Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. The first reading highlights a prophecy of Jesus who came humbly the first time riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. However, He will return a second time in justice and power to claim victory over a world entrenched in war against Him and His people. In the second reading, we encounter the contrast between those who had Jesus’ Spirit living inside of them and those who are driven purely by their carnal, spiritually dead natures. As we move to the Gospel lesson, we will learn about how Jesus relied upon prayer to God the Father for His spiritual victory. The last reading gives us insight into the communication that occurred between these two Persons of the Godhead, which is a pattern for the type of communion that God wants with all of us (John 17:20-21).
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Prophet Zechariah. Zechariah was one of the twelve Minor Prophets, a term that indicates the size of their writings in contrast to the larger Books written by the Major Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. Zechariah wrote during the exile of the Jews to Babylon and returned to Jerusalem with Zerrubbabel, also known as Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8) the leader of the tribe of Judah. One of the things for which Zechariah is known is the prophecy of the flying scroll (Zechariah 5:1-11). This message symbolized the Word of God that had been disobeyed by Israel and the moral components which were also broken by the entire world. The message called for judgment according to God’s righteous rule. The context of the reading for today is during the reign of the Persian King Darius some two years before the Jews rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. In Chapter 8 Zechariah had prophesied about what we know today as the return of the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem. He said, “Thus says the LORD, 'I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain’” (Zechariah 8:3). Chapter 9 opens with a prophecy against the nations surrounding Israel followed by a pronouncement that God would deliver His people. “But I will camp around My house because of an army, Because of him who passes by and returns; And no oppressor will pass over them anymore, For now I have seen with My eyes” (Zechariah 9:8).
As you study the reading take careful note of the prophecy of the Coming King and remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-11).
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10)
In this prophecy, we see both advents of Jesus compressed into three short verses. Verse 9 contains Zechariah’s prophecy that was fulfilled on the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on Palm Sunday. In verse 10, the tenor suddenly changed from one of a triumphal celebration of the coming Messiah to one of war. At Christ’s Second Advent, He will cut off the world war (v. 10a) and “He will speak peace to the nations” (v.10b). Finally, Zechariah said that the territory under the reign of the king would range from the Euphrates River all the way around the earth.
The war about which Zechariah was speaking is the war that will come with the appearance of the man known in Scripture as the Antichrist. Saint Paul said, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). This “man of sin” will fill the world’s vacuum for a leader and will seize power by intrigue (Daniel 11:21). We can take comfort in knowing that one day Jesus will return to the earth to usher in worldwide peace and bring in an era of justice. When we see wars and rumors of war all around us, this does not take God by surprise. He is waiting for the perfect timing to bring His Son back to rule and reign on the earth. Second, we can rest in the fact that although Zechariah probably didn’t understand the prophecy that he wrote, he faithfully recorded it in the Scriptures. We can trust that the prophecies such as this one from Zechariah provide important, after-the-fact, confirmation of the accuracy of God’s Word, even if they are hard to understand before the events have played out. This gives us confidence to follow God’s Word, because we know that it is not manmade, it is supernatural.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading today is from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul opened Chapter 8 in Romans by explaining the difference between a person that was born again through the Spirit of God and the one whose heart was set on the flesh (Romans 8:6). The believer, whose righteousness is found through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, is in a right relationship with God. Paul said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Next, he explained the significant contrast of the heart of the unbeliever. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8). This context is helpful in understanding the word “however” which serves as a contrast and opens today’s reading beginning in verse 9. We included verse ten although it didn’t appear in the reading.
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:9-13)
Paul said that a person must have the Spirit of God dwelling in them in order to belong to Him. This is the same thing that Jesus explained to the Jewish ruler Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night, which I like to call “Nick at night.” Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3b-ff). Jesus and Paul taught the same very important scriptural truth, a person must be indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God in order to be one of His children. This indwelling happens the moment a person surrenders his or her life to Christ for salvation. Whether or not they sense anything tangibly, this is when the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of a believer. It is a mystery of God (John 3:8), but something we can be assured happens because of the reliability of God’s Word.
