Christ Our Priest, Part 4: His Blessing | Numbers 6:22-27
Brian Hedges | September 9, 2018
Well, turn in your Bibles this morning to Numbers, the sixth chapter. We’re going to be in the Old Testament this morning. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers; the fourth book from the beginning, okay? Numbers 6:22-27.
For the last four weeks we’ve been looking at the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We’ve grounded a lot of that in the book of Hebrews; this morning we’re going to be in Numbers. We’ve been looking at the four things that a priest does. This is according to the Puritan writer William Bridge, who I’ve found really helpful in preparing for this series.
William Bridge said that a priest did four things; a priest offered sacrifices to God, a priest prayed or interceded for the people, the priest presented the people’s offerings to God (we looked at that last week), and then fourthly, the priest was the one who pronounced a blessing on God’s people. That’s what we’re going to be looking at this morning, how Christ, in fulfilling all of the Old Testament typology of priesthood, pronounces blessing upon us.
Now, I think blessing is something that - we use that language a lot. We talk about being blessed; somebody sneezes and you say, “Bless you!” We want to be blessed, we pray for God’s blessing, we ask for God’s blessings. Sometimes I think non-Christian people, who don’t have any Christian content to this, but they will try to express goodwill by saying, “Blessings on you,” “I want you to be blessed.”
But I wonder if we really understand what blessing means? What does it mean to be blessed in biblical terms? What I hope you’ll see this morning is that it means far, far more than probably what you’ve ever thought of, what you’ve ever really understood. When we understand the blessing that Christ pronounces upon us as the people of God, it staggers our imagination.
So, to ground our thoughts this morning we’re going to look at Numbers 6:22-27, and of course we’ll bring some New Testament passages in as we go along. So let’s begin by reading the word of God, Numbers chapter 6, beginning in verse 22:
“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.’”
This is God’s word.
Now, I want us to see three things this morning. I want us to see, first of all, Christ’s priestly work in pronouncing blessing, and I just want you to see in a couple of places from the text that this is the work of a priest. Then, secondly, the blessings themselves. What does it mean that he blesses us? What are those blessings? And then we’ll end with some application; what does this mean for us personally? How does this help us, and how should we respond?
I. Christ’s Priestly Work in Pronouncing Blessing
So, first of all, just note this, that it is the work of a priest to bless. That’s one of a priest’s duties or one of a priest’s tasks, and therefore it is part of Christ’s priestly work to bless us.
Okay, so you see it in Numbers 6, there in verse 23, where the Lord tells Moses to give certain instructions to Aaron and to his sons. Now, Aaron was the first high priest of Israel, and so his sons would be those who would succeed him in being the high priest. So, here is the duty of a priest, you see it in verse 23: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel.” And then he gives them exactly the blessing that he is to pronounce, and of course we know this blessing. We’ve used it often in our worship.
So, the duty of a high priest was to bless, and Christ, in many ways, fulfills the typology of the Old Testament priesthood. Now, when we get into the book of Hebrews we also learn that Christ is a priest of a different order. He does fulfill the Old Testament Levitical sacrificial system, but he’s also a priest of a different order, not descended from Levi, but the writer of the Hebrews tells us a he’s a priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek was this kind of mysterious priest in the book of Genesis, the high priest of Salem; he was the one that Abraham had an encounter with.
So, in Hebrews chapter 7, Christ is compared to Melchizedek, and I want you to hear just a couple of verses from Hebrews chapter 7. In Hebrews 7:1 this is what we read: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him.” Now, some of you have probably read over that a dozen times and you never stopped and noticed that, that this is what Melchizedek did. When Melchizedek met Abraham after the battle of the kings there in the book of Genesis, Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, but Melchizedek did something for Abraham. Melchizedek blessed him. He pronounced a blessing upon him.
In fact, this is stressed three times in Hebrews chapter 7. So you have it again in verses 6 and 7, [which] tell us that Melchizedek, this man who does not have his descent from others, “received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” So, God had given promises to Abraham, and now Melchizedek, the high priest of the Most High God, blesses him. “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” So, three times it is said in Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. So I’m just establishing the point that Christ in his priesthood pronounces blessing. That’s one of the things he does.
