JAMES, THE LORD’S BROTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-24-60 10:50 a.m.
You who are listening on the radio or watching the service on television are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In our preaching through the Word of God, we have come to the Book of James. James was pastor of the church in Jerusalem, and the first general epistle following the Book of Hebrews is the letter written by James, the brother of the Lord. The sermon this morning is an introductory sermon; we get acquainted, we are introduced to this unusual and able and just man.
The first verse of the epistle is this: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting" [James 1:1]. Then he speaks his message. There are three Jameses in the New Testament. We get the word "James" out of the Hebrew, it is "Jacob," then through the Greek, finally it comes to us in the form of "James," "Jacob." There are three of them in the New Testament. One is James the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, one of the appointed twelve apostles [Mark 3:14-17]. He must have been older than John, for in the linking of the two together, his name is always first, "James and John." He was a very devoted and vigorous exponent of the Lord Jesus and the gospel of Christ; for when Herod Agrippa I put forth his hand to afflict the church, the first one that he slew was James Boanerges [Acts 12:1-2], "the son of thunder" [Mark 3:17]. I do not know what might have followed in the story of the founding of the Christian faith in the earth had James been able to live. John, his brother, of course, is one of the foundation pillars upon which the temple of the Lord doth rest. James was slain in about 42 AD. He fulfilled the prophecy of our Lord to him, when our Savior asked him and his brother, "Can you drink the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" James replied, "I can" [Mark 10:37-39]. And he did. He was beheaded by the sword of Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1-2].
The other James is one of the twelve also; he’s called "James, the son of Alphaeus" [Mark 3:18], the brother of Joses, the son of Mary. He must have been small in stature, for he is also called "James the less" or "James the little" [Mark 15:40]. I suppose had he been walking in our midst you would have called him "Shorty." They named him "James the less." We know nothing about him beyond that word that he was a member of the twelve; the son of Alphaeus, the brother of Joses, the son of Mary, and was small in stature.
The third James of the New Testament is one of the most tremendous characters in Christian and secular literature. He is James the son of Joseph and Mary, the brother, the half brother of our Lord [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3]. This James is referred to twice in the Gospels. In the enumeration of the children of Joseph and Mary, James is named in a most prominent place and position. So in the family of our Lord, James occupied a strategic place. He was not only a brother and a son, he was also even in that group, a recognized leader. In the story of the Acts of the Apostles, and in the epistles of Paul, James figures as the most prominent leader in the church. It has always been a strange thing to me that Simon Peter was so exalted by a certain denomination as the leader of the people, when Simon Peter was in nowise the leader even between Simon and Paul. The leader of the Christian world until he was martyred in 63 AD was James the brother of the Lord. To him Paul paid deference, to him Simon Peter paid deference, to him John paid deference, and to him the entire Christian world paid deference. If the churches of Jesus ever had a pope, that pope was James the brother of the Lord. He presided over the council at Jerusalem. He spoke the final and ultimate word [Acts 15:13-22], and as I have said, to him all of the apostles, and leaders, and evangelists, and missionaries paid deference.
When Simon Peter was imprisoned and was liberated by the angel [Acts 12:3-16], he said to the house of Mary, "Go tell James and the leaders of the church what God hath wrought for me" [Acts 12:17]. In the great Jerusalem Council in the fifteenth chapter of Acts that settled forever this question of the Mosaic institutions and the Christian faith [Acts 15:1-12], James is the one that presides over the meeting, and James is the one that pronounces in the name of God, and the Holy Spirit, and the church, the final answer from heaven. And when James speaks, nobody else speaks. And when James says the word, it is final and conclusive [Acts 15:13-22]. In the first chapter of the Book of Galatians, Paul says that when he went up to Jerusalem, "other of the apostles saw I none save James the Lord’s brother" [Galatians 1:18-19]. And in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul completes his third missionary journey, his final one, and when Paul comes to Jerusalem with the gift for the poor saints of the church there, he is taken to James, and to James he makes his report; and James outlines a plan of procedure for Paul the apostle to the Gentiles [Acts 21:18-26]. When we come to this man James, therefore, you are coming to the number one of all of the emissaries, and representatives, and apostles for Christ in the first century. James took precedence over all other of the representatives of Jesus; Peter, John, Paul, Matthew, all of them, this man who is the half brother of the Lord.
Now in profane and in secular literature, you will not find Simon Peter, you will not find the apostle Paul, you will not find John, you will not find any of the apostles, but you will find James. James made a tremendous impression upon the entire religious world. You have a great apocryphal literature about James, and you will find him mentioned in Josephus and in other secular sources.
