Sunday Mass Study Notes for Sunday, 04-08-2018
Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. Since this Sunday marks the first week after the celebration of Easter, the readings for today are focused upon the activities that occurred immediately after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Since the grave could not hold Jesus, if we have faith in Him we can trust that someday we too will rise from the dead with an incorruptible body.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Book of Acts. A lot had happened by the time we reach the end of chapter 4 where we pick up with today’s reading. Jesus had already been taken up to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:9). Afterwards, Peter addressed a gathering of about 120 believers (Acts 1:15) with the purpose of telling how Judas’ betrayal of Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and then appointing Matthias as the traitor’s replacement (Acts 1:26). The Day of Pentecost had come and the promised gift of the Person of the Holy Spirit had been sent (2:1-3). This event launched the full-scale ministry of the apostles to the Jews, which later extended to the Gentiles and the whole world. The church was growing at a frantic pace during this time. In fact, the number of believers began to expand exponentially, from just 11 to 3,000 in a very short time. “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). There was a special emphasis placed upon the ministries of preaching (prophecy), fellowship, communion, prayer and giving. In Chapter 3, we see the beginning of the powerful healing ministry of the disciples with the healing of a man that had been lame from birth (Acts 3:1-9). God used these events evangelistically as a powerful testimony of the supremacy of Jesus as well as to embolden and strengthen the believers in the growing church.
Acts 4:32-35 NAS95 32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
The Book of Acts is one of various stages of transitions in the church. As the church grew, it was marked at this stage by unity, being “one heart and soul” (v. 32). The showed their unity by pooling their resources and sharing everything that they had (v.32). This generosity came from their newfound relationship with Jesus Who gave everything for them (v. 33, “abundant grace was upon them all”). Can you imagine the attractive quality of a church where people are generous and the needs of the people are met by the sacrifices that each one would make? This type of church could probably be an inspiration for us today in how to live generously with our brothers and sisters in the Lord working towards unity.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
As we transition to the second reading, we find out from Saint John how to be unified in a doctrinal sense. At this point in church history, many people were claiming to be Christians but were not truly born of God. John wrote this letter to help people understand the characteristics of a true believer in Jesus.
1 John 5:1-6 NAS95 1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. 5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
John said that “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ” is “born of God” (v. 1). Since this is the crux of knowing whether a person is a true believer, it’s important for us to understand a couple of main points. First, what does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Christ? The word translated “Christ” is “Christos” in the original meaning “the anointed One” or “Messiah.” Christos brings with it the concept of a Deliverer, the One that is coming to rescue people from their precarious position of sin. Isaiah spoke about the Messiah when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and declared that this prophecy was fulfilled through Him (Luke 4:18). In summary, to believe that Jesus is the Christ is to turn our hearts over to Him as God’s special conduit of grace for deliverance from sin.
Second, what does it mean to be born of God? The concept of being “born of God” harkens back to the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus at night recorded in the third chapter of John. In that discussion Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God that he must be born again (John 3:3). We have been born physically, that is our first birth, and it is of the flesh. From the moment we were born we are alive physically but we are dead spiritually (Ephesians 2:1). It takes an act of God to regenerate our heart. Paul explained this further by saying, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5). To be born of God is to be born from above (or again) in a spiritual sense which provides us with eternal life.
Finally, putting these two concepts together gives us a litmus test for evaluating our hearts in relationship to God. Anyone can claim to be a Christian and to do Christian things like going to church but not pass the test of true faith. Saint John helps us to see that true faith begins with trusting in Jesus for deliverance from our sin that results in our new spiritual birth.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel lesson is from the Gospel of Saint John. The context is the evening of the day we call Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene had just told the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead.
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. (John 20:19-31)
The focus of the reading was Thomas’ doubt and then his subsequent faith upon physically experiencing the resurrected Christ. Several points can be drawn from the text, First, notice that Jesus entered the room without knocking, without even opening the door; He just walked right through the wall! Talk about a grand entrance, and it’s no wonder the disciples were scared. The point is that Jesus had supernatural powers in His new, resurrected and glorified body. Second, although Jesus’ resurrection body was different in it’s capabilities, there was a one to one correspondence between Jesus’ body that was crucified and laid in the grave and His resurrected body. Jesus will be forever recognizable by the scars given to Him during His earthly lifetime. Finally, Jesus was gentle with Thomas even though he expressed doubt among circumstances that we may consider compelling for him to believe. Since Jesus treated Thomas with such concern even though he doubted Him, we can be sure that Jesus walks with us through seasons of our own doubt.
Jesus bore the scars of His torture and crucifixion even after His resurrection. Although we don’t know to what degree we will bear the scars of our own humiliation from men upon the earth, we can be certain that God will use our “scars” as an eternal testimony of our deliverance from the powers of darkness. We can rest assured that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
1. Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in His resurrection body served as a foretaste of the type of body that all believers will receive one day when Jesus returns. Though we will never be God, we will become like Him. Saint John said, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2b).
How does being born of God (1 John 5:1) and the resurrection of Jesus (John 20) provide hope for you as you experience the limitations and struggles of a declining earthly body?
2. Every believer in Christ has seasons of doubt, but we can stand on God’s Word to receive assurance. How does Saint John’s description of true faith provide reassurance for you as you contemplate eternity? Would you change your answer in light of what John said in First John?
1 John 5:13 NAS95 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.