Scripture: Numbers 6:22-27
In this sermon, I’d like to make three points, and you may notice that they differ from the outline on back of the bulletin. My apologies… Point Number One: What a blessing is not… Point Number Two: What a blessing is… And Point Number Three: In Christ we have the ultimate blessing.
But Point Number One: what a blessing is not…
A few weeks ago, my beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets won a game they weren’t “supposed” to win, just like last night, I’m happy to report. But when Tech won this upset victory, one of my clergy colleagues, Warren Lathem—a UGA fan—posted a sarcastic post on Facebook about how Tech fans finally have something to feel happy about, however fleeting their happiness may be.
And I replied to him: “Warren, by virtue of the fact that I graduated from Georgia Tech, I feel as if I’ve won the Super Bowl every day of my life.” In other words, we Tech fans don’t need national championships to feel good about ourselves.
What? You’re not buying it, either, huh?
Warren wasn’t buying it, and he replied, “Bless your heart.”
Listen… I’m not a good person. I admit it. I wanted to punch Warren in the face. Why? Because I know that “bless your heart,” in the Deep South, is a great insult.
But the fact that people say, “Bless your heart,” and mean it not in the biblical sense, as a true blessing from God, but as an insult, just goes to show how watered down the word “blessing” has become. After all, we even say the words, “Bless you,” when someone sneezes!
Or how about, “Have a blessed day”? I kind of like that. It’s at least much better than its predecessor, “Have a nice day.” So if you say, “Have a blessed day,” I promise, I’m not being very critical. It’s just that, biblically speaking, whether or not we are blessed is ultimately beyond our control. Why? Because whether or not we’re blessed doesn’t depend on what we do or don’t do; it depends exclusively on God. So if we say, “Have a blessed day,” we’re saying something like, “I wish you well.” We’re saying, “I really hope that God blesses you—but whether he will or not, who can possibly say?”
And so… once again… the word “blessing” risks being watered down: blessings become nothing more than well wishes… they risk becoming—I hate to say it—positive thoughts. And positive thoughts don’t do much for anyone. Surely a blessing isn’t like having positive thoughts!
A couple of weeks ago, as some of you know, Lisa and I went to central Florida, where my daughter, Elisa, lives, because she got engaged. And unlike with my generation, when engagement was strictly a private matter between a man and a woman, for young people today, engagement is very public, and it involves lots of family and friends showing up moments after the man “pops the question”—almost like a surprise party. Well, Lisa and I were there for that, and of course it was wonderful. But do you know what my future son-in-law, Brian, did two weeks before he “popped the question”?
He came to see me, and he asked for my what? For my blessing.
But I didn’t give him my blessing…
No, no, no… Please don’t get the wrong idea. I didn’t give him my blessing, because a true blessing would mean saying something like this: “Brian, may God bless your future marriage to Elisa and enable you to find lifelong joy, comfort, and strength in one another. May God enable your love to grow and glorify Christ in every way. May God enable you to build one another up, to sanctify one another, to strengthen your faith. May God enable this new family that you create to prosper. And may God give me grandchildren as numerous as the stars in the sky.”
Because, while I don’t whether this is true or not from personal experience —some of y’all know this—but I’ve heard that grandchildren are even better than English springer spaniels… Is that possible? Because you may have heard that I really, really love English springer spaniels!
But seriously, I wish, in retrospect, that I had thought of giving Brian a blessing like that; that would have been very appropriate for that particular occasion. I can still give them a true blessing; it’s not too late!
But I didn’t give Brian a “blessing” that night when he asked about marrying my daughter. I gave him instead… what? My permission… or my approval… or my endorsement.
But do you see? That’s not a blessing, either. The biblical concept of blessing is certainly not an insult, and it’s not “well wishes” or positive thoughts, and it’s not permission or approval of something or someone.
The biblical concept of blessing, as expressed in what’s called the “Aaronic blessing” of today’s scripture—not ironic, but Aaronic, after Moses’ brother Aaron… This blessing could hardly be further from the watered-down concept of blessing we often settle for today.
And that’s Point Number One: what a blessing is not…
Point Number Two: What sort of thing is a blessing?
