God's Good Word
At some point in your schooling, you have probably come across the handy diagram that explains the various components of a strong, dramatic narrative. It’s a little line that begins steadily with the exposition, takes a vicious turn skyward with the conflict and rising action, reaches its peak with the climax, and then gently descends with the falling action and denouement. In the worship service, the blessing and sending are like the denouement. We are coming off the mountain of the Lord where we have fellowshipped with God Himself (Isa. 25:6; Hebrews 12:22). As we come to the conclusion of our meeting with God, we receive a blessing, or a benediction.
What exactly is the benediction? The benediction is not simply a way to close the service. It’s not a final prayer. It’s not a simple farewell—a way to say “goodbye, come back next time.” Nor is it simply a “good word” from the pastor to the congregation. It is far more than that. In the benediction, God blesses His people by confirming that His name is upon them for good in Christ, and thereby strengthens them to serve Him in the week ahead.
Name Above All Names
What’s the connection between benedictions and names? We’re given a clue by looking at perhaps the most popular benediction in all of Scripture, the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:22–26:
“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 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.’”
In this benediction (and others) we see that God’s good favor and pleasure are said to rest on His people. This would continue to be a part of covenantal worship both in the Old and the New Testaments. Many new covenant benedictions show up at the close of letters or sermons that were meant to be read publicly in the church’s worship service.
If we go back and look more closely at that Aaronic benediction, we find that something puzzling shows up at the end. God says that in pronouncing the blessing, the priests will “put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27). This summarizes for us in what way we receive God’s blessings: precisely by receiving His name. It is hard to explain the theology behind names in Scripture, but in essence everything that made a person who they were was believed to be packed into their name. If you knew a person’s name, you really knew them. You knew what they were about, what made them tick, what their weaknesses and strengths were.
Likewise, throughout Scripture we see that God maintains the honor of His name, for His name is who He is (Ex. 20:7). At the fiery bush, God connects His name to both His characteristic of faithfulness and His attributes of eternality, omnipotence, and independence. Thus, during the days of David and Solomon, God established a temple for His name (1 Kings 5:5), and later He puts His “name there forever” (1 Kings 9:3). God is so zealous about maintaining the holiness that is His name that He threatens the death penalty for anyone who would profane it (Lev. 24:16).
And yet it is this very name that God speaks upon us in the benediction. This name is so marvelous, so majestic, so holy and sacred, yet He gives it to us frail and feeble creatures. And it’s the very thing we need! Recall that the hallmark of the faithful line of Seth is that they are those who “call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). Likewise in the New Testament Peter preaches that Jesus is the only way to the Father, for “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” To be saved we must have God’s glorious name, and in the benediction we shown that the very thing we need God gives us. Hughes Oliphant Old writes, “[The benediction is] a blessing that seals the Church in the name of the Lord. In giving us His name He brings us into His care and gives us a share in the household of faith.”
Who God Says We Are
Is there any greater comfort or assurance than knowing we share God’s name? When we belong to Christ we have that name “Christian” stamped on our hearts, and God will indeed save the one who knows, or who bears, His name. The heathens and the ungodly of this world do not receive God’s benediction. Only those who by faith come into the house of worship receive God’s blessing. Those who have His name have Him.
All week the world around us gives us a name. Maybe the name is “fat” or “rich” or “smart” or “funny” or “not good enough” or “not as bad as that guy” or whatever. The world is feeding us lies: telling us who we are, who we should be, and what matters most. And yet a grand and glorious purpose of worship is to wash that away and give us a different—and proper—view and outlook on everything, including ourselves. A major point of the worship service is to teach us who we really are: those who are called by God out of sin, cleansed by His gospel and freely forgiven, led by His word, and invited to feast with Him at an eternal meal. And if all that doesn’t reorient us entirely, if that doesn’t teach us that we belong to Christ and not to our sin, then God does this one final thing: He gives us His name.
Recognize that in worship benedictions from the minister are not prayers to God where we request something from Him; they are proclamations from God where we are told what we have already received and who we truly are.
So Send I You
We do not receive God’s immense blessings to hoard them to ourselves, like some miser. God blesses us in order to strengthen us for the week ahead, for the work ahead—that is, for the gospel work that is ahead of us. If worship is about showing us who we are in Christ, then we will see that it comes with a calling, or a task. Just as there was a task for the very first humans, redeemed humanity has one as well. James K. A. Smith writes,
“The end of worship is bound up with the end of being human. In other words, the point of worship is bound up with the point of creation. The goal of Christian worship is a renewal of the mandate in creation: to be (re)made in God’s image and then sent as his image bearers to and for the world.”
We still have work to do. We are to go and make disciples, to live as salt and light, and to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy. It’s a lot. But what God calls us to He equips us for. Bryan Chapell explains, “The benediction is the promise of blessing for the tasks God calls his people to do”; thus it “is often followed by a charge (e.g., ‘Go in peace,’ or ‘Go now and serve God in this way with confidence that He goes with you to help you and to bless you’).”
Is this not a fitting conclusion to the story of worship that God has just told us? It really means that the story is not over yet. Our corporate communion with God is interrupted with six days back in the world. But even so, in this break in between, we truly go with God. We go with His name—the blessing that will bolster us to accomplish the commission He gives us. And though this benediction and commission are spoken by a minister, they are the very words of God. In our worship, He gets the first word and He gets the very last. And each word is one of grace.
Jonathan Landry Cruse pastors Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI, where he lives with his wife and children. He is the author of Hymns of Devotion, The Christian’s True Identity, and most recently, What Happens When We Worship.
"The Gospel of the Glory of the Blessed God" by Fred Sanders
"Worship That Smells: Calvin on Genesis 8" by Aaron Denlinger
"John Owen on Delighting in Worship" by Danny Hyde
What Happens When We Worship by Jonathan Landry Cruse
Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, edited by Philip Ryken, Derek Thomas, and Ligon Duncan
 As quoted in Jon D. Payne, In the Splendor of Holiness (White Hall, WV: Tolle Lege, 2008), 103.
 James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016), 88. Emphasis original.
 Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 254.