8 Comforting Things to Remember about Jesus' Benediction
Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus turned to his disciples, raised his hands, and blessed them.
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:50-53)
This posture and act of Jesus are very distinct ones that we also find in the lives of the Old Testament saints. This act could only be done by one person at one specific time.
This was the act of the priest in the temple to bless the people after worship. After all the sacrifices were performed, the priest would turn to face the people, raise his hands, and pronounce the Lord’s blessing upon the congregation. In Leviticus 9, on the day when Moses and Aaron inaugurated worship in the tabernacle and Aaron finished all the sacrifices, with smoke rising to heaven he raised his hands and blessed the people. The blessing he pronounced was given in Numbers 6, the Aaronic benediction, as it is called:
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.” (Num. 6:22-27)
Thus, for Jesus to bless with raised hands, he was showing himself to be a priest. Just as Melchizedek blessed Abraham, so Christ blessed his people as our high priest.
Blessing can be used in several different ways in Scripture.
We find three kinds of blessings in the Bible:
First, we can bless each other. One person says, “May the Lord bless you,” which is essentially a prayer. As we bless another, we are praying that God would do them good.
Second, we can bless God, which is basically an act of praise and thanksgiving. Blessed be the Name of the Lord! This is praising and glorifying the Lord.
Third, the Lord can bless us, which is not a prayer but a decree. The Lord’s blessing is a performative word where he actually puts his love, grace, and mercy on us. In the Aaronic benediction, the priest wasn’t praying; rather, he was a mere channel or conduit for the Lord’s decree of favor.
As it says in Numbers 6, with the benediction the priest was putting God’s name upon his people, which expresses ownership and care. For the Lord to put his name on you means you belong to him as a precious possession. In fact, the benefits of belonging to the Lord are stated in the blessing.
In the Aaronic benediction, there are three acts of God.
In the Aaronic benediction, which is implied in the one Jesus used, there are three acts of God—and three resulting advantages.
The Lord blesses to keep and protect you.
The Lord makes his face shine to be gracious to you.
And the Lord lifts up his face to give you peace.
These facial expressions of God are full of emotion. In the Old Testament, when God is angry at someone for sin, Scripture states that he hides his face from the person. The Lord turns his face from that person in anger to show him or her the back of his head. Yet, by the smoke and blood of sacrifice, the Lord’s frown is turned upside down. His hidden face turns to shine on that person now with a smile.
Children know all too well the angry face of their mom and dad, as well as their happy faces. In the Aaronic benediction, God’s happy face is gleaming at us, and he will protect us, be gracious and merciful to us, and grant us peace. This is what the risen Jesus says to us in the benediction.
Here are eight good things to remember about Jesus’ benediction at the ascension:
1. Jesus was garbed in his resurrected glory when giving his benediction.
As both their high priest and their God, Jesus was garbed in his resurrected glory. His shining face beamed upon his disciples as he gave his benediction. This is amazing!
2. Jesus spoke his blessing loud and clear as he ascended to heaven.
In Luke 1, the mute Zechariah couldn’t finish his service with a benediction. Yet here as our true Priest, Jesus speaks his blessing loud and clear. This is what Jesus Christ does to us after every worship service.
After a week of sinning and being a disappointment to our Lord, you would think Jesus would scowl and frown at us in shame. Yet, after being forgiven in worship, our King Jesus sends us off for another week with the happy face of his love and grace. The gospel in worship is wonderful, and the benediction is even better.
Not only did Jesus bestow this blessing on his disciples, he ascended to heaven as he was speaking it. What an image! As Jesus floated upward, slowing vanishing from sight, his disciples still heard him blessing—and for good reason. Our Lord was ascending from Bethany—the place of triumph.
3. Jesus’ benediction assures you God’s wrath is appeased.
God’s favor could only be put on his sinful people after full atonement had been made—the sacrifices paid for Israel’s sin. They appeased God’s wrath, and they sealed the covenant bond in grace and gratitude. For Jesus to give a priestly benediction means that his priestly work of atonement was finished. In the uplifted hands of Jesus, he pronounced that, in Christ, all our sin was paid for and destroyed in his sacrifice upon the tree. On the altar of the cross, the blood of Christ made our crimson sins white as snow.
No more sacrifice is required. Christ’s one death is more than sufficient for all our sins. Yes, the posture of Jesus gives us the rock-solid assurance that we are forgiven and made righteous by the one atonement of Christ. Moreover, with wrath appeased and sin dealt with, the blessing of God can flow to us.
4. Our proper response to our Lord’s ascending in benediction is worship.
Look what the disciples do—they worship:
And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:53)
The word here for worship is one that Luke only uses for God. Satan tempted Jesus back in chapter 4 of Luke,
“If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:7)
In response, Jesus cited Scripture,
“It is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:8)
This worship, therefore, is the disciples acknowledging clearly for the first time the deity of Jesus.
5. The God-man, Jesus Christ, is one to whom we must bow the knee.
The ascending Jesus is not a godly Enoch who walked with God and was taken by him. Jesus is not merely an amazing prophet like Elijah, whom God swept off to heaven in a chariot of fire. No, this Jesus is one who receives the worship of men and women. This Jesus is God born in the flesh and God raised bodily.
Jesus is equal to the Father and the Spirit in power and glory, and at his exalted name we get the privilege to worship, praise, and adore him. This is our good and perfect response to the ascending benediction of Jesus Christ.
6. Jesus’ benediction reminds us that our worship is filled with great joy.
Our worship is not the terrified subjugation of the world. As we know all too well, there is much to lament in this world and life. Laments are the most common type of psalm in the Psalter. We cry at death, we bow our heads in repentance, we mourn oppression, and we are depressed with loneliness and shame.
These are real and honest human emotions; this sadness is part of our faith that we can express to God in prayer and sing to God in laments. Christianity is not the happiness of the American dream, nor is it the optimism of positive thinking. Christianity is the religion of the broken-hearted walking through a valley of tears.
The disciples hike back to Jerusalem from Bethany filled with a massive joy. This reminds us that our weeping only lasts during the night, but joy comes in the morning. Christ’s mercies are new every morning, and in worship Christ gladdens our hearts with his sweet grace.
7. The Lord’s Day isn’t just about rest; it is also about joy.
Our week may be filled with frowns, but worship is our time to smile. And why? Well, it is not because worship makes all our troubles go away. Our cancer on Saturday is still cancer on Monday. Yet, worship does lift our eyes to heaven where Jesus Christ is seated, and it shows us that our problems aren’t that big after all. Our poverty and stress during the week are puny things compared to the eternal weight of glory won by Christ for us.
Thus, in worship, let us take seriously Paul’s exhortation, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4) and allow ourselves to be filled with the joy of Christ in worship. Amid our aches, pains, and worries, the joy of the ascension should delight us and make us grin from ear to ear. Finally, there is one more response of the disciples to Christ’s benediction.
8. Jesus’ benediction reminds us that it is good to wait for our Lord.
The disciples are daily in the temple blessing God. That is, they wait. They wait for the coming of the Spirit, and they wait for the return of Christ. So also, the ascension gives us the patience to wait for our Lord, and we wait by worshipping and witnessing. The Spirit makes the church witnesses to Christ’s resurrection to all nations.
The benediction of Christ makes us bless him. With Christ on high, our waiting is not in vain. So then, let us wait upon the Lord, and may we wait by witnessing to the world and blessing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who continues to put his name and blessing on us, every Lord’s day at the close of worship.
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