Weary People of God

Text: Micah 6:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

A week and a half ago I was in Edmonton to talk to the students at the seminary there. I knew some of the students, but most of them I did not know very well. Even now I don’t know all of their names. But I discovered that I could very easily tell which of the students was in their first year at seminary and which of the students are in their second year at seminary.

First year students at the seminary have a kind of excited energy about them. Everything they are learning is new and exciting. Daily new opportunities are opening up for them and it is an exciting time. Second year students, on the other hand, have kind of seen it all before. Nothing seems quite so exciting any more. They’ve been there and done that. So, as I spoke with the students and looked around the room I could pick out the eager excited first year students and the somewhat downtrodden second year students pretty easily. One of the first year students smiled at me almost the whole time (3 hours) that I was lecturing. One of the second year students sat in the corner and hardly lifted his gaze off of his computer screen in front of him.

The energy of the first year students, on the one hand, and the kind of weariness of the second year students, on the other hand, is kind of like the difference between our Gospel reading and Old Testament reading today. Our Gospel reading today comes on the heels of our Gospel reading last week where Jesus called His first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These guys are like first year students. They are eager and excited to follow Jesus. When Jesus says “Follow me” they leave everything behind and follow Him. Today in our reading they are sitting with Jesus on a mountain and listening to Him teach about what it means to follow Him. It’s the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ introduction to being a disciple.

Our Old Testament reading, on the other hand, is addressed to the people of Israel under very different circumstances. God is speaking to them through the prophet Micah. These people aren’t so energetic or enthusiastic. They have long since settled in to the idea of being the people of God. They are more like second year students who have been there and done that. God rescued them from the Egyptians and brought them through the Red Sea about 700 years ago. They’ve been living in the Promised Land for a long time now and things have grown kind of stale. These people are weary, they are tired, and they don’t have the energy to throw themselves into being the people of God any more.

Which one of these groups, the excited, energized, freshly called disciples of Jesus or the wearied and tired Old Testament people of Israel, do you think that we as a church best relate to? Are we energetic and enthusiastic or are we tired, weary, and a bit worn out? What do you think? I’d say we are probably more likely to be in that latter category, a little tired and a little weary.

The church everywhere is a little weary, I think. As our culture and world turns farther and farther away from God’s Word and from Christ we start to grow tired of holding on to Christ and God’s Word. As the world goes the opposite direction more and more the temptation grows to give up and give in. Going to church and hearing the Word starts to get tougher and tougher as less and less people come to church with us. Following Jesus and living the Christians life He has called us to live gets tougher and tougher as the world around us goes and does the opposite. We get weary and tired following Jesus and living like a Christian and some days we might be ready to give up.

For that reason, I’d like us to focus our attention this morning on our Old Testament reading directed to the weary people of God. There, in the words that the prophet Micah speaks to the people of God, we see God respond to the weariness. He says, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” God puts the question to His weary people, what have I done to make you weary? Why do you feel so tired and burned out? Is it something I did?

Then God goes on to recount everything that He has done for them. “I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery,” God says. Then God reminds them of something else He had done for His people. A king named Balak who hired a wicked prophet named Balaam to curse the people of God, but God would only let Balaam bless the people. God stopped Balaam from cursing them. Then God mentions two places, Shittim and Gilgal. Both of these places are significant milestones of Israel’s journey as they finally enter the Promised Land. What has God done to weary these people? Nothing. Instead He has done everything necessary to save them.

For us we can add even more to the list of what God has done for us. We are the New Testament people of God living in the completed reality of God sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour. What has God done? How has He wearied us? He sent His Son born in a manger to be our Saviour from sin. Christ healed diseases and performed miracles to show us His power over sin, death, and evil. He died on the cross to take away the sin of the world and He rose from the dead to give us life. What has God done to us that would make us weary? Nothing. Once again, God has done everything necessary to save us. God has not made us grow weary, we have grown weary all on our own.

After God kind of calls out the people for their weariness in following His Way the people have their turn to respond. That starts in verse 6 of our Old Testament reading. Having been called out for their weariness the people respond by going in the opposite direction. They aren’t going to be weary any more, they are going to do everything for God. If God wants burnt offerings they will make them. If God wants them to sacrifice thousands of rams they will do it. If God wants ten thousand rivers of oil they will give it. If God wants their first born child they will sacrifice him or her. Put simply, the people over react. In response to God’s rebuke they go too far. God hasn’t asked them to do any of those things (God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but then provided a ram instead!) and God has not asked us to do those things either.

