that all nations—even the ones who were Israel’s enemies; even the ones he’d never been to—would praise God.
His desire is that they would be glad and sing for joy because God judges them justly and guides them. Remember, judgment in that day was a good thing. It meant God pointed out their wrongdoing and gave them a course-correction so they wouldn’t harm others or spread the disease of sin. God ruling the peoples justly is a good thing, and for that reason they would praise him.
So the gifts God gives us—his blessings and favor—are meant so other people who don’t know Him will come to praise Him. We as a church need to recognize that and take part. Right now we’re going through the process of transforming our building. Why? Because God has given us a building to worship in and we want to draw as many people as possible to Him. Not because we don’t like pews, not because we desire to turn everything upside down, but because our building ought to be a good gift we can give to others.
3. God gives more gifts when we use the first ones properly. Verses 6-7 begin with “then.” It’s like saying, “We’ve been a blessing to others and been faithful with God’s blessing and His name—now He’s blessing us again.”
Remember one of the parables Jesus told. In Matthew 25:14-30 he tells the parable of the talents. One man receives 5 talents, another 2, another 1. The first two double their money, the third just buries his. Their master returns and says to the first two, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” That’s the sense I get from the last two verses of Psalm 67.
So what happens if you and I decide to keep God’s name for ourselves. We’ve been blessed, and God has put his name on us. We are supposed to now represent Him and be a blessing to others, but we choose not to. That’s like rejecting God. James says faith without works is dead. In the same token, being blessed without blessing others is worthless. Odds are the future blessings of verses 6-7 aren’t going to come to us. Odds are God will find another group of Christians, another church, to use for His kingdom.
So, do we have the answers to those first two questions?
What do you feel when you hear the benediction, and why is it at the end? You feel happy, yes, but you also have a sense of responsibility, knowing that you must be a blessing as well. And you know it’s at the end as a reminder of all this. Like some churches post signs, “You are now entering the mission field,” allow the benediction to remind you of that.