James, the Brother of Jesus

I would guess that some of you grew up in large families. My dad grew up in a large family, with 8 brothers and sisters. Our family has 3 kids, 1 girl and 2 boys, and I can testify that they didn’t always get along. I never fought with my siblings, but that’s because I’m an only child, so I never really experienced what it was like to have a sibling. I had cousins that I spent a lot of time with, but cousins are definitely not the same as brothers and sisters.

One of the greatest miracles of the Bible is one that we don’t often talk about, but I think any of you who have brothers and sisters can probably appreciate it more than I can. This miracle is the conversion of James, the brother of Jesus, into a follower of his half-brother. If you think about your brothers and sisters, can you imagine what it would take for you to believe they were God or the Messiah? The same brother and sister who you might have fought with over things around the house, is now being proclaimed to be the son of God, the Messiah, the hope for all people. Now, I’m sure Jesus was a perfect brother, but that might have be an issue all its own. We don’t have details about what that might have been like, we can only imagine, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus’ brothers were skeptical at first. John 7 tells us the following:

1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. 2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him.

John 7:1-5

This doesn’t seem to imply active opposition to Jesus, but more of a disagreement with his methodology and a lack of understanding of His true purpose, which was common among many of Jesus’ followers at this point. It does seem clear that Jesus’ brothers were not fully Jesus’ followers at this time. They saw Jesus, as their brother and as a teacher, do many amazing things, miracles even, but as far as we know, they were not His followers even up to the time of Jesus’ death. So, the greatest miracle in history is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, conquering death and providing victory over sin and death for all who believe in Him, but another miracle at that time is that James accepted this and became His follower.

What changed James’ mind? In 1 Corinthians 15:7 – Paul tells us, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” Paul is referring to the resurrected Jesus. James either saw Jesus crucified and buried or would have heard about it directly from their mother, Mary. He would not have doubted that Jesus had been dead. He knew that as a definite fact. So, when Jesus appeared to James, walking around, alive as anyone else that no doubt had a profound impact. Most likely, that was the moment when James fully believed in his own brother as the Son of God, the Messiah, His Savior.

James, like Jesus’ other disciples, would have heard Jesus talk about many things, including predicting His own death and resurrection. In Mark 8:31, Jesus says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” It is one thing to hear someone teach something like that, but quite another to believe that Jesus would actually be able to pull it off. After seeing Jesus do just that, James was one of many who believed.

James must have been like the other followers of Jesus. We have it recorded that they were scattered, scared and in hiding after Jesus’ crucifixion. From a human standpoint, this makes perfect sense. They had put their hopes in Jesus, the great teacher, the one who did miracles and they may have had many different ideas of what would come next. Some might have thought He would be more of an earthly King, leading Israel to overthrow Rome. Others might have believed that his teaching was so powerful that soon everyone would believe and turn their lives to Him, as they had done, but that isn’t what happened.

Jesus was crucified and they went into hiding. It was only after He was resurrected that their perspective completely changed. That was when they went from hiding to proclaiming. That is when they became willing to give up everything in order to tell others what they had seen and heard. James was no different.

From there we know that James was with the other disciples at Pentecost and James would go on to be primary leader of the Jerusalem Church. He is referred to as an apostle by Paul in Galatians 1:19 – “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.”

 James was the one who Paul and Peter went to for wisdom on the requirements of Gentiles who were joining the faith. James was obviously a respected leader. In Galatians 2:9, Paul calls James, along with Peter and John as the pillars of the Church. He was known as a man of prayer, called in some historical documents as “Old Camel Knees” because of the thick calluses on his knees from many hours spent in prayer. He was also called “James the Just” because of his fervent advocacy for the poor.

According to church tradition, James was martyred for his faith, after testifying to a crowd that his brother, Jesus, was “at the right hand of God and would return someday.” According to a historian, many believed based on James’ testimony and the Jewish religious leaders threw him down from the temple, stoned him and he ultimately died from a blow to the head by a club thrown at him. James gave up his life to testify that his brother, wasn’t just a brother, but something much, much more.

This is why I call the conversion of James a great miracle. You have a brother of Jesus, who became a follower of Jesus’ teachings, a leader in the local and greater first century church and someone, like the other apostles, who was willing to proclaim the truth about Jesus, even though it meant his own death. When you open the Bible to read the letter written by James, the brother of Jesus, you should understand that this is not just a letter in the Bible, but a letter written by a true follower of Christ. One who seems to have begun as a skeptic, but gave his whole life for the sake of his faith in his half-brother, Jesus Christ.

When we say the Bible is true, we are not just saying that this book, written 2000 years ago is true. What we are saying is that this book, which was written by the divine inspiration of God, based on the testimonies and firsthand accounts of those who knew Jesus personally and like James, transformed from a scattered flock at the point of Jesus’ death into a bold and growing church that proclaimed the truth of this Gospel up unto the point of most of them giving up their lives for the sake of the Gospel. That is the New Testament. It is the faithful testimony of men like James, the brother of Jesus and it should be treated as such. That is what it means when we say that we have God’s very Word to us in this current time.

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