Now the kind of a man he was is this: in his character he was very rigidly ascetic. He ate no flesh, he drank no wine, and he worshipped God day and night. In literature he is referred to as "James the Just." Hegesippus – isn’t it a tragedy that we lost that great library in Alexandria when it was burned down by the Saracens? Had that library been allowed to exist, there are ten thousand marvelous details that you would know, that you would have known about every apostle and about every first Christian church. But when the great library at Alexandria was burned down by the Mohammedans, all that we have left is just little pericopes, just sections, just references that were copied out by other historians and whose literature has remained unto this day. Hegesippus was the earliest, one of the earliest church historians, and you find some of Hegesippus in Eusebius, who quoted him as a great authority back yonder in these early and primitive days. Hegesippus describes James the Just; says that he was constantly in the temple interceding for his people, and that he prayed so much in behalf of his people that they might be saved, that his knees became calloused and hardened like camels’ knees. That’s what Hegesippus said about him.
In about 62 or 63 AD, James the Just was destroyed; he was martyred. And it came about like this: there is an apocryphal martyrdom of James the Just; the name of it, "The Martyrdom of James the Just." And in that apocryphal writing it says that James the Just, this pastor of the church at Jerusalem, by his preaching alienated Peobsita, the wife of Ananias, the high priest and governor of Jerusalem. I don’t know what he means by that, but I would suppose he meant by it that he won her to Christ; she became a Christian. In any event, whatever it was, the preaching of James took away the wife of Ananias the high priest. And when that happened, this apocryphal writing says that Ananias was infuriated, and instigated a mob against him and lawlessly, lawlessly threw James off from the pinnacle of the temple and stoned him to death, and he died.
Now that apocryphal writing is substantiated by both Hegesippus and Eusebius and in the antiquities of Josephus. Hegesippus says he was thrown off from the pinnacle of the temple, and when the fall did not kill him, he was stoned and clubbed to death. And then Hegesippus immediately adds, "And then Vespasian came and besieged them." It is a common thing that I have run across in the Christian conscience of that day and among all of the Jewish people, there was a feeling, a persuasion, that the destruction of the Holy City by the Romans and the destruction of the Jewish state was a visitation from God for one thing, because of the crime of the murder of James the Just, this wonderfully righteous man. Now, Josephus says in his Antiquities of the Jews, that this marvelous, fine, gloriously righteous man, James the Just was slain in a riot incited against him by Ananias and because of that, Ananias was deposed by the Roman authorities after he had reigned as high priest and governor of Jerusalem for only three months. Now I’ve taken all of that time just to present to you this man, that you might know who it is that writes and that you might be acquainted with somewhat of the stature of these men who are the founders, and promulgators, and preachers of the Christian faith.
Now when you come to the epistle itself – and I haven’t time to speak of it tonight, we shall look at it more closely as a whole – I want to just point out one or two things, and then I have something else in my heart to speak of this morning. The Greek of the epistle is an astonishing thing. Outside of the Book of Hebrews, which was written by an eloquent Alexandrian, whoever he was – I think it was Apollos, other people think it’s somebody else – whoever wrote the Book of Hebrews was an eloquent Alexandrian; he uses the Alexandrian text, the way he presents his message is in the Alexandrian matter, and the man is marvelously eloquent. There’s no more finer literature in ancient or modern history than this marvelously beautiful, eloquent, literary masterpiece, the Book of the Hebrews. Outside of that Book of the Hebrews, the finest Greek in the New Testament is the Book of James. Now it came from one of two things: first, James might have dictated his message to an amanuensis, and that amanuensis, as James spoke in Aramaic, that amanuensis could have written it down in beautiful and wonderful Greek. That is the way it might have been written. Again, James might have written it himself, with his own hand. He might have been able to speak that marvelous Greek that you find here in the New Testament. The Greek of this is exactly like the English of John Bunyan or Daniel Defoe. It is lucid, and clear, and sparkling, and brilliant, and very, very plain. You don’t need to ask about what James means; there are no hidden, or mystic, or apocryphal apocalyptic references in his writings. They are plain and simple, and as you would expect, they are altogether Jewish.
He addresses his letter, "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes of the Diaspora" [James 1:1]. Wherever there was a Jew – all over the scattered, civilized world – to him James addressed this letter. And you can look at the second chapter and see how Jewish it is. For example, in the second verse, "If there come into your," and you have it translated "assembly," James wrote "synagogue"; "If there come into your synagogue a man thus and so" [James 2:2]. Then in this same second chapter he refers to the "royal law," the law of Moses [James 2:8]. And then in the twelfth verse he refers to it as "the law of liberty" [James 2:12]. Then in the twenty-first verse he says, "Was not Abraham our father justified, and so and so" [James 2:21]. And all of his illustrations are taken out of the Old Testament. He’ll talk about Abraham [James 2:23], he’ll talk about Rahab [James 2:25], he’ll talk about Job [James 5:11], he’ll talk about Elijah [James 5:17]; it is a very, very Jewish letter, addressed to Jews, and of course, he himself one of the most rigorous observants of the Mosaic law and of the Jewish traditions to be found in all the story of the Hebrew state.
