Saint James - Who Was This Man?

By Phillip G. Kayser · Acts 15:1-35 · 2003-1-5

The Ossuary

Back in October, this amazing and almost unbelievable discovery came to light. A French scientist/historian had made the discovery of an ossuary with the inscription "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" on it. An Ossuary is a small limestone box that was used in New Testament times to hold the bones of a dead person. After a person died, their body would be buried in a tomb, about a year later, the family would collect the skeleton, an put the bones in this small box. It is less than 2 feet long, just over a foot high, and less than a foot wide. The box had been in the private collection of a man in Jerusalem when someone recognized the importance of the inscription.The inscription is amazing – in Aramaic, the language of the day in Israel, it reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." If it really does refer to the James of the Bible, this is the earliest tangible evidence of Jesus of Nazareth. While there is some controversy, all evidences point to it being the James in the Bible. The inscription is authentic by most accounts, the style of handwriting, and the limited used of such boxes puts the ossuary in the right time frame, and although all three names are very common, the statistical probability of all three together in that order is very slim. It is also very rare to have a brother mentioned on an ossuary. I tend to believe that this box did hold the bones of James.How many of you have gone down to the ROM to see it? – today is the last day of displayWhat does this box have to do with us?As we drove down to Boston back in early November, Lynn Marsh, Dexter Quinlan and I were discussing the ossuary. We were agreed that it was an amazing find and thought that it was strange that it had made its way to Toronto so quickly after it had become public. Our question was, "what is God saying to us, to Toronto by sending this box to us right now – is there any significance to the fact that it was cracked on its way to Toronto. We actually didn't come up with anything to deep, except that maybe we should "crack open James!"So, today, on the last day of the exhibition, this is what we are going to do. I'm going to start a series in the Letter that James wrote to the church, and today we are going to look at the man himself. All the while, we will be asking What is God saying to the church and to Toronto through James?James The ManSo as not to confuse things too much, you need to know that there were three James in the New Testament: two of them were disciples: James, brother of John, and James son of Alphaeus. And then there was James, the brother of Jesus – it might surprise you that Jesus had a brother – he had four, and at least two sisters. There are a few different views on Jesus' siblings. For those who believe that Mary was a virgin for her whole life, they teach that the biblical writers actually meant cousins when they said brothers and sister, or that James and his siblings were Joseph's children from a previous marriage, and that he was a widower when he married Mary. Most protestants see no evidence or need for Mary to remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus, so we take the simplest reading that James and his siblings were children of Mary and Joseph, younger brothers and sisters of Jesus.From unbelief to belief to leadershipWe really know very little about James as a child and a young man. We do know that he did not believe in his Brother during Jesus' early ministry. In Mark 3, crowds were gathering around Jesus, and he and his disciple were so busy they didn't even have time to eat. Mary and his brothers show up at the house where he was staying because they assumed that he had gone crazy. Jesus actually refused to see them saying "Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." In John 7, Jesus is out in Galilee, purposefully staying away from the cities because the leaders were trying to kill him. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, 3Jesus' brothers said to him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. 4No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." 5For even his own brothers did not believe in him.Somewhere between John 7 and Acts 1:14 James and his brothers come to believe that their brother Jesus was truly the Messiah, because Acts 1: 14 describes all the disciples waiting in the upper room for the Spirit to come, and among them are Mary and Jesus' brothers. Although the discovery of James' ossuary might not lead some people to believe in Jesus, the fact that his own brothers became believers is pretty strong evidence that Jesus truly is the savior. Those of you with brothers might think that they are a lot of things, but the sinless Son of God is not likely one of them.Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that the risen Christ specifically appeared to his brother James. We don't know if this is James' point of conversion or not. Tradition tells us that James had determined to fast until he saw the risen Christ himself, and that Jesus appeared to him and fixed a meal himselfWhat we do know is that by Acts 12, James has become an important leader in the Church in Jerusalem. When Peter is miraculously released from prison, he tells the Christians he meets to inform James and the brothers about his escape.What we know from history and tradition is that James was an extremely pious man. He was passionate about keeping the Law and remaining righteous before God. He supposedly took a Nasserite vow even after the coming of the Spirit where he didn't cut is hair or beard, drink wine or eat meat as a sign of devotion to God. He was known for always being in the temple praying, in fact he was said to have knees like a camel's; all calloused, because he spent so much of his day in prayer on his knees. Because of this James held the respect of both believing and non-believing Jews. They called him "James the Just." Jerome, in his commentary on Galatians writes, "this same James, who was the first bishop of Jerusalem and known as Justus, was considered so holy by the people that they earnestly sought to touch the hem of his clothing."James' DeathThe ancient Christian historian Hegesippus"When many, even the rulers, believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Messiah."The Sanhedrin summoned James to appear before it. They told the old man they knew he had great influence over the people, and they themselves recognized him as a just man. However, too many were "going astray" as regards this Jesus, and they could not let that continue.Now Passover is coming, they said, and thousands of people would be assembled in Jerusalem. They therefore directed him to stand far above the crowd at the "pinnacle" of the Temple, to publicly repudiate Jesus, and to urge the people not to be led astray by him.So James knew exactly what was coming. But he also knew that they had provided him, in his last years, with a superb opportunity to bear witness to the whole assembled people on the occasion of their most sacred feast. Thus, he agreed and was taken to the pinnacle above the crowd. "Now tell them," ordered his accusers, "what is the Gate of Jesus" - meaning where Jesus was leading them. James's response rang out to the hushed crowd below:"Why are you asking me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He sits in the Heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of Heaven."The crowd became frenzied, yelling, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!"Realizing they had bungled the job, the