JAMES, THE LORD’S BROTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-21-74 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who have joined with us in this early morning service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. All of you who are listening on radio and to the great throng in the service this morning, this is the pastor delivering the first sermon on the Epistle of James. We conclude with this series on James our long series on the general epistles; nor will there be a more blessed and interesting series than this one on James.
James 1:1: “James, a servant of God,” doulos, a slave, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting”; I would know from that, from the first syllables, from the first sentence, I would know from that that we are going to listen to a man who is a Jew of the Jews. His epistle is so addressed, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes.”
There is no such thing as the lost ten tribes. They are not lost, all twelve of those tribes are known to God today. He knows exactly where each one is, He knows exactly every family that belongs in them. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes” [James 1:1]—not ten, or two, but to all twelve of them—“which are,” and you have the word diaspora, translated here, “which are scattered abroad.” James wrote it, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes,”—all twelve of them—“of the Diaspora,” that’s the way he wrote it, “of the Diaspora,” the children of Israel that are scattered among the nations of the world.
We have some of them here in Dallas. You can go talk to them. Some of them are our best friends. If you were in London, if you were in the British Isles, where Tony comes from, you would see some of them there. If you were in Hong Kong, you’ll meet some of them there; scattered, the Diaspora, the twelve tribes scattered among the nations of the world.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” [James 1:1], there are three James’ in the New Testament. One is James the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, and one of the chief apostles [Mark 1:19-20]: Peter, James, and John [Matthew 10:2]. This James apparently was the older of the two brothers. He is always named first, “James and John.” This James was the first martyr among the apostles. He fulfilled in his tragic death the prophecy of the Lord when the Lord said to him, “Thou shalt indeed drink of the cup of which I drink, and be baptized withal with the baptism that I am baptized with” [Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:38-39]. And that was a prophecy on the part of Jesus that as He Himself would suffer [Matthew 27:32-50], so James would also suffer. And in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, it begins with the martyrdom of James. Herod Agrippa, in 44 AD, cut off his head [Acts 12:1-2].
There are two of those Herod Agrippas: Herod Agrippa I is the one who slew James [Acts 2:1-2]. Herod Agrippa II is the one before whom Paul appeared, when in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts he says, “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19]. In the twelfth chapter of Acts he’s called Herod, the father [Acts 12:, 1, 6, 11]. In the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts the son is called Agrippa [Acts 26:17, 17, 19]. Both of them had the same name though, Herod Agrippa. And Herod Agrippa I, in 44 AD, martyred James, the brother of [John] and the fishing partner in the company of Simon and Zebedee [Luke 5:10].
The second James in the New Testament is someone that we know nothing about. He’s called “James the son of Alpheus,” and he is an apostle [Matthew 10:3]. Some identify him with James the Little, James the Less. Some identify him with the brother of Joses and the son of Mary. We don’t know. We just know that there was another apostle among the Twelve and his name also was James.
Now the third James is this James; and this is the tremendous towering character of the New Testament outside of Simon and Paul. It’s hard for us to remember that because when we think of James, we think of Peter, James, and John. Actually, that James was martyred so early that as far as we know there was no contribution made to the evangelization of the world by the apostle.
But this James [James 1:1], had you lived in that first century, this James is the great, all-inclusive personality in the first Christian church. Now you think it is Paul. Some think it would be John. Some think it is Peter. Not so. Had you lived back there, I don’t know whether you would have particularly noticed John or not, John is famous to us because of his writings. He wrote the Gospel that we love so much. He wrote the three Epistles. He wrote the great Apocalypse, and we think John must have been, therefore, a tremendously impressive personality. I doubt it. We also think of Simon Peter as being the great instrument of God in that first church. And of course we think of Paul as being the greatest of all of the disciples of the Lord. Now that’s what we think now, and our thinking, of course, is colored by the centuries of history that have followed and by the writings of the New Testament.
But actually, if you will go back into that first Christian century and into that first church, the great moving spirit is James. He is the head of all of it. If there is a pope, he’s it. If there is a bishop, he’s it. If there is a ruling spirit, a presiding officer, an ecclesiastical prelate in the church, James is it.
Now this James is the Lord’s brother [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3]. The Lord Jesus and this James had the same mother. This James is the son of Joseph [Galatians 1:19]. He is, with his brothers and his sisters, a part of the family of Joseph and Mary. By name he is mentioned twice in the Gospels, and in both instances, in the synoptic tradition, it’s the same story. He’s mentioned in Matthew [Matthew 13:55]. He’s mentioned in Mark [Mark 6:3].