I consulted Bible commentaries to make sure that I understood it. And one thing that Bible scholars agree on is that a blessing is, first of all, a prayer. Earlier I said that the problem with “have a blessed day” is that we have no control over whether we’re “blessed” or not. What I meant was, a true blessing requires God to do something. And today’s scripture makes that clear. Notice that three times Aaron’s blessing says, “The Lord… The Lord… The Lord…” This is not something we ourselves can conjure up or make happen on our own; we are asking the Lord to do something. But we’re not explicitly asking. Aaron is commanded to say, “Lord, will you please bless and keep and make your face to shine upon,” etc. No, in a blessing, the asking is implied.
But if a blessing is a prayer, it’s a very confident kind of prayer… We’re not being wishy-washy. We’re not uncertain about what it is we want God to do. We’re not seeking God’s guidance or direction in this form of prayer. No, when we pronounce a blessing, we do so believing firmly that God will carry out the particular blessing that we’re describing.
A blessing, biblically speaking, is meant to accomplish very powerful things. And we should believe that God will do things when we speak a blessing to someone that God may not otherwise do when we don’t speak this blessing.
Did you hear that? Let me say it again: “We should believe that God will do things when we speak a blessing that God may not do if we don’t speak that blessing.”
I mean, if you don’t believe me, think about Jacob and Esau in Genesis 27. As the younger twin brother, Jacob was not entitled to the blessing that his father, Isaac, was going to give to his older brother, Esau. Jacob knew he wasn’t entitled to it—as did his mother, Rebekah—but the two of them conspire to deceive their father and husband into giving Jacob the blessing to which only Esau was entitled. They broke many commandments to do so, including number ten, against coveting, and number nine, against lying, and number three, against profaning God’s name, and number five, against honoring one’s parents. And when you read the story, you see that stealing this blessing very nearly cost Jacob his life—because Esau was so enraged when he found out that he vowed to murder Jacob. Jacob has to run away to avoid being killed!
Why on earth would Jacob and Rebekah go to such great lengths and risk so much and sin so spectacularly? Was it only so Jacob could hear Isaac speak these particular words to him? Did they go to all this trouble because of mere words?
A blessing wasn’t mere words to them! A blessing got results! A blessing accomplished mighty things… not because of the words themselves but because of the power of God underneath the words… because God was going to accomplish mighty results in Jacob’s life through this blessing!
To his credit—despite all his many sins—Jacob showed through his actions that he was desperate not to miss out on his father’s blessing. Because if he missed out on it—if Isaac spoke the blessing to Esau rather than him—then the course of Jacob’s life might have been very different. Jacob would not have received the many good things that Isaac’s blessing imparted to him.
Because, Jacob and Rebekah believed, God really does good stuff through blessings.
And after God gave Aaron, the high priest, the blessing in today’s scripture, he and his successors would speak this blessing to Israelites who gathered for worship. And you better believe that when the Israelites heard this blessing, they really believed that God was going to do powerful things through this blessing! God was going to give the people something, impart something to the people—and the people didn’t want to miss out on it.
Do we even believe this today? Brothers and sisters, I feel convicted about this all of a sudden.
I mean, yours truly stands up here, or Pastor April stands up here—in this worship service—every week—and pronounces blessings, usually as the benediction to the service. In fact, the very words of today’s scripture are the words of my most frequent benediction by far. I say it all the time!
But whether I speak this blessing, or a blessing that I create myself, do I even believethat God is going to do anything through my words? Do you believe it?
Or are we just speaking pretty words? Are we just going through the motions? Are we just being entertained.
And it goes beyond the words of a blessing. Isaiah 55:10-11 says that every time God’s Word is proclaimed, or as God puts it, every time “my word goes out from my mouth, it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God wants to accomplish mighty things through holy scripture in this worship service when it’s read, or when it’s sung, or even the words of this sermon when it’s preached.
But you’ve got to be here in order to receive it! Because something supernatural happens when you show up! That’s what the people believed when they showed up for worship in Moses’ and Aaron’s day!
