From Skeptic to Servant…
The Book of James starts off with a truly shocking opening statement!
James 1 (NIV)
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
James 1 (NET)
1 From James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ
Ok that probably didn’t shock you.
James just declared himself a SLAVE to both God (which is not surprising, since he was Jewish), AND to a man called Jesus. But he didn’t just say he was a slave to Jesus. He said that Jesus was “Lord.” The Greek word there is “Kyrios,” which was used by Christians EXCLUSIVELY for God. Some Christians took the term so seriously that when the Roman Empire required that all Roman citizens declare “Kaiser Kyrios!” (Caesar is Lord), they chose to die rather than declare that anyone other than Jesus was Kyrios.
By James declaring that Jesus was Kyrios, he was declaring “Jesus is God, and I am a slave to Him. He is the Christ (The Messiah) who is the hope for all mankind.” To us as 21st century believers, that’s not all that interesting of a declaration. It’s just a simple declaration of our faith.
Here’s the problem: James was the half-brother of Jesus, and HE DIDN’T ALWAYS BELIEVE!
In fact, in all of the early appearances of Jesus’ brothers, they show up to make fun of Him.
20 Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. 21 When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Jesus’ family thought He was CRAZY!
3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Jesus’ brothers did not believe.
We don’t hear much more about them until James resurfaces a few months later in the Book of Acts and, suddenly, this man who did not believe in Jesus and thought He was crazy is LEADING THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM that Jesus started.
Church and Jewish history eventually records that James died after being taken to the top of the Temple. The leaders demanded he take back his claim that Jesus was the Messiah. He refused, saying:
“Himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven.”
So, they pushed him off the top of the temple, and then stoned him to death.
How did a man go from thinking Jesus was crazy to dying for the sake of Jesus’ praise? We’re never given an exact answer to this question, but Paul gives us a pretty good guess as to the moment when everything changed. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul summarizes the Gospel with this:
1 Corinthians 15
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Paul gives us this incredibly concise version of the life-changing message.
- Christ died for our sins
- He was buried
- He was raised
- He appeared
Paul didn’t claim Jesus was a great teacher. He didn’t claim he had a mystic experience. He claimed something happened! Jesus died for our sins. He was buried. He was raised, and HE APPEARED TO PEOPLE. Paul’s claim was verifiable!
If anyone was going to refute the ridiculous claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, it would be James. He didn’t believe in Jesus. He thought his big brother was crazy.
But 1 Corinthians has a little bit more to say:
1 Corinthians 15
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James,
The risen Christ appeared to James, and it changed everything! In that instant, James’ thinking went from, “My brother died as a crazy person,” to “Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Lord, and I am His slave.”
In an instant, his identity changed!
As James continues to write, he’s going to give us a lot of commands, but he always argues from the idea that A CHANGE IN IDENTITY LEADS TO A CHANGE IN ACTIVITY. He’s not giving you a list of activities which will change your identity. If you followed every single one of his commands, but you fail to embrace the reality that Jesus died for your sins, He was buried, He rose, and He appeared, you have gained nothing.
He wants you to experience Jesus the way that He did. When that happens, it changes you from the inside out. If your identity is in Christ, it changes your activity.