For us following Jesus, being a disciple, being a Christian, does not mean some life of great sacrifice in which we need to give God some kind of ridiculously large gift. Instead our life as Christians and followers of Jesus is laid out simply in the last verse of our Old Testament reading: “God has told you, O man, what is good: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

Our life as the people of God means doing justice. That means caring for the needs of our neighbour, the people around us. It means ensuring that the needs of others are being taken care of. It means that the 7th commandment “You shall not steal,” means more than not taking stuff from other people. It also means making sure that our neighbour’s possessions and income and family are protected. Being the people of God means that we do not simply live for ourselves, we live for our neighbour. God does not need us to do great and wonderful things for Him, there is no need for massive sacrifices. God does not need our good works, our neighbour does.

Life as the people of God also means loving kindness. The word kindness there means more than what we might think of as kindness. This is not just random acts of kindness and doing nice things for people. What it really means is more like mercy, God’s mercy for sinful people like us. The people of God, you and me, are called to love mercy. God’s mercy for us that forgives our sins and God’s mercy that forgives our neighbour. We pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Loving mercy means loving God’s forgiveness for us and forgiving those around us.

Finally, life as the people of God means walking humbly with our God. Life as the people of God is not a proud life boasting in what we have done or accomplished. Even when we have done justice to our neighbour and loved kindness/mercy for our neighbour we walk humbly with God knowing that we remain sinners who have been forgiven only for the sake of the blood of Jesus. It’s like Jesus says in Luke 17, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We walk humbly with our God when we confess that we are unworthy to walk with Him, but know that we are welcome there because of Christ and His death for us.

Our life walking with God and following Jesus can feel complicated. It can feel tiring and wearisome. But it is much simpler than we think. When it feels like we need to do everything we have this reminder that all God has called us to do is love our neighbour and walk humbly with Him in the forgiveness of Christ. When we feel weary and tired we have the reminder of what Christ has done for us giving up His life on the cross for us to accomplish our salvation. He is also the one who said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Following Jesus is not a burden too heavy for you to carry, it’s not a life of sacrifice to God, it is not a wearying task; it is living in the love of Jesus for us and for our neighbour. Let us, the people of God, no grow weary of doing good, of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. In Jesus name, Amen.


Following Jesus

Text: Matthew 4:12-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Imagine someone you don’t know coming to your home or the place that you work and saying, “Follow me.” What are the odds that you would go with them? Pretty slim, right? In the world we live in you have to be pretty careful about things like that, who knows who this stranger might be. A stranger showing up and saying, “Follow me,” sounds like the start of a crime scene investigating kind of show where things aren’t going to end very well for the poor sap who follows along.

All this makes our gospel reading today even more remarkable. Jesus goes up from Judea in the southern part of what used to be the kingdom of Israel, the area where John had been baptising down at the Jordan, to Galilee in the north. And then one day as He is walking around the Sea of Galilee He sees Simon (who will be better known by the name Peter) and his brother Andrew. These two men, like many men in Galilee, were fisherman. They made their living out there on the sea (which is really a lake) hauling in fish. They were out fishing in the Sea of Galilee, tossing their net into the water and hauling it back in again, when Jesus came along and said “Follow me.” Remarkably, with very little introduction or explanation the two brothers immediately left their nets, gave up their profession, and followed Jesus.

If all that were not enough, it happens again. A little while later Jesus sees two more brothers, this time it is James and John the sons of Zebedee who are mending their nets after a long day of fishing. Jesus looks at them and says, “Follow me” and without much discussion or anything they immediately left their nets, their boat, and their own father in order to follow Jesus.

So why, why did they follow Jesus that day? Was it because they had such remarkable faith that they made the decision to leave everything behind and follow Jesus? Not exactly. Sure, these men had faith and that is why they followed, but it was not because they decided to go by their own free will. They went because Jesus called. They went because Jesus made them able to go. This story, like every other story in the Bible is all about Jesus. This is not a story about Peter and Andrew or James and John, though they are central figures, main characters in the action here, but really this is all about Jesus. Jesus calls and Jesus creates the answer in the hearts of these fishermen at the Sea of Galilee. Jesus causes them to leave behind their nets immediately and follow him.

