‘The Lord bless you and keep you.’ This is the beginning of the Priestly Benediction which God instructed Moses to pass on to Aaron and his sons. This was the instruction for blessing the Israelites. The benediction can be found in Numbers chapter 6 and is the first reading used on the feast of the Naming of Jesus, or the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, which is commemorated on 01 January annually. This is on the eighth day of Jesus’ birth – the day when, as required by Jewish law, he was circumcised, and his name given.
It’s significant as I see three things happening here:
- Jesus’ participation in the covenant between the Israelites and God is formalised. In my mind, this is a revalidation of the covenant that had been established centuries before his birth. It is proof of God’s steadfastness, God’s changelessness, and God’s faithfulness to God’s Word. It is God saying, ‘I have not forgotten you. I am with you always.’ (Remember, prior to Jesus’ birth, there was a period of silence when the people did not hear from God.)
- The name of Jesus is celebrated as the name that is higher than all names (see Philippians 2:9), the name through which comes the salvation of all who would believe.
- This name which was given before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21), is no longer concealed. This name which had been established even before the Virgin experienced her first symptoms of morning sickness has now been revealed. Oooo! Exciting times!
Just as there are three aspects of the Naming of Jesus Christ, there are three parts to the Priestly Benediction:
- That the Lord will bless you and keep you;
- That the Lord will make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
- That the Lord will lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
I see such parallels between the blessing and the birth and naming of the Messiah.
The world (Jews and Gentiles) was blessed with the birth of the Child. Christ’s birth was the Word made flesh that would assure us that in all things, God keeps us. Remember Jesus’ words to the apostles in Matthew 28: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ strategically placed at the very end of the Gospel according to Matthew. Of note is that this assurance was given in anticipation of Jesus’ ascension to heaven to be reunited with His Father. Now, you might ask, how could we be kept by one who was leaving us? Well, let me remind you of another assurance given to us in John 14, beginning at verse 15: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth […]’. Jesus later assures them in verse 18, ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.‘ So, whether in the flesh or in the Spirit, we are indeed kept by God.
Jesus’ formal entry or entry in the flesh, at least, eight days after his birth into this centuries-old covenant was an anticipation of his assurance in Matthew and in John that we would be a people kept by God.
Now, looking at the second part of the blessing – God’s face shining upon us and God being gracious to us – I see a parallel between the name of Jesus that we were given, a name higher than all names, the name through which we are saved and God being gracious to us. Saving grace was extended to all humanity when that name was extended to us, a name upon which to call at any time and in all things. Saving grace was given to us when God decided that His Son would be part of the plan for salvation of all humanity: past, present, and future! Indeed, God’s favour has been extended to us. Indeed, God’s face has shone upon us! I can’t think of any greater way to confirm that God’s face has shone upon us than through the promise of salvation, through just the name, Jesus!
Finally, let’s look at the third part of the blessing: that the Lord will lift up His countenance to us and give us His peace. That the name through which comes our salvation, and which had been set before He was conceived in the womb was now revealed, is something that ought to fill us with such peace. No longer was this a secret; no longer was the name hidden. No longer was there need to wonder when the ‘Great Reveal’ would take place. No longer would we have to wonder what the name was! It had happened! That name that had been spoken of by the prophets was now public knowledge! What joy! What satisfaction! What contentment! What peace!
Friends, looked at this way, the Priestly Benediction is an offering of Jesus Christ to us all. And, if Christ is given to us, then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the promise of the Father. This blessing is perfect (of course, this good thing did came from God), but it is perfect because it is a reflection of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
On this note of hope, I close my first message for the year on the first day of the year: may you be kept by God, may the Lord be gracious to you and may the Lord give you His peace. In this year, may you be richly blessed by our God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this year, may you be filled with the love of the Father, the joy of the Son and the peace of the Spirit. Amen.