John the apostle refers to the fact that he didn’t believe in Jesus [John 7:5]. He was an unbeliever. It’d be pretty hard, I suppose, for a younger brother to believe that in his family there is the Son of God and the Savior, the Messiah of the world. And what you find in James you find very typically expressed among the great masses of his Jewish brethren. So he is the Lord’s brother. He’s the Lord’s half brother. And he rose to tremendous stature in the first Christian community.
When the Lord was raised from the dead, he appeared to James, to James [1 Corinthians 15:7]. And in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, having won him to the faith, and through James having won the rest of the family to the Christian faith, we find this James with his brethren and with their mother Mary [Acts 1:13-14], we find him there in the prayer meeting in Jerusalem at the beginning of the first Christian convocation.
This James ascended in power and authority. When the apostle Paul was converted [Acts 9:1-18], after his three years in Arabia, in 37 AD [Galatians 1:17-18], he went to Jerusalem to see James, this James [Galatians 1:19]. Upon the conclusion of the first missionary journey in 50 AD, there arose an altercation in the church. When you see divisiveness and debate and discussion in the church, it has been that way from the beginning.
There were those in the church who said that before a Gentile can be saved he must be circumcised, he must keep the law of Moses, he must be a full fledged Jew, then he can become a Christian [Acts 15:1-5]. And the apostle Paul, of course, preached with Barnabas and the rest of those brethren, those Hellenistic Jews, preached that one could become a Christian just by trusting Jesus [Acts 13:38-39, 15:10-11], with no ritual, with no law observance, with nothing except just faith, just coming to Jesus.
There was a great altercation, altercation in the church at that time. And that occasioned the first Jerusalem Conference in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 15:1-21]. And it is James who presides over the conference. It is James who is the pastor of the church. It is James who pontifically and authoritatively makes the final decision and gives the report, the decree, to Barnabas and to Paul that is taken among the churches of the Gentiles [Acts 15:13-22]. He was the great towering personality.
At the end of Paul’s journeys, before he went to Rome in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, he reports to James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem [Acts 21:18-19]. And in the personal writing of that conference in the fifteenth chapter of Acts [Acts 15:13-22], which is found in the first and the second chapters of Galatians [Galatians 1:18-19, 2:9], in writing about that conference, the apostle Paul, in Galatians, plainly shows there that Peter and John paid deference to this James, deep deference. And in the Galatian letter, Paul always will write James’ name first; James, then Peter and John [Galatians 2:9]. It is he that has the great authority. It is he who presides. It is he who says the final word. It is he who writes the decree [Acts 15:13-21]. The great towering personality of the first Christian century was James, the Lord’s brother.
Now that’s just hard for us to believe. But it’s good for us to know it, to see it, if for no other reason than the pope was certainly not Simon Peter. If they had a pope, it was certainly James the Lord’s brother. Paul was a great missionary and was out at the fringes and the frontiers, but the great, moving, central spirit of the Christian faith in its beginning ministries was James, the Lord’s brother, this James.
Now to corroborate that, which is an astonishing thing, James is about the only one that you will read about in secular history. You’ll never hear Paul’s name mentioned in secular history, I mean back there. You’ll never hear Simon Peter’s name, or John’s name. They’re not referred to. But you run into James several times.
Not only was he the great central figure of the first Christian church, but this James made a profound impression upon the religious and the secular world. You read about him in history. For example, Hegesippus, who is a historian of the second Christian century, Hegesippus says that “James the Just,” he was called “James the Just, the Just,” that this James was “a holy man of God from his mother’s womb, that he drank no wine, that he ate no flesh, and that he was so constantly in the temple in Jerusalem interceding for his people that his knees became like camel’s knees.” And I have stumbled into that many, many times in my reading—that he prayed so much, interceding for his lost people that his knees were like camel’s knees. This is this James.
Now there is an apocryphal story. There are many apocryphal pieces of literature that accompany the days of the New Testament and thereafter. One of those is entitled the Martyrdom of James. And in that story, the apocryphal story of this James the Just; it says that in his preaching there in Jerusalem he infuriated Ananias, the high priest and the governor of the city. And that Ananias had him thrown down from the temple, the pinnacle of the temple; and that he died under the clubs and under the stones of the infuriated people who had been incited to such riot and wrath by Ananias the high priest. That’s the apocryphal story.