We cannot, by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him or follow Him, but the Holy Spirit has called us through the gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and kept us in the one true faith. We can’t chose to believe in Jesus and neither could Andrew and Peter or James and John. If it was up to them to make the decision they would still be sitting there with their nets. But the Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts and worked in their hearts back then so that they could get up and follow Jesus leaving everything they ever knew in life behind.

Peter and Andrew have met Jesus before, actually. Last week we heard about how John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Well Andrew, Peter’s brother, was one of the ones who was there to hear John say those words. He heard John say that Jesus was the Lamb of God and he went and found his brother Peter and shared the news with him too. “We have found the Messiah, the Christ,” Andrew told Peter. They went and spent the rest of that day with Jesus. It seems as if they went home after that, though. Even after they heard all of this good news about Jesus that He is the Messiah, the Saviour, the Lamb of God, they still go home and return to their fishing nets. But then Jesus comes to them again and He calls them to follow Him. They get up, leave their nets behind, and follow Him. The Holy Spirit created this faith in their hearts.

The Holy Spirit has worked this same faith in our hearts too. We haven’t been called like the disciples were to leave everything behind, but we have been called to faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit has created this faith in our hearts. We might not have left our livelihood and family behind to follow Jesus, but faith in Jesus does mean leaving some things behind.

Faith in Jesus means leaving sin behind. Following Jesus is never an excuse for sin. In our text today Jesus takes up the preaching of John the Baptist and says, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Repent, turn away from sin, Jesus says. Following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus, means leaving sin behind. Believing in Jesus does not give us an excuse to keep on sinning. How are you doing at leaving sin behind? Probably not so great. The idea of leaving sin behind sounds great, it sounds simple, but our hearts are so trapped and tangled in sin that we don’t have a clue how to get ourselves out of it. Thankfully, the one we follow is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Though we remain tangled in sin He sets us free. Day by day He works in our hearts to leave sin behind so that we can follow Him.

Faith in Jesus also means leaving comfort behind. Jesus says that anyone who would come after Him or follow Him must take up his cross and follow. Following Jesus for us and for the disciples like Peter and Andrew means taking up the cross, it means suffering as Jesus suffered. Suffering is never something we seek, but it comes to us. Jesus never said following Him would make our lives on this earth simple or easy. Following Jesus means living a life of sacrifice loving the people around us with the love that we would normally reserve for ourselves. It might mean getting treated poorly because of what we believe. Following Jesus means taking up the cross and suffering. Suffering is something that our human nature is hardwired to avoid at all costs. We flee from suffering as quickly as we can. Look at how Peter and the other disciples will flee from suffering once Jesus gets arrested in Jerusalem. But thanks be to God that the one we follow has taken the suffering and shame of our sin for us and has promised us the comforts of heaven. Though we slip and fall in our lives of following Jesus under the cross, He has born the cross for us.

Following Jesus means leaving somethings behind, but it also means becoming something new. Jesus told Peter and Andrew that He would make them “Fishers of men.” They would go from catching fish for the supper tables of the people of Galilee to catching people to join in the marvelous banquet of heaven. As we follow Jesus we are these fishers of men, through us Jesus draws others to follow Him. When Andrew heard who from John that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world the first thing he did was go tell his brother Peter. In our lives as we follow Jesus struggling to leave sin behind and taking up the cross we become fishers of men. Through us Jesus calls more men and women to “Follow Him.”

This week when I was in Edmonton I visited Leah’s grandmother. She will be turning 97 this week. She lives in an assisted living seniors housing kind of place now, but she told me she is very happy there. Her reason why she was happy there isn’t exactly what you would expect though. She told me she is happy there because there are so many people to witness to there. There are so many people in that building who don’t believe in Jesus and she knows that the reason she is there is so that she can be a witness of Jesus in that place. It was remarkable to listen to her. How often would we think of a seniors housing place like that as a place where we can be fishers of men? How often do we think of the places we live or work or spend our time as places where we can share Jesus with those around us?

