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“A Beautiful Benediction”
Hebrews 13:20-21


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—November 11, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today’s Epistle Reading from Hebrews explains how such an amazing transformation could take place, the power behind Joseph’s conversion and faith, and yours too: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

These verses are near the end of Hebrews, and they close the book with “A Beautiful Benediction.”  It’s one of many benedictions found in the Bible.  The word “benediction” comes from the Latin meaning “to pronounce good things” upon someone.  The most familiar benedictions from the Bible are the ones we use regularly in our worship services. 

From the book of Numbers in the Old Testament comes the Aaronic benediction, which Aaron and the other priests were given by God to pronounce upon his people of old: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”

And in the New Testament, the Apostolic benediction is given by the Apostle Paul at the end of 2nd Corinthians: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Like these more familiar benedictions from the Bible, today’s Epistle Reading is also “A Beautiful Benediction.”

“May the God of peace.”  Joseph says that is what first attracted him to Christianity.  All his life he had known only a god of hate and war.  But, when he started reading the Bible, he wept with joy because for the first time in his life he learned there is a God of love and peace.

Because of our sins, we do all deserve the wrath of God.  We do all deserve divine punishment in this life, and eternal death and damnation.  As Paul says in Colossians, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies of God because of your evil thoughts and actions.”

But, that’s where all other religions in the world stop with the bad news of our sin and God’s judgment.  Joseph wept with joy the first time he read the Bible because of the Good News, the Good News of Christianity that you won’t find in any other religion, the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness in his Son, Jesus Christ.  As Paul continues in Colossians, “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation . . . For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant.”  The covenant in the Bible is God’s declaration and promise to humanity that one day he would send the Messiah to be the Savior of the world.  Covenants in ancient times were like a blood oath, ratified by the shedding of blood.  In the Old Testament, it was the blood of the sacrificial animals that testified to God’s covenant of salvation.  But, those animal sacrifices of old were prophetic, pointing forward to the ultimate sacrifice, God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  His blood shed on the cross fulfilled God’s eternal covenant of salvation, his blood takes away the sin of the world, his blood cleanses you from every sin.  “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus.”  This is another unique teaching of Christianity that attracted Joseph when he started to read the Bible.  He was expected to make a pilgrimage and worship at the tomb of the dead founder of their faith.   But, Jesus says in Revelation, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!”  All other religious teachers and philosophers and supposed prophets are dead and buried.  But, Jesus promises, “Because I live, you also shall live. . . I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live. . . For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Paul says in Romans, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  Jesus’ resurrection is God the Father’s assurance that his Son’s sacrifice is accepted as payment in full for the sins of the world, as payment in full for all your sins.  Jesus’ resurrection is your assurance that your sins are all forgiven, that you have been justified in God’s sight.  Jesus’ resurrection is your assurance that you will rise from the dead to eternal life.  As Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism, “On the Last Day he will raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true.”

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.”   The imagery in the Bible of the Good Shepherd beautifully portrays the tender love and care of Jesus for us.  As the book of Isaiah says, “He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms, carries them close to his heart, and gently leads [them].”  Instead of an angry, violent god, Joseph says, “I converted to Christianity because I was drawn to Jesus’ grace, humility, and unconditional love.”

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will.”   After that cab driver gave Joseph a Bible he read it constantly, though he had to be careful that he wasn’t caught because that would have meant severe punishment and torture.   And a few years later it was an even bigger step when he wanted to be baptized, because if found out that would have meant certain death.   But, in an interview Joseph told CNN, “[Physical] death is not the worst thing that can happen to a human being . . . the worst [is] spiritual death [of the] soul. . .”  And he says that one day he would like to go back and tell his family and friends, who have disowned him, “There is only one way to Paradise, the way of Jesus who sacrificed himself on the cross for all of us.”

How could such an extraordinary transformation take place?  Joseph was brought to faith and empowered and equipped through the Word of God, which he faithfully studied and read, and through the rebirth and renewal of Holy Baptism.  Like Joseph, plug into God’s power for your life in the Word and Sacraments, and God will equip you with everything good for doing his will.  As Joseph said in an interview, “It’s a beautiful thing to see the change God has made in my life.”

Today’s Epistle Reading from Hebrews explains how such an amazing transformation could take place, the power behind Joseph’s conversion and faith, and yours too, “A Beautiful Benediction” for you: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

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