Now with this introduction of James, I want to talk about him and his half Brother. Then if I could turn it around, I want to talk about Jesus and His family; Jesus and James. Our Lord seemingly, for the years of His manhood, worked for His family. Apparently, and there’s no intimation different from this, apparently Joseph died; must have died when the boy Jesus was, oh, in His early teens. Joseph was still alive when Jesus was twelve [Luke 2:41-46]. Somewhere between the twelfth birthday of our Lord, when He went up to the temple at Jerusalem with the family, and when He was in His teens, somewhere in there, Joseph almost certainly died. And our Lord Christ was the provider of the family; they looked to Him. They called Jesus in several places, "the carpenter’s son" [Matthew 13:55]; but Mark calls him "the carpenter" [Mark 6:3]. Our Lord provided for His family by toiling, by working as a carpenter in the days of His manhood. In the days of His ministry, His brethren did not believe on Him. John writes that in his Gospel [John 7:5]; James did not, Joses did not, Simon did not, the brethren did not believe on Jesus. But the care of our Lord for that family never waned, never abated, never changed. When our Lord was dying on the cross, and looking down upon His mother, He said to the beloved disciple John, "Son, behold your mother"; and to His mother, "Woman, behold thy son" [John 19:26-27]. And then John adds, "And from that day, that disciple took her to his own home, and cared for her" [John 19:27]. Apparently that was due to the lack of sympathy of James and the other half brothers to the claims of messiahship in the Lord Jesus [John 7:5].
Had there been in our Lord any spirit of vindictiveness, or hatred, or resentment, I suppose He could have let it stand; James, Joseph, Simon, the brothers, let them die in unbelief [John 7:5], let them be judged at the bar of God, let them be shut out forever. But as our Lord, in sympathetic solicitude, looked down in sorrow upon His mother, and commended her to John, "Take care of her, John, as your own mother" [John 19:26-27], so when our Lord was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], He made a private, personal appearance to James the eldest son [1 Corinthians 15:7]. And somehow in the goodness of God and the great sympathy of Jesus for His own, He won James to Himself; and through James all of the brethren. And in the fourteenth verse of the first chapter of Acts, when you visit the prayer meeting before Pentecost, you have there with the apostles, the brethren of the Lord, and His mother, all of them won to a like faith in Jesus [Acts 1:13-14]. Aren’t you glad? There’s something about that that just seems right. For Jesus to have gone back to heaven, and James and the brethren outside of the fold of grace, somehow could not have been right. So the Lord made a special appearance to His brother; and through him won the family [1 Corinthians 15:7]. And in the great day of the visitation from heaven and the launching out of the missionary evangelistic worldwide conquest of the gospel of the Son of God [Acts 2:1-4], there you find James, there you find the brothers [Acts 1:13-14]. Judah, you have a little epistle here by Judah, one of those brothers [Jude 1:1-25]. And when James addresses the Jews, he doesn’t refer to himself as the brother of the Lord: "James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," a humble follower of Jesus. And I repeat, I’m glad; I’m glad. That is so as it ought to be. That’s so right.
Now, in the little time that remains, I want to speak about our Lord and His people, our Lord and His family, our Lord and His people, our Lord and the chosen elect tribe and race of God [Romans 11:1-2]. I suppose one of the saddest verses is the eleventh verse of the first chapter of John: "And He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" [John 1:11]. For that purpose did God call Abraham [Genesis 12:1-9], and Isaac [Genesis 17:17-19, 21:1-3, 12, 26:1-5], and Jacob, for that purpose did God call Judah. "The scepter shall not depart from the hand of Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come" [Genesis :10]. He shall have a government, an entity, an existence until Shiloh come. For that purpose did God raise up the throne of David, promised he should have a son to sit upon that throne forever and forever; a son, as of one [2 Samuel 7;12-13, 16; Luke 1:32-33]. And the tragedy of the rejection of that promised Messiah and Lord King was tragic beyond all power to describe it. The Book says, "And the Lord looking on Jerusalem wept, wept, O Jerusalem [Luke 19:41], behold your house is left unto you desolate" [Luke 13:34-35]. And in these writings of the apostle Paul, who was a missionary to the Gentiles, not to the Jews [Acts 9:15, 22:21; Galatians 2:7] – commissioned to the uncircumcision, not the circumcision – the cry and the heartache of that apostle was beyond description: "I could wish myself damned, accursed from Christ," he says in the ninth chapter of Romans, "for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:3]. And he begins the tenth chapter of that same Book of Romans with the same cry: "Behold, my prayer to God and desire for Israel is that they might be saved, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. Israel should have been the great evangelist for the world. They should have headed the church. They should have been calling men to faith and repentance in the gospel of the Son of God. And had they been turned, I suppose that by now the entire earth would have been somehow intimately acquainted with the gospel of Jesus the Lord.
