Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we open with the narrative of Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai. This is where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, which are still guiding lawmakers today. Then we move to the New Testament where we will see the outworking of a higher law, the law of Love. It is God’s love for us that allows a new way of living to emerge in us.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from Exodus 34. The backdrop to this story includes shame and glory, for this is Moses’ second time to receive the law from God on Mount Sinai. The first time ended in shame, for he came down from the mountain to find the people of God worshiping a golden calf (see Exodus 32). The second time ended in glory, for Moses asked to see God’s glory and this is what God revealed. The new stone tablets and God’s patience with His people are an indication of His character, which this passage describes.
4 So he [Moses] cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. 6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. 9 He said, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession." (Exodus 34:4-9)
The importance of this passage may be missed by its brevity and simplicity. But let us not underestimate the foundational nature of this revelation of the character of God to His people. Remember, the newly released Hebrew people had just been delivered from being ruled by the Egyptians as slaves. You can take the slave out of Egypt, but something internal has to happen in order to take the mentality of a slave out of the person of God. A revelation of God’s true nature would be the antidote to the slave mentality. Here is what we learn about God from this passage:
- God is a self-disclosing, self-revealing God. He desires to make Himself known to His people. Without God first revealing Himself to people, humans would have no way of knowing Him. The Hebrew people were his special chosen people to reveal His character. How would they reveal His character without knowing Him? The self-revealing nature of God is the foundation of relationship with God to all people. This is His grace.
- The word “LORD” which is used as His special covenantal name for the Jewish people, means “I AM”. This reveals that God is ever-present and absolutely existent. The Hebrew people needed to know that the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was also their ever-present Father as well.
- God is compassionate and gracious. These words are packed with depth and the rest of the Bible should be understood in light of God’s character of compassion and grace. Here are some helpful definitions. Compassionate: refers to deep love (usually of a superior for an inferior) rooted in some natural bond (i.e. Mother to child; Father to child). Compassion is the deep feeling one for another who is totally helpless, and usually results in providing aid to the one who is in need. Mercy and forgiveness go hand in hand with compassion.
Gracious: unmerited favor, the root word depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need; it is an adjective that describes the generous acts of Yahweh. It is generous in the sense that it is not deserved. Mercy is when you don’t get the bad that you deserve; Grace is when you get the good that you don’t deserve. God demonstrates both compassion and grace toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
- God is slow to anger: contrary to popular belief, God is not capricious in His display of anger, nor is He looking for people to burn up with His wrath. He is patient and wanting people to repent, not desiring that any should perish (1 Timothy 2:4).
- God is abounding in love and faithfulness. Abounding connotes the overflowing and abundant nature of God’s love and faithfulness. He’s not going to run out! The word for love used here means loving-kindness. The two characteristics put together mean that God is fiercely loyal to His children. We can count on Him to love and to forgive.
- God is also just. He will punish the sin of the guilty who have not brought themselves to Him in surrender. It would be unloving for God to allow injustice to prevail. So even in His punishment of wickedness, God is exercising His loving faithfulness.
In this passage we also learn some things about people and the proper response to God as seen in Moses:
- When God’s glory is revealed, the only appropriate place for humans to be is bowed to the ground, worshiping.
- When God’s glory is revealed, Moses wanted God to go with him and the people. He could not envision being alone in this world. God’s presence is appealing, we do not have to protect ourselves from getting “too much of God.”
- When God’s glory is revealed, Moses recognized the sinful state of himself and the people. God’s glory makes us more self-aware of our own short-comings. Our shabby excuses don’t really hold up in God’s presence, therefore we must rely on God’s grace in order to stand in His presence.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading is from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13. This is the close of Saint Paul’s letter and serves as a reminder of the sort of people that God calls us to be now that we have entered into relationship with Him. Since we know Him to be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love, we can be people who are growing to look more and more like Him.
11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)
Paul has had a tenuous relationship with the Corinthian believers, with multiple visits and multiple letters used to try to point them to what it looks like to live differently than the pagans. The relationship one has with Christ as Savior ushers us into a new way of life that does not operate according to the world’s system. Therefore, he summarizes his message with instruction on how to live out the Christian life.
- “Brethren”: shows that those who are in Christ are in a family relationship. The laws that govern a family are higher than a governmentally enforced system. Family relationships are governed by the higher law of love.
- “Rejoice”: why must Paul command the Corinthians to rejoice? He must know that it is easier for humans to be critical and despair over life than it is to rejoice. We must be reminded that we have a lot to be thankful for.
- “Be made complete”: reminds us of the believer’s status in Christ. We are positionally complete in Christ (for Jesus cried “It is finished” from the cross), but it takes some effort on our part to live out the reality of this new status.