We have been called out of sin and out of comfort, out of ordinary life, into an extraordinary new life. A life where we struggle with sin and take suffering as it comes, but also a life where we gather other people into the kingdom of heaven with us as we all follow Jesus together. All of this is Jesus’ work. He is the one doing it. He is the one who gave us faith. He is the one who takes away our sin. He is the ultimate fisher of men. Thanks be to God that He works through us. In Jesus name. Amen.

Jesus Annointed

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Back in November Leah and I watched a show on Netflix called “The Crown.” It’s all about Queen Elizabeth and the royal family. So far, the episodes have covered her marriage to Prince Phillip, the death of her father George the IV, her coronation as Queen, and the early years of her reign. It has been a pretty interesting show so far. I’ve always been interested in the royal family and I have a great deal of appreciation and admiration for Queen Elizabeth so this kind of thing is right up my alley.

The episode about Elizabeth’s coronation was one I found particularly interesting. I was not alive when Elizabeth was crowned as Queen and even though it was televised and recordings of it are easily available on the internet I had never taken any time to watch any of it really. But there is this one part of the ceremony that is particularly significant that I did not know about. After swearing an oath to govern the people under her authority according to their respective laws and maintain justice and peace and things Queen Elizabeth was anointed with oil on her hands, head, and over her heart.

Anointing is not something we would be very familiar with today, but the anointing of kings and queens has a lot of precedence all the way back into the Bible. The kings of Israel in the Old Testament are anointed. Saul was anointed king. David was anointed king. Solomon was anointed king. For them anointing was the way in which God set a person apart to fill such an important role as king. The anointing was God’s means of choosing someone to rule. The people of Israel also waiting for an even more important anointed person, the messiah. The word “messiah” just means anointed one. That’s all the word “christ” means too, it just means “anointed.” Messiah and Christ are the same word just in different languages. Jesus is this anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ. He is the Saviour.

The baptism of Jesus got me thinking about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth because Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist could really be considered kind of the same thing. There, in the water of that river, Jesus is anointed by God as the Messiah. The Spirit comes down out of heaven as a dove and God’s voice booms from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus isn’t anointed with oil like kings and queens would be, He is anointed with the Holy Spirit and God Himself makes that pronouncement that this is the one that the world has been waiting for. The Saviour has come.

There is one big difference between Queen Elizabeth’s anointing as part of the coronation service and the way in which Jesus is anointed there in the Jordan. When Queen Elizabeth was anointed that part of the service was hidden away from public view. Her coronation was the first (and only so far) to be televised and that part of the service was not filmed. If you go on the internet now and check out the old recordings of the commentator mentions the anointing, but when it is time for it to happen the tape quickly skips to the next part. Just to make sure that the world did not see it and the cameras did not keep rolling they put a canopy over the queen’s head. Other than the royal family, the priests, and other distinguished guests gathered close by no one would see Elizabeth anointed as Queen.

Jesus was not anointed in this way. Jesus’ anointing took place in just about the most public way it could have happened. He was out in the Jordan River, there were not closed doors or canopies. All kinds of people were gathered around out there listening to John preach and being baptised by him. The Holy Spirit came down out of heaven and God’s voice called out for all to hear. This anointing was not a private affair. God’s Son is anointed as Messiah and Saviour in plain sight of all those people gathered there and in our sight as we read about it through the words of the gospels. God’s proclamation of who Jesus is isn’t hidden from our ears.

Which brings us to the questions why? Why was Jesus anointed as the Messiah, Christ, and Saviour in this way? Why did God’s voice echo from the heavens? Why did the Spirit come down? Why did this all happen in plain sight?

All of this happened the way that it did for our sake. Everything that Jesus does is for our sake. Jesus was born the way He was born for us and for our salvation. He died the way He died and rose from the dead for us. The same is true of His baptism. Jesus goes out to be baptised at the Jordan for us. God’s voice echoes from heaven for us. It’s not that Jesus is a down to earth man of the people and Queen Elizabeth isn’t. This all happens so that we can know with certainty that Jesus is the one. God’s voice confirms it. He says, “THIS is my beloved Son, there is no other, with Him I am well pleased.” Out there at the Jordan, Jesus is installed, confirmed, and anointed as the one that the world has been looking for. God removes all doubt for the people standing there and for us too. We hear God’s Word here clearly and directly pointing us to Jesus as His anointed, the Messiah and Saviour that He has sent. All this happens this way so that we can be certain that Jesus is the one.