What would it be like if God’s people at Toccoa First Methodist were so desperate and hungry and eager to receive a blessing from God that they wouldn’t dare miss a worship service on Sunday morning—if at all possible… Why?Because they just knew that almighty God was going to give them something that he may not give them if they were not here on Sunday morning to receive it?
What if we believed that God would give us something in worship on Sunday morning such that our very lives would be different and better as a result?
If we believed that, would any of us ever dare to stay home on Sunday morning, or choose to do anything other than be right here on Sunday morning, where the very Spirit of Jesus Christ himself promises to show up… where two or three are gathered together in his name?
Do we believe that almighty God is doing something powerful here on Sunday morning through worship? Or are we going through motions? Or are we checking something else off of our list? Or are we just being entertained?
Inasmuch as I’ve promoted or encouraged this kind of mentality, I repent!
Because speaking for myself, when I show up here on Sunday morning, I need something much deeper than entertainment. I need the Lord to show up. I need God to do something for me. I am someone in need… often desperate need. I need to be fed by Christ my Good Shepherd. I need to encounter the living God. I need the kind of spiritual sustenance that will get me through the week ahead. I need my faith to be strengthened. I need a faith that’s strong enough to withstand the kind of spiritual warfare that will undoubtedly come my way in the week ahead.
I need that, and you need that, too!
So let’s not settle for mere entertainment. Let’s not settle for going through the motions. Let’s not settle for checking something off the list. And let’s expect something supernatural to happen when we show up here on Sunday morning! Because God is going to do something, give us something, make a lasting difference in our lives through this worship service!
That’s what I want!
So while I also want to preach lively and interesting and non-boring sermons, and I also want to have well-performed music that compares favorably with other churches. And I also want to have excellent programs for all ages, which compare favorably with other churches, do you know what I want more than any of that? I want Jesus!
Just give me Jesus! Just give me more of Jesus!
Because God’s Word wants us to want more of Jesus! God’s Word tells us that the best and deepest and most profound kind of blessing is to have more of Jesus! And God’s Word tells us that best and deepest and most profound kind of blessing is to treasure Christ above all! And the best and deepest and most profound kind of blessing we offer others is to help them treasure Christ above all!
Does this ring a bell?
See, we have an opportunity even this week to offer Jesus to 700 of our closest friends and neighbors when they come on our campus for our “Light in the Dark” harvest festival. Yes, they’re going to be blessed with fun. Yes, they’re going to be blessed with pizza. Yes, they’re going to be blessed with candy. But we need to pray that they will be blessed in the best way possible—in the only way that brings lasting happiness, joy, contentment, and peace. We need to pray that they will be blessed with the ultimate blessing… We need to pray that they blessed with Jesus… and with more of Jesus! He is the ultimate blessing.
And this is Point Number Three… Jesus is the ultimate blessing!
If you don’t believe me that the ultimate blessing is having Jesus, and having more of Jesus, then I want to draw your attention to a blessing—a literal blessing—that we find in the New Testament. It’s in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 3. I’ll pick up with verse 14: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…” And here comes the blessing part in verse 16:
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 1
Do you hear that? “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” That you “may have the strength to comprehend” and know and experience more and more of the love of Christ. “That you may be filled with the fullness of God.”
Give me more of Jesus… That’s precisely what Paul wants for his people at Ephesus! He’s not praying, in this instance, for their protection from harm… even though these Ephesians are being persecuted, even violently, for their faith. He’s not praying for their material prosperity… even though the large majority of these fellow believers are poor and many are in financial need… He’s not praying for their good health, for their recovery from sickness and disease… although you can imagine that in these days before modern medicine, many of them were suffering from sickness and disease. No, what Paul is praying for in this blessing is for them to know and experience more and more of Christ’s love and power.
We should want these same things for one another above everything else. To put it in the words of our church’s vision statement, God’s blessing on us means that God will do whatever he needs to do, and give us whatever he needs to give us, in order for us to “treasure Christ above all.”
By contrast, we modern-day Christians living in the comfortable western world often get obsessed with God’s delivering us from sickness and death and discomfort and disease, and I wonder because we’re more in love with treasures of this world than we are with Jesus. And I wonder if we’re more afraid of losing the treasures of this world than we are with losing our souls—along with the treasure that ought to have in Christ!