You find this James referred to by Eusebius, who was the greatest historian of the first three Christian centuries. Eusebius says also that James was martyred by Ananias the high priest when they threw him down from the pinnacle of the temple. And then Eusebius says, “And immediately Vespasian began to besiege the people,” Vespasian, who, the general of the Roman army who later became the great Flavian, the first Flavian Caesar, whose son was Titus who destroyed Jerusalem when Vespasian became the Roman Caesar. Now, that thing that Eusebius says points out something that was almost universal in that day. When Ananias slew James the Just, this man, it became a current conviction, not only in the Christian community but also in the Jewish community—that a large part of the judgment of God upon the Jewish nation that was visited by Vespasian and Titus, that destroyed the nation, that destroyed the city, and that destroyed the temple—that a great part of that visitation from God was due to the martyrdom, the slaying, the murder, of this James, the Lord’s brother. Isn’t that an unusual thing?
Now, one other instance, the great historian Flavius Josephus; he’s called Flavius because he was a patron of Vespasian and Titus, the Flavian emperors, so he took their name, Flavius Josephus, a tremendously gifted Jewish historian, I suppose the greatest Jewish historian of all time. Josephus writes about this James, and he describes his death saying that Ananias was inflamed by the preaching of this James and had him slain. And Josephus says it so infuriated the city of Jerusalem that the people rose up and deposed Ananias, the governor of Jerusalem and the high priest of the Jews, after he had been ruler for only three months. Now I have taken time to go through all of this in order for us to see that this man we’re preaching about now is not just some other disciple of the Lord or convert. We are preaching about the great, moving, central personality of the first Christian church. This is James.
As I begin in this message, you would expect it to be very Jewish, and it is. This is by far—the Epistle of James is by far the most Jewish of all of the writings of the New Testament. The whole thing is Jewish. It is addressed to the twelve tribes of the Diaspora [James 1:1], and I’m going to take just for a moment, and just as an illustration, the second chapter of the Book of James. Look at this second verse. “If there come into your assembly,” you see, the translation of the word hides the actual word that James used. He uses the word sunagōgē. Now the sunagōgē is in our language the synagogue. So James says, “If there come into your synagogue, a man” [James 2:2], and then he goes on. It is very Jewish. Now look in the eighth verse. He calls the law of Moses the royal law [James 2:8]. Now look in the twelfth verse. He calls that law the law of liberty [James 2:12]. Look in the twenty-first verse. He refers to Abraham our father; Abraham our father [James 2:21]. Then he talks about Abraham again in the twenty-third verse: “the Friend of God” [James 2:23]. And then in the twenty-fifth verse he uses an illustration about Rahab the innkeeper [James 2:25]. It is a very Jewish book.
Now another thing about it, this book—which is an amazing surprise to me—did you know, that outside possibly of the Book of Hebrews, this is the best, finest, Greek in the New Testament? Now isn’t that an astonishing thing? This James, the Lord’s brother, who writes the most Jewish of any other writers in the New Testament, this man writes in the finest Greek of all of the New Testament. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? Better than Matthew, better than Mark, better than Luke, better than John, better than Paul; outside, possibly, of the Book of Hebrews, the finest Greek is this Greek. He writes magnificently. This man James writes in Greek just exactly as John Bunyan writes in English, or that Daniel Defoe writes in English; that’s the kind of writing of James.
It is succinct. It is beautiful. It is magnificent. It is without embellishment, like rococo, you know, all the floozy stuff that some people use in order to make their prose. You know, they think magnificent, and effective, and impressive. No, he writes beautifully, plainly, such as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. That’s the Greek of this. Now how could you explain that?
Well, I’ll give you an illustration of what could have happened in 1 and 2 Peter. First Peter is fine Greek. Second Peter is written by someone as though he used the Greek lexicon. There’s that much difference between the two. Well, some of these critics come along and they say, “Now that’s impossible, there’s no possibility of a man writing the beautiful Greek of 1 Peter, and then this clumsy, awkward, lumbering Greek of 2 Peter.” Well, the explanation is very simple. Whoever wrote down 1 Peter was a classical linguist, the amanuensis. Peter doubtless dictated the letter in Aramaic, in the language of the day, and the man, the amanuensis, wrote it down in beautiful Greek. Second Peter was almost certainly written by the Hebrew, the Jew, Peter himself. So that’s why you’d see a difference between the way the first epistle reads in the Greek and the way the second epistle reads in the Greek.
The amanuensis who wrote it down in the first epistle was a man of great literary classicism, finely trained and beautifully educated. “Well, pastor, do you believe then, still, in the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Word of God?” [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Why, certainly! I believe the Holy Spirit guided the amanuensis just as the Holy Spirit guided Simon Peter when he dictated it. And I think Simon Peter was guided by the Holy Spirit when he wrote the second epistle himself.
Well, that’s the way with James. James could have written this himself, beautifully done. A magnificent man, a fine mind, and, of course, the language of the world at that time, the universal language, was Greek. So James could easily have written it himself. Or he could have dictated it through an amanuensis. Either way it is beautifully done.