- “Be comforted”: Paul started this letter telling the Corinthians that the God of all comfort will comfort them in their troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He closes it by encouraging them to appropriate the comfort that only God can give.
- “Be like-minded and live in peace”: means that Christians should seek to live in an understanding way with each other, allowing the Truth to unite us.
- “and the God of love and peace will be with you”: Is He not with us when we are living contrary to these commands. Well, in a way, yes. It is true that God is omnipresent. His love and peace is available to all people at all times. But the difference between having God’s love and peace and not having God’s love and peace is the choice we as humans make to accept or reject who God is in our lives. If we live contrary to His ways, His love and peace will not be in us. If we want to have the God of love and peace making His presence known to us, we have simply to ask and receive, making room for Him to manifest Himself in us and through us. We can’t have His love and peace without having Him.
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss”: this actual practice may not be common in our churches anymore, but we have similar expressions of fellowship by shaking hands, giving a hug or smiling across the aisle at someone. The idea behind this is to be welcoming and inclusive with others who are in fellowship with us in our local places of worship.
- “All the saints greet you”: this closing phrase gives Saint Paul’s theology of sainthood. He frequently uses the word “saint” to describe genuine believers in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1; Philippians 1:1). He opened the letter to the Ephesians by saying: “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). God gives the status of saint to all who have bowed their knee to Jesus as Lord, for now Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is what makes us a saint before God.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel reading is from John Chapter 3. Verse 16 is the famous verse which is often seen printed on signs being waived by people at various sporting events. The context of this section is the conclusion of a meeting that happened at night between Jesus and Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1), meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin that is the Jewish ruling council. Evidently, Nicodemus feared the reaction of the Jews so he met secretly with Jesus. Later in John’s Gospel, Nicodemus came with Joseph or Arimathea to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39), an action which revealed his willingness to make a bold, public statement about his identification with Jesus.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
We see in this passage once again that God’s love is the foundation for life that is eternal. It is God’s love that moved Him to give His one and only Son. “Begotten” is a translation of a Greek word that has the connation of being unique. So, to clarify, John is saying that there is no one else like God’s Son Jesus. He is the only one of His kind and He was given to us to provide the one and only way to eternal life. As we said earlier, God does not want people to perish (1 Tim. 2:4). His love compelled Him to send His Son into the world to be our Savior. So, what separates those who have eternal life and those who are perishing? Belief in Jesus Christ. Belief is a robust word that connotes trust, relationship, and knowledge that is applied to one’s life. While we grow in our belief in Jesus, we must clarify whether we truly believe or not. We must have a place of entry into the life of Christ. Do we want Him or not? If we reject Him, then we stand condemned already. Our unforgiven sin leaves no other option than to be judged by God at the end of our lives. But if we turn to Jesus in faith and rest our hope for salvation in Him, then we are saved. That is why He came to this world, to save. Have you entered into the life of Christ by putting your faith in His atoning death on the cross and receiving His resurrection power for daily living? If you want to do so, you can make that decision right now and talk to God about wanting to put your faith in Christ. The following prayer may help you to express your heart to God:
Dear God, your word says that you loved the world, and I trust that that includes me. In your love you gave your one and only Son, Jesus, to bring me eternal life. I realize that without the gift of Your Son, my life will end in eternal death, it will perish. I need Jesus to be my Savior. I want to believe in Him. And even though I don’t know exactly what that means or entails, I trust that you will show me how to enter into His life and be saved. I trust in Jesus to save me from the eternal consequences of my sin. I believe in You, Jesus, and receive your free gift of eternal life. Now please help me to walk in light of your Truth and love. Change me into the saint that the New Testament declares your people to be. I am Yours, Lord. Amen.
If you made a decision either now or some time ago to put your belief in Jesus, would you ask God to give you an opportunity to share this good news with someone else? It may be with someone who already knows Jesus, but needs encouragement that God loves them. Or it may be to someone who has never heard of God loving the world so much that He would send His one and only Son to save them from the consequences of their sin. Perhaps you would even be willing to share your testimony on the Christians for Christ website. The good news is so good, we can’t keep it to ourselves!
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
1. We saw God’s love in a myriad of ways in this week’s reading. Go back through each passage and write out in your own words below some of the ways that you see God’s love.
2 Corinthians 13
2. How does the description of God’s love in His Word differ from your own understanding of God? What false notions do you need to reject and what truths do you need to ask God to help you keep in mind?
3. How is God calling you to live in light of His love? Choose one of the points of application below or write out your own:
- To receive His free gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus
- To receive His forgiveness for a particular sin that you previously thoughts was too big for God to forgive
- To treat another Christian as a brother/sister
- To recognize your identity as a saint and make choices based on this
- To be “like-minded” with other Christians over the truth
- To be comforted by the God of all comfort
- To let God’s compassion and grace be your interpretive framework for the circumstances of your life