The Lord’s Day Morning
September 25, 2011
The Reverend Mr. William E. Dempsey
If you’ll turn to Numbers chapter 6, verses 22 through 27, that will be my text
today. In a moment I’m going to pray
and ask God to open our hearts.
Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Father, it’s Your Word, not ours.
It’s Your Word, now speak, and help us, by Your grace, to lay aside every stray
thought, every distraction, every care, and to hang on Your every word because
we don’t live by bread alone but by the very word that falls from Your mouth.
Speak it into our hearts, speak it into our lives, and make us like
Christ. We pray in His name, amen.
And now from Numbers chapter 6 beginning with verse 22.
Hear the Word of God:
“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
The LORD bless you
and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you, the
LORD lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.
So they shall invoke
My name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.’”
All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands
Let’s think for just a moment. The people of Israel are about to start a great
journey. They have just been at
Sinai and they’re about to find out what it means to be constituted, or live out
what it means to be constituted as the people of God.
If you go back to read the first few chapters of Numbers you won’t find
them praying a prayer, “O God, bless us.”
You will find God sovereignly determining, “They need My blessing;” God
taking the initiate to ascribe to His people His blessing; God taking the
initiative to set upon His people His name, generation after generation after
Because God knows we need Him.
We need Him and we need every power He brings to bear.
We are insufficient in and of ourselves to make our circuit in this
world. We are insufficient when
times are good to recognize, “I’ve not done this myself.”
We’re insufficient when times are bad to recognize the sweet truthfulness
and the sweet faithfulness of God’s promises to us.
We need an echo. We need an
echo in the mountain peak; we need an echo in the valley of the shadow of death.
Here’s the echo. Here’s the
echo that God takes the initiate to ascribe to His people, generation after
Let’s understand that God is not saying to His people, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
He’s not saying to His people, “Think happy thoughts.”
He’s promising to bless, and by that promise He is promising to bend all
the power of the universe, all the power at His disposal, to bring about good
for His people. That’s the promise
in a nutshell. That’s the promise
that God will bend all the power at His disposal to bring about good for His
people. We need that echo.
Maybe you’ve had a bad word from the doctor. Maybe
you’ve suffered a grievous loss, a loss the likes of which you think you’ll
never be over. Maybe your business
is headed downhill fast and you’ve tried everything, you’ve done all the right
things, and it’s going nowhere — nowhere good.
We need this echo. Certainly
in our church family we’re had a trying, bitter season.
We need this echo and we need to remember that God has a plan that is
greater than our trouble, that God has a purpose that is greater than our fear,
that God has a purpose that He is accomplishing and the wheels have not stopped,
though at times it feels as though our wheels are falling off.
The wheels of His purposes move forward and God is accomplishing all His
holy will. Sometimes we think,
“Wait, don’t accomplish anymore!” We
need the echo because we are not sufficient in and of ourselves to recognize
what the holy will of His is because we are naturally self-absorbed,
self-preoccupied. We’re not thinking
about God’s ways, we’re thinking about our comfort.
We need the echo.
THE LORD BLESS YOU
What is the echo? Let’s look at the
passage to tell us what the echo is.
The echo is just this — the Lord says, “Tell the people of Israel, ‘The LORD
bless you.’” What does that mean, to
bless? That’s a comprehensive term.
It really is kind of an all-encompassing term.
Maybe Calvin says it well for us.
“Blessing is the act of God’s genuine generosity because of the abundance
of all good things that come to us from His favor as their only source.”
The abundance of all good things.
Let’s not just think about cars and houses and a nice bottom line.
The abundance of all good things, good things like a marvelous day today,
good things like the ability to get out and enjoy it, good things like good food
that we’ll be consuming in just a little while, and the list goes on and on and
on. God is giving good things and
sweetens every moment, sweetens every care, sweetens every day with the
abundance of good things that He brings to us.
We are a bit preoccupied to recognize those things.
Sometimes we need that old hymn to ring in our ears, “Count your many
blessings, name them one by one; count your many blessings see what God has
done.” God has saturated our living
with His goodness.
We get preoccupied by our woes and our trials – “They’ve got to be fixed!”
But God promises blessings; God promises good things.
And even the woes and the trials themselves are not just distractions.
What’s the fantastic promise of Romans chapter 8?
That “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love
Him and are called according to His purpose.”
Paul is sitting with Numbers chapter 6 right in front of him.
God promising, pledging, to bring good even out of our trouble and our
woe and the things that we would call wretched, God says, “Good will come.”
That’s what it means for God to bless us.
But God also promises — and maybe the rest of the phrases here are an outworking
of this comprehensive idea of blessing.
God promises not only to bless but to keep.
For the Israelites, I’ll tell you what that means.
That means that they are about to take a journey that they don’t know
exactly will end up where and they know that they will go through territories
that don’t belong to them. What’s
going to happen? We remember how
when they’re at the journey’s end they’re sitting at the edge of the Promised
Land and they send the spies forth and the spies come back with this tale of how
good and great and wonderful the land is, everything that God has promised, but
there are giants in the land and “they’ll gobble up our children.”
That’s kind of a Dempsey translation!
They did not believe in God’s keeping.
God promised them in Exodus chapter 23 verse 20, “You will go from here”
and they’re gathered around Mt. Sinai, “You will go from here and I’ll send an
angel to go with you to guard you.”
Guard is the same word as “keep.” Or
maybe from another perspective, Joshua, at the end of his life, after the
conquest is done and after those forty years of wandering because of their
unbelief that I mentioned just a moment ago, Joshua addressing his people in the
final hours of his life saying, “The Lord has preserved you though you traveled
through other people’s land.”
Preserved is the same word “kept” or “keep.”
God will keep you. God will
protect us. God will keep us.
That’s an importance echo because sometimes let’s face it, let’s admit it, we
don’t feel very “kept” do we? We
feel kind of thrown aside. We feel kind of overlooked.
I just moved; I’m still moving in fact.
I found a lot of things that I’ve kept that I’d totally forgot about.
And as I’m loading them into the POD I’m saying, “Why are we moving this?
Why are we moving this? Why
are we moving this? I didn’t even
know we had it still!” We’ve kept it
for some unknown reason. God’s
keeping of us is not that way because there are other things we kept that are
precious, that we know exactly where they were in the house, we know exactly
where they’re supposed to be in the POD, and we know when we’ll find them.
They’re precious to us; that’s how God keeps you and me.
That’s how God keeps. He
knows exactly what’s happening with us.
He knows exactly where we are.
He knows exactly what’s going on.
He hasn’t forgotten; He hasn’t overlooked.
He hasn’t misjudged who we are and what we’re capable of undergoing and
enduring. He knows exactly that
we’re made of dust and He’s kept us and He will keep us today and He will keep
us tomorrow. As families, as
individuals, as a church, His promise has been to keep us because we’re precious
in His sight.
THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE SHINE UPON YOU
“The LORD make His face to shine on you.”
It’s a marvelous Hebrew idiom and you have done it this very day.
As you have greeted your children this morning, you have greeted them
with your face shining. As you have
gathered to worship and you’ve seen friends that maybe you just saw yesterday or
maybe you haven’t seen since last Lord’s Day or even more than that, your face
shined as you greeted them because you were glad to see them because you loved
them and they’re a delight to you.
You see, God’s face shines because you delight Him.
God’s face shines as He looks at you because you are the object of His
overwhelming affection. God’s face
shines as He hears you call out to Him in prayer because He delights that you
call on Him. God’s face shines on
you when in that moment of gut-wrenching trial you’re saying, “God, I cannot
endure more. God, why is it so hard
and why is it so bad? I trust You.”
Nonetheless, His face shines.
Because you are returning the love He bears for you with trust and with honor,
His face shines. His face shines on
you when you don’t do that because He delights in us nonetheless.
THE LORD BE GRACIOUS TO YOU
“The LORD be gracious to you.” Let’s
remember that God is ascribing this blessing and directing Aaron to extend the
blessing and his sons after him not very long after the apostasy at the golden
calf. It’s not been very long ago,
just a matter of months maybe, that Aaron was the chief architect not only of
the calf, in spite of what he was saying about the calf just kind of popping out
of the fire after they poured the gold in there.
