Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"Aaron's Benediction" - Henry Knapp

 “Bless You!”

Sneezing is a rather common part of life—studies show that on average people sneeze about four times per day (Why someone would be studying this is beyond me…). Happening as frequently as it does, it’s no surprise that there are traditions built up around a sneeze. Often, you will hear someone respond to a sneeze with the words, “Bless you,” short for the prayer, “May God bless you.”

The reason for such a blessing following a sneeze is not known for sure, but there are suggestions. One option is that the sneeze is thought to push your soul momentarily outside your body, and the prayer is a request that God guard your soul against Satan until it can return to the body. Another possibility from medieval times (when one sign of bubonic plague infection was a sneezing fit), is that the church encouraged this prayer for others anytime a sneeze happened, fearing that death from the plague was imminent.

Whatever the origin, “bless you” is a concise, yet powerful, prayer. In that short phrase, we are asking that the Lord would… what? What are we actually asking for when we ask God to “bless” someone? I suspect we all have a general sense of what we are asking for—good things, kindness, mercy, and so forth. Of course, we get that general sense from the Scripture itself. It is God who announces His intention to bless. Indeed, blessing God’s people is an important part of our worship together.

“Benediction” is Latin for “good word” or “good speaking.” When the pastor speaks a benediction, he is blessing the congregation with a final “good word”: a good word intended to wrap up all that has been happening during the worship service, and a good word which should spur us on to godliness, service, and adoration throughout the week. The benediction of a Hebron worship service is sometimes a summary statement of the Scripture, sometimes a charge and/or encouragement, sometimes a passage from the Bible.

The classic benediction in Scripture is in Numbers 6:22-27 where Moses is explicitly commanded by God to bless God’s people with words you might be familiar with: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord life up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The essence of this benediction is the announcement of God’s blessing, His grace and peace—all wrapped up with the promise of His very Presence with His people.

A benediction is intended to bless, and so this week in worship we will give a “benediction” to this past year and look forward to the one coming. For many of us, thinking of the past year in terms of blessing will not be very easy—it certainly has been a challenge! But, as we attend to the Word in Scripture, we will, I trust, hear God’s blessings and be able to carry them into the future.

Join us for worship this Sunday as we explore a marvelous Scriptural benediction, Numbers 6:22-27.

1. In verse 22, God directs Moses to bless the people. But the blessing is a request that God Himself do something. Why do you think God desires Moses to verbally say something to the Israelites, instead of God just doing it?

2. Notice that it seems like the blessing itself is in hearing the words. In other words, Moses and Aaron bless the people by saying the blessing to them. Why would hearing the words be a blessings?

3. List out the three couplets in the blessing. There are six elements here, grouped together in three lines. What holds the couplets together? Why join each pair together?

4. What does it mean to ask the Lord to “keep you” (vs. 24)?

5. To “lift up your countenance” means to look upon someone with favor. What would it look like if the Lord “looked on you with favor”?

6. In verse 27, God explains that by giving the benediction, Moses and Aaron will “put God’s name upon them.” What does it mean to have God’s name upon you? Why would this be a blessings?

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

"All Is Grace" - Doug Rehberg

A budding 5th grade clarinetist eventually asked her band director, “What’s that tiny little note before the big note in the fifth measure? I don’t get it.” That’s when the director explained what a grace note is.

A grace note on a musical score is ornamentation. It doesn’t have to be; yet it is. Its note value doesn’t even count as part of the total time value of a measure. Such a timing oddity can fluster even the best young orchestral student. Welcome to the world of grace!

Grace is a large word with only five letters that precedes every goodness we know. Grace is always previous. It always comes before.

When the Apostle Paul begins his letters to several young churches he makes certain that they hear the word grace before they even get to read the words of mercy and peace.

The Hebrew people got the ordering of grace straight. Life for them began not at sunrise, but at sunset. “There was evening and (then) there was morning,” the first, second, and every day. When we finally shut down our busy lives enough to fall asleep, that’s when God does much of His best work.

As Eugene Peterson used to say, “We wake into a world we didn’t make, and into a salvation we didn’t earn." Grace is underway before we even reach the cornflakes. And we’ve seen that time and time again in our 47-week study of Genesis and over 31 years together!

It might be nice if Jesus had given us a plain definition of grace, but He never used the word. For Him, grace was ever-present. It was something to be appreciated and lived, not just talked about. That’s why John speaks of the incarnation the way he does…”For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus.”

So when grace shows up on our doorstep in odd-shaped packages, it often takes us by surprise. It offers us help we never counted on and love we never deserved. Even if it doesn’t supply us with what we want, we come to realize that it provides us with what we need. No wonder Jesus avoided trying to plastic wrap the rich reality of grace in a single word.

Of all the major religions in the world, only Christianity proposes that God’s love is truly unconditional. No strings attached. No conditions laid down. No qualifications required. Other faiths have their own “earned approval strategies” to which Christians instinctively feel drawn. Maybe we’re eager to believe that we deserve what we have. Whatever our flesh tells us, grace is never anything a person can “get.” It is only a treasure that one can receive. No wonder the grace-filled friends in our lives feel like undeserved gifts.

