Background to James
Passages: James 1:1-2, Various
Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
The Church @ Hamilton
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Key Goals: (Know) Get to know the author of James. (Feel) Desire to study God’s word deeply. (Do) Read the book of James.
Introduction: Some people hear a story like this and think, “No way, not me! I could never forgive my spouse if they did that.” Easy to say, until it happens to you. It was a Thursday when the call came: “He is going to kill himself!” Friends and family were rushing to help, but his grief was inconsolable. His wife had just confessed. Their marriage was a sham—the hurt and betrayal brutal, the anger and damage devastating. What do you do? What about the kids? How do you rebuild? I’ll tell you more about that family in the upcoming weeks.
Today we launch into our series “The Rebuild!” We will be exploring the book of James for tools that will help us “rebuild” our lives. One of the most appealing aspects of Jesus and his gospel is that when we believe and trust Christ, he gives us a new life that purges our corruption and sin and all things are becoming new (2 Cor. 5:17). Theologians call that process “sanctification;” we are going to call it “The Rebuild.” The process is not unlike rebuilding an engine. We just got it this morning, it is brand new to us, but it comes with some baggage. While it is new, it is not pristine—we have some work to do.
I want Trent to come and teach us a song. This song comes from The Liturgy of Saint James: the oldest surviving worship liturgy that is still used in churches today. It is a complete worship service that lasts about three hours (we are not learning all of it). At the center of the service is the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.” The words of this hymn were written by the year 245, which makes it one of the very first hymns of the church. Many think that these words came from the church in Jerusalem during the time the church was led by James.
Why did we learn this? Well, it is a cool piece of ancient church history, but also because as we begin this series from a book that James wrote, I want us to get to know the man. Some people believe that first impressions about people take only thirty seconds to make. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” these decisions may occur much faster—think instantaneously or in two seconds. We immediately form impressions of people based on their posture, handshake, clothing and accessory choices, how close they stand to us, attentiveness, eye contact, and facial expressions. In order to understand his book, I think we at least need a first impression of who James was.
Who was James? The first time we are introduced to James is in the Gospels, and he doesn’t make a great first impression. Both Mark and Matthew indicate that he was one of several children born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus’ birth. Mark records an incident where people from Jesus’ hometown were ridiculing Jesus for being a local: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3) I’m not sure how you picture Jesus growing up, but he was the oldest of five boys and at least two girls; that’s at a minimum a family of nine! Just like any family, they did not always get along; there were times that James and the rest of the family were opposed to the way Jesus did ministry. Mark 3:21 tells us that at one point Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind. John reveals to us that James (actually all four of his brothers) did not believe in Jesus when he was alive. John 7:5 tells us point blank that not even his brothers believed in him.
Can you imagine growing up with Jesus as your half brother? Based on what we know, it probably wasn’t as wonderful as we would expect. The family did not understand what he was doing or why, and for his part—at least while Jesus was alive—James was not buying any of this “messiah” stuff. That is, until the resurrection. I Corinthians 15:4-7 specifically mentions that after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to James. [Jesus]… was buried, and he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Something happened to James when he saw his brother raised from the dead. His doubt immediately turned to faith, and by the time the disciples gathered in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, James was there (Acts 1:13-14).
The next time we see James, he is the leader of the church in Jerusalem. In fact, the Apostle Paul met with James and Peter when he first went to Jerusalem after his conversion (Galatians 1:18–19). How did a recent unbeliever become the leader of the church in Jerusalem? Clement of Alexandria, who wrote about the church between 153–217 C.E., says that Peter and John chose James for this office (Books of the Hypotyposes 6). Jerome, writing later, said that James “ruled the church of Jerusalem thirty years.” (Lives of Illustrious Men, chapter 2).
As the pastor of Jerusalem, James was known as “James the Just” because of his incredible character. The best example we have of James’ leadership is in Acts 15 where James solves a problem between believers that came from Jewish backgrounds and believers that came from Gentile backgrounds. Some Jewish background believers thought that when you became a Jesus follower you also needed to follow the Jewish laws of purity. The Apostle Peter and Paul and Barnabas who had been witnessing to Gentile believers disagreed. Listen to Acts 15:7–11.
7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
It was just as Peter spoke the room got silent and James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. He then quotes Amos 9:11-12 and says…Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:13–20).
This may sound strange to us today, but it was a pivotal point in church history. Either Gentiles were saved through faith or they were saved through faith and following Old Testament laws. James solved this issue with incredible wisdom and tact by maintaining a reverence for Old Testament law but affirming with Peter, Paul, and Barnabas that salvation is by faith alone.
James served as pastor of Jerusalem for 30 years. While the Bible does not tell us how he died, Jewish historian Josephus provides a detailed account of the death of James. Rome was having difficulty with zealous groups of Jewish insurgents, which would eventually lead to the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In an effort to placate Rome, strengthen his position, and remove any who would question his authority, Ananus—a high priest appointed by Herod Agrippa II—decided to have several “trouble makers” stoned to death. So in the year 62 during a brief governmental transition period, Ananus, without permission, convened the Sanhedrin (the supreme council of Jewish affairs) and had James, along with several others of his enemies, stoned to death.
Why have I spent so much time walking you through this? Because you need to know, as we open the book of James, that James was a real person like you and me:
1. He understood doubting. He did not believe in Jesus until the resurrection. So when he starts talking in James 1:6 about doubting and says, “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind,” he knows what he is talking about because he doubted Jesus the entire time he walked this earth. So if you have ever doubted, James will help you rebuild your faith.
2. He experienced trials. James watched as the Roman government and the high priest crucified his older brother and then as another high priest accused and prosecuted him. This man walked through incredible trials, yet his book begins with the sentence: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. (James 1:2) So if you ever feel like you are going through trials, James has some tools for you.
3. He understood change. The resurrection radically changed James from an unbelieving little brother that thought Jesus was out of his mind to one of the most influential Christian leaders of the first century. James knew about change. So if you have ever thought you needed to change, James will help with that.
4. He knew about discrimination. James watched the early church struggle to include Gentiles in the fold. When we study James 2, we are going see that discrimination in the church is most often about preferring the beautiful people over the rest of us, preferring the rich over the poor, the haves over the have-nots, the in-crowd over the unpopular, the righteous over the sinners. James will challenge us that it is not about rich or poor, it is about loving Jesus! James 2:5 says Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? So if you have ever felt left out, James is for you.
5. He experienced conflicts. When James discusses quarrels and fights and makes statements like James 4:2, You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel; he is speaking from experience. So if you have ever struggled to work through conflict, James is going to help you.
Challenge: Start your own rebuild this week by reading through the book of James. Then come back next week as we begin “The Rebuild.”
Community Group Discussion
1. As you begin your discussion, have your group members open and skim through the book of James. Do you have any passages underlined? Favorite verses?
2. How does knowing more about James help us glean more from his book?
3. Look at James 1:1. Based on your understanding of who James was and his relationship with Jesus, why do you think he introduces the letter by saying he is a “servant” of Jesus Christ?
4. Discuss what (if anything) you learned about James this morning that you did not know before today.
5. Did you know that Jesus grew up in a family of (at least) nine (Jesus, four brothers, at least two sisters, Joseph and Mary)? Does that change the way you think about him or James?
6. Discuss what you hope to take away from this series.
© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV.
 Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink. New York City: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
 Hulme, David James Brother of Jesus http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/religion-and-spirituality-apostles-of-jesus-james-brother-of-jesus/6812.aspx
 Antiquities of the Jews 20.197-203(c. 93/94).
 Mc Dowell, Sean Did James the Brother of Jesus Die as a Martyr? http://seanmcdowell.org/blog/did-james-the-brother-of-jesus-die-as-a-martyr