Now I want to take time for one other thing. The conversion of this man James, this tremendous character who made such a profound impression upon the contemporary age in which he lived, both Jewish and Gentile; the conversion of this man brings to my heart the answer to one of the tremendous questions that arises in my mind concerning the denouement, the consummation of the age.
Without exception, I think, now you realize that I have a certain theological bias. I am a premillennialist and always, when I preach and when I interpret the Scriptures, you must remember that. I have a definite conviction about the consummation of the age.
I think literally all of the promises of God will be fulfilled. I don’t think one of them will fall to the ground. When God makes a promise, I think God will keep it. Therefore, I am what you call a biblical literalist. I think every word of that Book will be somehow fulfilled, though I may not understand how. I believe it just the same. So when I preach, now I’m going to enter into a part of this now, when I preach you must remember that I am a premillennialist. That is, I believe in the actual, visible, personal coming of our Lord [Acts 1:10-11]. I think we’ll see Him someday, some glorious, victorious day [Revelation 22:3-4]. I believe that. I believe in the actual resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. I think we shall live in His sight [Revelation 22:4]. I think He shall establish a kingdom in this earth, over which He will rule personally [Revelation 20:4-6]. Just on and on. I believe those things.
Now I believe, according to the Word of God, that there is a great future in God’s will for His Jewish people, for the brethren of our Lord as they’re called in the Bible. And I think they will be converted. Now the question immediately rises—and this is the question that I referred to while ago—how is it that that could fit into the program of the kingdom of God and the preaching of the gospel, that the Jew is converted? That Jesus particularly, especially, tenderly, lovingly, appears to them and wins them to Christ, how could that be and it be fair to the rest of us? For example, over here in the Book of Zechariah, in the twelfth and the thirteenth chapters of Zechariah the prophet says:
I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
And in that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the valley of Megiddon.
When the people lamented over the death of good king Josiah [2 Chronicles 35:23-25]:
And in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. And one shall say unto Him—
this is Zechariah 13:6—
And one shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in Thine hands?—
Where did You get those wounds in Your hand?—
And He shall say, These are the wounds that I received in the house of My people, from My own people.
[Zechariah 13:1, 6]
Then it says:
His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem.
You see, I think the prophecy of Zechariah is that the Lord will appear personally to His Jewish people, and they will see Him and will mourn, and will be converted, and the people will be saved [Zechariah 12:10-14].
Well, how could that be? How could such a thing be? Well, the answer to me is, it’s the same thing as the Lord did with James, His brother, and the brethren in His household [1 Corinthians 15:7]. James did not believe in Jesus, and possibly, led all of his brothers and sisters not to believe in Jesus [John 7:5].
When the Lord died, when He died, He did not say, “James, take care of My poor mother,” because James was an unbeliever. But when the Lord died on the cross He said to John, “John, she is your mother now. And Mother, John is your son now.” And from that day, it says, “John took her to his own home” [John 19:26-27].
James was not a believer but the Lord Jesus loved His family. From what I can understand in the Scriptures, He was the provider for the family. He is called in some places “the carpenter’s son” [Matthew 13:55]. He’s also called “the carpenter.” Jesus was called “the carpenter” [Mark 6:3].
I think Joseph died early, and I think Jesus supported the family. I think He worked with His hands as a carpenter, and supported the family, and loved the family. And I want to ask you something. Aren’t you glad, aren’t you glad, aren’t you grateful that before the Lord returned to heaven, that He appeared to James [1 Corinthians 15:7] and won the family to faith in Himself, to salvation? Aren’t you glad? Who would object? Who would say that is unfair? I think all of us would say, “That’s marvelous, that’s the Lord!”
He loved His family, loved James. And before He went back to glory, where now He intercedes for us [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], He won personally James to the faith, appeared to him personally, talked to him [1 Corinthians 15:7]. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been somebody listening to that conversation from the risen Jesus to His brother James? Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there? He won him to the faith. Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad?
Now let’s take that one step further. The Lord loves His people, called in the Bible His brethren. There is a special love in His heart for the Jewish people, all of them. Even though, like James, practically all of them do not believe in Him, but He loves them just the same. He does. It says in John 1:11, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” Whom is he talking about? He is talking about His Jewish brethren: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” The tragedy of Israel’s unbelief broke the heart of Jesus. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, when He came over Olivet to the brow of the hill and looked over the city, He burst into tears. He wept over it [Luke 19:41]. And in the scathing twenty-third chapter of the Book of Matthew, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees” [Matthew 23:27]; do you know how that chapter ends? It ends in a sob, it ends in a burst of tears:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and you would not!
