“And [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.” (Luke 24:50)
One Practice We’ve Probably Said Too Little About
A few years back we began the practice of concluding LifePoint’s worship gatherings with the pronunciation of a biblical prayer of blessing upon the congregation. Such a prayer is widely known as a benediction.
We believe this practice holds profound significance for the Body of Christ, as has been attested to repeatedly both in the Scriptures and throughout the history of the church.
However, recently I’ve realized that perhaps too little has been said about what a benediction is and why it is given at the conclusion of LifePoint’s worship gatherings.
Therefore, I’d like to take this opportunity to shed some light upon the function and purpose of the benediction in order that our experience of receiving it each week might be enriched and enhanced for God’s glory and our joy.
God “Speaks Well of” Us
The term benediction is derived from the Latin words bene and dicere, which, when put together, mean “to speak well of.” Throughout the history of the church, the benediction has been pronounced at the conclusion of a worship service. It is an exhortative blessing that is read or recited with raised hands typically by a pastor or leader. This has a specific application for LifePoint.
You see, in Christ we can be certain that God “speaks well of” us. Therefore, through the benediction, we gladly give Him the last Word in our gatherings. For His blessing spoken over the church has power to provide us with profound hope and encouragement. This is why LifePoint normally uses benedictions that are taken straight from Scripture. Some of the most notable examples of such benedictions are
- “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
- “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
- “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
- “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)
Perhaps the benediction most frequently used throughout the history of the church—and probably at LifePoint as well—is found in Numbers 6:24-26, which features the blessing that Moses pronounced upon Aaron and his sons: “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.”
These words powerfully convey the assurance of God’s blessing and favor upon His people as we serve His mission in the world. When pronounced at the conclusion of a worship gathering, such words can serve to set the tone as the church scatters to be Christ’s witnesses in our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. Benedictions like Numbers 6:24-26 are one way God conditions us as a congregation for what lies ahead in the week to come.
In fact, Luke 24:50 (quoted above) records how Jesus practiced this very concept with His disciples. Just moments before He ascended into heaven to take His seat “at the right hand of Majesty” (Heb. 1:3), our risen Lord pronounced a benediction over the twelve, knowing that in just a few short days, they would receive the outpouring of God’s Spirit and become His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
One of the most striking things about Luke’s account of Christ’s benediction is the immediate effect it had upon the disciples. He notes, “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” (v. 51-53).
Can you picture that? Jesus raises His nail-ravaged hands and pronounces a simple blessing in His Galilean accent. Then quite suddenly, the disciples are supercharged with encouragement as their Master ascends into the heavenly realm. With His departing blessing ringing in their ears and in their hearts as they returned to Jerusalem, He had profoundly conditioned them for what lay ahead on the Day of Pentecost and beyond.
I wonder if the benediction, when pronounced at the conclusion of LifePoint’s gatherings, has this same effect upon us. We can’t afford to see it as a churchy formality. It’s not the part of our service that let’s us know that it’s finally time to go so we can get to the Sunday brunch buffet. No, it is a practice that ought to condition us for mission, encouraging us to seize any and all opportunities to be Christ’s Spirit-filled witnesses amidst a fallen world. That’s what the benediction is for.
So may our ears and our hearts be piqued this Sunday as the departing Word of divine blessing is pronounced. For through it, we are re-assured that God speaks well of us. Thus we can go in peace knowing that in Christ we are greatly loved.
Songs for Sunday, September 25, 2016:
Our Song from Age to Age
Jesus Firm Foundation
(Bryan Brown, Jason Ingram, Tony Wood)
You Alone Can Rescue
(Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman)
This I Believe (The Creed)
(Ben Fielding, Matt Crocker)
The Doxology (traditional, no link)