Note: On June 1, 2015 I began my retirement and my wife and I moved from Ohio, USA to Ontario, Canada. Before we left, the Pastor asked me to preach one more time. What follows is that message delivered at Grace Baptist Church in Kent, Ohio – March 22, 2015
 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. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
In thinking of what I would like to say at such a time as this, I could not shake myself away from that passage in Numbers that was read – only 6 verses and mostly three short statements in vv. 24-26. The essence is also the title of this message: “the Lord bless you”. This is our prayer for you individually and as a congregation. The Lord bless you.
Now, this word, “bless” has to be one of the most used words in the English language, especially in religious or church circles. We bless our food; we pray that God would bless pretty much everything in every prayer; it’s in our songs – a couple we sang this morning plus many others – “Blessed Assurance”, “Bless be the Tie that Binds”, “Blessed Be the Name”, etc. Some religious traditions have formal blessings for certain occasions and use this word as part of a liturgy or a prescribed ritual administered by ordained clergy. We sometimes put it into a salutation in a letter or email.
It is also in the culture outside of religious settings. Most commonly, someone sneezes and inevitably a few people nearby say, “Bless you” – a social custom going back to the 6th century. “Gregory I became Pope in AD 590 as an outbreak of the bubonic plague was reaching Rome. In hopes of fighting off the disease, he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets. At the time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague. The blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.” (Wikipedia)
Perhaps for some it is just a nice social convention like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, or a superstition that you must observe. If so, when I sneeze you can skip it, but if you really mean “God bless you”, I’m all for that!
Or, if you aspire to be President of the USA someday, it is helpful if you practice saying at the end of every official speech: “And God bless the United States of America”. It’s been that way since the Reagan years, though as first used by Richard Nixon in 1973. Again, not a bad thing if the President of the day really means that.
So, this word is everywhere. And whenever that is the case, we sometimes ought to reflect on how God intends us to use it.
HEBREW: barak = to praise, congratulate, or salute
GREEK: Makarios = happiness
Eulogeo focuses more on good words or the good report that others give of someone and also describes the blessing that we say over our food (Matthew 26:26). This word is where we get our English word “eulogy,” in which we speak well of one who has passed away. Ephesians 1:3 blesses God for all the blessings that He gives us in Christ, and 1 Peter 3:9 instructs us to bless those who mistreat us, because we were called to receive a blessing from God. [http://www.gotquestions.org/blessing-Bible.html#ixzz3V4Cv8s3r ]
The idea is that when we pray for someone to be blessed, we are asking God to dispense His benefit upon that person, a benefit that may vary with the time and circumstances. You can see the diverse use of this thought in the Bible.
Gen.14:19-20 – Melchizadek blesses Abram and in the process praises the God who grants the blessing – quite startling really in those verses, worshipping the God of creation and of deliverance for trouble.
Gen. 27:28-29 – Isaac blesses Jacob (thinking it is Esau) and asks that his son’s flocks would do well and that nations would bow to him in the future, etc. It is a temporal blessing for things of this earth. Similarly, in Gen. 49 Jacob blesses his 12 sons and in this case, predicts their future, their unique place in the economy and politics they would face.
9 O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
12 The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron;
13 he will bless those who fear the Lord,
both the small and the great.
14 May the Lord give you increase,
you and your children!
15 May you be blessed by the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
16 The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,
but the earth he has given to the children of man.
17 The dead do not praise the Lord,
nor do any who go down into silence.
18 But we will bless the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!
Note: “bless” occurs 6X in 10 verses and here it is about both national blessing n Israel (10) and individual blessing on any who reverence and follow God (11).
In the New Testament, Jesus most famously gives the beatitudes in Matthew 5 – eight pronouncements of blessing, and very interesting in that several begin with something we would consider negative or at least a reflection of need –
poverty, mourning, hunger & thirst, persecution –
and even the others have something odd about them as blessings:
meekness [counter culture], merciful [not revengeful], pure [certainly counter culture and our nature], peacemakers implies being in a situation of conflict].
He says, in these situations you can be blessed and then points in the direction of what we should really want:
the kingdom of heaven,
inheritance from God,
being called sons/daughters of God,
reward in heaven.
So, the idea is identify your need and in your submission to God, anticipate His benefit. We might paraphrase the prayer of the Beatitudes, “May you be blessed with comfort, satisfaction, knowing God personally, and eternal reward.”
Browse your concordance and see how many other familiar verses speak of blessing. We don’t have time for that but we can go to the Numbers chapter 6 passage and see what it teaches about blessing.
Numbers 6:22-27 ESV
 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
 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.
 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Here, God instructs Moses to teach Aaron (and his descendants the Levitical priests, in how to bless the congregation of Israel. It is sort of like the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament, where the disciples asked, “teach us to pray” and the Lord gave them a pattern to follow. So, God says to the religious leaders of that day, ‘When you bless the people, remember these three aspects or elements of blessing.’ These points amount to God’s preferred blessing. They inform us about what God knows we need.
