Summary: James the son of Alphaeus is basically an unknown disciple, yet he is still an important member of the twelve apostles. When we are in Christ we also are disciples and many of us will be totally unknown, but we are just as important.
James son of Alphaeus – named but unknown.
Mark 3:18f (text)
There are multitudes of books written by, and about, the ministry efforts of great servants of God. Some of the big names today:- Billy Graham, Tony Campolo, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Max Lucado. All these men have been great servants of God. They are well respected in the community. They have transformed the way people think about church. And they follow in the footsteps of a long line of big names … a line that began in the New Testament era with the 12 disciples.
John the Sons of Zebedee.
These are the names which come to mind quickly aren’t they. And we know quite a bit about them. But we also know there are a couple of others. One of those others is James son of Alphaeus.
How much do we know about this disciple? You will find his name in four places in Scripture.
This is where the Gospels list the 12 disciples of Jesus … with James’ name appearing among the list. And the fourth time is in Acts 1:13 which gives us a list of the disciples who were around after the ascension of Jesus.
Four occasions. Just one name in a list of names. And that is it.
In a day and age when everyone displays themselves to the public on facebook … and where the media hound celebrities … and when we can find out so much about so many people … it seems so strange that James Son of Alphaeus is given so little attention. Especially when we remember that he is a disciple of Jesus. That’s a pretty important position to hold.
Ephesians 2:19-20 tells us that God’s household (is) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone. If James were around today he could look at the world wide community of believers and say, “It was my ministry that helped give all of this its foundation”. That’s a pretty important position to have isn’t it.
Or think about that time when the apostles got together to decide who was going to be the replacement for Judas. Acts 1:21-22 gives us the criteria which was required for being an apostle. They had to be men who have been with the disciples the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up to heaven.
The whole time the Lord Jesus was among the disciples. James witnessed first-hand wonders which can only be imagined. He heard the tone of Jesus’ voice … and saw all the facial expressions. He witnessed the Jesus’ tears of sadness … and the smile that came upon His face when faith was turned to sight. He was there when the miracles happened … the blind seeing, the cripple walking, and the dead coming to life. James had been one of the privileged few who enjoyed this wonderful experience.
James has such an important position, and his ministry experience is far beyond anything we will ever experience today, and all we know about him is his name … and the name of his dad: James son of Alphaeus. But that is enough. Because this lack of information encourages us in our service to God and our response to His love.
To see what I mean let’s imagine there was much more information. Let’s imagine there were additional books in the Bible.
The Memoirs of Matthew.
The Biography of Bartholomew.
The Story of Simon Peter.
The Journal of James son of Alphaeus.
And let’s imagine that these books gave an extensive account of the actions of each of the apostles.
The places where they set up churches.
A list of people who were converted by their ministry.
The persecution they were willing to suffer.
And on and on it went.
It would be a fascinating … but it would also be very discouraging. For how could we dare to call ourselves disciples compared to such shining examples?
But that is not what the Bible does. In some ways it does quite the opposite. For example we have a reasonable amount of information about people like Peter and John. But it hardly an autobiography. In fact, when it comes to the disciples, Judas is fourth on the list in terms of the amount of passages dedicated to him. And that is not all. The disciples may be the ones who are in the position of being the foundations of the church … but they are not the brightest sparks are they.
There was an occasion, in fact a number of occasions, when Jesus was teaching parables and the disciples didn’t understand. They would ask Jesus afterwards what He meant. On one occasions Jesus responds by firstly saying, Are you so dull … that you don’t understand this? (Mark 7:18)