Your house is left unto you desolate, wanderers in the earth.
But you will see Me someday, when you will say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.
He loves His people, and someday He is going to appear to them and win them to Himself [Romans 11:26], just as He did the apostle James, this great pastor of the church, James, His own brother [1 Corinthians 15:7].
I haven’t time. I must quit but I want to just point out one thing and I had these things prepared, but I don’t have time to deliver them: God has a great future for Israel. I had passages in the sixty-sixth chapter of Isaiah I was going to read [Isaiah 66:1-24]. That closes the prophecy of Isaiah. I had passages here in the thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah I was going to read [Jeremiah 30:1-24]. I had an incomparable passage here in the thirty-sixth chapter of Ezekiel I was going to read [Ezekiel 36:1-38]. And then I had this incomparable passage in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans that I was going to read [Romans 11:1-36]. God has yet a great program for Israel. I must conclude.
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, for example, Paul says, “If the casting away of Israel was our salvation,” we Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree and the real branches were cut off” [Romans 11:17], Paul says here in the fifteenth verse of that eleventh chapter, “If the casting of them away was our salvation, think,” he says, “what the salvation of them will be: it will be like life from the dead” [Romans 11:15]. What the apostle is saying is that there is coming in the conversion of Israel, there is coming a great outpouring, a great revival, upon this whole world. If their casting away was our salvation, think what it will be when they accept Jesus [Romans 11:15]. That is the revival of the seventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation. Twelve thousand from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand preachers from the tribe of Ruben, twelve thousand preachers from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand preachers from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand preachers from the tribe of Naphtali; one hundred forty-four thousand Jewish converts preaching the gospel over this world [Revelation 7:1-8]. And even the days of the tribulation, there will be such a revival that John says, “I cannot count them, these that are coming out of that great tribulation” [Revelation 7:14].
My brethren and my people, remember, there is always the possibility of conversion. There is always the possibility of revival. There is always the possibility of miracle. Don’t ever read God out of it, don’t ever define or shorten the power and the strength of the hand of God. Anything with Him is possible [Matthew 19:26]. And the conversion of Israel is an illustration [Revelation 11:26]. And the great revival of the awesome tribulation is an illustration [Revelation 7:13-14]. And the glorious converts among the Gentiles is an illustration [Revelation 7:9]. This is the presence and the power of God.
Well, we must finally close. And we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal now. And while we sing it, you, to whom God has spoken words of appeal, answer with your life, come now, come now. The whole family of you come, or just a couple of you come, or just you; just you. “Today, pastor, I have decided for Christ and I am coming. I have decided for God and here I am.” Or, “We’re putting our life into the fellowship of this wonderful church, and we’re coming.” As God shall say the word and open the door make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Three New Testament men named James
son of Zebedee, John’s brother, one of the twelve apostles
precedes that of John, inferred he is the elder
with Peter in the fishing business
martyr among the apostles(Acts 12:1-2, Matthew
son of Alphaeus, one of the twelve apostles
to us except by name
the Lord’s brother
twice in the gospels by name(Matthew 13:55, Mark
with other brothers, did not believe in Jesus as Messiah (John 7:5)
won him to faith; he won his brothers(1
Corinthians 15:7, Acts 1:14)
Interview with the converted Paul(Galatians
When Peter is liberated from prison, “Go tell Jamesâ€¦” (Acts 12:15-17)
Presided over first Jerusalem Conference(Acts
a. Paul shows him
deference (Galatians 2:9)
II. James is the great overpowering
personality of the first church
there was a pope of the first Christian church, it was James
one in that first church that you read about in secular history
– “His knees were as camel’s knees”
book entitled The Martyrdom of James
Eusebius infers judgments upon Jerusalem due to murder of James
writes that the slaying of James infuriated the people
does obeisance to authority and personality of James (Acts 21:18-19)
III. The letter
Jewish of all the books of New Testament(James
2:2, 8, 12, 21, 23, 25)
The Greek of the letter is the finest in New Testament
IV. The Lord and His family and His people
Lord will appear to His people(Zechariah
12:10-11, 13:1, 6, 14:4, 8-9)
1. That’s what He did
with His family (John 19:26-27)
The tragedy of Israel’s unbelief(John 1:11, Luke
19:41, Matthew 23:37-39)
God is not done with Israel(Isaiah 66:8, 10, 22,
Jeremiah 30:10-11, 31:31, 37, Ezekiel 36:16-38, Romans 11)
1. Greatest revival still
to come(Revelation 7:4-15)