(1) The Lord bless you and keep you. V. 24
This is a prayer for God’s supply of the external necessities of life. “Keep” implies sustain and supply and protect. This is a request of God that He will supply or provide the necessary externals of life. It is equivalent to “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt.6:11) or in the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.” Those are places sheep need to graze and be safe from their enemies. Do we not ask God for these things always? – for safety in our travels, for our children and grandchildren amidst all the dangers of life, for food and clothing, and shelter – the necessities. The fact that God includes this in the instruction to Aaron shows that He cares about such needs. Did not Jesus say, ‘Don’t ne anxious about what you will have to eat or wear. Don’t I supply sparrows with what they need? Surely I’ll do so for you.’ (Matt. 6:25-26)
Thus, Jane and I will pray for God to bless you with these things – for jobs, and daily provisions, for medical, financial, and other such needs of a life on earth, as long as He wants us to be here. And when you pray for God to bless us, pray for Him to “keep” us. In our life together, we have had times when we wondered where the income would come from to sustain us, but we have always had a roof over our heads and some food to enjoy and transportation to get us around. But God wants us to pray for this for one another, I think, largely because He wants us to remember that ultimately it is He who supplies them, not our retirement plan or our employment.
(2) The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. V. 25
The second blessing is about relationship. This thought comes from the reference to the face of God shining on us.
I was at the Cleveland airport recently to meet a faculty candidate who was arriving for an interview in our department. While waiting for him, I watched two women who were eagerly anticipating the arrival of some loved ones. One was going to hide behind a pillar to surprise the passengers. Eventually, a young couple came down the escalator into the baggage area and these two women jumped out and welcomed their friends and there was much laughter and many smiles and hugs between the parties involved. When I met my arrivee, we shook hands and I welcomed him, but there were no hugs, no beaming, because ours was a new and business relationship, an acquaintanceship only, not a deep personal relationship.
God beams when He sees us coming to Him. His face shines upon us. He graciously welcomes us into His presence. This is what I want you to experience in your walk with God – His warm grace. Grace is favour. I pray that you will enjoy the favour of a loving relationship with God and find opportunity to introduce others to such a relationship also.
Our Lord wants that for you, too. In John’s gospel, chapter, 3, Jesus Christ says He loves us – God loves us so much that He sent His beloved Son into the world not to condemn it but that we might be saved. Whoever believes in Him has everlasting life. That begins the relationship. I hope you have begun life with Him. Then, later, in chapter 10, He says He is alike a shepherd caring for us to the point of giving up His life for us and He now wants us to enjoy life abundantly. Then, in ch. 17:13 He adds that He wants His joy to fill us. And in v. 24 that He wants us to be with Him – people who love each other want to be together. That’s why parting is tough – a “sweet sorrow” – sweet because of the love and sorrowful because of the parting. But with Jesus, He is never apart: “Lo, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). So, that is the blessing we pray you will experience daily.
- The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. V. 26
The last part of the blessing of Numbers 6 is about provision inwardly. We had His keeping in v. 24 and now it is His peace. He provides the externals and He provides the internals.
I think that the story of the feeding of the 5000 in John 6 informs us about this. It actually brings all three elements of Numbers 6 together. In that account, the Lord is concerned about and does provide for the physical needs of the people. He asks the disciples to provide lunch for the crowd and Philip says it would take thousands of dollars to do that even on a modest scale and they didn’t have it. So, Jesus looks after it by multiplying the loaves and fishes. That’s blessing #1, His keeping. Then, He emphasized the need they had for a personal relationship with Him. He introduced Himself as the bread of life, and invites them to believe in Him and come to Him so that they will be forever filled and have eternal life. That’s blessing #2, relationship. And lastly, He steers them (and especially the disciples later when they ask what this was all about), to the deeper spiritual lesson. We are to feed on Him (John 6:57). This is the third blessing, inward satisfaction in Jesus. He calls it peace in Numbers 6 and He again uses an illustration of His face being lifted up, or looking at the individual and affirming His care and power.
Thus, our prayer for you is that you would have those inner needs of your life met through Christ. It is one thing to have enough to eat or a place to live, but many people have those things and are not at peace with themselves and life in general. This blessing is about that inner contentment that can weather the storms of life – not an easy thing – the ability to trust God in times of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, lack of clarity about some decision you face, and so on. I know that you face problems and challenges that are more than your daily bread and for you I pray that you will see God’s face looking your direction and not abandoning you.
So, these instructions on how the priests of Israel were to bless the people serve to guide us. They tell us how to pray for one another. When we say, “Bless this person” or “Bless our church” what are we asking for? It is God’s keeping, God’s presence in a personal and eternal relationship, and God’s peace.
The last verse of the section says, that if we do this, God will put His name on the people – a wonderful thing to be identified as the people of God.
Think about these ways we need His blessing. Desire His blessing. And turn His blessing into praise and worship as He provides in these ways.
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.