One of the striking things about Jesus’s ministry is that He chose a group of men to train and teach, with the end goal that they would go preach His message. They were an interesting mix with widely different backgrounds, temperaments, and even politics. But we can learn some important things about how to follow Jesus from each of them. We’ve learned from Peter and Andrew. Let’s see what James can teach us.
We actually know very little about James, in spite of the fact that he was in Jesus’s inner circle. What we do know, we learn by inference. Even so, he was privileged to witness the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the transfiguration of Christ and was called aside to pray in the garden the night of Jesus’s arrest.
James went all in.
James was the oldest son of Zebedee. His mother was Salome, who followed Jesus as well and was present at the cross. From the account of Peter’s denial in John’s gospel, we read that John was known to the high priest and got access to the courtyard. This and the fact that Zebedee employed servants seems to indicate that James came from a family that had some prominence and was well-off. However, when Jesus called, James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” Mark 1:20
If we want to follow like James, we have to see the position and resources we have as gifts to be used to further the kingdom. That way, when it’s time to move to the next assignment or to a deeper commitment, we won’t hesitate to leave them behind.
James had passion.
Jesus, however, saw something else in James. Mark 3:17 says “and to James the son of Zebedee, and to his brother John, [Jesus] gave the name “Boanerges” (that is, “Sons of Thunder”)” Son of Thunder. Power. Passion. Energy. James needed a lot of work. He was tremendously passionate, zealous, even. When he saw how Jesus was disrespected by the Samaritans, in Luke 9:54, he and John offered to handle the situation for Jesus. “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus quickly rebuked them and explained what His mission was. “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:56
If we want to follow like James, we need an uncompromising zeal for Christ. But we have to balance with the heart of Christ for those who are lost. James quickly saw who deserved judgment and when we look at our society and culture, we can see that as well. We need Jesus to give us a compassion for them and a fresh commitment to our mission to bring them into the kingdom of God.
James didn’t back down.
Later we see James and John causing a stir among the disciples. They put their mother up to asking Jesus if they could have the preeminent spots in the coming kingdom. Jesus deflects the request saying those decisions rest with the Father alone. However, He began explaining that greatness meant servanthood and suffering. James, to his credit didn’t withdraw his request. Granted he didn’t grasp all that Jesus meant, but he was not a fair-weather follower. Later in Acts 12, James became the first apostle to be martyred for his faith, and the only one whose martyrdom in recorded in Scripture.
If we want to follow like James we need a boldness that doesn’t fold when the heat is on. Hard times will come, make no mistake about that. However, Christ is faithful and will not abandon us. We must have that same kind of resolve James had.
All of the disciples needed work to become the men Jesus could entrust His gospel to. James was no exception. But clearly, he learned the lessons Jesus had for him. His energy and fervor were harnessed and brought into submission to the Holy Spirit. James remained boldly faithful to the end.
May we have the same testimony!
Next week – John