Good morning. Today’s message is the 3rd installment of our new sermon series on the 12 apostles. By the time it’s over, we will actually have discussed 14 men who served in this special role. While the New Testament grants the title of apostle to a few others in addition to these, this particular study will include only those who were Jesus’ apostles in the strictest sense of the word.
It is worth noting that Jesus limited the number of apostles to 12. He could have selected many more had He wanted to, but He didn’t. Jesus purposely chose enough apostles to form a nice-sized group with varied personalities and opinions, but not so many that they couldn’t all develop close relationships. Everyone knew each other, and were therefore accountable to one another. No one could hide or remain anonymous. Everyone had responsibilities and expectations. They enjoyed the sweet fellowship and brotherly affection that is sometimes lost in a large group. In addition, it was easier for Jesus to manage a small group and invest Himself personally into each of their lives. While Jesus always had a large following, He purposely kept those nearest to Him few in number. Following this example, it seems wise for churches to utilize a small group strategy in order to maximize their efforts as it pertains to discipleship and fellowship.
For the past 2 weeks we’ve talked about the brothers Peter and Andrew. Today and next Sunday we will deal with another pair of brothers who were also apostles - James and John. We will begin with the apostle James, who was likely the older of the two. Before we get started, please be aware that there was another lesser-known apostle also named James who we will cover later on in this series. We will do our best to keep them straight...
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
James is referred to by several other names including “the son of Zebedee”, “Boanerges” (Son of Thunder), “James the Elder”, and “James the Great”. Because it was so common, these descriptors were sometimes used to distinguish him from other Biblical characters also named James. He and his brother John were the sons of Zebedee and Salome (a female follower of Jesus). He was a fisherman, along with his father and brother, and a business partner with Peter and Andrew. These men worked on the sea of Galilee and lived in or near Capernaum.
Prior to the crucifixion Scripture portrays James as a firey and vengeful man. Jesus nicknamed he and his brother John the “sons of thunder” because of their loud and sometimes foreboding behavior. James could be selfish and conceited, desiring special privileges and/or accolades for himself. Despite these imperfections, he was a member of the “inner circle” of apostles (Peter, James, and John) who were particularly close to Jesus. After the resurrection and ascension James was able to redirect his zeal and ambition to become a courageous leader in the early New Testament church.
The apostle James did not write any portion of the Bible, including the book of James. On the contrary, it was authored by Jesus’ brother James. Because they share the same name, these 2 men are often mistaken for one another. This confusion is compounded because James, the brother of Jesus, also became a prominent leader in the early church and is believed by many to have been the pastor of the first Christian congregation in Jerusalem.
II. HIS MINISTRY WITH JESUS
One day Jesus was teaching a large crowd by the shores of Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee). He saw 2 boats and some fisherman who had come ashore and were cleaning their empty nets. Jesus climbed into one of the boats and was pushed out a little bit into the shallow water. From the floating stage, Jesus continued teaching His audience who listened intently from the beach. When He finished, Jesus told the weary fishermen to go back out and cast their nets again. Having just overheard Jesus’ preaching, they reluctantly agreed. The nets were immediately filled with fish, so much so that the boats themselves became to sink. Jesus then called these men to follow Him. James, along with the others, left everything behind and went with Jesus (Luke 5:1-11).
As a member of Jesus’ “inner circle”, James was allowed to see a few things up close and personal whereas the majority of Jesus’ apostles and other followers were not. James was privileged to witness the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37) and the Transfiguration of Christ (Mark 9:2). He also was invited to go deeper into the Garden of Gethsemane than most of the others on the night of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:33). These occurrences were special because they were unique to James, John, and Peter.
James was present with the apostles during the numerous scenes recorded in the gospels, but is only mentioned specifically on a few occasions. Near the end of His life, as Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem for the last time, He sent messengers ahead into a Samaritan village to make arrangements. When these messengers returned they informed Jesus to go around because the citizens did not wish to receive Him there. James and his brother John became furious and asked the Lord to reign down fire from heaven upon the village. Jesus reminded them that He’d come to save lives - not destroy them (Luke 9:51-56).
During this same journey to Jerusalem, James and John approached Jesus with a question. Apparently their mother Salome was involved in this incident as well (Matthew 20:20). They asked to be seated on the Lord’s right and left in heaven. Jesus seemed shocked by their presumptuous request, and forewarned them of the harsh persecution they’d soon face. He denied their petition by explaining that such esteemed placement was not His to give. When the other 10 apostles learned of James’ and John’s brazen request, they became very upset. Jesus used the opportunity to teach them that those who desire to be great must become servants to everyone (Mark 10:35-45).
Following Jesus’ resurrection, James saw Jesus several times. He was with the others for both of Jesus’ appearances in the upper room, with the 7 apostles who ate breakfast with Jesus by the sea, on the mountain in Galilee where Jesus gave the Great Commission, and at the Mount of Olives when Jesus ascended into heaven. That said, the apostle James is not the person who Jesus appeared to privately (1 Corinthians 15:7); this encounter was between the risen Lord and His brother James.
III. HIS MINISTRY AFTER JESUS WAS GONE
After Jesus departed into heaven, James remained with the other apostles in Jerusalem and helped select Matthias (Acts 1:13). He was there at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles and they began speaking in tongues. Tradition states that James was sent to Spain where he proclaimed the gospel for a few years before returning to Jerusalem.
James is believed to be the first of the apostles to be arrested and executed. King Herod Agrippa sought to satisfy the Jews by putting an end to the growing Christian movement. He had James put to death by the sword, presumably beheaded, sometime around 44 AD. James’ martyrdom is the only one of the apostles’ deaths actually recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2). All references to James in the New Testament after this point refer to Jesus’ brother.
Historical records indicate and it is generally accepted among scholars that all of the apostles, except for one, died as martyrs for their faith. That said, only James’ death is specifically mentioned in the Bible. Therefore, we can be absolutely certain that James was killed due to his bold and unrelenting commitment to Christ. This begs the question… would we be willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel? I don’t mean figuratively - I mean literally.
Jesus speaks of a coming day when Christians will be slaughtered by the thousands for their faith. In truth, this has already been happening since the time of the New Testament in many places around the world. Christianity is illegal and believers are being heavy persecuted in several Islamic, Communist, and other nations. It is estimated that there are currently 215 million persecuted Christians world-wide, and these numbers continue to increase. One reputable religious organization has determined that over 70 million Christians have been martyred since Jesus walked the earth. We need to pray earnestly for the persecuted church.
James was among the first Christians to die for their faith, but he certainly wasn’t the last. If and when this level of persecution comes to America - and it will sooner or later - will we have the courage to stand for Jesus and lay down our lives if necessary? Sometimes I wonder…