Now, I also just want to dig in a little bit deeper into what this means that he pronounces blessing, and even what the priest did in pronouncing blessing. Here’s the main thing I want you to see, that the pronouncement of a blessing is not a mere wish. It’s not a mere wish; it’s something much more than that.
Now, when somebody sneezes or has a cold and you say, “Bless you,” there’s not a lot of weight behind you saying, “Bless you.” It’s nice, you know, it’s courteous, it’s polite, it’s friendly to say, “Bless you,” but there’s not a lot of weight behind that. And I notice sometimes on Facebook, you know, people are going through things, and I’ll see this, both with believing and unbelieving friends; I’ll see people say things like, “Send your good thoughts my way.” Right? What does that even mean, you know, to “send good thoughts”? I mean, my thoughts have zero power to do anything! Our blessing, our well-wishing, that doesn’t do much! It doesn’t have any power.
But that’s not what the blessing of a priest in the Old Testament was. Read this text again. Look at Numbers chapter 6 again. He says, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel. You shall say to them, ‘The Lord bless you.’” Alright, so the Lord is the one who’s actually giving the blessing. The priest is mediating this, the priest is pronouncing it, but he is invoking the name of the Lord.
“The Lord bless you and keep you,” and then, again, the name of the Lord, “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.” Three times the divine name of the Lord is invoked.
And then look at what verse 27 says: “So they shall put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
God connects the promise of his effectual blessing to the pronouncement of the high priest. The high priest says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you...the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you and peace,” and God says, “When you do that, you’re putting my name on fht epeople, and I will bless them.”
So, what’s going on here is something like this: this is a pronouncement that, in the speaking of it, effects the blessing. It has authority. It has binding power. It has, as the Puritan William Bridge says, it has the power and the force and the efficacy of an absolution. This is God pronouncing blessing on his people through the mediation of a priest. How much more power does the word of Christ have when Christ pronounces blessing on us? When Christ blesses us, he doesn’t merely wish us well; he effects the good that he intends, he effectually gives the blessing that he promises. He secures everything that God promises to give us through him. He’s the mediator, and through him God gives us his blessing.
II. The Blessing Itself
So, what is it? What is the blessing? You see that a priest pronounces it and that it has this power, but what is the blessing itself?
Let me make a couple of general remarks first, and then we’ll dig into specifics. So, generally speaking, I think this is true across the board in the New Testament, that the blessings given to us in Christ are spiritual blessings rather than material blessings, okay?
Some of us were looking at this in Sunday school downstairs this morning, that when you look at the prayers that Paul prays in his epistles, almost all of the prayers (I think all of the prayers without exception) are prayers for spiritual blessings, spiritual reality. He’s praying for spiritual growth, he’s praying for wisdom, he’s praying for the knowledge of God’s will, he’s praying for strength from the Spirit, he’s praying for endurance for trials, he’s praying that they would know the love of Christ, that their eyes would be opened to see God’s glorious riches for the saints. He’s praying that they would understand and comprehend the depth of God’s amazing love for them, he’s praying that they would be filled up with the fullness of God. All of the things that Paul prays for in the epistles are spiritual blessings, with maybe one exception, when he prays in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 that the thorn in the flesh would be taken from him, and God didn’t answer that prayer; he said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Now, of course we have biblical warrant to pray for our material needs. The Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But that’s almost never the focus in New Testament praying, and the same thing in the book of Acts. When you look at the book of Acts, what are they praying for? They’re praying for the Spirit to come, they’re praying for power, they’re praying for the Lord’s work, the Lord’s blessing on his word, the Lord’s blessing on his people.
This is, I think, one of the distinctives of the new covenant as opposed to the old covenant. In the old covenant, many of the blessings given were material blessings, and there was an element of spiritual blessing as well. In the new covenant, the blessings are first and foremost spiritual blessings, with many outward things that are thrown in, but not necessarily guaranteed. So the blessings of the gospel are spiritual blessings, and that means that these blessings are discerned by faith, not by sight. Paul says, “We walk by faith and not by sight,” and we discern the blessing of God by faith and not by sight.