Paul further explained that although the believer’s body would die because of sin, their spirit was made alive (quickened) because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ imparted to them through faith (v. 10). Next, Paul gave words of hope for believers by saying that since Christ was raised from the dead someday our bodies will also be given eternal life (v. 11). Finally, Paul called believers to put to death the carnal, fleshly behaviors inherent in our sinful nature through the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 13).
It is important for us to pause here and contemplate what Paul said regarding the calling of believers towards holy living. “[F]or if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13). His teaching on this matter took the form of a set of “if then” conditional statements. If a person who doesn’t have the Spirit of God lives according to the natural flesh, which of course is the only direction they know to take, then they will die. But if you who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit (are born from again, born from above by the Holy Spirit, John 3:3) then you will have empowerment from God’s Holy Spirit to live according to the purposes of the Spirit, who inherently has life. Jesus is the empowering force that lives within us through God’s Holy Spirit, enabling us to turn from the natural inclinations of our sinful flesh and towards the things of the Spirit. It’s not so much that God doesn’t like unholy living and punishes it with death, it’s more about the natural course of consequences that are inherent in the universe that God designed. He pleads with people to choose life, but often times we choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19). Paul makes a striking case for the ongoing growth of believers to become more and more like Christ, from the inside out, because we have a new relationship of grace with His Spirit who “teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness” and calls us to righteous living (Titus 2:12).
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel lesson is from Saint Matthew. The context of the lesson is when Jesus was traveling from city to city with the disciples (Matthew 11:1) to preach and teach. Jesus had some not-so-nice things to say about His experiences there. “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Mt 11:20). Jesus used several examples of the cities to which He had visited, then spoke about Capernaum, a town located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, a town that possibly was the location of Saint Peter’s home. “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day” (Matthew 11:23). We pick up with the reading in verse 25.
25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:25-30)
Here we see a prayer between God the Son and God the Father, given by Jesus in a public setting so as to provide the hearers with certain important spiritual insights. Remember that Jesus had just finished speaking about the urgent need for the people to repent. In His ministry, Jesus had taken over where John the Baptist had left off with this urgent call of repentance. Frequently the “wise and intelligent” (v. 25c) find it quite difficult to humble themselves and become like infants (v. 25c). God asks us to come to him humbly (Matthew 5:5) and rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Jesus revealed several very important spiritual truths in this passage:
- God has given Jesus complete sovereign control over the earth.
- The only Person with a true understanding of God the Father is God the Son AND those to whom God the Son has revealed Himself.
- Jesus has provided the believer a position of rest. We not only do not have to earn our salvation but we also may rest and trust in our righteous standing with God. We saw this in the second reading today from Romans 8 as well.
- The way of Jesus is easy compared to the way of the religious. In those days, the religious leaders were called Pharisees and they thought they earned their salvation by doing many religious things. In contrast, the believer’s burden is light because the hard work that Jesus did in earning our salvation is already completed. Nothing can be added to it no matter how hard we work. Therefore, being yoked to Jesus provides freedom from the burdensome labor of religion.
Jesus’ calling is to the humble people, like Himself, not proud ones who are “carnally minded” (Romans 8:6) as we saw in the second reading. In the same way that Jesus pronounced curses upon the nations that did not repent, God will one day pronounce judgment upon each unbelieving person who doesn’t repent. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). We can rest in our faith in Jesus for He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mathew 11:29-30).
Have a great week being happily “yoked” to Jesus.
1. We read about the difference between a person who is “carnally minded” and one who is motivated by the Spirit of God. How can a person know that they are saved? Read the following verses and write down a few ways in which a person can know they are in a right relationship with God.
Romans 8:16-17: 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
1 John 2:3-11: 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
2. Pride is one of the things that keeps people from entering into a righteous relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Read the verses that follow and answer the questions below.
Proverbs 6:16-19: 16 There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises evil schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
James 4:13-15: 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
A. Why do you think that pride was first on the list of things which the LORD hates? How are all the rest of the evil things on that list connected to and/or generated by pride? In what ways does pride blind people to the scriptural truths of salvation through faith in Jesus?
B. In what ways do you identify with what did James said about the self-confident person? In light of your answer, how could you pray to look at things differently this week?