Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. . This week we open with the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy in which we study a prophecy about the coming Messiah that was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Then we move to the second reading from First Corinthians where we study Saint Paul’s teaching on marriage of Christians. Finally, we return to the Book of Mark for the Gospel lesson where we see Jesus heal a demon-possessed man.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy. At this point in history, the people of God (the Hebrews) were entering the Promised Land after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. They were in need of structure and direction, so that their new life in the Promised Land would be fruitful and safe. It had been many generations since this people group had been able to make their own decisions and govern themselves. Therefore, God gave them a strong leader called Moses and some thorough instructions, recorded here in the book of Deuteronomy. This Book primarily records the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There are several big ideas behind God’s giving of the Law. First, the Law established a new covenant with the Hebrew people called the Mosaic Covenant. This Covenant between God and the Hebrew people included promises that were conditional in nature. The Mosaic Covenant consisted of ordinances which included moral laws, civil laws, and ceremonial laws for God’s chosen people, the Jews. The Law also expanded the already existing promises granted by God in the Abrahamic Covenant into a new covenant referred to as the Palestinian Covenant. Although the promises made in this Covenant were unconditional, the Jewish people will not fully obtain them until the Lord Jesus returns to rule and reign on the earth. A second aspect of God’s giving of the Law provided a means for God to hold people judicially accountable when they break the law. Saint Paul explained this in Romans Chapter 4 by saying, “when there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). Finally, since Moses was himself a prophet, the Law also included prophecy, as we will read about in the first reading as follows below. Note: We have included the last two verses in Chapter 18 that were omitted from the reading in order to provide the full meaning and context.
15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' 17 The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' 21 "You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' 22 "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-22)
As the Hebrew people were on the brink of newfound freedoms, this passage guided them so that they would discerning of those who claimed to speak for God. The reading pointed out several things. First, God promised to Moses that He would raise up a Prophet like himself (v. 17) and provided stern words about the importance of listening to the future Prophet. God warned that there is accountability for failing to listen to the true Prophet (v. 10 “require it of him”). Second, in verse 21 God also provided a test for any person that claimed to be a prophet. If a person claims to be a prophet, they must not speak on behalf of a false god and whatever they say must come true. If the self-proclaimed prophet fails either of these two tests, he must be put to death.
The Old Testament is full of prophecies from God-ordained prophets who spoke on behalf of God and called people back to their covenant relationship with God. We know from the New Testament that the final Prophet whom Moses predicted in verse 15 was none other than Jesus Christ Himself. The proof for this fact is found in three places in the New Testament, once in the Gospel of John and twice in the Book of Acts. Nathaniel said in John’s Gospel, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Peter quoted Deuteronomy 18:15 in Acts 3:22, and Stephen in his famous speech he made just before being martyred said about Jesus, “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, 'GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN” (Acts 7:37).
Let’s discuss briefly the importance of recognizing false prophets in our own day through the application of the prophetic test given in Deuteronomy 18. First, the New Testament authors warned about the coming of false prophets. John said, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Peter said, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). If false prophets will abound, how are we to respond to these false prophets? We have a story in Acts 17 that illustrates the answer to this question. It says: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
Paul was so bold in another letter as to say that even if he came back to them and changed the message of the Gospel or they had a special appearance from an angel, not even that should persuade them from the sure foundation that was already laid. He said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9).Therefore, our response is very clear. We must be diligent to study God’s Word so that we can test what people are saying and discern whether they are a true prophet (speaking the Word of God) or whether they are a false prophet (speaking presumptuously). These are strong words, but as we study God’s Word we will be able to reject false teaching when we encounter it.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading is from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The context is Paul’s teaching on the value of a person’s singleness during this period in the church when it was undergoing explosive growth and at the same time, persecution – especially from the Jews. These verses have often been used to elevate singleness over marriage. But as you understand the context of unbearable famine and persecution for the church, we see that Paul was putting a temporary moratorium on weddings, in order to help them endure the unusual circumstances that these believers were facing. Note: Verses 36 – 38 were included in order to provide the full meaning and context.