One of the obvious places where you see this is in the Sermon on the Mount, okay, where Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by pronouncing blessing. Do you remember this? But have you ever read through those blessings and just paid attention to who it is he’s blessing and what he’s blessing them with? Let me read it! Pay attention; listen here.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Now there’s material blessing, but it’s future tense; they shall inherit the earth. I think you put that together with the rest of biblical theology, we inherit the earth in the new heavens and the new earth. It’s future inheritance. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
And then things really turn upside down: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
I think the first people who heard Jesus say this, some of them had to just be scratching their heads. “You’re saying I’m blessed when I’m sad? ‘Blessed are those who mourn’? You’re saying I’m blessed when I’m persecuted? You’re saying I’m blessed when people are reviling me? I mean, what kind of blessing is this?” Well, it’s a spiritual blessing, and it’s a blessing that has to be discerned by faith.
Now, by the end of the message this morning I think you will see that this is actually very good news, and it’s very encouraging for us, but right now I’m trying to get a little bit of cognitive dissonance, okay? I’m trying to make you think, because some of you think that God is blessing you when your business is doing well and your kids are doing well and your marriage is full of joy and happiness and nobody’s sick, and that’s the moment when you feel blessed. The Bible says that you’re blessed when you’re poor in spirit and when you’re hungry and thirsty for righteousness and when you’re mourning and when you’re persecuted; when you’re suffering, that’s when you’re blessed.
So, maybe we’ve missed something here. What does it really mean to be blessed? Well, it’s spiritual realities. Okay, what are those spiritual realities? Let’s dig in specifically.
(1) It is, first of all, the blessing of God’s grace and favor, given to us in Christ. The enjoyment of his grace and favor, given to us in Christ. Alright, so in Numbers chapter 6, “The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” It’s a blessing of grace and the shining of God’s face, the turning of God’s face towards us. So, rather than God’s face being set against us, God’s face is turned towards us, and this is grace, this is peace.
I think it’s interesting that in 2 Corinthians 13:14, which is the verse we use almost every single week for benediction, you have again the threefold name of God pronounced in a blessing over the people of God, and the blessing that is secured is this grace and favor of God. Listen to it. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” see the trinitarianism there, “be with you.” It’s as if Paul is channeling Numbers chapter 6, but he’s doing it in a Christianized form, where this blessing comes to us from the triune God, the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The blessing given is God’s grace. It’s a spiritual blessing.
Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.” Spiritual blessings, and it’s the blessing of God’s favor and his grace in our lives.
(2) Here’s the next thing: it is also the blessing of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So in 2 Corinthians 13:14 it is “the fellowship of the Spirit.” We could take more time on this than I’m going to, but when you read the New Testament carefully it becomes pretty clear that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is the gift that is promised in the new covenant. It is the gift that is promised by God. It is the great gospel gift, the great blessing: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Let me give you a couple of texts for this. Jesus, in John 7:37-39, it’s on the last day of the feast, great day; he stands up and he cries, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” And then the next verse tells us that he “spoke this concerning the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” So he’s speaking about something that’s going to come, and I think it came on the day of Pentecost, where the Spirit was given to the church.
Then in Acts chapter 1, Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. The promise of the Father! What is the promise of the Father? Well, in the context it’s very clear; it is the Holy Spirit, it’s being baptized in the Holy Spirit.
One more text, and I think this one makes it crystal clear, Galatians 3:13-14. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ - so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” It’s the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the blessing of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. That is the great gospel blessing.
The reason it is is because the Holy Spirit is the one who brings everything else. The Spirit is the one who opens our eyes so that see the gospel, but the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us new birth, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings us into ongoing fellowship and communion with Christ, the Holy Spirit is the one who is the agent of our sanctification, who is making us holy, conforming us the image of Christ, transforming us into Christ’s glorious image. The Holy Spirit, Paul tells us, is the seal, he is the down payment on our inheritance, the first installment. Everything else that we get, we get first in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the down payment, with everything else to follow.
(3) The Holy Spirit is the one who brings us into real relationship with God. Real relationship with God. Again, 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The blessing, the gift, is the gift of relationship with God, it is fellowship with God, it is communion with God.
Now, if that sounds boring to you, then either I’m doing a really bad job this morning or your heart is very hard. You think about, for a minute, what this means. Let’s do it in the reverse for a minute. Think about what it would be like to have every possible earthly blessing in the world, but ultimately to be cut off from God. I mean, you could live in the nicest house, you can have the greatest marriage, the most wonderful spouse, you could have the most beautiful, successful, talented children in the world, who live prosperous lives; you could have full health, live to 90 years old, die in your sleep...all kinds of material blessings. Ninety years of absolute health, wealth, and prosperity, and then cut off from God forever. That’s not a blessed life. That is a cursed life.
But on the other hand, if you live life, and even if you suffer and even if you’re not successful and even if things fall apart in all kinds of ways and you suffer all kinds of trials and all kinds of afflictions, but you have God as your friend, you have the fellowship of God, you have the promise of God, you have the blessing of God in your life, you know the presence of the Holy Spirit; and when you die, you wake up for glory, forever, eternal, everlasting joy and pleasure and happiness in God’s presence; then you’re blessed. Then you’re really blessed.
So the burning question for us is to know, “How can I know that I have that blessing?” The way you know it is through fellowship with God now. The way you know it is through an ongoing relationship with God through Jesus Christ where your sins are forgiven, God’s favor is upon you, and the presence of the Holy Spirit is in your heart.
John Owen the Puritan wrote a wonderful book on communion with God, and the whole book is structured around the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. I’m just paraphrasing here, but Owen essentially said that the Father is the fountain of all the blessing, of all the communion, of all the grace. Everything that we get, we get from the Father, who is this fountain of love and of goodness and of grace to us. It comes to us through Christ, who is the channel through which all these streams flow, Christ who purchased these blessings for us, he purchased all of this grace by shedding his blood; he purchased. And then the experience and the enjoyment of that blessing, that grace, and that favor and fellowship comes through the ministry, the comfort of the Holy Spirit. That’s what we need. That’s what we need. We need that experience of God’s grace, given through Christ, through the Spirit.
III. How Does This Help Us?
When we receive it, it helps us, changes us in all kinds of ways. So, last point, how does this help us? I want to give you about five ways that this should impact our lives, okay, five ways.
(1) Here’s the first: if this is true and if you have it, it should encourage you, no matter what your trials are. It should encourage you, no matter what your trials are, because it means that no matter what you suffer externally, no matter what those trials are externally, it means that God’s favor is still on you.
You know, there’s a verse in Romans chapter 11 that speaks about those who do not believe and how their table will be turned into a snare. Now, a table’s a blessing, the food that you eat; but it says that those who don’t know God, their table is turned into a snare.
William Bridge reverses this and he says that those who are blessed by God, their snares are turned into tables. Their curses are turned into blessings. If you don’t know God and you’re cut off from God, then every good gift that you receive this side of heaven will just add to your eternal condemnation; but if you are in relationship with God and your sins are forgiven and you’re within the realm of God’s favor and of God’s grace, then every trial you face, every suffering you experience, every affliction, every bad thing that happens in your life turns into your eternal good.
That means we have great reason to be encouraged! We can be encouraged, as Christians, because we know that God’s blessing is upon us, and even when we’re suffering his blessings are upon us. C.S. Lewis one time said that “even our agonies will be turned into glories.”
Now again, as I said earlier, this requires faith to discern, and it requires faith because God does not bless as the world blesses. As we saw in the beatitudes, things are kind of turned upside down. The world pronounces blessing on those who are rich, Christ on those who are poor. The world blesses says those are blessed who are happy, Christ says, “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Think about how encouraging this is when you’re in those circumstances where things are not going well. I think there were people in the masses that, when they heard Jesus, there were some people scratching their heads and saying, “How in the world could you be saying that those people are blessed? The poor and the broken and the humble and the weak and the despised of the earth? How are you saying that those are blessed?”
But you know who the people were who actually held onto those words? They were the people who were not wealthy, they were the people who were hungry, they were the people who were unemployed, they were the people who did suffer need, they were the people who didn’t feel like they had their act together. They were the people who felt like there wasn’t any reason for God to love them or bless them, and they didn’t feel like they were blessed; and Christ comes and says, “You’re blessed if you’re poor in spirit. If you’re humble, if you’re broken, if you’re poor in spirit, and you know that you need him, you’re blessed, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
I think those beatitudes were so encouraging, because they’re not even expressed the way sometimes we might in church want to express them. My tendency would be to say something like this: “Blessed are those who have deep assurance of God’s love.” But he doesn’t say that. He says, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit.” This is someone who doesn’t necessarily have deep assurance; they feel deep need, they feel deep want!
I might tend to say, “Blessed are those who have assurance that their sins are forgiven,” but Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” That’s someone who maybe doesn’t always have deep assurance that their sins are forgiven. So there’s real encouragement for us here when we understand God’s blessing and we grasp it by faith.
(2) Here’s the next thing: there should also be great confidence when we recognize that these blessings are secured by Christ, who is our curse-bearer and our sin-bearer. I’ve already read Galatians 3:13-14, that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.” As you know, curse in Scripture is set in opposition to blessing. You’re either blessed or you’re cursed. But Paul tells us in Galatians that Christ has borne the curse so that we could receive the blessing!
That means that Christ took our punishment so that we get the forgiveness, Christ took the sorrow so that we get the joy, Christ took the death that we deserve so that we get life, and our confidence comes from looking to him. When we look to Christ on the cross, we can know that we’re not cursed, but by faith in him we are blessed. So it gives us confidence.
(3) And then there should be great hope in our hearts when we know that God promises this blessing through Christ. Hope that God will bless, and he will bless in these particular ways, that he will give us his fellowship and his presence and his grace and his favor and his peace.
I wonder, when you gather for worship on a Sunday morning, do you gather with expectancy? Do you come expecting God to bless and looking for God to bless? We should, because he has promised to do so.
Two more applications:
(4) There is great reason here for us to worship because of what God has done. Ephesians says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” So he’s blessing God, who has blessed us.
Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all of his benefits towards me.” When we think about how God has blessed us, we should bless him. The greatest motivation for our thankful worship of God is when we consider the blessings that are ours in Jesus Christ.
(5) And then here’s one final exhortation: this should be the greatest encouragement of all to come to Christ and to trust in Christ. Christ is the only way that you get the blessing. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” So the one way that we get the blessing of God is if we come to Christ; it comes through the priest! If you don’t have the blessing through Christ, you have no blessing at all; you’re still under the wrath of God. But if you come, if you come now, if you come today, if you come urgently, you come looking to Christ, you come laying hold of the promises, you come trusting in what Christ has done, then there is the assurance that God’s favor, God’s grace, God’s peace will be yours.
So brother or sister, friend, do you know that God’s blessing is on your life, and do you discern those blessings this morning? Do you see the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ? Do you see that those blessings come to you only through Christ’s priesthood, and are you trusting this morning in the sacrifice of Christ and in his priestly work on your behalf to secure that place? That’s the word for us this morning; let’s respond to it with God’s grace. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you that there is great blessing in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Right now, at this moment, we come to you in Christ’s name and we ask you to pour these blessings out on us for Jesus’s sake. Lord, we’re not worthy of them, we didn’t do anything to earn them, we don’t deserve them, and in fact, when we look at our lives there’s every reason to say that we deserve the curse, we deserve wrath and judgment. But if Christ is our sin-bearer, if he truly bore our condemnation, took our sin, and stood in place, then the curse is cancelled and the blessing is ours through him. So we look to him for that this morning.
Father, I pray right now for any who do not know your blessing, who do not know your fellowship, who do not know your presence in their lives, and who have no assurance that their sins are forgiven. I pray that right now you would give them the look of faith, the heart to turn and to gaze on Christ and to see in Christ a sufficient Savior and to know that your blessing will rest upon them for his sake.
And then, Father, as we come to the table this morning, we ask you to feed and to nourish our hearts with the broken body and the spilled blood of Jesus. We know that these elements are merely physical elements, but they are tangible reminders to us of what Christ has done, and when we come in faith we come to enter into fellowship with Christ himself. We pray for that this morning.
So Lord, bless you word to our hearts and bless the table as we come, we pray in Jesus’s name, Amen.