But instead, instead Paul says, "There is a veil over their hearts" [2 Corinthians 3:13-15]. I see it everywhere. In Jerusalem I saw at a meeting – above, at the back, like you’d go to a Kiwanis or Rotary Club, big insignia – there was the seal of the Hebrew University. And on the seal of the Hebrew University is this motto from the second of Habakkuk, and the eleventh of Isaiah, and the seal has this written on it, "The earth shall be full of knowledge." Habakkuk and Isaiah said it this way, "And the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" [Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14]. The veil over their faces, over their hearts, "The earth shall be full of knowledge," not of the Lord, just knowledge, just knowledge. And I see the veil wherever Jewish people are in this earth. Your heart wants to cry out, "Oh, people of God, chosen of the Lord, the seed of Abraham! Oh, Jewish people, children of the chosen family, brethren of Jesus! How is it, how is it that a heart could be so veiled not to see the glory of the beauty in the incomparable gift of the love of God in Christ Jesus, your Messiah, your Brother?" These are the Scriptures that complete every hallowed promise made in the Old Testament; every one of them gloriously fulfilled in that incomparable child of Mary, born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23-25], dying – instead of us – for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:5-14]. The Lamb of God, the Passover offering [1 Corinthians 5:7], whose blood washes the stain out of our soul [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]; but a veil, a veil over the heart [2 Corinthians 3:13-15].
Is God done with the brethren of our Lord? Dear people, I don’t originate this, I don’t invent this, I was never taught this in my life! Just as I read the Book and began to preach it in this pulpit did I come to see that what the Lord Jesus did for His brother James and the brethren, what He did in appearing to them and winning them to Himself, so God has promised in every prophet that has ever prophesied and in every utterance that has been written down in that Book, every one of those prophets, God has promised that He hath not cast away His people, that God in a providence and in a time, and an elective purpose into which I cannot enter, God will bring back to His fold and to His faith these brethren who now live in unbelief. If you will read the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans, and the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, and the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans:
Hath God cast away His people? God forbid! God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew –
and he says here, don’t you be persecuted – don’t you be persuaded –
blindness in part has happened to Israel until the elective purpose of God is done in this Gentile age. But at the end, at the fullness of that time, all Israel shall be saved!
[Romans 11:1-2, 25-26]
Any commentator will write, "That is the most difficult and the most inexplicable of all of the verses in the Bible!" I don’t see it. I don’t understand it! I don’t know how to preach it to you! I just know that by revelation the apostle Paul said, "And some day all Israel shall be saved! as it is written" [Romans 11:26], then he quotes the prophets:
There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer who shall turn away unbelief from Jacob; for this is My covenant, concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes, that you might be grafted in; but concerning the election they are beloved for the fathers’ sake, for God does not change! For the gifts and the calling of God are without turning.
God chose them, and He says, "They are Mine forever" [2 Samuel 7:24]. And I don’t understand; but God said it. I don’t understand very much of anything. Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you," Matthew 24:34, "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled"; talking about those Jewish people, "this kind, this genus, this race, they will be here till I come again!" And they are here! And Jesus says, "And they will be here till I come again" [Matthew 24:34].
And all of these prophecies, if we had hours, we’d look at these things for ourselves. All of these prophecies prophesied that very thing Isaiah said, "Who hath heard such a thing?" He didn’t understand it:
Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such a thing? That a nation should be born in a day, that a whole race and tribe and nation should be converted in a day, in a day, at one time. Rejoice with Jerusalem, be glad with her, all ye that love her. For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make shall remain before Me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain.
[Isaiah 66:8,10, 22]
That’s not unusual. When you turn to the next great prophet Jeremiah:
Fear not, O Jacob, saith the Lord; nor be dismayed: I will save thee from afar, and thy seed . . . I am with thee . . . though I make a full end of all the nations whither I have scattered thee; I will never make a full end of thee, never, never.
