Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week there are two alternative readings provided both for the first and second readings, we will look at each of them.  Then we move to a brief Gospel lesson from Saint Mark in which we see John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus’ baptism in which all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are represented. 

Introduction to the First Reading:

There were two choices given this week for both the first and the second readings, we will give a brief analysis of all four. The first reading is from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied during the time from 739 – 681 BC to the Jewish people who had walked away from God in their hearts and instead observed rote repetitive religious practices which were meaningless to them. Additionally, though they were rich in physical blessings, Isaiah warned them about their harsh treatment of the poor (Isaiah 3:15). Isaiah frequently uses a technique called “prophetic foreshortening” in which significant, yet distant events are displayed as happening in the near term, such that their fulfillment is “telescoped” or “foreshortened” together with near term events.  He also uses a significant amount of Messianic typology such as the display of Jesus as the Suffering Servant in Chapter 53. A theological type is something that prefigures its ultimate explanation, such as the Prophet Jonah being three days in the belly of the fish which prefigured Jesus being in the grave for three days (see Matthew 12:40). Another of the types that he displayed was King Cyrus who was the King of Persia under whom the later Babylonian captivity of Judah (the southern kingdom) ended. Isaiah named Cyrus as God’s chosen instrument under whom the 70-year Jewish captivity would be broken hundreds of years before he was even born (Isaiah 44:28). In Chapter 42, it seems that Isaiah is once again speaking of Cyrus as a type of the coming Messiah (Jesus). As you read the opening verses of Chapter 42, you should recognize the typological representation of King Cyrus whose identity is soon lost in the revelation of the Person of the Messiah. As we read the text from Isaiah, we likely don’t immediately see the person of Cyrus but rather Jesus because we are so familiar with how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. For us, the distant event in Isaiah’s day of the coming of Jesus Christ completely overshadowed anything about the immediate circumstances being encountered by the Jewish people during Isaiah’s time. Note: The reading omitted verse 5 that has been included in the text below.

First Reading:

1 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” 5 Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, 6 “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison. (Isaiah 42:1-7)

The opening verse reads almost exactly like God’s pronouncement made at the baptism of Jesus Who said, “This is my Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The baptism of Jesus displayed the Holy Trinity of God much like we see in this reading. At the baptism, the Spirit of God descended on Him as a dove (Matthew 3:16) along with the Father’s pronouncement as we just noted. In Isaiah’s text we see the Father pronouncing His pleasure in the Son along with the proclamation that God has put His Spirit upon Him (v. 1), something that certainly looks far beyond King Cyrus. As Isaiah continues, he explains the nature of Jesus and His ministry, he will be quiet and meek (vv. 2 – 3), not boldly proclaiming as had his predecessor John the Baptist, but quiet and not even breaking a brittle reed or extinguishing a smoldering lamp wick (v. 3). Verse 4 says that Jesus will “not be disheartened until He has established justice in the earth.” In verse five Isaiah provides God’s profound stamp of creative authority, He is the One “Who spread out the earth and its offspring . . . .” He is also the One who called the people in righteousness to worship Him alone and reminded the Jews of His covenant with them (v. 6). He reminded them that one of their purposes was to be a light to the nations (v.6) to open the spiritually blind eyes of the people (v. 7). When the Messiah comes, He would also be a light to the nations, as Luke said in Luke 2:32 regarding Jesus.  The Messiah will open the blind eyes of the people held in bondage, both to their sin as well as to the captivity they would experience under various civil kings such as Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. Saint Peter referred to this when he mentioned freeing the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19).  As believers, we can proclaim that although we have not seen Jesus, we believe that He has freed us from the darkness of our own spiritual prisons where we were held by the evil one in darkness (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Alternative, First Reading:

The alternative first reading is also from the Prophet Isaiah. The context is just after the depiction of Jesus as the Suffering Servant on the cross, something that happened over 700 years after Isaiah penned it (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12). An interesting note about Isaiah 53 is that some say that it is a forbidden Book in Jewish circles, something the rabbis avoid and the vast majority of Jews have never heard. “Who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed,” Isaiah said (53:1). This powerful display of Jesus is followed by chapter 54 in which Isaiah shows God’s everlasting kindness. “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will regather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8). The reading today from Chapter 55 is just before God more fully revealed His plan to bring salvation to the Gentiles who would be in-grafted into His plan of eternal salvation (Isaiah 56). As you read, try to keep in mind the context in which Isaiah gave his message in a time when the Jews weren’t listening to the voice of God.

1 “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. 2 “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. 4 Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, A leader and commander for the peoples. 5 Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, And a nation which knows you not will run to you, Because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you. 6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:1-11)

Isaiah’s message is a picture of God’s grace and provides some important information about God and our relationship to Him. God is impartial (v. 1). “Everyone who thirds” can come to Him.  Second, God’s grace cannot be earned (v.2), it is unmerited favor (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Third, God’s Word is life, but we have to listen to it to obtain this life (v. 3). Fourth, God’s promises to His people are eternal and specifically the ones in the Davidic Covenant will be fulfilled (v. 3). We can rest in the fact that God will complete the good work that He began with Israel regardless of how hopeless things may appear in the Middle East at any given instant. 

