“HIS SHINING FACE”
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 20, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.
Psalm 67:1, 2 (ESV)
This Sixty-Seventh Psalm is obviously a corporate prayer of God’s people in which they are seeking His blessing on the congregation. Because of its content and form, together with the fact that it is a relatively short psalm, at least some Biblical scholars are of the opinion that this psalm was used in the liturgy of the Old Testament people of God, perhaps at the conclusion of their worship services. We know, of course, that the book of Psalms has always been regarded as “the hymn-book of the ancient Israelites,” so it should come as no great surprise to us that its content made up the liturgical life of the Jews in Old Testament times, as it still does for the Jews of today. This reflects the major focus of the worship of God’s people, whether they be the Old Testament Jews or the New Testament Christians. We gather together for worship not in order to give something to the Lord so much as to receive His mercy and grace, since He is glorified not by what we do for Him but by what He has done for us.
It is interesting that the psalmist should describe the Lord’s blessing as making “His face to shine upon us.” We find similar language in the well-known Aaronic Benediction that is still the most common blessing used at the end of worship services today. When the Scriptures (especially the poetry of the Psalms) speak about the Lord’s face “shining upon” His people, they are talking about the people enjoying the favor of their Lord. We use the same figure of speech today, for example, when we say that the Lord (or anyone else, for that matter) “smiles on” someone. That’s what we crave from our God: His favor and mercy. We want Him to smile on us--we want His face to “shine upon [us] and be gracious to” us (Numbers 6:24). This clearly puts us on the receiving end in our relationship with God. This is the way it has to be since we have nothing to offer to Him and He has everything to offer to us. As we consider the Lord’s shining face this morning, let’s take a look at this text to find out what He has revealed to us and why He has revealed it.
The first words of this psalm read: “May God be gracious to us.” This is the fervent prayer of every creature that God ever made--or at least it should be. Knowing that we are sinners who deserve nothing but the Lord’s condemnation and punishment, our quest is to be dealt with by Him on the basis of grace rather than on the basis of justice. And our prayer for grace has been answered. God instructed the ancient Israelites in what His grace is all about when He instituted the animal sacrifices as a part of their worship. Unnerving though this may have been for them, its message was unmistakably clear: the innocent suffered and died in place of the guilty. By repetition and graphic detail the Lord lovingly taught His people that their sin was so serious that it had to be atoned for by the shedding of innocent blood. That lesson was to prepare them for the Reality to which those sacrifices pointed: the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the altar of the cross at Calvary. In the cross of Jesus, and nowhere else, the grace of God toward His sinful creatures is revealed.
But there’s more: “May God . . . bless us.” Because the Lord has been gracious to us in sacrificing His only Son on the cross in our place, there are many blessings that follow. He has given us His Holy Spirit--the Spirit who comes to us in the Gospel when it is spoken to us and applied to us in Word and Sacrament. That Holy Spirit, through that Gospel and those means of grace, has called us together to be not a bunch of individuals left on their own, but a family of faith--the Body of Christ--each of us given to one another to “bear one other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and to encourage one another as we face the trials and temptations of life in this world. All of these blessings are ours because the Lord has shined His grace upon us in the Gospel of our Savior.
As for why the Lord has revealed His grace and His blessings, the passage before us tells us that He did it so “that [His] way may be known on earth.” In order for people to receive the grace and blessings of God in faith, they first have to understand what that grace and those blessings are. By everything that He has done for us in the Gospel of His Son, God has revealed Himself to all the world as a God of mercy and grace--One who deals with people not as they deserve to be dealt with (according to justice) but rather according to His mercy--One who, instead of giving out to sinners the punishment that they deserve, blesses them with forgiveness, reconciliation, and the sure hope of everlasting life. Unlike every other religion in the world, Christianity reveals to us a God who loves us so much that He actually put Himself in our place in order to pay our debt--the debt that we owe to Him because of our disobedience. One of our Lenten hymns puts it this way:
“What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.”
(Lutheran Service Book #, stanza ).
God reveals His grace to all the world for a very good reason: so that His “saving power [may be known] among all nations.” What is meant here is not merely that the salvation that the Lord has accomplished for sinners be known simply as an academic pursuit, as one might study comparative religions, for example. What is meant here is that all sinners everywhere might actually experience for themselves the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of everlasting life that is theirs in the Savior Jesus Christ. The One who in love has suffered the just punishment for human sin desires that what He did for sinners benefit them, reconcile them to Him, and bring them ultimately into His kingdom of glory so that they may live there with Him and with all who belong to Him forever in perfect unity and joy.
The Lord’s face has shined upon us. He has smiled upon us. He has done this first and foremost in the life and ministry of His Son Jesus Christ. In Christ we have seen and experienced the grace of God, which bestows upon us the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of everlasting life. In Christ we have seen and experienced the blessings of God--particularly the blessings of the Gospel, which come to us in Word and Sacrament. He has given us His grace and His blessings for no other reason than that He loves us and desires us to be with Him in heaven forever, where we will behold His shining face and rejoice in Him through all eternity.
May the God who caused light to shine out of darkness cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward all people, as His love abounds for us; and may the glory of His Son be manifested to you and in you, that you may be witnesses to all nations now and until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.