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James

   

One of the first things we need to figure out is which James this is.  There are several James mentioned in the New Testament.  Here are the 4 prominent ones. 

James the son of Zebedee, brother of John.  He was a disciple called by Jesus.  He is known as James the Greater.

James the son of Alphaeus.  He is another disciple and we know very little about him.  He is known as James the less.

James, father of Judas the disciple; also known as Thaddeus or Jude,  not Judas Iscariot.  This is another James we know very little about.

Then the fourth James is James the brother of Jesus. and we know lots about him.

 

James the brother of Jesus is really the only choice as writer of this book.  Most scholars and commentaries would agree.  There are a few who suggest it may be another James although they can't and won't make a case.  They seem to just be unwilling to commit.

 

So what do we know about James the brother of Jesus?  We know he rejected Jesus early on.  The book of John says that all Jesus' brothers rejected Him.  That's understandable, right?  Can you imagine your response when people start calling your brother the messiah?  James probably laughed at these stories.

 

There is no indication that James was at the cross when Jesus was crucified.  From the cross, Jesus even committed the care of his mother to the apostle John and not to one of his brothers.   There is some indication that James was always nearby as Jesus walked the earth because he later gives account of things Jesus said and did.

 

Jesus was betrayed, tried, nailed to a cross and sealed in a tomb.  I'm sure the unbelieving James thought that was the end of his crazy brother and the wild stories about him being the messiah.  Then something happened.  Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 15:3:  3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 

 

Can you imagine James shock?  My brother is the messiah.  Wow, no wonder he was always mom's favorite.  I bet instantly a thousand thoughts came to mind; all the lies he told Jesus growing up; all the times he punched him; all the names he called him names. 

 

Can you imagine that first conversation between James and Jesus?  James saying, I'm sorry I didn't know.  Jesus smiling and saying, it's okay, but now, James, you need to turn from your sin and trust in me.  We don't know for sure how it happened and we don't really know if it happened that day but I can't imagine James walking away from seeing a resurrected Christ and not believing.  All the sin he had become keenly aware of was then washed away.  James trusted and believed in Jesus and was forever changed.

 

It wasn't too much later that James showed up in history as an influential leader of the church in Jerusalem.  He seemed to mature spiritually rather quickly which is interesting considering this book deals a lot with spiritual maturity. 

 

In Acts 12 we see that Herod was starting to persecute the Christians.  Herod arrested Peter.  When Peter was later freed by an angel he went to the house of Mary and beat on the door.  When Rhoda finally opened the door Peter declared what the Lord had done and said to them, go tell James and the brethren.  It appears even by then that James was a leader among he brethren.  Some believe it was about this time that James wrote this epistle which would make it about 42 AD.  If so, it was the earliest of the New Testament epistles.  Others date it as late as 62 AD.  It was probably closer to 50 AD right after the stoning of Stephen.  Either way we see a completely different James.

 

James presents himself as a humble servant of God.  A man completely changed from the unbeliever we saw previously.  He became a leader among Christians.  He was a key player in the growth of the church.  And he was a leader among the apostles.  As a leader James presided over the council in Jerusalem when all the elders and apostles came together.  All that we know of James testifies to his commitment and obedience to the Lord, to the word and to the church.  A secular historian named Hegesippus wrote that James' knees resembled those of a camel because he spent so many hours in kneeling in prayer.

 

So James became a believer in about 33 A.D.  Almost immediately we see him rise to leadership.  Somewhere around 9 years later he is wrote this letter.  Less than 20 years after Jesus' resurrection in about 50 AD James presided over the Jerusalem council.  Then around mid 60's AD, less than 30 years after the resurrection, maybe as early as 62, persecution of the church incited a Mob that apprehended James.  This mob was incited by the Pharisees and the Sanahedrin. They took James up to the pinnacle of the temple and threw him off.  The pinnacle is the highest point at the temple.  It was on the Southeast corner.  This is the same place the devil took Jesus to and tested him saying, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  This was a pretty good fall.  When they threw James from the pinnacle it didn't kill him.  This made an already angry mob even angrier.  They decided to stone him.  As they began to stone him it is recorded that James said, 'I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'  One of the men there was a fuller.  A fuller is a man who uses a club to clean and full woolen cloth.  This man took his club and struck James the just in the head killing him.  The killing is recorded graphically.

 

This James that died a martyr was radically different from the doubting brother of Jesus.  He was committed and obedient all the way to the end.  This radical change appears as two men to historians.  This keeps many guessing as to the identity of this James.  Believers understand why he would appear that way.  When we are born again the change is radical and we are changed from the inside out.

 

So there is a short introduction to who James was.  Let's get into his epistle.  This book was written to the brethren; the fellow believers.  It was written as these brethren were going through some tough times as persecution was breaking out.  James wrote to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ to hold fast with uncompromising obedience to the Word of God.  We'll see that all the way through this book.  It's a call to uncompromising obedience and commitment to the Word of God.

 

Now that we have a background on the writer and some cultural context let's jump in.

Trials bring profit
Perspective of the rich and poor
Loving God when in a trial
Being a doer and not a hearer only
Caution regarding favoritism
Faith without works is dead
The tongue is untamable
Heavenly wisdom compared to demonic wisdom
Pride Promotes Strife
Don't judge a brother
Do not boast about tomorrow
The rich oppressors will be judged
Patience and perseverance
Meeting needs