Summary: Introductory sermon in a series on the Book of James.
If there is one thing we learned in the last five weeks as we spent some time going back to the basics of our faith, it is that our faith in Jesus is not just about what happens to me some day when my life here on earth ends. Living as a disciple of Jesus, as the ambassador for His kingdom, requires that my relationship with Jesus impacts every area of my life right here and now.
Perhaps there is no book of the Bible that illustrates that fact better than the book of James. So we’re going to take some time over the next few months to see what we can learn from his letter about how to become more mature disciples of Jesus.
This morning we’ll begin that journey by looking at just the opening verse of James letter and using it as our starting point for a look at the background of this very practical book of Scripture:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
(James 1:1 ESV)
Sometimes, I think we forget that, other than the gospels and Acts, most of the other books of the New Testament were originally letters that were written by godly men, as directed by the Holy Spirit, to specific audiences. So understanding the background of both the author and his audience is crucial if we are going to make a proper application of what is contained in those letters.
This morning’s message is going to be one of those rare times that I’m going to be long on information and short on application. But hopefully the time we spend today will be very profitable in helping us to make personal application as we proceed through the book over the next few months.
Let’s begin by seeing if we can’t identify…
The author identifies himself as James, a very common name. In fact, in Greek, his name is actually a form of the name Jacob. There are four men in the New Testament who bear this name. Although we can’t be totally certain that the author is not another James who isn’t mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, that seems quite unlikely.
Four men named James in the New Testament:
1) James the son of Alphaeus
and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot,
(Luke 6:15 ESV)
He is also referred to as James the younger in Mark 15:40.
2) James the father of Judas
and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
(Luke 6:16 ESV)
Little is known of either of these first two men. One is an obscure apostle, mentioned only in the list of apostles and the other is the father of an obscure apostle. So it is extremely unlikely that anything written by either of them would have ever made it into the canon of the Bible.
3) James the son of Zebedee and brother of John
And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.
(Mark 1:19 ESV)
Although James is an important figure in the gospels, he had a very limited role in the early church, probably due to his early death at the hands of Herod in the spring of 44 AD:
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword,
(Acts 12:1-2 ESV)
4) James the half-brother of Jesus
I am going to refer to this James as the “half-brother”” of Jesus because he had the same mother as Jesus, but obviously had a different father. Although he is mentioned by name only twice in the gospels, he rose to prominence after Pentecost.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he joined the rest of his family believing that his half-brother was mad:
Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
(Mark 3:20-21 ESV)
But the resurrection changed everything. We know that Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
(1 Corinthians 15:7 ESV)
By the day of Pentecost, James and the rest of his family were so convinced that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah that they joined the rest of the believers who were gathered together:
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
(Acts 1:14 ESV)
By the time of the Jerusalem Council, we know from the account in Acts 15 that James was well respected as a leader of the church in Jerusalem and Paul referred to him as a “pillar” in the church in his letter to the Galatians.