chief priest Ananus's servants hurled James from the parapet. The populace must be shown, they reasoned, that this kind of defiant conduct does not pay. People rushed to the spot where he had crashed to the floor below. They found him still alive, and echoing the prayer of Jesus: "I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." In response, one of his condemners took a club, which was used for beating the water out of washed clothes, and bashed him to death. One version says they placed a stone on him, and bore down on it, crushing him.Thus perished James the Just, kinsman of Christ, who emulated him in life and death."We see James' leadership in the early church in two important passages in ActsThe largest controversy of the early church was what to do with the non-Jewish people who had come to believe in Jesus. Paul had been preaching about Christ to Gentiles, and had taught them that their salvation – their relationship with God – was based on the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross, not in obeying the Law. So to a certain extent, they could remain in their culture of origin in all the areas that were not immoral, or part of worshiping other gods. There were some Jewish Christians who didn't believe this – they taught that Gentiles had to become Jewish converts if they were going to follow Jesus.This is what it says:Acts 15:1-21 page 783We can see in this passage that James has become the main leader of the early church in Jerusalem. His decision is wonderful for two reasons1) He doesn't want to set up barriers between the Gentile world and God – he wants to make it as easy as possible for people to come to faith.This is an amazing thing for someone who is known for his holiness, his zeal for the Law, and for the temple to set the ceremonial law aside so that people can come to Christ unhindered.2) He wants to preserve unity in the church – you might wonder about James' requirements on the Gentiles in verse 20. He says no to circumcision, but yes to other parts of the ceremonial law as well as the moral law – namely sexual immorality, and parts of the dietary laws. His reason for this is that "Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."James is concerned that the New Christian Gentiles are also not an offence to the Jewish believers and unbelievers in the cities around the world. He asks the gentiles to keep kosher – thus not only would there be no barriers between the Gentiles and God, but there would also not be any barriers between the Gentile and Jewish believers in the church. With the Gentiles keeping kosher, they two cultures in one church could share meals together, and the Jewish believers need not worry about ceremonial defilement.The other passage where James features prominently is in Acts 21:17-26. Paul had been out on his missionary journeys preaching the Gospel to people throughout the whole region. All along the way he had difficulties with Jewish people telling the new Gentile Christians that they had to convert to Judaism first before they could come to Christ. Paul preached against them, and they often spread rumors about him – how he taught not just the Gentiles not to keep the Law, but the Jews too. They accused him of not following the Law himself. This is how Luke recounts their return to Jerusalem in Acts 21 (page 788)James is concerned for the safety of Paul, and for the witness of the church. He knows that Paul has not given up on his Jewishness, but the rumors are not so kind. James wants to show the Jews of Jerusalem that Paul still believes in a Jewish Messiah. You could almost insert 15:19 in here with other words "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Jews who are turning to God." The rumors about Paul were making it difficult for Jews to accept the Gospel, and they were making it difficult for the Jewish believers to accept Paul as a brother. James helps Paul prove the rumors wrong, by making a very public show of obedience to the Law and to ceremony, Paul would be making this declaration that we is still a Jew who follows Jesus.Paul wrote to the Corinthians:9:19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.James helps Paul to once again be a Jew to the Jews.Next week we will start looking at what God is saying to us through James' writings, but the question for today is: "What is God saying to us through James' life?"He is a great example.A passion for holinessJames' belief in his brother Jesus for salvation did not water down his desire for righteousness, it increased it – he served God more, prayed more, worshiped more. It amazes me that the man who writes so much about practical faith in his epistle, the one who says that Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Is the same man who you couldn't get out of the temple – the same man who they called "old camel knees," The same man who was called "James the Just."We to must learn this passion for holiness. We to must learn this passion for prayer. We to must learn this passion for worship.This is what Tommy Tenny says in his book "God Chasers:""I don't know about you, but I am tired of just being ‘another somebody' to the lost around me. I have made a decision. I made up my mind and set my heart to declare, ‘I am going to pursue the presence of God in my life. I am going to get so close to God that when I walk into secular and public places, people will meet Him.' They may not know that I'm there, but they will definitely know that He is there. I want to be so saturated with God's presence that when I take a seat on a plane, then everyone near me will suddenly feel uncomfortable if they're not right with God – even though I haven't said a word." (The God Chasers, by Tommy Tenney, p. 113-114)...This was the way James was – people felt the presence of the holy God about him so much that they just wanted to touch his hem to get a little bit of God in their life.A passion for graceThat sort of passion for holiness doesn't always fit with a passion for grace. Often those who live by a strict rule themselves are anything but gracious to those who do not.This is not James – he follows the Law with gusto, you would think that he would say to these Gentile believers, "come on now, Jesus went to the cross for you, what is a little circumcision?!" But he does not – he showers them with the same grace that he received. His Holiness is not driven by duty, or guilt, his holiness is driven by gratitude for the grace that God has given him, and that is why he can open the doors of this great salvation to others, and call them in without foisting on the all the trappings of a legalistic religion.We too new to have both of these passions – I have shared this before, but I love Tommy Tenny's image for the church – that we need to have one hand firmly in God's presence, and one hand firmly in the world, so that we can bring the two together.Our God is a God of holiness – a fearful holiness, he is also the God of deep grace, breaking down the walls of sin and law just to be with us! We should be the same.A passion for unityFinally, James has a passion for unity – He has listened to His brother's prayer that the church might be one, and he has followed through to listen to God as to how to live in that desire. The wisdom with which he leads the church through conflict and crisis, and lives in the power of God to make the tweo people groups one is miraculous.We too must learn this passion for practical unity, so that we too can live in Jesus desire that we might be one that the world would see and know that God sent his son into the world.


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