In a memorable “Dennis the Menace” cartoon, Dennis and his friend, Joey, are leaving Mrs. Wilson’s house loaded with a plateful of cookies when Joey turns to Dennis and says, “I wonder what we did to deserve them?” Dennis is quick to reply, “Look Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she is.”

So goes the arithmetic of God. He doesn’t love Jacob because he’s a cheat or David because he’s an adulterer. God, in His infinite love, loved Jacob because he was Jacob, and David because he was David. The same goes for Esau and Saul. The gospel has nothing to do with our goodness, except as some kind of by-product. It is not interested in our charm or brilliance. No, the gospel demands us to remove ourselves from the center of attention and to remember that grace always arrives as a gift from someone well outside of us. As a friend of mine says, “Grace always flows downhill.”

Clear-thinking Christians love to underscore the priority of grace for it is the center core of the gospel that can never be fully plumbed. We don’t sight-read music full of grace notes better than anyone else. It’s just that when we read the Bible and encounter the incarnate God, we find out that we’re in much worse shape than we thought we were, and we are far more loved than we ever dreamed. And it’s to this truth that I wish to speak this Christmas Sunday – my last Sunday at Hebron.

In preparation for a message entitled “All Is Grace,” you may wish to consider the following:

  1. If you know Tim Williams, do you remember his first sermon at Hebron in 1996?
  2. Do you remember how he came to preach at Hebron?
  3. What do you make of the context of Exodus 20:22-26?
  4. What is the Lord instructing His people and why?
  5. How important is the charge against Jesus in Luke 15:2 that He eats with sinners?
  6. What is the significance of His eating with them?
  7. What do the words, “And he came to himself” mean in Luke 15:17?
  8. Why is this story called the greatest story in Scripture?
  9. What’s at the heart of the older brother’s anger?
  10. What’s at the heart of his father’s response to it?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

"The Incarnation on Display" - Henry Knapp

I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy back in the 1970s as a young teenager. If you have read the books, you know that they are justly famous for the breadth and scope of the imaginary world Tolkien created. Trolls, orcs, goblins, wizards, and, of course, hobbits. The books are long and involved, so if you keep with it, you really get to know the main characters—Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Not only would I be reading of their exploits, I also was picturing them, imagining exactly what the world looked like, the monsters and the heroes.

For decades, I had a vision of what hobbits looked like, what the mythical landscape was like, how wizards appeared. In my mind, I had envisioned exactly what everything looked like. And then I saw the movies. Within minutes, I had forgotten the images I had created in my mind, and suddenly saw things as the movie director wanted me to. Hobbits were no longer as I envisioned them, but as I saw them portrayed on screen. And, once I saw the visual picture, I couldn’t even remember how I had originally imagined things to be.

This Advent season, we are looking at different ways to understand the incarnation—the biblical description of how God took on humanity. In the incarnation, the Son of God somehow became a man; the infinite, all-powerful, sovereign of the universe, is a tiny, weak, needy baby. The very idea should amaze and astound us. But sometimes, it’s hard to picture exactly what the incarnation means.

And so, it is a blessing that God grants us so much material in the Gospels to “see” Jesus as fully God and fully human. Since Jesus is fully human, just like us but without sin, we should see Jesus doing human-like things. Since Jesus is fully God, identical with the Father, we should see Him doing God-like things. For His humanity, we are told of Jesus’ birth, being asleep on the boat, walking long distances, and, of course, dying on the cross. For His divinity, we see Jesus walking on the water, commanding evil spirits, changing water to wine, raising the dead.

There are, however, some events in Jesus’ life which show both His divinity and His humanity. While asking the Samaritan woman for a drink, a very human need, Jesus clearly displays supernatural knowledge of her life (John 4). As a growing young boy, Jesus amazed the Temple leaders with His understanding (Luke 2).

This week we will work our way through just such a passage: the calling of the first disciples (Luke 5). We’ll see His humanity. We’ll see His divinity. When Jesus enters our lives, He comes, not just as a man, not just as our God, but as the Incarnate One, the God-man. This is Who we worship, this is Who we follow.

In preparation for worship this Sunday, read Luke 5:1-11.

1. What characteristics of being human are evident in Jesus’ actions in these verses? What does He do that shows Himself to be a human being?

2. What characteristics of being divine are evident in Jesus’ actions in these verses? What does He do that shows Himself to be God?

3. What is Simon (Peter) doing while washing his nets? What is he hearing?

4. Why does Simon let down the nets? What motivates him to do this?

5. After the catch of fish, how do you know Simon’s attitude toward Jesus changes?

6. How do you explain Simon’s response to Jesus in verse 8? Why does he want Jesus to “depart?”

7. What all is implied in Jesus’ words to Simon, both parts?