THE TWELVE 2008 — JAMES
As our video clip illustrates, love for God minus love for people is dangerous. It doesn’t work with your own kids. Or anyone else’s. The monumental 15 year study of Adventist young people called Value Genesis taught us that consistent family worship, a grace based church, and serving the community are the 3 most significant factors in keeping Adventist youth interested in God and our church. These are important lessons to learn. And relearn. And fortunately, the apostle we’re studying today did so before he became the first apostle to be martyred for his faith. Which we’ll get to in point number three. But before we do, let’s not miss point number one. Love for God minus love for people is dangerous. We have to show and tell. Or our telling, especially with a bullhorn, will fall on deaf ears.
And this first point was as difficult for James to learn in the 1 st century as it is for us to relearn in the 21 st century. Why? Because in real life, James was anything but silent. Which is why he and his brother John were known as “Sons of Thunder.” And because he was the oldest son and future heir of the well known and influential clan, perhaps he felt it was his right to do so. His name always appears first when James and John are mentioned. So he was probably the older brother. Matthew 20:20, 26:37; 27:56; Mark 10:35; Luke 5:10; and John 21:2 all highlight that James and John were “the sons of Zebedee.” So Zebedee must have been an important guy.
We also know the lineage of James was significant because John 18:15–16 says his brother John “was known to the high priest” in Jerusalem. Which is probably how John was able to get Peter admitted to the high priest’s courtyard on the night of Jesus’ arrest.
Some scholars add that Zebedee was a Levite and closely related to the high priest’s family all of which adds to the Zebedee prestige. Which was based not only on priestly lineage but worldly wealth. Mark 1:20 says his fishing business on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee was large enough to employ multiple hired servants.
So probably for all these reasons, as the elder brother in a priestly and financially prominent family whose reputation was known from Galilee to Jerusalem, James probably felt that he should be the chief apostle. Who cares if Andrew was the first one called? Who cares if Peter was large and in charge? James had the right lineage. He had the resources. He had the prestige. Does this background help you understand a little better why Luke 22:24 says there were so many disputes about “which of them was considered to be greatest”?
In 2 of the 4 lists of the apostles, his name comes immediately after Peter’s (Mark 3:16–19; Acts 1:13). So there is good reason to assume James really was as strong a leader as he thought he was. Perhaps second in influence only to Peter. He, Peter, and John were the only ones allowed to go with Jesus when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead in Mark 5:37. This same group were the only ones who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17:1. James was among four apostles who questioned Jesus privately on the Mount of Olives in Mark 13:3. And he was again included with Peter and John when Jesus prayed privately in Gethsemane in Mark 14:33.
So big picture, what we know about James is he observed many things in an intimate setting with Jesus that the others did not. Which undoubtedly strengthened his faith for the suffering and martyrdom that he would face first. While Andrew was quietly bringing individuals to Jesus, James was wishing he could call down fire from heaven to destroy entire villages of them. And that’s where point number one comes from so turn with me to Luke 9:51-56 to see how Scripture illustrates it. Love for God minus love for people is dangerous.
Verses 51–53 say, “51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.”
When Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, the Bible says the land of Samaria was resettled with pagans and foreigners who were loyal to the Assyrian king. 2 Kings 17:33 says after they did, the people there “Worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods.”
And the Samaritans were despised and rejected because they did. But Jesus was despised and rejected too. And in His ministry, He never showed the Samaritans anything but much love. In Luke 17:16, he healed a Samaritan’s leprosy and commended that man for his gratefulness. Luke 17:16 says, “16He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” In John 4:7–29, He met the Samaritan woman at the well and then stayed in that woman’s village for two days. In one His most well known stories that must have upset His Jewish audience, He made the Good Samaritan the hero of the story in Luke 10:30–37. Later, in Acts 1:8, He would command His disciples to preach the gospel in the very place they all tried to avoid—Samaria.
Jesus was always compassionate and kind toward Samaritans. But now the despised and rejected people in Samaria were despising and rejecting Jesus. And that made James mad. And there is a legitimate place in spiritual leadership for people whose blood boils at inequality and unfairness and injustice. What breaks the heart of God should break ours. And if need be our banks. That’s why Nestor asked me to sign a paper from Panera Bread allowing him to distribute free bread to the 13% of Ohioans who can’t afford to buy it. If you’d like to bake your own bread and add it to the pile to be distributed, please talk to Nestor or read my blog post on the table in the foyer about that. What a great ordinary outreach. We should give him a WTG for that. Nestor, we commend you...
There’s a famous quotation attributed to the 18 th century British statesman Edmund Burke that reads: “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.” But doing nothing was not an option for James. He decided the Samaritan’s rejection of Jesus just ain’t right. And he thought he had more than enough reasons to take a stand.
He witnessed Jesus’ zeal when he made a whip and cleansed the temple. He heard Jesus rebuke the Jewish leaders and curse the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida. He watched Jesus confront and cast out demons. Undoubtedly he had read or heard about Nehemiah’s reforms of old and how in Nehemiah 13:25 the prophet rebuked the men of Judah and called curses down on them. The Bible even says in that verse that Nehemiah actually “beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.” How would you like your pastor to try that? Mercy!