32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. 36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. (1 Corinthians 7:32-38)
The fact that the Old Testament and other places in the New Testament affirm the beauty and value of marriage needs to give perspective to the interpretation of this passage. For example, Paul recommended that young widows remarry (1 Timothy 5:11-15) and Jesus Himself affirmed the Old Testament teaching that a man shall leave his father and mother to be united to his wife (Matthew 19:5). In the present crisis (mentioned in 1 Cor. 7:26), Paul was giving them apostolic teaching that applied wisdom to their dire situation. First, Paul said that if a person is single they can be wholly dedicated to the service of the Lord, whereas a married person is also concerned with the affairs of their mate and family (vv. 32). In times of persecution and famine, it is much easier to be single than married. The simplicity of life when one is in survival mode is complicated when a spouse and children are brought into the picture and their vulnerabilities can be exploited by persecutors. Second, he said that if a person desired to marry that there was nothing wrong with their desire (v. 35). What he was saying was that at this time in the church it was strongly advantageous for a person engaging in ministry to remain single, like he was. This is the path that Jesus and others in the New Testament chose, including Saint Paul. Finally, Paul said that fathers should not unduly guard their daughters in such a way as to prevent them from fulfilling their desires to marry (vv. 36 – 38). During that cultural context, the father’s approval of the marriage meant everything. This is of course still the case in many cultures in the world.
What does this mean for today? Since the rest of the counsel of Scripture affirms the sanctity of marriage, we must not look at marriage as a better or worse state of affairs. There are advantages and disadvantages to both singleness and marriage. If you are single, you currently have the gift of singleness (1 Cor. 7:7). If you are married, you have the gift of marriage. Will you let God use either state of affairs to further His work in your life?
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel lesson is from Mark Chapter one which continues from last week. Here we find Jesus in His adopted hometown of Capernaum, the home of Peter where He called His first disciples among the fishermen in this lakeside village.
21 They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are--the Holy One of God!" 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" 26 Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28)
Several points arise from the text. First, early on in His ministry Jesus is widely accepted in the synagogue in Capernaum as a rabbi, or teacher. The text says, “He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (vv. 21b – 22). This is an extremely important point because later on when the religious leaders began contesting His teaching they pointed out that He was just a carpenter from Nazareth. They said, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him” (Mark 6:3). This hearkens us back to the passage from Deuteronomy, which gave a prophecy about a great Prophet and criteria for discerning whether someone was speaking on behalf of God. Jesus passed the tests (and then some), but the religious leaders failed to hold up their end of the bargain. They refused to listen to the words of the Prophet and will have to stand to give an account for their rejection of God’s Messiah. Jesus spoke with authority because He was The Authority!
A second important point from the text is what the demonic spirit within the man in the synagogue said about Jesus. The demon recognized Jesus as being from Nazareth and the “Holy One of God” meaning Messiah (v. 24). Although the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as Messiah, the demonic spirit was compelled to testify as to His identity. One day, “every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Finally, God used the testimony of the demonic spirit in order to further the spread of the Gospel (vv. 27 – 28). Each one of us will have to decide how to respond to the authority of Jesus. Will we reject His authority or surrender to it?
As believers, we too can speak with the authority of God, following Jesus’ example and being filled with His Words. Anytime we recite Scripture we possess the authority of God and have power within the range allowed by God’s sovereignty to unset spiritual darkness. Keep this in mind the next time you encounter spiritual darkness including false teaching. You can apply the test for a true prophet that we learned about from Deuteronomy, as well as speak the truth from the words of Scripture into confusing and dark issues. Although we may not have all of the well-reasoned answers to spiritual skeptics, if we know the Word of God we can respond with God’s authority simply by applying the truth of Scripture to each encounter.
This week one of my relatives is being forced to take a hard stand at her school. Her coach has decided to get around the rules regarding the frequency of athletic practice allowed for this particular conference by scheduling “open gym” periods with the team. In theory, these events are optional but in reality, any player missing one of the open gym periods would be in jeopardy of harming their standing on the team. This particular team player has decided to abide by the rule and miss this informal practice session in order to satisfy the calling that God has placed upon her heart to be obedient to Him. Although our study of the Word of God can sometimes be rather abstract in terms of application in our daily lives, in this case it became clear to this person from God’s teaching that they needed to take a stand. Is there anything in the Bible study lesson this week that caused a “prick in your heart” about which you need to take a stand for God? In what areas in your life have you been exposed to false teachings and need to exclaim that these sources are accursed?
1. Think about some of the concepts covered in this week’s Bible reading:
- Being discerning about who I listen to and rejecting false teaching
- Being obedient to true teaching (that lines up with Scripture)
- Being wise about how I think about marriage and singleness
- Surrendering to Jesus’ authority
- Standing up to misuse of authority by using Scripture as my authority
Which of the above concepts do you need help in? Talk to God in prayer about how you would like for Him to be at work in this area.