In verses 6 – 9 the Prophet emphasized the need for a person in the Old Testament to see the Lord before it was too late (v. 6), repent of their sin (v. 7a), trust in God’s ability to forgive sin (v. 7), and recognize their insufficiency and sovereignty of the Lord (vv. 8-9). His message in this section was a general evangelistic calling that also gives us some insights into the nature of God. First, God is compassionate and forgiving of sin even though He is far above people in His ways and thoughts. Second, God calls everyone to repent of his or her sin and place their trust in Him. Third, people must not wait to place their faith in God as it may easily become too late when they become hardened by sin and the opportunity for them to believe passes. Finally, God reminds us that His ways are far above our own. In context this means that the way that God brings sinners to repent of their sin and place their trust in Him is beyond our understanding, it is a mystery of God (John 3:8). This is what we discussed a in a previous issue when we studied Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John Chapter 3.

In the closing verses (10 – 11), Isaiah said that in the same way that the seasons are regular and reliable (v. 10) so it is that God’s Word is regular and reliable (v. 11). The rain and snow water the seeds and make them fruitful. Therefore, God’s Word operates in the hearts of His people through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-13) in order to make them fruitful.

Introduction to the Second Reading:

The first alternative for the second reading is from the Book of Acts. The context is Peter’s speech to the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:1), a god-fearing Gentile who respected the Jews by giving them alms (Acts 10:2). Cornelius had seen an angel of God telling him to send a delegation to bring Peter to Joppa so he could speak with him.

Second Reading:

34 Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. 36 The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) — 37 you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:34-38)

Peter explained how as we saw in Isaiah 42:6 that God’s plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ wasn’t limited just to the Jews but extended to anyone who believed. Peter’s speech came after he had seen a vision of a great sheet descending from the sky and filled with animals that were ceremonially unclean to the Jews (Acts 10:9-16). In this vision, God commanded Peter to “kill and eat,” and said that these animals were not to be regarded as clean because they had been cleansed by God (v. 15). In order to further emphasize the importance of this vision God repeated it three times. Therefore, when Peter met with Cornelius and heard about the miraculous events that had happened with him too seeing a vision from God (in the form of an angel) Peter understood that the plan of salvation had been extended to the Gentiles. In the New Testament era the church has stepped in where Peter left off, proclaiming the message of salvation to everyone, not just to the Jews as was Peter’s (the Rock) primary ministry.

Alternative, Second Reading:

The second alternative for the second reading is from the Book of First John. The context of Chapter 5 is John’s teaching on the nature of a person whose heart has been spiritually born of God (John 3:3). As you read, take note of both the characteristics of a Christian and second the assurance that God has provided them in His promises.

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. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. (1 John 5:1-9)

The Book of First John provides a series of tests that reveal the heart of a true believer, and in the reading today we see several of them. First, a true believer follows the commandments of God (v. 2 -3), meaning the Ten Commandments plus the rules written on their heart through their conscience through the working of the Holy Spirit. Second, the true believer overcomes the world (v. 4), meaning that they are separated from it in a spiritual sense. Finally, a true believer is in tune with the Spirit of God that is truth (v. 6), who also testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. The Holy Spirit reveals this through the Holy Scriptures and in order to follow His testimony we must endeavor to read and study the Bible that is His revelation. Finally, John provided a picture of the Holy Trinity present at Jesus’ baptism that we will see again in the Gospel lesson.

Introduction to the Gospel Reading:

The Gospel lesson is from Saint Mark. The context is John the Baptist’s proclamation of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. John was described as a most unusual man “clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist” (Luke 1:6). John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, having been born to Elizabeth (Luke 1:34-37, Jesus’ disciple John, the one whom Jesus loved, was also Jesus’ cousin). His coming marks the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” Here John introduced the Servant spoken of by Isaiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading:

7 And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” (Mark 1:7-11)

Now that John the Baptist had come, he was announcing the glorious coming of Jesus Christ (v. 7). John the Baptist said, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I” (v. 7a), then humbly said, “and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals” (v. 7b). John the Baptist then foretold how Jesus would not only baptize with water, such as he was doing, but would send God’s Holy Spirit (v. 8). He then testified about the baptismal event of Jesus in which all three Persons of the Trinity were represented including the voice of the Father (v. 11), the Holy Spirit descending like a dove (v. 10c), and of course Jesus Himself.

What does all of this mean for us as we live out our lives as Christians? First, like John, we also are called to “prepare the way of the Lord” by preaching the Good News to the world that if they repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus Christ, they will have eternal forgiveness in eternity with God. Although the church has in no way replaced Israel, the church is God’s light to the Jews and the Gentiles during the church age until Jesus returns in glory. God is “patient and not willing that any should perish” to the extent that He uses unusual people like John the Baptist and even more unusual people like you and me to do His work! Finally, since the return of the Lord Jesus is imminent, we need to accelerate our proclamation of this message, as well as live in a way befitting of His soon return.

Have a great week and if you get a chance please stop by the web page and leave a comment on this article. 

Reflection Questions

Read the following verses and answer the questions that follow.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NAS95 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

1.  In the reading from Isaiah 42 we saw how the Messiah would be a light to all of the nations to open their spiritually blind eyes and hearts.  What does Saint Paul say regarding the identity and actions of the active agent who blinds the eyes of everyone who does not believe that Jesus Christ bore the penalty for their sins on the cross?

2.  The Jews were called as a light to the nations to bear witness of His glory and the divine plan of redemption through faith in God’s promises and the coming of the Messiah who would bear their sins (Isaiah 53). As an “ingrafted” (Romans 11:17) believer in the faith of Abraham, in what ways are you working to combat the activities of the blinding agent(s) to bring the light of the glory of the Gospel to the people in your life? After you answer, would you consider building a list of those people in your life that don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ and commit to pray for them on a regular basis until it becomes a habit?