Sermon on Numbers 6:22-27
1st Sunday after Pentecost, Holy Trinity Sunday
A Three-in-One Blessing from Our Three-in-One God
Text: Numbers 6:22-27
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name! Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet . . . What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
This famous second scene of the second act of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been acted out, quoted, and parodied as much as or more than any other writing in the last 400 years of history. And rightly so. Those beautiful lines succinctly encapsulate the theme of the Bard’s most famous play. The Capulet and Montague families are archenemies. Thus, young Juliet Capulet rues the fact that her love, Romeo, bears the family name of Montague. After all, what’s in a name? If you gave a different name to a rose, wouldn’t it still smell as sweet, and wouldn’t Romeo still be her deepest love?
Juliet makes a good point. What does a name matter? If an orange tree was called a cactus, it still would produce delicious citrus fruit. If a rattlesnake was called a fluffy bunny, you still wouldn’t want to cross paths with it. If we named our daughter Gwendolyn any other girl’s name, she would still be the baby that cries in back during church. And if I had any other name, I would still be a pastor and my sermons would still put you to sleep. Juliet seems to be right. A name doesn’t matter.
That is, except when it comes to God. Our God has chosen very carefully and very specifically to reveal himself in the Bible by certain names. The most special of these names is the one used most frequently in Scripture. This name in Hebrew is YAHWEH. In English it is the LORD. The English translators of the Old Testament do you a favor in the Bible. They help you know whenever this name YAHWEH is used. Whenever YAHWEH appears in Scripture they capitalize all four letters—L-O-R-D.
There are other gods in this world that bear the name “god.” Allah is called “god.” Shiva and Vishnu are called “god.” Buddha is called “god.” All of these supposed gods of the world are very similar. They demand obedience from their people. If their followers do not obey or do not follow commands for right living, then those people do not enjoy eternal bliss. Or they supposedly reincarnate and try all over again in a new life.
The real God, the true God, is similar to these false gods. He also demands obedience. He also demands perfection. He also punishes those who disobey. But there is one way in which our God, the one true God, is different than any other god of this world. He is also YAHWEH, the LORD.
You see, with this name, the LORD, God reveals himself as the God of free and faithful love. He reveals himself as a God who is always the same and never changes. When he says will love you, he will love you. When he says he will forgive you, he will forgive you. When he says he freely gives his love and forgiveness, then he freely gives his love and forgiveness. God himself defined what the name YAHWEH means to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.”
This is how the one true God is different than any other false god of this world. Every other religion hangs eternal life and happiness on what you do. Every other religion is a religion that is dependent on works and doing things. But our God, the true God—the LORD—is different than any other god because he is a compassionate and gracious God who freely loves and forgives. No other god graciously gives salvation. No other god mercifully forgives. But our God, the true God, does. This is all revealed in his one name, the LORD. When it comes to God, his name does matter.
The LORD isn’t the only name that God reveals to us, his people. As if the mercy and forgiveness of God isn’t mind-boggling enough, God reveals something equally astonishing and astounding. God reveals that as one true God he is also three separate and distinct persons named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So while he is one God and not three Gods, he is also three persons and not one person. They aren’t personalities. They aren’t modes. They aren’t masks he wears. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all exist at the same time. They are all separate. They are all distinct. They are all God—but just one God.
Does your head hurt yet trying to understand it? Well if trying to grasp the Trinity makes your brain burst, then wait till you hear this: Our triune God whose special name is the LORD also blesses us in a very special way. That blessing is recorded for us in Numbers 6. There we see A Three-in-One Blessing from a Three-in-One God.
Look at part one: “The LORD bless you and keep you.” This first phrase refers primarily to the work of God the Father. He is the one who takes the most active role in watching over us and caring for us, in protecting and preserving us each day.
Think of all the ways that God the Father blesses us. There is no one here who does not have a place to call home. Every single one of us has a shelter to shield us from hurricanes. All of us have at least one car to go wherever we want whenever we want. Some have multiples cars, some have bikes, motorcycles, boats, and more besides a car. We all have food on our table every day. We have the luxury of eating Doritos if we want, or if we have the craving we can run to the drive through and grab a Big Mac. We have clothes to keep us covered and warm. We have tennis shoes for running, sandals for the beach, and dress shoes for church. We have computers, cameras, cell phones, and TVs. Though there may be health problems here and there, we are all here living and breathing. We have friends and we have family.
What have we done to deserve any of those things? What does God owe us? When you break a law the government gives you a speeding ticket or a fine or jail time. When children disobey they get a timeout or they are grounded or their TV privileges are taken away. We defy, disrespect, doubt, and disobey God every day. We lie and we cheat. We curse and we swear. We hate and we hold grudges. God doesn’t owe us. If anything, he should be giving us his punishment!
But yet the LORD, specifically God the Father, is compassionate and merciful. Every day he blesses us by providing for us. He keeps us, which is to say that he guards and protects us. He watches over us. He works all things for our good. What a wonderful Three-in-One Blessing from Our Three-in-One God!
Listen to part two: “The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” We know the way our God feels about sin. God hates sin. He abhors sin. He detests sin. God hates sin so much that he turns his back on sin. That is in fact the punishment for sin—God turns his back. And when God turns his back—when God refuses his love, his presences, and his power—when God turns his back, that is hell.
Jesus experienced that. As he hung from the cross he carried the sin and the guilt of the entire world. Everything you and I have done—from the “little fibs” to the big and gross sins—all of our sins were put onto him. God’s anger and wrath against sin flared. He turned his back on his Son and abandoned him. That’s why Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was experiencing hell.
That’s what you and I should experience. God should turn his back on us. God should abandon us. That is the punishment for sin, and we are sinners.
But yet the LORD, specifically God the Son, is compassionate and merciful. Because he took our place and suffered and died in our place, God treats us completely differently. Instead of turning his back to us, he turns his face to us. He makes his face to shine upon us with the brilliant light of his love. He is gracious to us and treats us in a way that we would never expect and would never deserve—he forgives us and saves. What a wonderful Three-in-One Blessing from Our Three-in-One God!
Now part three of the blessing: “The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” This phrase refers primarily to the work of the Holy Spirit. As the LORD kindly turns his face to us with his love and forgiveness, the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit is peace.
This is a difficult blessing for us to understand. It doesn’t feel like we have peace. How can we have peace when a car bomb might go off at any moment or an airplane might be hijacked and flown into a building? How can we have peace when we aren’t sure about our next paycheck? How can we have peace when our families have problems? How can we have peace when happiness seems like just a fantasy?
But that’s why God is God and we are not. He knows what is best for us. He knows what we need most. We really don’t need physical safety. We really don’t need money. We really don’t need the removal from all problems and struggles in our lives. We might like to have those things. But those aren’t what we need most. As Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?”
That’s why the blessing of peace from the LORD, specifically God the Holy Spirit, is so special. True spiritual peace is truly what we need. Having peace means that our sins are forgiven. Having peace means that we are going to heaven. Having peace means that we know none of these worldly things really matter or count. What matters most is that the LORD, the God of free and faithful love, has forgiven and saved us. That is true peace. That is the gift of the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful Three-in-One Blessing from Our Three-in-One God!
The LORD spoke the words of Numbers 6 to Moses. They were instructions for the priests on how they were to pronounce God’s blessing on his people in worship. For almost 3,500 years now God’s people have been hearing this blessing in their worship.
This special blessing reminds us that Father preserves and protects us. It reminds us that the Son lived and died for us. It reminds us that the Holy Spirit gives us true peace. It is a Three-in-One Blessing from Our Three-in-One God.
When you hear those words this morning, and in every other worship service, know that YAHWEH is speaking. Know that the God of free and faithful love is looking on you with undeserved compassion and mercy. Know that God’s special name is putting his name on you, his people. Know that you are receiving the LORD’s blessing.
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