Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we will learn about the importance of responding to God’s revelation of what will happen in the future. Each Scripture passage deals with a dimension of what will take place in the future. Knowing the future gives clarity to the present and helps us to interpret the events of the past from God’s perspective. This is true for us who know and study the Bible. God has given us His precious Word so that we can be informed about ultimate reality, thus making wise decisions with the one life that each one of us gets.
On June 25, 1876, the Indian scout named Goes-Ahead warned General George Custer not to attack the Indian encampment at Little Bighorn, South Dakota. Goes-Ahead was so certain about the negative outcome that he removed his US Army uniform and changed into traditional Native American Indian clothing, which was supposed to ease the entry of his soul to the afterlife. Custer considered these actions as “defeatist” and was so angry at this and the other scout’s behavior that the General dismissed them on the spot, an action which saved the Indian’s lives. Custer continued with the attack that in retrospect had very predictable results. Not a single Army soldier in Custer’s brigade survived the attack and as a result, little was known about what actually happened during the battle. It wasn’t until General Terry arrived two days later on June 27 that anyone even knew that the brigade had perished. “Custer’s Last Stand,” as it came to be known, was a disaster for Custer and his men because he was ill-prepared for the battle. The well-skilled and qualified General was alert, yet he ultimately wasn’t equipped with the resources necessary to win the battle. Even though he was forewarned, he did not take the warning seriously, and thus, suffered irrevocable damages.
What can we learn about General Custer’s Last Stand? Although this military leader was forewarned, he overestimated his capabilities and underestimated the enemy’s force. Likewise, we often overestimate our own abilities, and underestimate the power of the enemy. We often think that we can handle life on our own. What we don’t know is that the enemy of our soul is a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). This puts us in a precarious place, for we were originally designed by God to rule and reign with Him (Genesis 1:26-27), but we are hounded by an enemy. The natural state of humankind, now, is one of being under God’s wrath (Romans 1:18); not being able to give God our full allegiance, devotion, and worship. He gives us every chance to repent of our disloyalty and find our protection from impending judgment by His gift of Christ Jesus. In His kindness, God warns His precious creation, humans, about the return of the Lord and the coming tribulation for those who haven’t trusted in Christ through faith. Yet many still persist in their sin and unbelief. The Bible is full of admonition for people to believe while they still have the chance. The Prophet Isaiah said, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.” In the Old Testament Book of Genesis, God instructed Noah to build an ark to save his family from the coming global flood (Genesis 6:13). Although the people didn’t have the Bible, Noah, who was called a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), warned the people about their coming destruction. In spite of the fact that they were cautioned for 120 years (Genesis 6:3) the entire world perished except for Noah and his family (7:21-22). Though only Noah’s family believed, it’s certain that anyone who have sought refuge in the ark would have been allowed to enter and be saved.
The Holy Scriptures play a very important role in warning the people in our era about the need to repent and trust in the finished work of Jesus for forgiveness of their sin and deliverance from the tribulation that is prophesied to come upon the earth. People in the western world today have even less of an excuse to say that they haven’t been warned since the Bible is readily available to them. In past eras this wasn’t always the case. Not everyone has had access to the Bible in order to receive proper instruction about how to become a believer in God and His plan of salvation. Many years after Noah’s flood in the Old Testament, there was an era when the Bible became lost to the Jewish people and was rediscovered during the reign of godly King Josiah. This discovery led to a vigorous revival among the Jews. If you desire to read more, this history is found in Second Kings Chapter 22. The moral of the story from Custer’s Last Stand and the teachings of the Bible is to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the book of Isaiah, a prophet who spoke to the people of Judah, in a time when they were threatened by a formidable enemy. They were the southern tribes of Israel, small compared to their brothers who had already fallen into captivity to the powerful Assyrians. Isaiah spoke several themes to his countrymen in the time of their suffering: 1) Take heart, for God is sending the Messiah (one who will deliver them from their oppression); 2) Repent from trusting in self and trust in God’s salvation; and 3) God’s has an important future in store for those who align themselves with His purposes and value system. A prominent theme in the Bible is prophecy concerning the eventual restoration and spiritual awakening of the Jewish people. In the first reading, we see the Prophet Isaiah making a prediction about the future restoration of the Nation of Israel. The reading is from Isaiah Chapter 2. Read about God’s plan for Israel and the prominent place that Jerusalem will play in the future. As you read, underline the word “will” each time it appears in the text.
1 The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 Now it will come about that in the last days, The mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways, And that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. 5 Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD. (Isaiah 2:1-5)
In the introduction today, we saw that the prophetic message of the Bible was to listen to God’s warnings and to be prepared in order to avoid future judgment. In this part of Isaiah’s message, the point is not necessarily a warning, but rather a disclosure to all the people in the world what God will do regarding His People Israel. Isaiah said that in the “last days” God will establish Jerusalem as the true religious capital of the world (v.2). Jerusalem will be where God will live and judge the nations, and the location of His teaching that will go throughout the world (vv. 3-4). God will bring worldwide peace and weapons will be eliminated and converted into devices for peaceful use (v.4). The entire nation of Israel will then walk in the light of the Lord (v.5). It is interesting to note that people of all nations will look to the God of the Jews to teach them His ways. The fulfillment of this prophecy is already underway, as people of all nations and languages have heard the message of salvation and have responded by following Jesus, the Messiah. Isaiah’s message can bring us hope that God’s plan for His people will ultimately prevail and bring worldwide peace. As in-grafted believers in Israel (Romans 11:17) this should provide us with comfort that God can and will work in our lives as well.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The letter to the Roman Christians, written by Saint Paul, provides an astounding amount of information about God’s version of reality. Throughout the book, Paul delivers the bad news (all have sinned, Romans 3:23) and that the wages of this sin is death (Romans 6:23). But he does not leave us in a state of hopelessness, for we find out that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The good news is that Christ has paid the price for our freedom with His blood shed on the cross. We can now be set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). In this part of the letter, Paul has laid out the plan of salvation and is now warning us of the importance of what we do with this information. In the previous verses, he told the Roman believers to owe no one anything, except the outstanding debt to love. Love does not take advantage of others, therefore, love is the ultimate motivator and moral behind the law of God. Love is to be the pervasive character trait of Jesus’ people.