It just kind of popped out, imagine that!
Aaron, not only the chief architect of the golden calf but the chief
architect of the worship used lightly, the orgy more correctly, that ensued.
Aaron, the forgiven priest directed now to extend the blessing of God to
the people of God. Aaron, not a pure
vessel but God a faithful God, a gracious God, extending forgiveness to a people
that He had threatened already to consume in His wrath, and Moses came to Him,
“Don’t do this! Don’t do this!”
God proclaimed Himself to Moses, you remember, in Exodus chapter 34, as
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in
steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving
iniquity and transgression and sin.”
That’s the God that blesses His people with graciousness.
That grace is not free. It’s
free to you, it’s free to me. It
cost someone everything.
Listen to this. This sound note of
justice who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the
fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth
generation. God telling us, “I’m not
light on sin; I’m gracious. I’m not
blind to sin; I’m gracious. There’s
got to be a payment. There’s god to
be justice, but My heart is merciful.”
God extends His grace to us though we don’t deserve it.
What do you have that you deserve?
I don’t have anything I deserve.
God has been gracious. What
do I have that I have not received from a God who’s heart is gracious towards
My work becomes His servant to give me the gifts He desires me to have.
The same with you. God is
THE LORD LIFT UP HIS COUNTENANCE ON YOU
“The LORD,” verse 26, “lift up His countenance on you.”
How many times have you come in at the end of a hard day and really all
you want to do is read the newspaper or watch the news or do some other kind of
diverting activity. And you think
you can do, and your child has come to you and they want to tell you something
that’s of earthshaking importance to them and you think, “Okay, I can do this.
I can keep this eye on the television, I can keep this eye on Junior, and
I can do both things at once and maybe somehow have a little peace and quiet at
the end of it,” and Junior does what small children are reliable to do.
He’s smarter than you think he is, for one thing.
He knows he’s only got half your attention at best, really a lot less,
but he knows there’s one eye looking at him and so he grabs your face and he
says, “Daddy, listen to me. Daddy,
look at me.” And Junior’s got me
dead to rights. He longs for my
That’s what it means for God to lift His countenance upon us.
We have His entire attention.
There’s nothing, there’s nothing more important, there’s nothing more pressing,
there’s nothing more useful in that moment, whatever moment we are, that God’s
attention is not entirely upon us.
Remember Psalm 121? “He who watches
Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
That’s what God’s promising here, to lift up His countenance upon us so
we have His undivided attention all the time, not just in the bad times, that we
have His undivided attention all the time, every moment.
Not as someone keeping score — “Oh, you blew that one!
She dropped the ball there!” — But it’s Someone who loves us and who is
working a marvelous purpose for our good and His glory.
Let me tell you about a good friend that I met many years ago.
Debbie and I were introduced to many of the concepts and priorities and
sacrifices of Christian education through this lady from Cleveland, Mississippi.
When we met her, her body was already very badly crippled with arthritis,
rheumatoid arthritis, and there was not much she could really do for herself
anymore. In fact, she couldn’t even
raise her hands to fix her hair. Her
husband, a hand-fisted kind of guy with a big heart, not very good with a comb,
had to fluff her hair for her and kind of get it passable.
We didn’t care. We loved
Libba’s heart. She loved the Lord,
and to visit her in her home was a joy and a delight and a treat that we will
always treasure for the rest of our lives.
In the course of time she discovered, through reading of her own and her
doctor’s research, a treatment that was being experimented with in England and
was showing promise. She seemed to
be a good candidate for the procedure and for the therapy and by God’s grace,
away she went. She and her husband,
and they went to England and had the treatment.
I’ll never forget the conversation, the last conversation that I had with
her before that trip. I said,
“Libba, are you excited? This really
is looking good!” And she said, “Let
me tell you, I want my body back, and if this can give me my body back I’m all
for it, but more than that, I want Jesus, and if having my health again means I
know Jesus less, I trust Him less, I’m less interested in following Him, I’ll
keep the disease. I’ll keep the
disease if it’s the only way I keep all of Jesus.”