No, if Christ is our greatest treasure, then even our death—when God chooses to bring it about according to his timing—even our death becomes a passageway to Christ, a passageway, in other words, to enjoying infinitely more of what satisfies our soul’s deepest longings.
If we are in Christ—that is, if we are sons and daughters of God, adopted into his family through faith in Christ—then we can be sure this: If God is not currently delivering us from sickness, disease, and death, if God is not currently delivering us from hardship and suffering, if God is not currently working things out the way we want him to, then it is never because the words of this Aaronic blessing are not true for us: No, we can be sure that if we’re in Christ, the words of this blessing are true in the deepest way possible.
But if God is not giving us what we think we need at the moment, if we feel as if we’re victims of unfavorable circumstances, it’s only because, on the other side of those circumstances, God wants to give us something better than what we think we need, and he’s using our circumstances to bring these better things about. I God wants to give us more of his Son Jesus, more of Christ’s love, more of his grace, more of his peace, more of a sense of his presence in our lives… more freedom from fear, a greater trust in him, a greater dependence on him.
If we have those things, what on earth can mere circumstances do to us? They simply wouldn’t be a threat to us at all! As Paul says in Romans 8:31, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
No one and nothing can ever be against us!
Listen, I confess I often have a hard time believing this too…
I shared this at Admin Board last week and it bears repeating… In my quiet time a couple of weeks ago, something in God’s Word jumped out at me. It’s one verse, 1 Kings 20:23. To set it up, the king of Syria, named Ben-hadad, just launched an unsuccessful attack against the northern kingdom of Israel. Ben-hadad’s army lost the battle, even though, on paper at least, his was the more powerful army. So the king wants to know what went wrong. And his officers have the explanation: “After their defeat, Ben-hadad’s officers said to him, “The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains.”
Of course these officers completely misunderstand Israelite religion. They are theologically mistaken—believing that Israel, like the pagan nations, worshiped many gods, rather than Yahweh, the one true God. But be that as it may, the logic of these pagan army officers is perfectly sound. To their credit, this pagan king and these pagan army officers had enough faith in Israel’s God to believe that since Israel’s God is sovereign over the many hills in the northern part of Israel, that explains why Israel won a victory there, in that place. “But God isn’t sovereign on the plains. So if we fight Israel on the plains, we will surely win a victory.”
Again, their logic makes perfect sense. They understand that where Israel’s God is sovereign, Israel’s God bring victory. Makes sense.
But what about me? Shouldn’t I have at least as much faith as these ancient pagan people and apply the same logic to my life? I mean, yes, unlike them, I know proper theology. Yahweh, the same God who, 800 years later, will be revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, is sovereign over everything.
If God is sovereign over everything—including my life—and the Bible says that God is always for me, and God is always on my side, and God is always working in my best interests, and God always has all the power necessary to accomplish whatever good thing he wants to accomplish in my life, why on earth do I worry so much? Why do I so easily get stressed out? Why do I so easily get angry because I don’t believe I’m getting what I really need?
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Nothing and no one!
If God for you, who or what can be against you?
Nothing and no one!
If God is for me, who or what can be against me?
Nothing and no one!
So when someone says, “Have a blessed day,” you can respond, “I will. Because in Christ I have received the deepest, truest, most profound blessing imaginable.”
And how did it happen?
Remember earlier I was talking about Jacob and Rebekah conspiring to steal Esau’s blessing in Genesis 27? When Rebekah presents this plan to Jacob, he is rightly afraid. He worries that when his father, Isaac, finds out, that blessing that he wants so badly will turn into a curse instead… Because let’s face it: A curse is precisely what Jacob deserves for his many sins against his father.
And you know what Rebekah says. Something profound… She has no idea how profound! She says, “Let your curse be on me, my son.”
Because of our sins against our heavenly Father, we certainly don’t deserve this great blessing that I’ve been describing. We deserve only a curse. But on the cross, it’s as if God himself, in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, said to each one of us, “Let your curse fall on me, my son.” “Let your curse fall on me, my daughter.” Because I love you. And I want you to know true blessedness.