In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Every Divine Service ends with the blessing—known as Aaronic benediction because it was given to Moses’ brother Aaron in order to place the name of God on the people (Num. 6:27)—“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favour and give you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26) Yet, when Moses was going on and on about, “You must show me your glory. You must reveal it to me if you are to go before me and lead us into the land…,” (Exod. 33:12-16) the Lord says, “No man can see my face"—meaning the full glory of Him—“and live.” (Exod. 33:20)
So, why is this the blessing—to make His face shine on you—that the Lord gives? Since no man can see the Lord’s full glory—especially that of His face—and live? Since our sinful state makes us unable to stand in the presence of God in all His glory?
Well, part of the secret is this funny word “epiphany”. Epiphany is the season of the Church Year we are in right now. It is a Greek word that means “to show forth, to reveal, to manifest, to shine on”. So it’s not just “The Lord make His face shine on you” but rather, “The Lord epiphany His face upon you.” i.e., Show forth His face—His glory upon you.
And the key to this is Moses and this weird interplay between him and the Lord. In verse 13 Moses says, “If I have found favour”—or grace—“in Your sight, then You must show Yourself to me, so that I can clearly see You, in such a way as I should be finding grace before You.” (Exod. 33:13 LXX) That’s the key. “To show Yourself to me—epiphany Yourself—in such a way as I can see You safely." Graciously. In Your unearned favour. Receiving Your grace.
Well, the Lord responds, “You have found favour.” (Exod. 33:17) Not because Moses did anything. To do anything is to earn something. To find favour is to get something for nothing. For free. Earned favour is really a paycheque. Unearned favour is God’s gracious attitude toward you. The Lord says, “You have found favour from Me, so I will do this thing you ask. But in order for you to be safe; in order to see Me in My graciousness toward you, you must not see My face—My full power and glorious radiance. Instead, you must hide in this cleft in the rock. Where I will cover you with My hand. And then you will see My back. This is how you will see My glory, how I will safely reveal Myself to you in grace. By seeing My hand and My back…” (Exod. 33:17, 19-23)
What’s going on there? His hand and His back? Well, firstly, the LORD is talking like He is a human. Made of flesh. With a body, face, hands, and back. But God is Spirit. (John 4:24) He does not have a body. But when you think of the Triune God one of the persons of God has taken on flesh… Which one? Which person of God has a body? (Jesus) So when we talk of the LORD in the Old Testament, which person of God might it be who is revealing Himself to Moses here? Who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden? Wrestled bodily with Jacob? Appeared to Moses again and again? (John 1:1, 14) And 1400 years later when this person of God took on our flesh, what did He allow to happen to His hands and His back, so that we might be healed? Nails through His hands? Spear piercing His side? (John 19:18, 34, 36-37) Whips flogging His back? (Matt. 27:26)
Isaiah prophetically speaking of our Lord Jesus said, “He was pierced for our transgressions”—the nails and spear—“He was crushed for our iniquities.” “By His stripes we are healed”—the stripes from the whips that lashed His flesh. (Isa. 53:5) The Lord shows His glory in His back and His hand. (Exod. 33:21-23) Just as He did to Thomas. (John 20:24-29) He shows Moses His glorious grace to come. Not merely that the Lord would lead His people into the land He had promised, but that He would lead all believers in Christ into the eternal Promised Land of heaven. This is Christ revealing Himself to Moses in grace and truth (John 1:14) so that Moses would be strengthened and lifted up in the eyes of God’s people to do the job God has given him to do. (Exod. 33:13, 15-16)
For which of us has power to do anything spiritually on our own? We are lost apart from Christ. Our own sinful nature rules us. You all know what you should do, but you don’t do it. Those things you wrestle with, that you want to do, but don’t. That you ought to do but can’t. Does tyrannizing yourself, getting angry with yourself, beating yourself up with guilt or shame help you to do them? No. But hiding your sins in Christ. (Exod. 33:22) In His wounds. Cleanses you. So that the glory of the Lord is revealed to you. So that He covers over your sins. (Exod. 33:22) He hides them from His stern judgement, having cast it on Christ. And reveals to you His grace and mercy. (Exod. 33:23; Isa. 53:5) So that He can turn His face to you in joy. (Num. 6:24-26; Ps. 67:1)
This is how the face of the Lord shines on you—through His hands and back. Through His wounds on behalf of your sins. It is how He epiphanies God’s glory upon you. For that is how we see God in grace and truth—through the only Son from the Father come in our flesh. (John 1:14) In Jesus’ flesh hanging on the cross, reported to you by the apostles’ witness, you see the glory of the Father. You see His glorious unearned favour toward you.
When the Lord reveals His face to you in Christ are three promises that build on one another:
1) The Lord bless you and keep you—that is guard you, protect you. (Num. 6:24)
2) The Lord epiphany His face upon you—in grace and truth—and be gracious unto you. (Num 6:25) For that is how the Lord is gracious. He gives you His favour by revealing Jesus’ suffering on behalf of your sins to you so that you might believe on Him and be saved. (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9)
3) The Lord look upon you in favour and give you peace. (Num. 6:26) By revealing His saving works to you graciously, as He did to Moses, He is lifting up His face, or countenance, to you. He is favouring you with His Son Jesus and His wounds by which you have peace from God. Peace from Satan’s warfare and accusations against you. A clear conscience because Jesus Himself has declared you forgiven. For Jesus is how God shows Himself to you—in mercy—placing His name on you. (Num. 6:27; Matt. 28:19) Claiming you. Declaring Himself to be yours. Giving you His favour.
For to lift up your face is to smile. To be happy. To be graciously disposed toward something. When you are angry you lower your gaze. You glare, with furrowed brows and flaring nostrils. As though you might breath fire out of them to incinerate that which has displeased you. But to lift your face on someone is to show them your throat. To make yourself vulnerable to them. To open yourself up to them and welcome them into your embrace.
This is what Jesus does when He epiphanies Himself to you. He embraces you. He lifts His face on you. He gives you His peace. It’s what He did at that wedding in Cana. It sounded like He had lowered His head, when He told His mother that His hour had not yet arrived. (John 2:4) Yet, He revealed Himself miraculously by the water turned to wine. (John 2:9, 11) Wine which increased the joy of the wedding guests, so that the head waiter—the wedding planner—went to groom and said, “Everyone else serves the best wine first—putting their good foot forward. Then when people are a bit tipsy they bring out the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best wine till now.” (John 2:10) For the Lord was there revealing His gracious glory. Revealing His mastery over nature. Thereby revealing that He is God. Revealing that He uses such mastery not to glare at you and smite you with the breath of his nostrils but rather to increase your joy by granting you the best wine of all: His wine of pardon. For that’s what He does when He reveals Himself to you in the Lord’s Supper. By His wine He gives you Himself. His own blood. He increases your joy, by welcoming you to His wedding feast. The feast of celebration that His Church—of which you are a member—is united to Him. You receive His name. All His grace. His protection, His His embrace. His favour. His peace.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.