James, The Brother of Jesus
How would you like to have grown up in a home with a perfect older brother? James’ older brother was Jesus and He was perfect in every way. Try to imagine what it was like to grow up with a brother who never told a lie, never got angry with anyone, never complained that He had to work in His father’s carpenter shop and actually enjoyed going to the synagogue school. That was James’ lot.
Technically James was a half brother to Jesus since Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus but that is a mute point. They grew up in the same family, in the same house. Read Matthew 13:53-57. Those verses tell us Jesus had at least 6 siblings including 4 brothers. Because he is mentioned first in the list it is assumed James was closest in age to Jesus. That size family was typical of Jewish families then.
It is difficult to imagine what it had to have been like for James. Jesus was truly an unusual child. In many ways He was like every other boy growing up in Nazareth. We are told in passages like Hebrews 4:14 that He was totally human and grew in wisdom and knowledge like every child. He had all the temptations we have. But being without sin so He never succumbed to those temptations.
For 30 years James lived in the same house as Jesus. There was nothing except His perfect behavior to suggest He was all that different. Being sinless, however, meant His behavior put pressure on the others to measure up.
Then one day Jesus went off and visited a country preacher named John, known more commonly as John the Baptist. While there Jesus was baptized, and John said He was the Lamb of God. James, if he was there, neither understood nor believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Then it got worse. Jesus came back home and went into the local synagogue and there He took the Bible scroll containing Isaiah and read from it. Then announced He was the one who would fulfill it. His neighbors were so upset they decided to throw Him off a cliff because they believed He had blasphemed God. From what we are told, it appears that James felt the same way. He did not believe Jesus was the promised one. Read Mark 3:21 which tells us how James and the rest of His brothers and sisters felt about Him. When Jesus was crucified only His mother was present. We aren’t told why the rest of His family stayed away but it is easy to see that if they believed He was insane they not only did not want to be near Him, they did not want to be associated with one so cursed that He was being crucified. Jesus had already embarrassed the family far too much.
But James changed. James changed so completely that he became a key leader in the early church. What brought about that change? Read what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:3-7.
I wish Paul had given us more details on that meeting. We aren’t told when or where it took place or if all of His siblings were present with James. We know Jesus had second brother named Judas, who shortened his name to Jude, believed since he wrote a New Testament book that bears his name. It appears that all believed since Acts 1:14 tells us that that following His ascension the disciples, along with Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers, were together in an upper room praying. Try to imagine sometime the meeting of the risen Jesus with James. Sort of “Hi Jim, remember me, you thought I was crazy and died, well here I am. Now what do you have to say?”
Wherever it was or whatever transpired, James became a believer. With the same energy that he opposed Jesus when He was alive, he jumped into the ministry of the early church. Once James saw the risen living Jesus his life was totally changed. Nothing will so radically transform us than seeing in a fresh way the truth that Jesus is alive and because He is alive, He can be with us always and in every way. One of the challenges of our faith is to get Jesus into the world we live in. It is too easy to think of Jesus as someone who lived long ago and with whom we will spend eternity instead of a close friend who wants to be real in every aspect of our lives here and now.
In Acts 12, we read that Peter was arrested by King Herod and put in prison. Verse 5 of that chapter tells us that the church prayed for his release. On the night before Peter was to go before Herod an angel led him out of prison. Verse 17 says Peter instructed those he was with to tell James of his release.
Then a short time after that a major crisis developed in the church. The issue of the place of Gentiles all but split the church. Some, whom historians call Judaizers, believed that Christians were really Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and as Jews should follow all the Jewish customs including circumcision. You became a Jew and then a Christian. Others, like Paul, believed that one could become a Christian without first becoming a Jew. To settle the issue a major gathering of church leaders met in Jerusalem. Acts 15 describes that meeting and the issues that were debated. Verse 13 tells us that when they were finished James spoke up and drew it all together, summarizing the decision. Read verse 19.
The final mention of James in Acts is in chapter 21. It simply tells us that when Paul went to Jerusalem with an offering for the church he met with James and the other elders to share all that God was doing among the Gentiles. Apart from that, Scripture tells us nothing of his continued ministry in Jerusalem. Tradition records that he ministered in Jerusalem for 30 years and died after he was thrown off a pinnacle on the temple and then beaten to death by those who found him still alive after that fall. It is hard to say how accurate that tradition is.
We know that James wrote the New Testament book that bears his name, a book many scholars believe was the first New Testament book written. It’s a fascinating book that details how Christians should live out the teachings of Jesus in everyday life. A study of it reveals much of the heart of James. James dealt with the source of true wisdom, pride, greed, wealth, selfishness and showing partiality to some members over others along with praying for those who are sick. It is a very practical book that details how Christians should act in a variety of situations that certainly challenged the early believers. Read James 1:1. James did not call himself a brother of Jesus. James simply called himself a servant.
The title he gave to Jesus is especially significant. James used His birth name, Jesus. James had called him “Jesus” all his life but now that name meant more than just a way to address Him. James knew that Jesus meant Savior and his big brother was in reality the Savior of the world. James knew that the claims Jesus made when He was among us were not the ranting of a mad man as he once thought, but the truth. Jesus truly had come to redeem His people. James also knew his older brother was the “Christ” or anointed one that the Old Testament had promised. Once embarrassed that Jesus would claim that position, James now openly acknowledged that the one he grew up with was the long awaited promised one or Messiah.
And Jesus was more than an older brother who loved him along with the rest of us. Jesus was more than just the Savior who provided a way out of our sin problem. Jesus was the Lord and James was His servant. His brother was the Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many today want a Savior but not a Lord of life. James knew that if his older brother was who He claimed to be, and having seen Him as the resurrected one James knew He was, then He should be Lord of life also.
James did not begin with faith in Jesus but once he came to grips with His resurrection his life changed as should every life that truly knows Jesus not only died as a Savior but lives to be Lord. The challenge for every one of us is to live knowing the truth James expressed with he called his big brother the Lord Jesus Christ.