My brother-in-law often closes special family gatherings with a benediction. It’s a brief prayer that asks God to bless and keep us. I’m sure you’ve been in a church service where the minister stands in front, raises his hand, and closes with, “May the LORD bless you and keep you; May the LORD cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; May the LORD lift up His face to you and grant you peace.” If you’re a Lutheran, you’ve certainly heard these words at the close of your Sunday worship, but you might not know that in 1523, Martin Luther introduced this Aaronic priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 as the close to his liturgy, and Martin Bucer and John Calvin soon followed Luther’s example using this High Priestly prayer in their Reformed Churches.
The Apostle Paul knew the Aaronic blessing better than Luther, Bucer, or Calvin. Raised as a Pharisee in Judaism, he heard this blessing in Hebrew from the time he was a child, but as he began to close his second letter to the Thessalonian, instead of using the Numbers passage, he composed his own prayer for blessing upon his brothers and sisters he loved so much.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ, himself, and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every deed and word.”
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
Paul’s prayer places our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, on an equal footing with the great I AM appealed to in Aaron’s high priestly blessing. Paul also places the emphasis upon God’s grace, not our human obedience to the Sinai Covenant, and I love the fact that Paul stresses that God’s encouragement never ends. May we open our hearts to this encouragement and strength that the Holy Spirit is pouring into our lives. May this encouragement give us strength to say the good things and do the good things he has planned for us today.
LORD, thank you that you answered Paul’s prayer of blessing upon the Thessalonian believers, but you are continuing to pour strength and encouragement into our lives because your grace in Christ towards us never ends.
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