[Jeremiah 30: 10-11]
Wish we had an hour just to look at Ezekiel, the next great prophet:
The word of the Lord, Son of man, the house of Israel, dwelt in their own land; then because of their sins I poured My fury upon them. I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through all the countries. But I have pity upon Mine own. Therefore say unto Israel, Thus saith the Lord God, I do not do this for your sakes, house of Israel, but for Mine holy name’s sake, which ye profane. For I shall take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And then will I sprinkle clean water upon you; and you will be clean. And I will put a new heart in you, and a new spirit I will put in you; and I will take away that old stony heart of unbelief, and you will be saved. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and keep My judgments. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be My people, and I will be your God.
That’s a prophecy of the regathering of Israel in unbelief and not converted, gathered there, "Then will I put a new heart in you" [Ezekiel 36:26]. And he goes on, the most beautiful poetry in the earth: "Thus saith the Lord, In the day that I shall have cleansed you, and caused you to dwell in the cities of your land, the desolate land will be filled" [Ezekiel 36:33]. I haven’t time. Amos says:
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David. I will bring again the captivity of My people Israel. I will plant them upon their land and they shall no more be pulled up out of the land which I have given them, saith the Lord God of hosts.
And if I had time, we’d go to the Revelation. Some of these days my brethren, some of these days the Book says there’s going to be a revival in this earth like the world never heard of, not since the dawn of creation. Some of these days these Jewish unbelievers who now turn aside from the appeal of the gospel of the Son of God, some of these days those Jewish unbelievers are going to turn in faith to Christ; they’re going to accept their elder Brother; they’re going to be Christians like you are Christians; they’re going to receive Jesus in faith as you have received him in faith. And the Book says there’s going to be a revival in this earth like the earth never saw [Revelation 7:1-17]. It’ll be in the days of an awful sorrow and an awful burden and an awful persecution; in the days of the great tribulation, the Book calls it [Revelation 7:14]. When those Jews got through preaching the gospel of the Son of God, thousands of them, evangelists, when they got through preaching the gospel of the Son of God:
I saw in heaven the vast throng who had been won to the faith in their marvelous and incomparable testimony. And the angel asked me, Who are these? And I said, Lord, I do not know; I never saw such a throng, not such a multitude in my life. I do not know; thou knowest. And the angel replied, These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; these are they who have been won by those evangelists; these are they who have come out of the great tribulation.
You don’t have it translated like that in your Book, and it’s a tragedy it wasn’t translated like it was written in the Greek. "These are they who have come out of that great tribulation. Therefore are they before the throne of God" [Revelation 7:14-15]. Hindus are there. Indians are there. South Americans are there. Asians are there. John says, "I saw them out of every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and language, and family under the sun" [Revelation 7:9].
Wouldn’t you like to live in a day like that when the Word came in? China by the thousands and the millions are turning to God; Soviet Russia, now in the depths and curse and agony of an atheistic government, Soviet Russia, turning to God by the thousands and the millions. Wouldn’t you like to hear of it in America, in secular, profane, blaspheming America? These have put aside their materialism and their atheism and their secularism, and the churches are filled and jammed, and more are being built. The whole nation is turning to God. And wouldn’t you like to hear it from Africa, and from northern Europe, and from the South Pole and the North Pole? The reports coming in: people by the millions turning to God [Revelation 7:9]. That’s what the Book says; soon the millennium, soon the millennium [Revelation 20:4].
Why, bless you, when you get discouraged, when you get heartbroken and troubled, and the whole thing seems to be so hard and so difficult, men have stony hearts and veils over their faces, and the whole earth seems covered with darkness and materialism, lift up your heart, lift up your face: we’re not going to lose; we can’t lose. We’re not going to be drowned in a sea of unbelief and despair and darkness; we’re not going to be. We’re going to win. We’re on God’s side, and God can’t lose. And some of these days there’s going to be that marvelous revival when God turns back to His people, and when His people turn unto God [Romans 11:26].
Well, in the meantime, let’s stay with it – preaching the message, telling the whole world about Christ – wherever we have opportunity sowing the seeds of the gospel of the Son of God. And you don’t know when, but it’s coming. It may be tomorrow.
Now while we sing this song of appeal, somebody you give his heart to the Lord; a family you, put your life with us in the church. In this great throng in the balcony round, on this lower floor, wherever, as God shall say the word, shall open the door, would you make it now? ‘Here I am, pastor, and here I come; looking to Jesus in faith," or "putting my life in the fellowship of the church." While we make appeal, while we sing the song, anywhere, somebody you, would you come? Would you make it this morning? On the first note of the first stanza, "Here I am." Would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.