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Sunday Mass Study Notes for Sunday, 5-7-2017

Introduction to the First Reading:

The first reading is from Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts. The context is Peter’s speech to a crowd of about 120 followers of Christ (Acts 1:15) on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after that first Easter Sunday. Just before Peter’s speech, God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the followers which empowered them to speak in many known languages. Since this was unusual, some in the crowd that were gathered for the feast accused them of being drunk (Acts 2:13). In response to this allegation, Peter addressed the crowd to explain the reason for this unusual occurrence. Today’s reading then jumps to verse 36 because these intermediate verses were covered last week. The opening word in verse 36 is the adverb “therefore.” Without considering the context of the intermediate verses, a significant amount of information is left out that is relevant to this last section. Since we always need to understand what the “therefore” is there for, we will summarize the important points from the intermediate verses (15 – 35). First, read the opening of Peter’s address in verse 14.

14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.”

Peter said in other words, “listen up.” Next, he immediately corrected some of the people’s false assumptions that the followers of Christ were drunk (v. 15). He said that what was happening was the fulfillment of the Prophet Joel’s message (v.16) regarding God’s pouring out of His Spirit on all mankind in the end times (Joel 2:28 – 32). In retrospect, we understand that what Peter meant was that this was a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. After Peter quoted from this section of Joel, he presented testimony about how the people crucified “Jesus the Nazarene” and God raised Him from the dead (vv. 22 – 24). Next, Peter quoted from the Psalms to show how Jesus also fulfilled those prophetic writings by King David (vv.25 – 28). He noted that David died and his tomb is “with us to this day” (v.29), but Jesus fulfilled the prophecy that Someone would sit on David’s throne (vv. 30 – 31). Saint Matthew went to great lengths to show that Jesus was of the line of David (Matthew 1:1-17). Additionally, the Prophet Isaiah stated explicitly that the Messiah would be of the line of David (Isaiah 9:6-7). Next Peter said, “This Jesus, God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (vv. 32-33). Peter closed this section of his address by again quoting from a Psalm, this time one that contained a conversation between God the Father and God the Son. “THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, ‘SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET’” (vv. 34a – 35). To summarize, the sending of the Holy Spirit was a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that signaled the start of the end times, after the Messiah came. Second, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies that He would be of the line of David. Finally, in the future Jesus the Lord will overcome all of His enemies, and be exalted above all of creation (1 Corinthians 15:27).

Now let’s proceed with the reading.

First Reading:

36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified." 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:14, 36-41)

To paraphrase, Pete said some something like, “Therefore,” take into account the authority of the prophetic Scriptures from which I previously quoted and how Jesus perfectly fulfilled them. God made Jesus both the Supreme Master (“Lord”) and Messiah (“Christ,” or “Anointed One,” meaning Deliverer) (v. 36).

Peter’s speech had a profound impact upon the crowd. “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart” and then asked Peter what they should do (v. 37). Peter told them to repent and be baptized, and then they too would receive the Holy Spirit (v. 38). Why do you think this happened, why were they “pierced to the heart”? Did Peter’s speech have a profound impact upon you after you read it?

Here are some insights into possible reasons why Peter’s speech had such a profound impact upon the Jewish audience who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). First, the Jews were “people of the Book.” These were the ones to whom God first revealed His plan of salvation. God, through His sovereign plan, had gathered the Jews together in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks to coincide with His outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the group of 120 followers of Jesus. To the Jews, the authority of God was vested in the Holy Books, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Once Peter explained with compelling evidence that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Holy Books, the Jews evidently recognized the overwhelming evidence in support of Jesus as God’s Promised Messiah. A second possible reason why Peter’s speech had a profound impact upon the Jews gathered for the Feast was the sheer magnanimity of what happened after the Holy Spirit of God had settled upon the group of believers. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:4, 6). Imagine the scene. Pilgrims from the various language groups all around the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks. Next, the pilgrims heard this group of Galileans speaking, but each one of them heard and understood in their own language! This great miracle would have had a profound impact upon the people.

Because of this cascading series of events the pilgrims who heard Peter’s message were convicted of their sin, they were “pierced to the heart” (v.37). A total of 3,000 Jews who heard Peter’s speech repented and were baptized in one day.

