Under the Blessing Hands There Is a Curse over This World
Anyone in touch with what is going on in the world around us today needs no convincing that the curse on a fallen creation is evident everywhere. The weirdest crimes you can imagine take place; there are natural disasters that boggle the mind; and the wars and rumours of wars continue to occupy the media. And then, closer to home, we all know of the devastation that sickness and death can bring to those close and dear to us. Surely, the Reformed baptismal form accurately reflects the truth when it describes this life as “a constant death.” Creation groans and the evidence of its anguish is evident to all. There is a curse over this world.
And yet, praised be to God, Christians may live under the blessing! We have a Saviour who ascended to heaven and as He did so He gave his blessing!
Christ Ascended while Blessing
Luke describes this tremendous event in a very vivid way in his gospel. After the risen Christ had explained from the Scriptures how He had fulfilled everything that was written about Him, He led his disciples out to the vicinity of Bethany. Then we read:
He lifted up his hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.Luke 24:50-51
Notice how the act of blessing is stressed. It is mentioned twice. Clearly the blessing is of great importance.
Try to picture the situation. The Lord Jesus tells his disciples that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them and that they will be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Then the disciples see their Saviour lift his hands above their heads as a priest to bless them. As He pronounces his blessing over them, He rises. His feet leave the ground. Before their very eyes they see it (Acts 1:9). And as He rises, the reach of his blessing hands goes beyond their heads and covers Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and eventually to the ends of the earth! A cloud eventually hides Him from their sight (Acts 1:9) but they know that He has gone to heaven in the body for the angel told them so (Acts 1:11). He ascended to the heavenly temple.
Blessing, Then and Now
Today we may live and work under the blessing hands of our “great high priest who has gone through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14). To appreciate what this entails let us step back and briefly walk through two historical events of importance in understanding the blessing of our ascended Saviour.
First, let us revisit the first worship service of Israel where the high priest for the very first time blessed God’s people. We read of that event in Leviticus 9. It is noteworthy that Aaron gave the blessing after he had sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the fellowship offering (Leviticus 9:7-22). The blessing was only given after the necessity of atonement for sins had been publicly acknowledged with the sin offering, the necessity of the life dedicated to God had been confessed with the whole burnt offering, and thanks had been given with the fellowship offering.
This order of events is reflected in the fulfilment of the blessing Christ as He ascended. It was only after He had given Himself as a sin offering on the cross and had given the whole burnt offering of Himself and so had provided for true fellowship between God and man that He gave the blessing as the one who had accomplished all that the Aaronic priesthood could not do.
What was entailed in this blessing? This question takes us to a second important historical event. When the Lord through Moses instructed Aaron in how to give the priestly blessing, then the words of blessing He gave to Aaron were:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.Numbers 6:24-26
This blessing was followed by the telling words: “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27). In other words, when the priest gives the blessing, He places God’s name on the people, thereby claiming them for God. And then God Himself will bless them. According to his word of promise He will keep his people, be gracious to them, and give them his peace. This implies that He will be with them and have fellowship with them. Indeed, when the blessing had been given in the first worship service, this blessing was followed by the manifestation of the glory of God. He appeared and showed Himself to be with his covenant nation (Leviticus 9:23)!
When our Saviour ascended while blessing his disciples, there is again a strong link between the blessing and God’s presence. As He ascended and the distance became greater and greater, the disciples could remember that his parting words included the promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Had the Lord Jesus not promised “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18)? Indeed, the glory of God’s coming at Pentecost is intimately tied to the ascension. The one could not happen without the other (John 16:7).
Under the Blessing
Where does all this leave us? We live in a world which our Saviour left with outstretched and blessing hands. In faith, we know that we are privileged to be under the blessing hands of our Saviour. He has not left us to fend for ourselves. He is with us in the Spirit and through the Spirit he gives us what we need. He realizes in our lives the three-fold priestly blessing and promise that God will keep us, be gracious to us, and give us his peace. This three-fold blessing is reworded in the New Testament form of the apostolic blessing which speaks of our triune God. “May 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).
Every time we receive these words of blessing through God’s servants on the Lord’s Day, we can rest assured that although we live in a groaning creation which often resembles a constant death, yet, there is the joy of new life with God through the work of our only high priest. He has given His Spirit as an assurance and guarantee that all is well and that He provides for us (John 14:15-31). And we may remember that the angels assured the disciples looking up at the ascended Saviour as He disappeared in the clouds, don’t worry, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Well, what a privilege to live and work under the blessing hands of our ascended Saviour, knowing that He is both with us in the Spirit and that He is on his way back! Creation may groan and death sighs may be heard but that’s not the last word. Christ’s blessing hands assure us of the victory that has been won, even over Satan, sin, and death. And so the last word is joy, peace, and life with God, now and for ever!