Tag Archives: James

God’s People, part 252: James the Just

Read Acts 12:17; 1 Corinthians 15:7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When [Jesus’] family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.”  (Mark 3:21, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 252: James the Just. Admittedly, there is often a confusion that arises when discussing some of the people in the New Testament due to the fact there are multiple people with the same name. Simon, for instance, could be Simon the Zealot or Simon Peter. Judas could be Judas son of James or Judas Iscariot. Mary could be any number of Marys, including but not limited to Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene or Mary, sister of Lazarus.

The same is true when it comes to James, who could be James, son of Zebedee, James son of Alphaeus, James father of Judas, or James, half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth. In today’s devotion, James, the brother of Jesus, will be discussed. He is also known as James the Just; however, before learning how he came about that descriptive title, let us first explore what we know of him.

Very little is written about James in the Bible; however, we can gather much about him from what little we have. First, he was not always a believer in his brother Jesus. Mark wrote in his Gospel that Jesus family, including James, thought Jesus was outside of his mind early on in his ministry and they sought to “take him away”, in order that they could silence him and keep him and their family out of trouble (Mark 3:21, 31-35).

The next we hear about James is in the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke. By that point, James is not just a believer in his brother, he’s one of the leaders and pillars of the Jerusalem Church. What can be gathered, though nothing is specifically written about it, James and his family did eventually become believers in Jesus. We all know that Mary, mother of Jesus, was one of the people was at the cross of her son, and that she carried on in the life of the early church, along with Mary Magdalene and the other women followers. We can, therefore, safely presume, that most if not all of Jesus’ family followed her lead, including James.

In 90 A.D., Flavius Josephus made reference to “the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, whose name was James” (Anitquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, 1). In that account, the High Priest, Ananus son of Ananus, had James and some others arrested, tried them as law breakers, and had them stoned to death. What is striking is that the entire Jewish community seemed to be in an uproar over that decision because James and those were considered to be “the most equitable citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, 1).

This extra-Biblical account is actually corroborated by what we know of James through the writings of Luke and Paul. We know that James and the Jerusalem Church were concerned with not breaking the Jewish law and challenged Paul in how far he should go to open up the covenant to Gentiles. James’ followers seemed to counter Paul quite a bit in his Gentile mission (see Galatians). In fact, it was James who turned down Paul’s collection and suggested he use it at the temple to show that he, as a Jew, still followed the Jewish law (Acts 21:17-40).

This is, in fact, how James came to be known throughout Jerusalem as James the Just, or, perhaps better translated as James the Righteous. Though he was a Christ follower, he was respected in the Jewish community as a devout Jew and follower of the Torah. That is why the community was outraged by his death and why Ananus got demoted and replaced as high priest (ironically by another man named Jesus).

The first thing that should challenge us about this is recognizing the inherent Jewishness of Jesus, James, Paul and the earliest church. At that time, there was no such thing as a separate religion called Christianity. The term Christian originally was meant to describe Jewish followers of Jesus the Christ. The original name for this Jewish sect was “The Way.

Secondly, we should recognize that Christianity has always been in the midst of give-and-take, when it comes to theology and inclusion. If it were up to James, God bless him, the chruch would have stayed in and around Jerusalem and, more than likely, it would have been eliminated in 70 A.D. with the destruction of the city and the temple. Because of Paul, Luke, Peter, and others, the Gentiles were eventually included. In fact, over time, the Gentiles became the majority.

As Christians, we should be pushing the boundaries of who we include as well. Christ did not come, nor die, to save the righteous, but to save sinners (of which we all are). With that said, we should also respect and honor those Christians who hold to a more conservative view, such as James did. Paul brought him a peace offering, even though the two vehemently disagreed. Paul also went to the temple to honor James’ wishes, which led to Paul’s arrest. Paul’s example should remind us that in Christ, we are all one (despite the fact that we don’t all agree). Let us be mindful of that now and forever. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem.” – Hegesippus, 2nd Century Bishop of Jerusalem

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stand firm in my beliefs, all the while humble and loving toward all my brothers and sisters in Christ in my heart. Amen.

Dying for Both Sides

Read Galatians 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:31)

saint-paul-the-apostle-07In the Bible, there is a man named Saul who was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia. He was well educated and rose up to be a scholar of the Torah, a Pharisee, and a zealous defender of the Jewish faith. When a new sect of Judaism broke out claiming that a Nazarene rabbi by the name of Yeshua bar Joseph was the messiah and that Gentiles should be included in the Jewish covenant, he lashed out against the group, having many of them arrested. According to Acts, one was even killed.

With that said, this Saul encountered the risen Yeshua, you may know him by his Greek name Jesus, somewhere in or around Damascus, which is a city in Syria. This experience transformed Saul into a follower of Jesus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that, following the encounter with Christ, he went into Arabia for a while and then came back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem and met with Jesus’ brother James, and his disciples Peter and John.

To make a long story short, Jesus’ brother James and Paul didn’t really get along…at all. Peter and John weren’t too crazy about Paul either. James believed that in order for Gentiles (non-Jews) to become a follower of Christ they had to first become Jewish, since Jesus was a Jew. Paul thought this was ludicrous, seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as the opening up of the covenant to Gentiles. If they had faith in Jesus who was likened to a Gentile on the cross (being under God’s curse as the Torah claims of anyone hung on a tree), then they would be brought into the Jewish covenant despite not being circumcised or being bound to any one of the Jewish laws.

Though they struck a deal and Paul left thinking he had their blessing to go and preach the Gospel as he felt Jesus had called him to do, James, Peter and John never really accepted Paul’s vision. We find out from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and in Acts, that James and his followers were counteracting Paul’s Gospel message and causing people to question this “self-proclaimed apostle” who had never been an eye-witness of Jesus. This angered Paul, as anyone would imagine, but it did not stop him from trying.

Paul had been gathering up a collection for the church in Jerusalem and he was going to bring that collection to them, hoping to reconcile their differences if it cost him his very life. Paul was afraid it would. His last written words, written to the church in Rome (a community he had never met), ask for prayers that the non-believing Jews won’t attack him (as he was a heretic in their eyes having abandoned his Pharisaic Judaism for this new messianic Judaism) and that the church in Jerusalem would accept his offering. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered.

Paul was arrested, and eventually died, trying to get both sides (his and James’) to be unified, even if different, in the cause of Christ. Today, like then, the church is split on many fronts and we seem to get stuck on one side or the other. We fail to see Christ in the midst of our differences. Like Paul, we are called to see Christ in those who believe differently than us. We are called to find the balance of reconciliation, even while remaining true to what we firmly believe. There are many contentious issues dividing the church, yet there is still ONE Lord! Rather than deeming each other heretics, let us have the grace and the humility to see that Christ is indeed working in, through, and in spite of us all! Remember, he Gospel calls us to be a people who are unified in LOVE, even if divided by difference.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” – Jay Weatherill

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.