Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we open with a reading from Acts and then return to our study on First Peter. Then we conclude with a Gospel lesson from John 14.

As I wrote this, I was preparing to travel to France with a group of students to experience French culture there for two weeks. From there I was also planning to visit an aunt and uncle in Belgium, the uncle that has spent his life researching the Church and as a professor at the American University of Leuven. Looking back on the trip, I learned a lot about dealing with young college students. During the trip, I made a conscious effort to build relationships with the students and to engage with their culture. I also learned a lot about the French people. I saw how God had reached a precious small group of them to serve Him and how the culture as a whole viewed Christianity as an ancient relic.

Introduction to the First Reading:

The first reading is from Acts 6. Here we see how God put it into the hearts of the disciples to organize the early church by dividing the duties among serving and preaching.

First Reading:

1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. 7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)

First, note that Stephan, one of the men who was selected to serve was martyred in the very next chapter because of his powerful speech to the unbelieving Jews. A point that can be observed is although believers may have specific, non-ministry roles all of us are called to give testimony for Jesus. Saint Peter said, in the context of enduring suffering Christian testimony, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). Second, note that the disciples prayed for God’s confirmation and blessing upon their decision (v. 6). Prayer is an essential first step when making decisions of any kind, but especially those dealing with the organization and carrying out of God’s ministry. Finally, note that “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (v.7). Though many of the Jews rejected Christ, God reached many of the Jewish leaders in order to rapidly build His Church (v. 7, “The word of God kept on spreading”). This conversion led to the priesthood of all believers, a mystery that we will see was revealed in the second reading from today.

Introduction to the Second Reading:

Moving onto the second reading, we return to the Book of First Peter. The context of the message is persecution of believers. Here we see the mystery of the priesthood of all believers revealed, through the symbolism of stone building blocks with Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone, the One Whom the builders, aka the Jews, rejected.

Second Reading:

4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,” 8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;( 1 Peter 2:4-9)

The main idea from this text is that God is building His Church out of precious building blocks of people, the foremost of whom is Jesus Christ, the “living stone which has been rejected by men” (v. 4). This Church is made up of spiritual stones (believers) all of whom are priests in the eyes of God (v. 9), since the Jewish Levitical priesthood has passed away. Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), the only mediator between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5, the byline of this ministry). Jesus is of the line of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:17), not the line of Aaron that has passed away.  One of the reasons that Stephen was stoned after his appointment in Acts 6 that we read in the first reading was because of his teaching about the passing away of the Old Testament Levitical priesthood. We can celebrate the fact that Jesus’ priesthood will never pass away, and that we join with Him as spiritual priests for His service.

Introduction to the Gospel Reading:

The main theme of the Book of First Peter that was have studied over the past several weeks has been the suffering of believers. The Gospel reading today provides some insights into things that believers can look forward to in order to endure suffering in their daily lives.  The Gospel lesson this week is from John Chapter 14. This is one of those sections of Scripture about which we say, “if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). This contains some of the richest teaching from Jesus of anywhere in the New Testament. As you read take note of repeated words and phrases which provide indications of the subjects that Jesus emphasized during His message to the disciples in the upper room of the Last Supper just before He went to Calvary.

Gospel Reading:

1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. 7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” (John 14:1-12)

This section is unique in that it contained two sets of repeated words and phrases each of which was repeated three times. First, Jesus emphasized His divinity by using the phrase “I am” three times, a phrase that appeared throughout John’s Gospel just before Jesus gave himself to the people to be crucified for the sins of the world. The disciples would have recognized this phrase as a strong statement of divinity. Although their eyes were blinded to the reality of the events that Jesus predicted concerning His death and resurrection, they would later remember this event after he rose from the dead. No one used this phrase about himself unless they were God.  Second, Jesus repeated the phrase “believe in Me” three times during his final message to His disciples on that last Passover meal with them. As in any Bible study, repeated words provide an insight into the subject that was being emphasized by the Gospel writer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). In the case the big idea of the message was that because Jesus is God the world is to believe in Him.

As we said in the introduction, entire collections of books could be written about this section, even about just a single verse.  Let’s consider a portion of one verse in detail, something that spoke particularly to us as we studied Jesus’ message. Verse 3 provided several powerful insights into not only Jesus’ mission and how He served us, and a glimpse into our future with Him.

3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

Jesus said:

“If.”  Jesus had the choice to either follow the will of the Father, or to forsake the eventual suffering and just save Himself. Jesus said in Luke, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus chose suffering and death for us. Saint Paul said, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

“I go.” Nobody else could go to redeem us from our sin, Jesus had to go for us as a substitute, the perfect lamb of God. Saint Peter said, “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” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus said in verse six that He was the only to God for us. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

“to prepare a place.”  Jesus went to heaven with a mission to prepare a place for us to come to, either when we die or when He comes to gather His church (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Jesus was a carpenter, but the city to which He went to prepare was most likely a heavenly place, the “New Jerusalem” referred to in several places in the Bible including Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 12:22–24, Hebrews 13:14), but it is most fully described in Revelation 21. John spoke in the Book of Revelation about this glorious place, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” Revelation 21:2)

“for you.”  Jesus died for us because “all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “The penalty for our sins is death” (Romans 6:23a) but because Jesus gave Himself for us “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). We can’t do anything to earn it. Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

“I will come again.”  Jesus is going to come again. First, He will come to gather His church, first the saints that have already died, and then those that remain. Second, Jesus will return to pass judgment upon entire earth. Paul said about this first event:

“14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord “(1 Thessalonians 4:14-17)

John said about this second event:

“11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Revelation 19:11-15).

As believers in the risen Jesus Christ our Lord, we can be comforted by the fact that we are in the first group. We are of those who will be met by Jesus when we die (John 14:3), or are taken by Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

As we conclude the study for the Mass this week, let’s focus upon something that Jesus said in the Gospel.  Our Lord said, “I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3). The first Person that we see after we die will be Jesus Christ Himself! What a comfort this can be to us as we journey through difficult days “topside,” as I like to say. 

Have a great week.

Reflection Questions

1.  People around us, even those that go to church, have many different beliefs about how people get to God when they die. Some believe that they must be a good person, follow the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and be something like at least 51 percent good and no more than 49 percent bad.   What did Jesus say was the only true way to come to God?  Using what you learned today, write a paragraph about how you would lovingly explain to someone holding a false belief about how to make it to heaven.

2. You read a verse in Revelation 21 about the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2). That chapter contains many comforting verses to believers in Jesus regarding the place Jesus is preparing for us and the way in which God will comfort us after our trials here on earth.  Read that entire chapter of Revelation and answer the following question. 

How did the study of Revelation 21 provide you with a blessing as promised by God in Revelation 1:3, “blessed are those who read this Book”?

Keywords:  Fifth Sunday of Easter, Lectionary 52