Christ’s final act before He ascended into heaven was to lift up His hands and bless His assembled disciples. And it was while He was blessing them that He was parted from them and taken up into heaven (Luke 24:50-51).
This parting picture of Jesus with His hands raised in blessing is most meaningful, a perpetual reminder that He continues to bless His Church on earth and will do so until He comes again. As Victor over sin and death seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus gives the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life to all who believe in Him.
Since God’s Word gives us this picture of Jesus with His hands raised in blessing, it is appropriate that we close our services with a benediction—a blessing. In this way we return to our daily lives assured of the Lord’s blessing, just as the disciples returned to Jerusalem with the memory of Jesus blessing them as He ascended.
We most often use the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:22-27) or the Apostolic blessing (2 Corinthians 13:14) at the close of our services. But there are other blessings in the New Testament that we could use, including the one that closes the book of Hebrews: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
And we do in fact make use of this magnificent blessing when we close a service with the hymn “Now May He Who from the Dead” by John Newton.
With its opening line, “Now may He who from the dead / Bro’t the Shepherd of the sheep,” this hymn paraphrase of Hebrews 13:20 expresses the confidence of blessing from God the Father because He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It is because of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day after dying for our sins that we have the blessings of forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and eternal life. He is “the great Shepherd of the sheep,” the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15) Now He lives forever our “King and Head” who is able to “All our souls in safety keep.”
God, Who has cleansed us of all sin by the blood of Jesus Christ, is able by His Spirit to “teach us to fulfill/ What is pleasing in His sight, / Perfect us in all His will, / And preserve us day and night.”
The great blessing from Hebrews ends with words of praise to Jesus Christ, “To (Him) be glory forever and ever. Amen.” This expression of praise Newton takes up in the final stanza: “To that dear Redeemer’s praise, / Who the cov’nant sealed with blood, / Let our hearts and voices raise / Loud thanksgiving to our God.” We praise Christ for offering His blood by which He established an everlasting covenant of salvation with us.
Whenever we hear the benediction spoken by the pastor or sing it as the closing hymn, we should understand that these words are no mere pious wish. They are the words of God that impart blessings to believing hearts. God Himself assures us that this is so. When He directed Aaron and his sons to bless the people He also promised, “So shall they put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.