Summary: With the discovery of the James Ossuary and its arrival in Toronto, we’ve decided to crack open James. This is a biographical sermon about the man
Saint James – Who Was This Man? January 5th 2003
Acts 15:1-35, 21:17-26
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 display
What 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 Man
So 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 leadership
We 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.