Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes for 4-3-2016. This week we open with a reading from the earliest history about the church, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, relating their ministry in the very first weeks of the newly created Church after Pentecost and the Holy Spirit’s descent upon those earliest believers. The second reading is from the very latest book of the New Testament, the Revelation of Jesus as given to the last of the apostles, John. John records the vision he received of the Lord Jesus, which serves both as a warning to the Church of Jesus Christ and as an introduction to the revelation of the final events in earthly history and into eternity. The Gospel reading, interestingly enough, is from the same author who recorded the Revelation. The chapter in this week’s assignment includes the miraculous appearance of Jesus and significant teaching about faith and believing in Him.
Introduction to the First Reading:
By chapter 5, the early Christians (and the number had grown to the thousands, Acts 2:41, 47) were demonstrating the love that Jesus said would be the mark of His disciples (John 13:34). They met together for worship, and they gave generously to the needs of others in the Christian family. Today’s portion tells of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit working through His chosen people.
Acts 5:12-16 NAS95 12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
“Signs and wonders” were miraculous events that not only brought healing to many but, more importantly, served to authenticate the authority of the apostles, those who were sent by God to do His work and to lay a foundation for the establishing of His church on earth, the body of called-out believers (that’s what the New Testament word for church means). The early Christians “were all with one accord” meeting near the Temple. Jesus had prayed (John 17) that His followers would be united, would be as one as He and the Father are. Nothing has hurt the image of the church so much as its disunity over the centuries of its history and even today.
Verse 13 is perplexing. Perhaps it suggests that non-believers did not associate with believers, though they highly respected them. Maybe they knew about the couple, earlier in chapter 5, who tried to deceive the apostles, claiming to give the gains from the sale of their property to the needy while keeping a part for themselves. They were stricken to death immediately, and the church learned the seriousness of deceitfulness and lying. That could explain why non-believers stayed away.
The remaining verses testify to the miraculous healing power of the apostles. Throughout the Book of Acts, these men of God gave testimony time and again that the power was not theirs but was the work of the Jesus whom the religious leaders had rejected. Succeeding chapters will reveal the great price true believers often had to pay to remain true to their faith. Yet, they counted it as nothing compared to what they had in Jesus and would ultimately enjoy with Him (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Introduction to the Second Reading:
John is the last of the apostles who had traveled with Jesus, witnessed His crucifixion, and fellowshipped with Him after His resurrection. In exile, John received a vision of the Lord Himself. What he writes is so important that Jesus told him, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it.” That in itself is enough reason to study this book, for it reveals the concluding events in God’s ultimate plan of redemption. The details of John’s vision are complex and confusing, and a thorough knowledge of the rest of God’s revelation (the Bible) is helpful in understanding the unfolding of the plan. John addresses his writing to “the seven churches that are in Asia.” Those geographical sites in Asia Minor were in what is now Turkey, real places in real time.
Note: Verses 15 - 16 which were omitted from the reading are included below.
Revelation 1:9-19 NAS95 9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11 saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea." 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13 and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. 17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
John is in exile “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” verse 1. The other apostles have all been killed, but John remains to hear this final revelation of Jesus. He hears a voice that instructs him to write in a book what he is about to see and hear and send it all to seven existing churches where the Gospel has been preached and received. What he sees in his vision is overwhelming. First he sees someone “like a son of man” in the middle of seven lampstands. The description of the man clearly pictures the Lord Jesus, perhaps in a glorified, majestic state. “Son of man,” by the way, is the title that Jesus most often used to refer to himself. Each of the descriptives about this man is of interest and no doubt reflects something of His divine nature and activity. Of special interest is the reference to “a sharp two-edged sword” out of His mouth. It reminds us of the statement in Hebrews 4:12, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The reference is not just to the written Word of God, the Bible, but any and every word from God.
John’s reaction was similar to Isaiah’s in Isaiah 6 when he saw the Lord “high and lifted up” and Job when he finally encountered God in person (chs. 40 & 41). God’s presence causes one to fall upon his face in an abject sense of his own unworthiness and in recognition of the worthiness of God.
The response of the “Man” to John in verse 19 is insightful. It likely provides a key to the understanding of the relation he is about to record. He is to write about three topics: 1) what he “has seen,” no doubt the revelation of the Son of God; 2) “the things which are,” referring to the character and action of the seven churches to which he is to send the letters (chapters 2 & 3), and 3) “the things which will take place after these things.” Chapter 4 begins, then, the revelation of what is yet to come in God’s completed plan.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel is a highlight. It begins with the discovery of the empty tomb, confirming the miraculous resurrection of the Lord Jesus! It includes several appearances of Jesus to His disciples and some significant statements to be considered. And John concludes the chapter, telling us that there were many other signs that Jesus performed. He has chosen only certain ones to relate that are given to bring his readers to faith.
John 20:19-31 NAS95 19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." 26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." 30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
The first event in today’s reading must have been a shock to the disciples who were meeting privately, probably in secret, in a closed room. It’s the same day of the resurrection, and Peter and John had already observed the empty tomb. Mary had actually had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, at first thinking he was the gardener. Apparently, the disciples were confused, not having understood Jesus’ teaching them in advance about these events. All of the sudden, Jesus appears in their midst. He knows of their fear and encourages them with “Peace be with you.” The next words in this first of several significant statements in this encounter are surprising: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” They will likely not fully understand this instruction until they have further teaching before His return to heaven and the events of the Day of Pentecost. Then they disperse over the world to preach the gospel.
Another noteworthy word from Jesus bestowed the promised Holy Spirit on them. From this point on, they would carry the message of the Gospel with the clear offer of the forgiveness of sins to all who will hear them and respond to the truth in faith, acknowledging Jesus as Lord.
We’re all familiar with the doubts expressed by the disciple Thomas. Like many of us “seeing is believing” to Thomas. He was not present on this occasion and when the others tell him about what happened, he simply cannot believe it. A week later, Thomas is given just the opportunity he thought he needed to believe; the proof stands before him. Immediately, he recognizes the truth; his doubts depart, and he worships, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then offers another important statement: “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” How blessed we are today to know of the work of Jesus to be our sacrifice for sin and give us the faith to believe when we have not seen with our eyes, but realizing instead that “believing is seeing.”
Finally, note that John says that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that John does not write about. He chose only seven great signs which prove Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, and he recorded them “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Bottom Line: Questions for Reflection
1. In what ways does John’s message in Revelation resonate with you during your own trials and tribulations (revelation 1:9)? How does reading his revelation of the Lord help you through these things?
Challenge: Have you read the Book of Revelation? This Book promises a blessing to those who read it (Revelation 1:3). We urge you to read through this important Scripture, taking into account the Old Testament references that are noted in your Bible.
2. In what ways does Thomas’ experience give you hope as one who may have never seen the Lord Jesus? (We qualify this because of some of the events we have heard about in Islamic regions where the Lord has appeared in dreams and visions).
Readings for the Week
Note: For a listing of readings for the Roman Catholic Mass, visit this web site:
Online Scripture verses for most Bible versions can be found at: http://www.biblegateway.com/