11 And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:11-14)
Paul’s underlying assumption is that people are changed when they follow God’s plan of salvation. When our hearts are awakened by God’s love, we no longer walk like the people living in darkness, without the love of God in their lives. We don’t love in order to attain salvation, we love as a result of God’s salvific work in our hearts. After the point of surrendering to God, we have a role to play to walk by faith in this new life He has given us. We “lay aside the deeds of darkness” recognizing the destructive nature of this past way of life.
Paul told the Roman Christians to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” but then went on to tell them to take off other things. In verse 13 Paul said to “put on the armor of light” and take off drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, sensuality, strife, and envy (v.13) and lust (v.14). Paul said in Colossians 3, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, [and] abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its [evil] practices” (vv.8-9). God offers us empowerment to be able to take things off through the putting on of the mind of Jesus Christ. There isn’t a magical formula about how we can put on the mind of Jesus Christ, but some ways are through the study of His Word, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. By studying God’s Word, seeking the Lord in prayer and fellowshipping with other believers, we start to recognize the patterns of darkness and begin to make no provision for the flesh (the old way of life apart from Christ) so that we can walk in newness of life. It is a battle, and unless we surrender daily to God’s Spirit who gives us the power to resist the Enemy, we will have as much success as Custer in his last stand.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
In the Gospel reading today, we turn to Matthew and the subject of eschatology, the study of the final events in the history of the world. This section of Scripture is known as the Olivet Discourse because Jesus gave it on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley from the Temple. Jesus startled his disciples by saying that there would be a day when none of the huge temple stones would be left on top of each other. This was mind-boggling to his disciples and they naturally asked when this would happen. Jesus answered their question with the teaching of His return to earth and the end times. He gave them information so that they would be forewarned and could prepare accordingly. Thanks to their faithful retelling of this information, we too, are forewarned and can live in light of what we know will take place in the future.
36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. (Matthew 24:36-44)
While no one knows the exact time of Christ’s return, there will be many signs to help His followers understand what is about to take place. Amazingly enough, many people will miss these signs, for they will be all caught up in assuming that the world will continue as normal. For they will be eating and drinking and planning for the future (marrying) with no concern for the impending judgment. Although the warnings have been replete, the receptivity to these warnings fall on deaf ears, as in the days of Noah. As a result, Jesus’ coming will be a surprise to many, just as a thief in the night comes as a surprise to those who live in false security. Jesus’ return will shock people who are with others who are snatched away in the middle of their daily activities. First Thessalonians 4:17 describes this event, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Jesus’ followers will be safe with Him, but those who are not under Jesus’ saving protection will be left to face God’s wrath on their own merit. Human works, even the best of efforts, are not enough to create a safe position in light of this impending judgment. Only the merit of Christ and being found in Him will protect us from being swept away in judgment.
What does the teaching in the Olivet Discourse mean to us today? First, we must believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ in order to escape God’s coming judgment. Even though we have been warned we must also be prepared by seeking God while it’s still possible. Second, God calls us to instruct others so that they also find salvation through the only means possible, faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If we accept God’s offer of eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus we can have comfort that God will spare us from the tribulation period coming upon the earth (Luke 21:36, 1 Thessalonians 5:9). In addition, we become people of eternity, living for another world and we find that this world is not our home. This changes our daily life because it redefines our value system and priorities. Finally, we must allow God to place us into situations that require us to trust more in God. Saint Paul said, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
1. Review the following insights from the Bible passages for this week:
a. The passage from Isaiah predicted that people of all nations would seek the God of the Bible, wanting to learn His ways and walk in His paths. Are you evidence of this prophecy? Are there others in your life that God may be asking you to influence towards this Him?
b. The second reading encouraged the people of God to be motivated by love, walking as children of the light who reject patterns of darkness. Are there deeds of the darkness that you need to put away and reject? Are there aspects to putting on the armor of light (like Bible study, prayer, fellowship) that you can give yourself to more fervently so that you have the mind of Christ?
c. The third reading typified the followers of Jesus as those who are prepared for His return. As you look at your life, what evidence do you see of your preparedness for His return? How does preparedness get translated into your daily perspective and choices?
Which parts of these messages would help give you resolve and encouragement to live with an eternal perspective for the hard decisions in your life?
2. Whether Christ returns in our lifetime or not, why would it be wise to surrender your life to Him and His will on a daily basis? What have you learned about the future and God’s heart for you that helps you to live for Christ, as opposed to just seeking Christ for “fire insurance?”
For a listing of readings for the Roman Catholic Mass visit: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings