Summary: Suffering trials is a strange place to find anyone rejoicing, yet that is the surprising instruction of God for us in Christ.
At the heart of the gospel is the amazing truth of how God is willing to suffer to redeem us. Jesus experienced firsthand the greatest human trial imaginable. He endured being betrayed by on of the 12 apostles, deserted by all his closest friends and followers, falsely accused, being mocked and abused, spit upon and reviled, beaten unmercifully and publicly condemned by the very religious leaders whose job was to stand for God’s law. He was turned over to foreigners to be executed in the worst form of death, tormented to death and shamefully hung naked before jeering crowds on a cross. Then worst of all, we hear the cry of Jesus, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" All the while, Jesus had the power to call upon the Father and destroy all those who were carrying on this terrible persecution. Jesus clearly saw himself as the lamb of God who was being sacrificed for the salvation of man. Jesus saw past the pain to the glory he was bringing.
The Hebrew writer put it well. Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you do not grow weary and lose heart.
Today, we begin a series of lessons from the letter of Jesus’ brother. His name is Jacob, but in the days of king James, and in order to put the king’s name in the Bible translation that bears his name, Jacob’s name was altered to James. Everywhere you see the name James in the New Testament you are actually reading the wrong name. Even Jesus’ apostles should be Peter, Andrew, Jacob and John…
Thankfully, the message of this little letter by Jacob, Jesus’ brother, was not altered in the translation and still speaks a fresh message to God’s people for all time. A message that harkens back to the heart of God regarding how to have joy when you face trial.
Let’s look at the first 15 verses today, and I challenge everyone here to join me in memorizing this together. 102 total verses of God’s word. Give yourself this gift. As he says in verse 21, “humbly receive the word planted in you which can save your souls.”
At the bear minimum, commit one verse to memory for each lesson. Let me see how I do with the first 15 verses.
Let’s reflect on these words. Verse one identifies the author, audience and gives a greeting. This is typical of the epistles of the day. Sort of like our letters that say, Dear soandso, this is Greg. Hope you are doing well.
Verse two begins the actual letter content. What are the first words? This tells us a lot.
Consider it all joy…
What are some things we consider joy? Who is James (Jacob) writing? Jewish Christians. This letter is early on in the Christian movement. Jacob writes this not long after Stephen was killed and the persecution of Saul of Tarsus has broken out. Remember in Acts 8 that the Christians were all scattered because of the persecution? Jacob is writing them to encourage their faithfulness.
So, what does he tell them to consider all joy? What is it? He says, consider it all joy when you encounter various trials. That’s not the natural response to trials. But since the cross, things have taken on new meaning. Before this letter was written look with me at Acts 5:40-42.
These apostles were flogged by their governing officials who were also the religious leaders of the Jewish nation. Why? For teaching and proclaiming Jesus as the Christ and that he who was crucified has been raised from the dead and is reigning now at the right hand of the Father as Lord and Savior. How did these apostles respond to being threatened and beaten for proclaiming the gospel? They considered it all joy, that they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus.
Now, just think about that for a minute. Do you notice anything different in the way we handle being told not to speak in the name of Jesus today? When our governing authorities tell us we can not speak in Jesus' name, how do we respond? What are we trying to avoid?
There is the danger that we will turn to good deeds without the good confession. What I mean is this: the world will applaud good deeds done to help the needy, serve the sick, care for those in crisis, house the homeless, etc. as long AS LONG AS WE DO NOT DO IT IN THE NAME OF JESUS. That's when persecution will arise. Not when we behave well, but when we behave well in the name of our Lord. Christians need to come out of the closet and clearly confess why we do what we do. Look at how that has worked for the homosexual movement. If we avoid the trials confession will bring we avoid the benefits too, and the glory to God to which we are called.