But the Bible also says in Romans 10:2 (NIV), that zeal apart from wisdom is dangerous. “2For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Point number one: Love for God minus love for people is dangerous. But James didn’t get that yet. So in Luke 9:54 it says, “ 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" My Bible has a footnote that adds, “Some manuscripts include the words: ‘even as Elijah did.’” They add that because that’s exactly what the prophet Elijah did in Samaria years earlier. You can read the entire story in 2 Kings 1:1–17. Long story short: the evil King Ahazia, son and successor of the evil king Ahab, who 1 Kings 16:32 says was the one who originally started worship of Baazebub in Samaria after marrying his infamous and wicked wife Jezebel, Ahazia injures himself falling downstairs and wants to know if his injuries are fatal. Ignoring Deuteronomy 18's advice not to seek counsel from mediums and fortune tellers, according to 2 Kings 1:2, he sends messengers to inquire of Baal–Zebub, the god of Ekron. But before they get there, the angel of the LORD tells Elijah to meet the messengers from the king and tell them to tell the king he’s going to die. The evil king, son and, gets mad and sends 2 companies of 50 men after Elijah—obviously more than enough to capture one man—but before they can even try to capture him, Elijah calls fire down from heaven twice which devours both companies of soldiers.
That story took place in Samaria. After years and years of warnings and invitations through the prophets to repent that were rejected. It happened in the very region Jesus was traveling now. And it was an instant classic. It was well known to the disciples and would have been on their minds when traveling through this area. So when James and John suggested fire come down from heaven, they were really thinking about what Elijah did in 2 Kings 1. And he wasn’t condemned for his actions. On the contrary, he was affirmed as following the word of the LORD.
But James wasn’t. In fact, Jesus rebukes James strongly. Luke 9:55 says, “But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” Why? Because he was following his word instead of Christ’s. His motive was wrong. Unselfish zeal for the LORD and his children being treated unjustly or unfairly is good. But selfish zeal stemming from exclusive pride and arrogance is bad. Listen to the pronouns. You can hear their arrogance in their question in Luke 9:54 (NIV). “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
They didn’t have power to call fire down from heaven. Jesus was the only one who had that kind of power. And if that were an appropriate response, Jesus would have already done it. So what these Sons of Thunder were really saying was they wanted the power to call fire down from heaven even though they knew Jesus had already decided not to.
Jesus had been challenged many times by His enemies to produce miraculous signs—but He always declined. Now he’s being challenged by His closest friends. James was basically saying, “I know you won’t call down fire, but will you please let me! I’ve got the guts to do it even if you don’t.” Is that arrogant enough for you?
No wonder Jesus rebuked him! Some manuscripts include these words attributed to Jesus in Luke 9:55-56 (NIV). “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.” Thank God Jesus taught James that loving kindness and compassion for the despised and rejected, the mean and the militant, the openly hostile and hated, are the ways God wants us to be evangelistic. Thank God Jesus is teaching us the same thing.
Love for God minus love for people is dangerous. It is a lesson often learned best in the course of a lifetime. But James didn’t have that long. He would be dead in 15 years. So one day in Samaria, Jesus gave James the cliff notes version all at once. And in His compassionate response to the Samaritans, Jesus taught us point number two: We must show and tell. So what if some reject you? Luke 9:56 says they moved on to another Samaritan village that did not! So we must continue to show and tell others about the crazy love of God. Because that’s what draws all men to Jesus. Even those that are apparently hostile to it at first.
A few years later, Acts 8:5 says, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8So there was great joy in that city.” Perhaps many of the people who were saved under Philip’s preaching were some of the same people whom Jesus spared when James wanted to judge and incinerate them. Love for God minus love for people is dangerous. So we must show and tell.
Long after they left the region of Samaria, James remained a man of passion and zeal. But he never forgot the lessons of humility and compassion that Jesus taught him either. For when Herod wanted to stop the growth of the early church, he zeroed in on 2 men. Peter, whom he threw in prison but miraculously escaped. You can read about in Acts 12. And James. Whom he had beheaded in 45 AD. At one time, James wanted to be the chief apostle. He believed it was his birthright. He had the lineage and the prestige. He was zealous and arrogant. He wanted control and power. But Jesus gave him servanthood and a martyr’s grave instead. Which he willingly accepted.
History confirms what Acts 12:1-2 records. That Herod Agrippa I, the nephew of the Herod who beheaded John the Baptist, beheaded the apostle James 14 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection making James the only apostle whose death is actually recorded in Scripture.
Eusebius and Clement of Alexandria, two ancient historians, add the following details. They say that the guard who led James to the judgement seat heard James bearing his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he was himself also a Christian. Then they were both led away to be executed, but on the way, the guard begged James to forgive him which he did. And minutes later, they were both beheaded.
Somewhere between Samaria and that sword, God’s grace saved and sanctified James. Taming his tongue, redirecting his zeal, eliminating his thirst for revenge, and draining all arrogance and selfish ambition from his body. We know Jesus saves. We sing that song I surrender all. But sometimes we forget that He also sanctifies. One is the work of a moment. The other the work of a lifetime. But both are gifts of God’s grace. Hebrews 13:12 (NKJV) reminds us, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”
God does it all. Our job is to fall out of bed and invite Him to do so I our lives again today. Our job is to maintain a relationship with Jesus that we humbly and compassionately share with others. Sincerely obeying and following all He shows us until the day we die or Jesus comes again. And because James learned to do that, he became more like Andrew. Bringing people to Jesus instead of itching to execute judgement on them. And the same miraculous transformational things that obviously occurred in the life of James can happen in ours bringing much love and joy to our city. For our God whom we serve is able. Do you believe that? Isn’t that good news?
Love for God minus love for people is dangerous. Point number one. So we must show and tell. Point number two. Asking others to surrender all. And if they do, just like He did for James, point number three, God will save and sanctify them too. That’s the reason Hebrews 13:12 says Jesus died on the cross. To do both of those things for his people. The life and death of James the apostle should remind us of these things.
In closing, would you think about and slowly read together with me, out loud in unison, the words found in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) off the screen? Think about these words while you’re saying them. The Bible says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen.
For more information see John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men pages 77-94.