We cannot underestimate the power that God unveiled that day in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit of God is the Person of God that lives inside of us, the One that empowers the Church.  He is the Power (Dunamis in Greek, similar to Dynamite in English) spoken of Jesus when He said that “the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). He is the One who started the Church that day in Jerusalem.  He is God With Us, living in us, the Immanuel of Christ Whom God said “would never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), the One that Jesus said would be in us (John 14:17).

As we leave the first reading and the events of that magical day in Jerusalem, let us endeavor to focus upon how God the Holy Spirit empowers and emboldens us to accomplish God’s work in our lives. Let’s also recognize how the Holy Spirit worked through Peter as he testified about how Jesus suffered and died for our sins, which will be revealed in the next reading.

Introduction to the Second Reading:

The second reading is another portion of Peter’s experience of Jesus. Let’s see how Peter used the authority of the Old Testament to affirm his argument about how Jesus Christ suffered as a perfect Man for us.

Second Reading:

20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:20-25)

The people were struggling with various forms of persecution for their faith, as well as finding their identity in Jesus Christ. They may have asked something like, “Why, if I am a Christian, do I have to suffer persecution, when all I have done is to believe the truth of God and follow His commandments?” The answer, according to the Holy Spirit, as recorded by Peter, is that we as believers are called by God to suffer (v.21) with Jesus as our example on how we are to go about it. “[W]hile being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (v.23). Peter said that Jesus died for our sins, “so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (v. 24). It was through Jesus death on the cross that He freed us from the power of sin (Romans 8:2). We suffer for a wide variety of reasons, one of which is to accomplish the purposes of God (v.20d).

Have you developed your own personal “theology of suffering?” Have you rationalized, in light of the Scriptures, why bad things happen to “good” (Romans 3:23) people? These are good things to wrestle with even before hard times fall upon us. One way that suffering benefits us is that it helps us to identify ourselves with Christ Who suffered for us. There is a fellowship or bond that comes from suffering with someone. God invites us into a bond with Christ as we go through hard times and persecution.

I became friends with a man named Ron Christy several years ago just before he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Ron provided a powerful story about how a Christian can suffer while still providing a strong testimony for the Lord. You can read Ron’s testimony online at the following link: https://www.christiansforchrist.org/articles/testimonies/ron-christy-my-walk-of-faith-with-als

Introduction to the Gospel Reading:

Peter’s words about returning to the “Shepherd and Guardian of our souls” sets the perfect stage for the Gospel lesson from John Chapter 10. The context of His message is just after He healed a blind man and afterwards confronted the Pharisees (John 9). This section of Scripture is profound in that throughout the Chapter Jesus uses a metaphor of Himself as the Shepherd and the Door, with us as the sheep. Other characters come into play in the lesson including a gatekeeper, robbers, thieves, and strangers. As you read, think about the contemporary application of these characters as Jesus’ illustration unfolds. In the world today, who are the robbers, thieves, and strangers to whom Jesus was pointing?

Gospel Reading:

1 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. 7 So Jesus said to them again, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:1-10)

Jesus’ story alluded to Ezekiel 34, where God condemned the shepherds of Israel, meaning the spiritual leaders (Ezekiel 34:1-10). Ezekiel announced God’s strong judgment on the kings, priests, and prophets who ruled before the exile of the Jews to Babylon. God said, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them” (Ezekiel 34:10). It’s not coincidental that Jesus’ message came just after He told a group of Pharisees that they were spiritually blind (John 9:41). It’s evident that Jesus message was pointed squarely at the Pharisees, a group of spiritual “lay ministers” (shepherds) of Israel.

A wealth of rich points can be drawn from the reading. First, notice how as the story unfolded that Jesus was the Shepherd (v. 2), then in verse 7 he became the “door of the sheep” which led to the pasture (v. 9d). In the first century, the shepherds sometimes slept in the gate in order to protect their sheep. Anyone or anything that wanted to come into the sheepfold would have to enter through the gate and thereby come past the shepherd. By application, Jesus is saying that the only way to God is through Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Faith in Jesus is the only means provided by God for a person to cross into Jesus’ fold and be saved (v. 9).

Second, if you have ever visited the areas around Jerusalem you will notice that the shepherds in the region stand at various positions around the sheepfold and summon the animals with their own unique calls. The application of this principle is that Jesus calls His people to God’s Kingdom. Jesus went even further than a communal call to His sheep, He said, “he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3c). Jesus knows each one of us, his precious sheep. Later, beyond the range of today’s reading, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14). This means that Jesus desires a personal relationship with each of us.

