Gesundheit. Do you know why we say that when a person sneezes? Gesundheit is the German word for “health.” When someone sneezes, they may be coming down with something, so we wish them good health.
Sometimes, however, when a person sneezes, we say, “God bless you.”
Do you know why do we do that? No one can say for sure how the custom began, though numerous theories have been suggested.
For example, in ancient times, it was thought that when you sneezed you were expelling an evil spirit. So people would say, “God bless you” – good for you that the evil spirit is now gone. Others believed that sickness was caused by evil spirits. If a person sneezed, you said, “God bless you” to ward off the demon.
Whatever the reason, today we say those words simply to be polite.
As the Children of Israel sat at the foot of Mt. Sinai – as they prepared to set out for the Promised Land – God told Aaron, the high priest, to bless them. Every time God’s people gathered together, Aaron was to tell them, “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).
Every time God’s people gathered together, Aaron was supposed to say, “God bless you.” But he wasn’t just being polite. God told Aaron that through his blessing, he would put his name on his people.
The Lord has put his name on you. You belong to him. At your baptism he marked you. You could say, in way he branded you like a calf. He said, “You belong to me. My name is on you.”
And because you belong to him, he will keep you. He will protect you. He will provide all you’ll ever need here on earth.
He will be gracious to you. Grace is God’s undeserved love. Grace is God giving you what you haven’t earned or deserved. You see, we don’t deserve God’s face to shine on us. We don’t deserve to have his face look on us with favor. We deserve to see his face burn with anger. We deserve to have him turn his face from us because of all the dumb and dirty things we do.
Yet because God turned his face away from Jesus – because his anger burned against Jesus instead of us – we are forgiven.
You can be sure that God will always bless you because his blessings don’t depend on you or how good you are. God will be gracious to you. He will forgive you and give you a home forever in heaven because of Jesus.
And he will give you peace. Because Jesus suffered God’s anger over your sins, you can now have peace with God. He isn’t an angry judge who will punish you. He is your loving Father who blesses you. And that peace with God gives us a peace of heart and mind the world cannot understand.
For nearly 3,500 years, believers have heard Aaron’s blessing spoken over them as they gather together worship. When your pastor or priest speaks those words to you, he isn’t just being polite. Your Savior God is putting his name on you. He is promising to protect and provide for you. He is promising to forgive you and give you a home in heaven. He is promising you a peace the world cannot give.
That’s nothing to sneeze at.