I am taking a break from The Psalms. I am detouring to James for a little while. Before we begin reading James’ letter, I thought we ought to learn a little about who James was.
When we first meet James in the Bible, it is not good that we hear about him. He was one Jesus’ four younger brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. (Matthew 13:55-56). James was not a follower of Christ during His ministry. From what we read in the Bible, Jesus’ sisters and brothers didn’t give Jesus any respect even as the oldest brother in the family. They thought Jesus was crazy. (Mark 3:21). During Jesus’ ministry, none of His brothers believed He was the Messiah. They even goaded Him. John 7:1-9 tells us,
“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. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.”
But something radical happened to James after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he went from being an unbelieving brother of Jesus to being an apostle of The Lord. Other than Paul, James was the only apostle, who became a believer after the resurrection. (Galatians 1:19). He was considered a pillar of the church along with John and Peter, so much that Paul used him as a reference to bolster his standing as an apostle. (Galatians 2:7-10).
He was the apostle who made the pivotal speech to the Jerusalem Council as to what to require from the gentile believers. Acts 15:13-22 tells us,
“After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,”
James was clearly very wise and respected in the church. The letter James wrote was written not to a specific church or person but written to be distributed to many churches to encourage the Jewish believers who had been dispersed in persecution. And that letter is part of our scripture. How does someone go from trying to discourage their crazy older brother to being His servant a leader of the church, and an apostle? It had to be something extreme. He was saved the most revolutionary event in any life.
Our past doesn’t determine our future. Our past doesn’t define who we are. Our past shame doesn’t negate God’s ability to use us. James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas should have been better able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They lived with Him for many years. They didn’t recognize their Savior when people who had only just met Jesus did recognize Him as the Messiah. (John 1:40-51). James past didn’t decide his eternity. Our past doesn’t decide ours. Our past doesn’t matter, it is what we do in the present that affects eternity. Paul said it this way in Philippians 3:12-16,
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
Jesus didn’t let His brothers’ rejection keep him from keeping the invitation open. We know that at least two of the four became influential believers. Judas, was also known as Jude and wrote the epistle of the same name. (Jude 1:1). He died for them just as much as He died for anyone else. Jesus’ salvation is radical. It changes us so completely that our past self is dead. We are changed and made into Jesus’ likeness. Ephesians 2:4-10 reads,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Everyone has a past, everyone has sinned. Everyone has failed. There is no salvation in keeping the rules. It is impossible. Only Jesus never sinned and so only Jesus could pay for our sins and save us. Romans 3:21-26 says,
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
If we let our pasts determine whether or not we could be saved, there would be no Christians. There would be no Peter, Paul, James, or John. There would be no you or me. Jesus saved us. He gave us The Holy Spirit! He didn’t do that so we could sit quietly in the fifth pew of the church and be good little Christians. He did that so we could be Jesus-glorifying mighty warriors for the Kingdom. He did that so we could impact the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus said it this way,
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Believer, do not let your shame, your past, or your failures keep you from doing great things in the name of Jesus Christ. He used a young boy with a sling shot and five stones to kill a giant and defeat an army. (1 Samuel 17). Imagine what He can do with you.