3rd Sunday of Easter, Bible Study: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19, 1st John 2:1-5 and Luke 24:35-48

“Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar.” (1 John 2:4) 

Last Sunday, being the Sunday of Divine Mercy, we saw how Jesus displayed the depth of Divine Mercy by created the sacrament of penance empowering the apostles to forgive sins. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23).

Rather than becoming angry with Thomas for refusing to believe, Jesus again showed unfathomable mercy by appearing the following Sunday morning to clear the doubts of Thomas. Our Gospel passage today is Luke’s version of Last Sunday’s Gospel reading.

From Luke’s account, it is quite clear that Thomas was not the only one who doubted. Indeed, it may not even be fair to refer to him as “Doubting Thomas” because all the eleven apostles also doubted. We may wonder, what was responsible for their doubts despite glaring evidence of Jesus’ resurrection? This brings us to our lessons for today:

1. The Necessity of Christ’s Suffering.

While hanging on the Cross, there were many who mocked Jesus: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son.” (Matthew 27:42-43, Mark 15:31, Luke 23:35-38). The arrest, scourging, trial and death of Jesus was a pill too difficult to swallow. The apostles were shocked to see their Master taken away by soldiers, flogged like a common criminal, led away and crucified on the cross. They couldn’t believe their eyes.

They couldn’t reconcile the fact that Jesus, being God, would allow himself to suffer like that in the hands of ordinary human beings. By the time Jesus rose from the dead, they were still in shock. Luke tells us that they were terrified when they saw Jesus assuming he was a ghost. To clear their doubts, Jesus asked them to touch Him and observe His flesh and bones. Although the apostles were excited, they still doubted. Jesus then took a step further to prove Himself by asking for something to eat.

Seeing that they still had their doubts, Jesus decided to engage them in Bible Study just as He did with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. As Luke puts it: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day’” (Luke 24:45-46). In other words, Jesus’ suffering was not a sign of defeat but a confirmation of the prophecies about Him.

Dear brothers and sisters, you may be feeling down today. You have prayed hard for something but it is not coming through. Perhaps you are facing a storm and your faith is seriously shaken. You don’t understand why despite your closeness to God, you are still experiencing suffering. The message for you today is: “Rise.” Don’t stay down. Rise! Your sufferings are not a sign of weakness on the part of God. Keep trusting in God. Very soon, your eyes will see and your mouth will testify that God never sleeps nor slumbers; that He never turns His back on his Children.

2. No Repentance, No Forgiveness.

In today’s first reading, we heard a part of the powerful sermon of St. Peter which he gave upon seeing the crowd that gathered after he had just cured the crippled beggar. Peter noted: “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers… Repent, therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” (Acts 3:17-19).

I often hear Christians saying that the death of Christ on the cross has wiped out all our sins including those we are yet to commit. This is false teaching; one that Satan has fed into the minds of many just to keep them perpetually in the web of sin. God is merciful. His mercies never come to an end. However, like the Prodigal Son, we must come to our senses, rise from the strange land begin our journey to the Father.

Like the people of Nineveh, we must take practical steps to repentance; we must go for confession, we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12); we must stop whatever it is that is offensive to God. We must forgive those who have hurt us. (Matthew 6:15)

You may ask me, what then is the essence of Christ’s death on the Cross? St. John answers this question in today’s Second Reading: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 2:1-2).

In simple terms, St. John is saying that by His death on the Cross, Christ has become our lawyer (our advocate) whose blood pleads on our behalf before God. Think of it this way, you may have the best lawyer on earth but if you fail to call your lawyer or cooperate with him, would you win the case? On the other hand, does the fact that you have a very good lawyer give you a license to start misbehaving? No wonder John quickly clarifies:

“Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar … but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. (1 John 2:4-6). 

If your relationship with your lawyer becomes sour (say you cut off ties with him), do you assume that without reconciling (repentance), he would be there for you in court? Avoid those who teach false doctrines backed by scriptures. God hates sin. We cannot be swimming in sin and assume that all is well since Christ died on the cross. This is simply making null and void Jesus’ own teaching that we should avoid sin at all cost.

3. Be a Witness. Proclaim Christ Jesus to the World.

At the conclusion of the Bible Study with the apostles, Jesus said: “… that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48). Peter says the same thing in our first reading: “… To this, we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15)

As witnesses, what are we to say to the world? “Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:19). As we already saw above, St. John says if we claim to know God with our lips while our actions proclaim a different Gospel, we are simply deceiving ourselves.

How are we witness for Christ if we remain stuck in our sins? How can I tell people about heaven when I am living as though heaven does not exist? How can I cure people of blindness if I am blind myself? How can I shine the light if I don’t let the light of Christ shine on me? How do I tell people about Christ if I do not attend Bible Study and allow Christ to teach me as He taught the Apostles?

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, fill me with all the graces, blessings and courage I need to proclaim you to the world by my thoughts, words and deeds. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you.