Think about the occasions in life when you speak and you must – more than usual – mean what you say. When you were confirmed, you vowed before God and man to “reject the devil along with all his lies and empty promises” and “to continue steadfast in this teaching and to endure all things, even death, rather than fall away from it.” If you are married, you again stood before God and man and promised “to be faithful [to your spouse] as long as [you] both shall live.” If you’ve been asked to testify in court, you swore to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” There are certain moments in life when we want everyone to know that we mean what we are saying. There’s a problem though. Whenever we, as sinful humans, make a promise or take an oath or swear to tell the truth, whenever we speak – there’s always something lacking. Raise your hand if you’ve never doubted or wavered in your faith since you vowed to endure all things for the sake of Christ. Raise your hand if you’ve never been unfaithful to your spouse in thought, word or deed. Raise your hand if you believe you can ever really know the WHOLE truth. No matter how sincere we are when we speak, we are always lacking; lacking steadfastness, commitment, knowledge or information or will or ability. In the end, our words are always lacking because we are weak, sinful human beings. But today we will see that when God speaks, he always has the power to do what he says. And when God gives you his blessing, he leaves you lacking nothing.
I. The Father’s Providence
The words before us this morning are very familiar. In the course of the church year, you will hear these words dozens of times; with the result many of you have heard them hundreds of times, and a few of you have heard them thousands of times. There’s a danger in this familiarity though, isn’t there? The danger is that we might start to believe that these are just words; just words that mark the end of church; just words to make us feel good as we leave God’s house. The law for today is this: if you have ever taken these words for granted or have found your mind wandering as these words are spoken or have left with this blessing but then allowed the worries and distractions of life cause you to forget them: repent. Repent for treating the blessing of the triune God as nothing more than words. Repent for failing to recognize that these words are God’s promise to you, his guarantee, his contract that he signs with his own name. Repent and be forgiven so that you may always treasure the incredible gift God gives you as you leave his house.
God first gave these words to Moses and Aaron around 1500 BC as Israel was preparing to set out from Mt. Sinai for the Promised Land. At God’s command, Aaron and his sons were to speak this blessing over Israel every morning and every evening. For more than 3500 years God’s servants have placed his name on his children by repeating these words. Even though I have spoken these words countless times, I noticed something for the first time as I was studying them this past week. This blessing alludes to and spells out the work of each person of the Trinity. Not just in the threefold repetition of the name LORD, but in the unique and specific blessings each part contains. The Israelites would not have seen this clearly, they were still looking forward to the full revelation of God in the person of the Messiah – but as NT Christians who have the full revelation of God in Jesus, we can see clearly how this blessing is a shadow of what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have each done for our salvation.
The LORD bless you and keep you. In the OT the word “bless” means to endow – to actually give – someone something. It’s more than a good intention; it’s God the Father’s good intention in action. We see an example of this in Genesis 1:28 where God blessed [Adam and Eve] and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air and over every living creature.” God blessed them – and what happened? They were fruitful – today their descendants cover the earth. They ruled over creation – and today we have more food than we can eat. The point is this. When God speaks, it’s not just a pious wish. His Word carries the power to do what he says. Maybe this is more striking when you consider the opposite: God’s curse. In Genesis 3, God cursed the ground – and even now our gardens are filled with thorns and thistles. (Genesis 3:17-19) In Genesis 19, God cursed Sodom and Gomorrah and to this day all that remains of them is scorched earth. (Genesis 19) When God speaks, things happen. When God promises to bless you, he is promising to provide everything you need for life – your talents, your abilities, your health, your home and job and family are the result of this blessing. But the Father doesn’t only provide for you, he also protects you. His promise to keep you means that he will watch over you every day of your life. Everything you are and have, your past, present, and future are in your Father’s hands – and he promises to use every moment of it – the good and the bad, the joy and the sorrow, life and death – for your eternal good. (Romans 8:28) God’s blessing leaves you lacking nothing and the Father’s special work is that he will provide for you and protect you. We call this his loving, undeserved Providence. Let us thank the Father for his provision and protection by confessing our faith…
II. The Son’s Grace
I’m willing to bet that among the many pieces of mail you receive every week are at least a few requests for a donation of time or money. When you receive that request, see that there are people in need and decide to help them – that’s called charity. That thought of helping someone in need comes out in part two of the Aaronic blessing. The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The first question is: what is God’s face? This is called an anthropomorphism – that is, giving God – who is spirit (John 4:24) – a human attribute. When you turn your face toward someone or something, you are giving it your attention. And that’s the point here. Even though our sins have separated us from God and prevent us from coming into his presence (Isaiah 59:2) he turns his attention to us. His gracious attention. When you hear the word grace you think: undeserved love. But the Hebrew uses a different word meaning “to grant a favor” or “help someone in need”  - much like you do when you send a gift to a charity.
How did the LORD most clearly demonstrate that we have his attention and help in our need? Here’s one place the classic Sunday school answer – Jesus – is the right answer. We needed something and he provided it. We needed the forgiveness of sins; we needed someone to save us from the fire of hell; we needed a perfect life to cover our own imperfect lives. We needed help, and Jesus was the only one who could give us what we need. When the virgin Mary conceived and gave birth to a baby boy that night long ago in Bethlehem (Luke 2:6-7), God made his face shine on the world. And as that baby boy grew and learned and taught and healed and lived and loved – all in perfect obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus was weaving together the robe of perfect righteousness that covers all our unrighteousness. And when that grown man climbed Calvary and surrendered himself to the worst punishment that God and man could dish out, we see how the Son of God paid the price for our sins with his blood. We were in need, we are still in need, and so as we leave God’s house the Son assures us that he came and lived and died and rose again as proof that God’s attention and favor are ours.
Too often when people think about receiving blessings from God they are only thinking of earthly, material blessings – our prayers tend to focus on 1st Article blessings. But when you set the first two parts of this blessing side-by-side, an interesting thing happens: you realize that the Father’s material blessings would be worthless apart from the spiritual blessings Jesus won for us. A steady income is a wonderful blessing, but no amount of work can earn the righteousness God demands from us. But Jesus can. Jesus provided for our lack of righteousness by living a flawless life under God’s law as our substitute. A roof over our heads is a wonderful blessing; but it cannot shelter us from God’s wrath over our sin. But Jesus can. Because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath his blood shelters us from God’s judgment. It’s certainly a blessing to live in a country where we can speak and worship freely, but neither the constitution nor the military can free us from death’s prison. But Jesus can. Jesus robbed death of its sting when he burst out of his three-day prison and rose from the dead. When God blesses you, he leaves you lacking nothing; and the unique work of the Son is to give you grace – his undeserved love and attention that frees us from the eternal consequences of our sin. Let us thank him for his grace by confessing our faith…
III. The Spirit’s Peace
You know how whenever there’s a terror attack or a natural disaster or a political scandal, people always react with shock and surprise – as if these things never happen in our world? It’s almost as if people assume that peace is the normal status quo in this world. You don’t have to be a student of history to recognize that this is not the case. Peace is not the norm, war, unrest, violence, terror is. If we have peace in our world and in our personal lives, we should never take it for granted, because it is a rare and precious gift.
Given the way many people glide through life without ever giving a thought to God or repentance or forgiveness or judgment or eternity – you might get the impression that we are simply born into a peaceful relationship with God. In the balance, this is a far more dangerous misunderstanding. Peace is not our natural relationship to God; by nature we are God’s enemies who are in open rebellion against him and his Word. (Romans 8:7-8) That’s why it’s so important to appreciate that in the last part of his blessing, God promises us the opposite of what we have earned and deserve; he promises us peace. The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. Our world has a twisted understanding of peace. To the world, peace is having enough money in the bank to pay the bills; peace is having a family that always gets along; peace is absence of crime and war; peace is looking on the outside the way you feel inside. The dirty little secret is that you can have all those things – and still not have peace. True peace, the peace that Jesus died to win for you is the peace of forgiveness, the peace of a clean conscience and a heart free from guilt, the peace of knowing that this screwed up planet is not your real home – true peace is peace with God.
Jesus created true peace between you and God once and for all when he took the guilt of your sins away by his death, but the Holy Spirit is the delivery man. He first delivered this peace to you when you were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. On that day, the Holy Spirit converted you from God’s enemy into God’s child. As Paul writes in Galatians: you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. If you belong to Christ, then you are…heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29) But the Holy Spirit’s work didn’t end there at the baptismal font. Daily and weekly the Spirit delivers God’s peace to you – in the words of absolution, in the body and blood of Jesus you receive in the Sacrament, in your own personal mediation on the Word of God – wherever and whenever the message of forgiveness in Christ is taught or offered or read, the Holy Spirit is delivering God’s peace to your heart – even and especially when your life is anything but peaceful. God’s blessing leaves you lacking nothing; and the Spirit’s special work is to deliver true peace; God’s peace, the peace Jesus earned, to you through simple human servants and the simple means of grace – the Gospel in Word and sacrament.
How can we respond to our God’s blessing of providence, grace, and peace? Before we close with Luther’s explanation of the third article I want you to take something to heart. While today we take the time to repeat back to God exactly what God has promised us, most Sundays we respond by simply saying or singing “amen,” a Hebrew word meaning “Yes, it shall be so.” Every Sunday, and every day for that matter, God promises to give you everything, leaving you lacking nothing, and what does he want in return? Only faith that believes and receives his promises. So whenever you hear this blessing, trust that God will provide anything and everything you need, so that you can sing and speak and live with the conviction that: “Yes, it shall be so.” Amen.
 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p 302