BE PREPARED TO DISCOVER NEW THINGS, IN OLD CONTEXTS.

When the Jews lived under Roman rule: they had little freedom in the present, and little hope of the future. So: they attached great importance to their past; for they had little else to go on.
 
They looked back; beyond many average kings; to a ‘Golden Age’, of a thousand years earlier: and they saw two, very special kings. Both were firmly placed in the Jewish nation’s mind; and were often referred to.
 
One was King David: who had built restless and semi-nomadic tribes, into a nation. He had been, and remained, a national hero. The other was his son: King Solomon. Renowned for wisdom, godly qualities and spirituality: he was acclaimed as the best of all kings, and one who could never be equalled, let alone bettered.
 
The Jews who stood around Jesus: challenging him to prove his validity, by doing a miracle: were greatly shocked, when they heard him claim that Solomon had lost his top-of-the-list position.
 
With his Messianic calling in mind: Christ spoke of himself, when he said:  ‘Behold, something greater than Solomon is here’ (Matt. 12: 39-42)
 
Older versions of the Bible use the important word: ‘behold’; while mid-20th Century versions leave it out, and say: ‘One greater than Solomon is here’.
 
‘Behold’ is a very definite word: that means observe…see for yourself…and also take hold of.
 
In this case: it indicates that ‘taking hold’ of the established history of the Jewish nation; in a less biased and more open way, could lead to a wider and deeper view of it: and, perhaps, to a willingness to accept any new understanding that was discovered.
 
However: the statement that Jesus made; contained a word that can easily be overlooked. He did not say: ‘Behold, someone greater than Solomon is here’, but something.
 
That ‘something’ was the new age that God the Father was bringing into being: a whole, new way of doing things; that did not supersede the law; but fulfilled it; by way of divine graciousness, ministered in and through Christ.
 
In effect; Jesus said to the Jewish leaders: ‘That which you have been hoping and praying for is, even now, coming into being.
 
‘Accept the new way ahead that God offers to you: take a firm hold of it, and allow your lives to be rebuilt’.
 
The Jews of that day: did not want to ‘see for themselves’ or to ‘take hold’ of a new teaching, let alone accept the teacher; who publicly disagreed with their beliefs.
 
They appear to have had no sense of ‘responsibility’ or of ‘obligation’ towards examining what was happening all around them: and no desire to have their beliefs and systems rebuilt.
 
All they wanted, at that time, appears to have been to persuade the Romans to get rid of Christ - which they duly did.
 
With him out of their way: the Jews turned back to the security of an unchangeable history: and to the highlights of their past.
 
Some followers of Christ: had witnessed his crucifixion. He was dead: and that appeared to be the end of their hopes of him.
 
Mark, Luke and John make brief reference to the fact that a few of them: when first told that Christ was alive; refused to believe it, the most famous of them being ‘Doubting Thomas’.
 
Doubts or not: a huge difference lay between them, and the Jews.
 
The Pharisees and teachers had been entirely unwilling to ‘see for themselves’ and to ‘take hold of’ the new situation …but those very first Christians did, eventually ‘behold’ the resurrected Christ.
 
They took a firm grasp on the changed direction of their lives; and on the ‘responsibilities’ and ‘obligations’ that their new, and developing faith, had placed upon them.
 
There is a marked similarity between the Jews and Christians of that day: and the beliefs and practices quite readily found within today’s churches.
 
Many churches, up and down our land: have some older members, whose thinking is very much set in the past. We may feel: ‘No harm in that’: but those who tend to begin a statement with: ‘In my day …’ and then make critical statements, when comparing the wonders of yesterday, with today: – are unhelpful; to say the least.
 
At one church, a woman used to say to me: ‘In the old days, when we had proper ministers…’ (Well: that counted me out) She would then go on to speak of those golden yesterdays; and the wonderful things that were done in them.
 
Congregations in that church: seldom exceeded 40. But: when members were encouraged to minister the various talents, gifts and graces that they had: the congregation ‘came alive!’ and the morning attendances grew very significantly.
 
That church developed a strong social life: and established a powerful outreach, to several needy causes in their own town, as well as within the United Kingdom, together with some African missionary ventures.
 
The woman who lived in the past: and bewailed the lack of a proper minister, in the present; had little or nothing to do with the vibrant life of that church.
 
Like the New Testament Jews, she refused to ‘see for herself’ the good that was coming into being all around her: and continued to live in the glow of the ‘Golden days’ of her youth. 
 
Happily: those who appear to think and speak like New Testament Jews; are few in number.
 
They live at the edge of shared faith and practice: because they feel too disappointed with the Church, as they see it: to want to be at the centre of things. But: they still have hopes of it.
 
Modern ‘Doubting Thomas’ are fairly common: but their doubts  do not relate to Christ’s resurrection and ascension, or any similar great matter…but, instead, they relate to whatever caused them to stop off at some point on their spiritual journey; and not move on.
 
Basically: they have ceased to believe that there is anything further that they could, or should, be doing: beyond what they have already arrived at: and yet, despite that understanding; they feel a sense of disappointment, because little or nothing new, takes place.
 
For some: what they have is enough. They fail to see that the Christian faith is not intended for personal satisfaction alone: but also; and mainly, for outreach and witness to the world all around.
 
In both cases: some, at least, can be persuaded into a more positive attitude; towards the ongoing and fulfilling nature of the Christian faith: and encouraged to move on.
 
Those who appear to live within the ‘golden memories’ of the past: are comparatively few in number. The fact that they remain within the Church is, of itself, a sign of hope.
 
Those who have stopped off at, and got stuck at, a particular point on their spiritual journey: are unlikely to have done so out of stubbornness.
 
It is far more likely: that they received instruction and help, until that point was reached: then, for whatever reason, they were not helped to move farther on; and assumed that they had ‘arrived’.
 
In many churches: there is an honest and prayerful desire for something just that bit bigger; and just that bit better and more spiritually fulfilling; than has, so far, been experienced.
 
Most earnest seekers are open to persuasion and encouragement.
 
Persuasion is needed: to show that there is a deeper and ongoing vision of the work of the Church, to be recognized as genuine; and taken hold of.
Encouragement is needed: to show that, when firmly grasped: the vision may lead to the greater things that are looked for, being actually discovered, and entered into.
 
In all of this: it is not only ‘Someone greater than Solomon who is here’ but also, as Jesus said: ‘Something’.
 
Although God the Father brought in the ‘New Age’, long ago; and, in that sense, it is no longer ‘new’: we must remember that, for each person who seeks God and begins to discover him…
 
…it really is a whole, new way of doing things: that really is fresh and personal, and really is fulfilling.
 
The level of our personal faith demonstrates where we stand in relation to God, Christ and redemption…
 
…but it is the level of our shared faith, hope and encouragement; that determines the true expression of our calling in Christ; and the effectiveness of our outreach reach to others, in his name.       
 
                                                                                                   Amen.