by Jon Payne
I was raised in the Lutheran church, and it was common for our worship services to conclude with the Aaronic benediction. Martin Luther incorporated this beautiful benediction in the liturgical reforms set forth in his Formulae Missae (1523). Following the Wittenberg Reformer, Martin Bucer and John Calvin also included the parting blessing in their liturgical orders. The blessing reads as follows: “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” (Num. 6:24–26).
I must admit, during my childhood this benediction meant little more than an indication that the service was over and that I could finally go outside and play. Years later, however, I discovered its profound theological depth and gospel-centeredness. I learned why it’s so meaningful to receive the benediction in worship.
The Aaronic benediction was designed by God to be more than just a sentimental religious ritual or a pragmatic way to end the service. It’s an “efficacious testimony of God’s grace” (Calvin)—a glorious pronouncement of reconciliation and ineffable blessing for God’s people through Jesus Christ.
The Aaronic benediction was inaugurated during Israel’s wilderness experience. The Lord commanded Moses to tell Aaron the high priest to “bless the people of Israel,” so that God’s name would be upon them (Num. 6:22–27). The benediction, then, was instituted as a divine word of promise and blessing. God assured Israel that He would be with them as they journeyed through the thorny wilderness to the promised land. Apart from Him, they would never make it to their destination.
The Aaronic benediction, of course, was ultimately realized in the person and redemptive work of Christ. Indeed, only through faith in Jesus, the final High Priest and sacrificial Lamb, do sinners truly know the amazing grace, peace, and loving countenance of God.
On Calvary, Jesus secured for us the Father’s gracious benediction by suffering God’s holy malediction. We are blessed because Jesus was cursed. While Jesus hung on the cross, beaten and torn by the Roman soldiers, abandoned by His friends, mocked by the religious leaders, with the weight of our wretched sins upon His shoulders, He experienced the very opposite of the Aaronic blessing (Matt. 27:46; Luke 22:42–44): “The Lord curse and forsake You; the Lord turn His face away from You and condemn You; the Lord pour out His just wrath upon you and give You hell.”
Dear Christian, Jesus loves you. He suffered the unspeakable wrath of God on the cross for you, that by grace through faith you would be fully accepted in the Beloved, and know the Father’s smile for eternity. Therefore, the next time your pastor lifts his hands and declares the Aaronic benediction, bask in the light of the promise that “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).