This Gospel reading and this certainty that comes from God’s Word booming down from Heaven about who Jesus is, is a perfect way to start the season of Epiphany. After Christmas we work our way through Epiphany as gradually Jesus is revealed to us. We read Gospel readings that continue to introduce Jesus to us and build on our understanding of who He is. Listen over the next few weeks to the gospel readings and what they tell us about Jesus. For the most part, they are incredibly straightforward. Like our reading today they are clear and certain about who Jesus is.

The world we live in has some really messed up ideas about Jesus. Some of the messed up ideas seem harmless and others are downright lies. But in the midst of all of it we have clear words from God about who Jesus is. He is God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour. He is the one. His mission to save us from sin was not hidden away. Jesus told His disciples why He had come into this world. He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die and after three days be raised. He told them repeatedly.

Every Sunday we speak either the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed. These creeds remind us about everything God has revealed to us about Himself. Have you ever noticed that in both of the creeds the longest section is the part about Jesus? That’s because our sinful, broken world and our sinful broken minds constantly overcomplicate Jesus and misunderstand Him and have been at it for centuries. In the Nicene Creed (which we just said) we are reminded that Jesus is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His father before all worlds, God of God, light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.” These words speak about who Jesus is. Specifically, all these words confess that Jesus is God. And then we go on, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.” Here we confess that Jesus became a man for us and for our salvation. It goes on, He “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures and ascended into Heaven.” We confess Jesus again, this God man died for us and rose again.

We can be certain about Jesus. We know and hear from God Himself exactly who Jesus is. We can be certain about His salvation for us. In a world where everything can get so complicated sometimes, in our own lives where things can get so complicated sometimes, this assurance, this certainty is a wonderful thing. In the midst of all the confusion Jesus is what He is. He is our Saviour from sin who gave His life for us. He is God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. We know because God has revealed it before our very eyes. In Jesus name. Amen.


New Year Blessings

Text: Numbers 6:22-27

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

When I was a kid the words of our Old Testament reading today were music to my ears: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” It wasn’t that I really thought much about what they meant or that they had some profound meaning to me or something like that, but when I heard those words I knew that church was almost over. I would give my mom her watch back (I’d hold her watch through church and check regularly how much longer the service was going to be) and we would sing one more song and then we’d get to go home. Music to my ears. Maybe those words are music to your ears some Sundays too!

“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.” We call those words the benediction and we use them at the end of most of our church services. The word “benediction” really just means blessing. “Bene” means well or good (like benefit) and “diction” means words or something spoken (like dictionary). These are good/well words spoken to us, a blessing.

Today we hear about where those words that we call the benediction come from in the book of Numbers. While the people of Israel are still wandering around in the desert wilderness waiting to enter into the Promised Land that God is giving to them, God gives these words through Moses to Aaron (Moses’ older brother) as a blessing to use over the people. Aaron was the priest for the people. He and his family were in charge of making sacrifices for the people, praying for the people, and teaching the people about God’s covenant and commandments. For this important work that has been given to Aaron and his descendants God provides these words of blessing. God basically says to Aaron, “When you bless the people of Israel this is what you are going to say: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.’”

There are a lot of important things to talk about in those words. There is a lot there that we might not think much about when we hear those words all the time. The first important thing to consider is that God gives these words at all. It is significant all on its own that God gives these words of blessing to His people. It is God’s desire here to bless His people through the words of priests like Aaron. From that day right on down through to today, across thousands of years of history, before and after the birth of Jesus, these words have been spoken by priests and pastors to the people of God and through those words God has bestowed His blessing upon His people. These words come from God’s own mouth and are spoken to us even today. Through these words God bestows His blessing on us today.

That is a significant thing for us to consider on a day like today as we begin a new year. As Christians we regularly wish each other God’s blessings on the year ahead, but we do need to ask ourselves what those blessings are and where do they come from?

The blessings God offers to us here are laid out here in the three lines of the benediction. First, “The Lord will bless you and keep you.” Here we have God’s promises to bless us in general, but then more specifically God promises to guard us and keep us. Here the idea is protection. We might think that would mean protection from all harm that nothing bad would happen to us, but that is not really the kind of protection that is being given to us here. This protection is the same kind of protection that we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer when we say “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This is God’s promise to keep us and guard us from the attacks of Satan our enemy. Bad things may still happen to us, but those things and nothing else in all creation can snatch us out of the hand of our God who speaks these words of blessing to us. Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. He says that He gives us eternal life and that no one, not the devil not anybody, can steal us away from Him. The Lord our God will bless us and keep us as His people.

In the next line of the benediction that God gave to Aaron we see more promises. “The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” This way of speaking about “faces shining upon us” might seem strange to us, but it really just means God showing His love, mercy, and kindness to us as His people. The next part of the line really says the same thing: “and be gracious to you.” Throughout the Scriptures we see the graciousness of God displayed again and again. God’s graciousness, His grace, means that He does not deal with us according to our sins or give us what we deserve for our sin, but forgives us our trespasses for the sake of Jesus. He shows His love, mercy, and kindness to us for the sake of Jesus who gave His life on the cross laying down His life as the payment for our sins. God blesses us here by not punishing us for our sin forever, but graciously loving and forgiving us for the sake of Jesus. The Lord blesses us with His grace and forgiveness for us.

With that we reach the last line of the benediction. Here God’s promised blessing for us in ultimately peace. First, though, we have this bit about God “lifting up His countenance” upon us. “Countenance” is not a word we use very often. In most or the services in our hymnal it says “look upon you with favour” instead of “lift up His countenance.” Really all this is just another reference to God’s face. In the previous line it was God’s face “shining” upon His people and this time it is God lifting up His face toward His people. With God’s face lifted up upon us He gives us peace. We might initially think that this means that there will be no fighting or conflict, world peace or something like that, but that is not quite the point here. God has something much bigger than world peace in mind here. This peace is complete and total peace of body and soul. It is a kind of wholeness. It is the peace that comes from sins forgiven. It is the kind of peace that Jesus promises His disciples that the Holy Spirit will give to them when He will teach them to recall everything that Jesus had taught them. It is the peace of God that passes all understanding that guards our hearts and minds. It is peace that Jesus, the messiah, the prince of peace brings to earth when He is born. It is peace between God and man and peace inside ourselves as we rest assured in our God’s love and grace for the sake of Jesus. The Lord blesses us with His peace.

We see then what God’s blessings to us are. They are not generic greeting card blessings or well wishes that everything “works out alright in the end.” They are God’s concrete and real blessings to us as His people: His protection from the devil and the powers of evil, His forgiveness and grace for our sin, and His peace for our lives. These blessings all come from one place, the name of God.

The last verse of our Old Testament reading today says this: “So shall they (Aaron and the other priests) put my name on the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” These blessings from God flow from His name. The point of this benediction, God says, is to put His name on His people. The most important words in each line of the benediction are the first ones: “The Lord.” Three times over: “The Lord.” The Lord will do this, His name will do this. He puts His name on us, stamps it on our forehead, and marks us as His own. Aaron and the other prophets are given the task of putting God’s name on His people and with God’s name on them He will bless them.

The repetition of that name three times is important. This is a reminder for us of how God first put His name on us. We were baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the water of baptism God’s name was put on us. That day when you were baptised a pastor did the same thing that Aaron and his sons were tasked with doing, putting God’s name on His people. God put His name on you that day, His name was stamped onto your forehead, and He keeps putting His name on you even today. You are the Lord’s. When we begin a service in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit God is putting His name on us again. When we hear the words of the benediction and the name of the Lord repeated three times over us God’s name is put on us again. And with that name comes the certainty of God’s blessing.

That name stamped onto our foreheads will never fade away, the blessings that come with that name will never cease. These things are not even just for this world, they carry on into eternity. In Revelation 22 John sees the eternal life that our God has prepared for us and He describes it as a heavenly city. This is part of how he describes that city: “No longer will there be anything accursed (the opposite of blessed), but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face (shining and lifted up upon them), and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” These blessings that God puts on us with His name here and now in words like the benediction will be also be our reality in heaven when we dwell in this heavenly city with our God.

This New Year 2017 and each and every day of our lives God’s promised blessings to us remain the same. His name stamped on us remains the same too. As we seek God’s blessings on the year to come let us look to Him and His name and receive again and again His blessings of protection, forgiveness, and peace. The Lord will bless you and keep you, the Lord will make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord will look upon you with favour and give you peace. In Jesus name. Amen.