Third, notice Jesus’ “I am” statement in verse 7, which is the third of this type of statement in John’s Gospel (in the English translation, in the Greek text this is the 13’th). This phrase was something that the First Century Jews would have recognized as a strong statement of divinity. In Jesus’ earlier use of this phrase in John’s Gospel He said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), and “I am the light of the world” (John 8:35). In today’s reading Jesus said, “I am the door” (v. 9a). Jesus is our source of life, our spiritual sustenance. He is the Light of truth from God, the Light that leads us to the single door to obtain eternal life, the only way to God.

Fourth, Jesus is our protector from the spiritual thieves, strangers, and wild animals. Though Jesus directed His message to the Pharisees, these ungodly forces are alive and well in the present day. All one has to do is click through the television dial on any given day to find spiritual charlatans peddling their wares all across the airwaves. False spiritual cults abound, as do global religious movements that enthrone the false god of the moon and objects in temples. Peter said about the false teachers, “But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12). Though we live in a fallen age where spiritual darkness is present across the world, we are called as the ones that God knows by name to continue to plead with the lost and dying generation to repent of their sins and be baptized, trusting only in the Lord Jesus for spiritual life. 

Some years ago, I completed a study of the Book of Genesis and made an interesting observation about God’s gathering of the animals into the ark. The Bible says, “So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life” (Genesis 7:15). The insight that I had was that many of the people in that region that had either watched, or possibly even been involved in the building of the ark, had to have seen the animals entering two by two into the ark. Perhaps the people on the outside were saying something like, “There they go, two by two into the ark, just like Preacher Noah had said they would.” Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) must have suffered terribly knowing all the people that he ministered to perished, except for his small family. The story went on, “Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the LORD closed it behind him” (v. 16). In retrospect, it was easy for them to be convinced of Noah’s prophecy regarding the Great Flood once the door of the ark was sealed shut by God and the deluge began. Noah would have allowed anyone entrance to the ark, right up until the time the flood began. Instead of just eight people being saved (1 Peter 3:20), the Scripture could have read something like this:

 

“On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark” (Genesis 7:13).

Then, as just before God sealed the door of the ark shut, a man named John came running up the ramp into the ark (my words added).

“[W]hen the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:20).

And a man named John (my words added).

The animals are walking two by two into the proverbial ark right now. God is gathering His people through their faith in the Jesus, who was foreshadowed in the ark.  In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus gathered and called His people by name into the pen where He protected them and fed them. Jesus is the ark, He is our only means of escaping the flood of judgment that will come upon the unsaved world because of their sin. Someday God will once again seal up the “ark,” forbidding anyone else to cross from death into life. In the parable of the ten virgins Jesus said, “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut” (Matthew 25:10). John said in Revelation, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8).

Our first response is to make sure that we have put our trust in Jesus for salvation. Have you resolve this in your own heart, that when you give an account for your life you can honestly say you trusted in Jesus, not your own good works? Our next response is to warn the world of the coming judgment and point them to the only possible means of salvation, repentance of their sin and faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Amen.

 

Reflection Questions

1.  What does it look like in your life to shine your light in a dark world to those “outside the ark”? What is one concrete step that you could begin praying about and take in the upcoming weeks to reach one person for Jesus?

2. Although we asked you to identify the contemporary roles of the various bad actors in the Gospel lesson the focus wasn’t upon the evil actors but upon Jesus as the only means to reach God. In light of what you learned, what, or who, are the evil actors that are influencing your life in terms of walking with God, and how does Jesus protect and deliver you from them? 

About the Author:
Jim Hill
Author: Jim Hill
Jim Hill lives in Winona Lake, Indiana and is married to Christy Hill. He is employed in the software industry for a firm that develops and sells document scanning and forms processing software. His wife Christy is a professor at Grace Theological Seminary. Jim has earned a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Grace Theological Seminary, a Master's of Business Administration from the University of Detroit - Mercy, and a Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Western Michigan University. He was born in a loving Catholic family and faithfully attended the Church for the first 35 years of his life. His desire is for Christians to study the Bible and this is why he writes the Sunday Mass Study Notes each week.

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Tags: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Lectionary 49

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