Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Thought - James the Brother of Jesus

I delivered a brief Easter message yesterday. I had already covered the Resurrection story from John 20 a few months ago at this church, so I wanted to do something different. I started to think about the reality of the resurrection and what it means to us. I thought of someone who encountered the resurrected Jesus and how it impacted his life. How about James, the brother of Jesus?

James 1.1 – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Church tradition believes that this James, who wrote this letter to Jewish Christians spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, was James the (half) brother of Jesus. We see this in Matthew 13.55 where Jesus’ natural relations are revealed, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” This man was a leader in the early church and wrote an authoritative letter to believers everywhere. Notice, how he refers to himself. Not as the relative of Jesus, but as the servant (or slave) of Jesus. This is a man who understands his true relationship with Jesus, Lord to servant, not brother to brother.

When we dig a little in to the gospels, we see that this brother of Jesus was not a believer in Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Mark 3.20 – When his family heard about this (where Jesus was teaching and what he was doing), they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

They probably thought that Jesus had gone a little too far with this “god” business. It is good to be religious and devoted to God, but Jesus had gone too far. There was a fine line between being devoted and being a fanatic. Jesus was on the verge of being a fanatic and needed his family to rein him in a little. In fact, his brothers even mocked him.

John 7.2-5 – But when the Jewish Feast of tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

It was like they were saying, “Hey messiah boy! Why don’t you take your show on the road? If you really want to be famous, you need to go to the big city, then everybody will see how great you really are. Why are you hanging around this small town? If you want to be a big time prophet, you have to go to Jerusalem.” Not only did they not believe in him, but they mocked him.

We don’t read much of James in the gospel story, but all of the sudden he appears in Acts. And we see that he is not just an inconsequential little follower, but he is a leader of the early church.

Acts 15 contains the account of the early church leaders gathering together to discuss how the Gentiles should be treated as they enter the church. Do they need to become Jews in order to be saved (Jewish Christian Pharisees) or can they remain Gentiles without converting to Judaism to be saved (Paul, Barnabas, Peter)? After the information is laid out, look at who steps up and addresses the council.

Acts 15.13 – “When they finished, James spoke up…”

James serves as the last word of the council and reveals his prominence before these church leaders. We have seen also in Paul’s letters where James is mentioned in a place of prominence.

Galatians 1.18-19 – “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter…I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother.”

Paul thought it noteworthy that he mention meeting James. Later he points out,

Galatians 2.9 – “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.” James, the former non-believer and scoffer, is now mentioned as a pillar and listed with two of Jesus’ most prominent apostles, Peter and John.

What happened to James that moved him from being an unbeliever and mocker of Jesus to being a “pillar” of the early church? That question is answered in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul recounts the resurrection appearances of Jesus and mentions:

1 Cor. 15.5-8 - …he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…

I think it is important that Paul mentions this appearance to James. I believe that James was not a believer in Jesus until he encountered the resurrected Jesus. This is what changed James. The scoffer becomes the devoted. The relative becomes the servant. James not only encountered the resurrected Lord but he experienced the power that that resurrection offers. Listen to Paul:

Philippians 3.10 – I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.

James encountered the resurrected Lord Jesus and it changed his life. Like Paul, James did not only long to share in the promise of life after death, which the resurrection does promise. But both Paul and James wanted to share in the sufferings of Jesus. Both Paul and James did indeed share in Jesus’ sufferings as they both were killed for their faith. But both of these men, scoffers, haters, unbelievers were dramatically transformed into the image of Jesus by sharing in the power of the resurrection.

That power is available to all of us today. We can access this power through a relationship with Jesus today. Romans 8.11 says that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in those who have received that Spirit through faith in Jesus. I believe in Jesus and his resurrection, not because someone outlined the historicity of the resurrection and proved its truth to me (even though I do hold to that truth). I believe because I have encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ and I know that his spirit and power lives in me. I seek to allow that power to change me and allow me to participate in the kingdom of God. Easter Sunday is about encountering a person who suffered the penalty for my sin to the point of death, yet conquered death, is alive and empowers me to live a changed, victorious life.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

1 comment:

The MAN Fan Club said...

You didn't get this from your Catholic school background did you.

Good stuff.