My friend Libba knew something about this blessing.
You see the repetition here? “The
LORD make His face to shine upon you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon
you.” You know what the blessing of
the blessing is? The blessing of the
blessing is the Lord God Almighty Himself.
It’s not houses and land, it’s not cars, it’s not anything other than the
Lord God Himself. That’s the
blessing of the blessing, that God is giving us Himself and inviting us into an
intimate personal relationship with Him, the relationship not of masters or
servants to a master or soldiers to a general, but of sons and daughters to a
Father. He’s giving us Himself and
my friend Libba knew that. She
wanted health so much, but she wanted Jesus more than anything.
She wanted Jesus more than anything.
And that’s what God is giving us.
God is giving us Himself, more than anything, because He knows that we
need Him more than anything.
But we all love happy endings.
There’s not one to that story because the treatment didn’t work and our friend
Libba finished her days in a body that was a jailhouse of pain and limitation,
but her heart was free. She knew
Jesus and because her body was racked with pain, she knew Him better.
You see, she knew something about peace.
That’s the concluding promise.
In the midst of her woe, in the midst of her trial and her deep physical
pain, she knew peace because she knew the God who gave life to her and all
things from the palm of His hand.
And while she wanted something she couldn’t have, she rejoiced in what she did
have, the Lord God Himself, her Father who helped her and guided her and blessed
her with His presence every day.
“I’ll keep a disease if loosing the disease means I lose Jesus.”
One more thing before we close. How
do we know that this is not just so much happy talk?
How do we know that this not just so much think happy thoughts — “The
LORD bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you.”
How do we know this is real, that it really describes God’s attitude and
action towards us, His people? Look
at the cross. Because it is in the
cross that we find God not blessing His own Son, not keeping His Son but
throwing Him away because He wore my sin and yours and was not fit for God’s
presence. God is not blessing Him
with His favor; God is not delighting in Him; God is not forgiving Him.
He doesn’t know the joy of God’s countenance being lifted upon Him.
In fact, He knows what it is to be deserved at His hour of greatest need.
Remember that cry? “My God,
My God! Why have You forsaken Me?”
God has thrown Him away, turned His back on Him, has not kept it, has not
treasured it. And He certainly knows
no peace hanging there, bearing your sin and mine.
It is that act, it is that spilled blood, that buys this blessing for me
and you today. And these words can
reflect a true reality working in our lives every day.
So the question is not really, “Is this real?”
The question is, “Do I trust Christ who bought it for me?
Do I trust Christ who endured the withdrawing of these blessings and
promises so I could have them? Do I trust Christ and find in Him and Him alone
my only comfort and all I need?”
That’s the question I leave with you today.
If you trust Christ, these promises are how you make it in hard times.
If you trust Christ, these promises are
how you keep your feet under you when times are wonderful and you’re tempted to
think, “Oh look, I did this!” If you
trust Christ, then these words are the echo that makes everything else make
In a moment we’re going to sing, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.”
Why are glorious things spoken of God’s people?
There’s certainly nothing glorious about us in and of ourselves.
The glory comes from God and what He has done and what He has said about
us. The glory comes from God and the
beautiful work of the Gospel that is ours in Christ.
The glory comes from God and what He does with us as we go out there and
live as the salt and light in this community that He’s called us to be.
Glorious things are about Him.
We become His fellow workers and bring Him the glory.
Let me ask you to stand and let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Father, Your mercies are rich and true; Your mercies are without end.
Father, thank You for these rich promises.
Shape us, mold us with them.
Let them be the echo that reverberates in our heads and hearts all day, every
day, so that our attentions are firmly placed on You and not us, on You and not
our trouble, on You and Your grace and Your kindness.
Thank You that You have applied Your name to us and written Your name
upon us. Father, thank You for the
love You have for us that causes You to make us Your own.
Hear us, in the name of Jesus and for His sake.
And all God’s people said, amen.
Our hymn, number 345, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.”
And now, look up, to receive the blessing of God.
And now may the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make His face
to shine upon you and be gracious to you, may the Lord Himself lift up His
countenance upon you and give you His peace, both now and forevermore.
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