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They Walked With God: James

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James is an example to all men everywhere that Jesus Christ changes lives.

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Text: James 1:1
Theme: James is an example to all men everywhere that Jesus Christ changes lives.
James walked with God — in fact James lived with God for most of his early life. The “James” under consideration for this installment of They Walked With God, is James, the brother of the Lord Jesus. In the early Church he became known as James the Just.
According to Luke 3:23, we know that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. We know from Matthew 13:55-56 that Jesus had at least six siblings; Yaakov, Yosi, Shimon, and Yehudah. We know them by the English translations: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. The text also lists at least two unnamed sisters. We also know that children came close together in Jewish marriages which means, as the next sibling in line, James would have been around twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old when Jesus began his ministry. James would have, most likely, been married with several children of his own by then. The rest of Jesus’ sibling would all likely be in their mid-teens to mid-twenties, also married, and also with children. This would have been a large extended family.
In a first-century Jewish home, children could expect to grow up in close proximity to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They would have been expected to honor their parents, and maintain harmonious relationships with their siblings. Family was at the center of Jewish community life.
But in Joseph and Mary’s home, not everything is harmonious. We catch a faint glimpse of Jesus’ home experience in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is a year into his three-year ministry when he returns to Nazareth. He is the hometown boy who has made a name for himself. Everyone in Israel is talking about Jesus of Nazareth. His stories are fetching, his teachings are with authority, and his miracles are, well ... awe-inspiring. Accordingly, upon his return to Nazareth, he is invited to read the Scriptures in Synogogue, and comment on them come the Sabbath. It is here we pick up the story ... “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”” (Mark 6:2–4, NIV84). I’ve always wondered — when Jesus got to his closing remarks, did he make eye contact with each of his brothers? Did he look at Uncle Mordecai and Aunt Elizabeth?
There is no indication that James — nor any of his siblings — followed Jesus during his ministry. But after the resurrection, James becomes a leading figure in the Church, and dies a martyr of the Church. What happened? That’s our story for this morning as we look at a man who went from skeptic to saint.


1. he was lost and undone and doomed to an eternity in hell without God
a. the Bible tells us that all men everywhere are sinners
“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NIV)
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NIV)
b. not only are we sinners, but we are sinners by choice
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6, NIV)
1) we are not sinners by accident


1. James grew up in a devoutly religious home
a. there is every indication that his family regularly attended the synagogue of their choice
1) if they had it, he probably attended VTS – Vacation Torah School
b. James learned the Jewish Scriptures and all the required prayers at the feet of a spiritually dedicated and loving father
c. we can also assume that James made the yearly trip to Jerusalem with his family to celebrate the Jewish Passover
2. the spot that besmirches this exemplary life is his rejection of the Son of God ... who happens to be his brother
3. his life is a picture of the spiritual condition of many in our very own community today
a. men and women who are good, decent, God-fearing people, who may even regularly attend church, but who are depending upon their own personal character and their own personal goodness to gain them eternal favor with God
b. they have based their salvation on an outward code of behavior and religious rites rather than on a personal faith relationship with the Risen Savior
c. some of you say, “How do you know all this pastor?”
1) because for 18 years I was one of those folks!
4. the case of James is all the more tragic when you consider who he was
a. who was he?
b. as far as the residents of Nazareth are concerned, James was the earthly brother of our Lord, Jesus Christ
1) in Matthew’s Gospel we have the story of Christ speaking at His home synagogue
2) the people — most of whom have watched Jesus grow up — are astonished at what He says
“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:54-58,NIV)
3) now, did you catch v. 55? – the people asked isn’t this the carpenter’s son ... are aren’t his brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas ... with us?
4) so we know from the Scriptures that Jesus had four step-brothers and at least two step sisters
a) Mary is mother of all seven children, but Jesus is conceived of the Holy Spirit while the other siblings are conceived from the union of Joseph and Mary
5) these are not “cousins” as the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church maintain
a) all three go to great lengths to keep Mary a perpetual virgin — including denying the obvious truth of these verses in Matthew
b) plus, I’ve never heard a convincing rebuttal to Matthew 1:24-25
“When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24–25, HCSB)
c) the obvious implication is that Joseph did know Mary intimately after the birth of Jesus
c. anyway ... can you imagine growing up in a home where your big brother is Jesus?
1) talk about a birth-order crisis!
a) can’t you just hear a 12-year-old James in exasperation telling his older brother, “Oh yeah, and who do you think you are: Mt. ‘Perfect’?
2) poor James, when something around the house gets broken, he can never, ever say, “I wasn’t me, it was Jesus”
d. in so many ways, Jesus is a “normal boy”
1) in Luke’s Gospel we are told
“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39–40, NIV84)
2) like all children Jesus grows up, his body strengthens, but he is also filled with wisdom and the grace of God rests on him
ILLUS. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus learned obedience by the things which he suffered. The book also tells us that he was tempted in all the ways that all humans are, and yet he did not sin. He never had a bad attitude. He never disobeyed his parents. He never complained about dinner. He never bickered with his siblings. He never lied. He never entertained an evil thought. He never said a foul word. He never gossiped about a friend. He never wasted a moment of his life.
a) Jesus was zero-maintenance parenting
b) I have little doubt that when Mary and Joseph looked at Jesus, they booth beamed
e. Jesus would be a hard act to follow if your one of his younger siblings, or a cousin, or a childhood playmate — every house in Nazareth echos with the refrain, “Why can’t you be more like Joseph and Mary’s oldest boy, Jesus?”
ILLUS. Jesus undoubtedly “set the curve” in Yeshiva School. Didn’t you hate that kid?
1) maybe that’s why our Lord said: A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house, (Matthew 13:57)
2) as far as his sibling are concerned, Jesus is normal, but also just a bit different
ILLUS. Jesus, himself, realized at the age of twelve that he had to be about his Father’s business, and he is talking about God.
5. that James — at least initially — rejected Jesus as the Messiah is plainly said Scriptures
“For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:5, NIV)


John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” NIV
1. we need to remember that it is not any one behavior that condemns a man to eternity in hell without God
a. it’s not the adulterer’s adultery that condemns him ...
b. it’s not the promiscuous lifestyle of the drag queen that condemns him ...
c. it’s not the murderer’s murders that condemn them ...
d. it’s not the robber’s thievery that condemns him ...
2. what does condemn them is their rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord
a. this rejection also condemns the upright to the very same flames
ILLUS. Go read the story of the Prodigal Son some time. We all understand that the younger son was lost and needed the Father’s love and forgiveness. What we fail to realized is that the older son — the “good” son — was as equally lost in his self-righteousness and needed the love and forgiveness of the father just as much as the younger son.
3. James was a good man, with good intentions, who lived a good life
a. the problem — he was a good man doomed to spend eternity in a bad place because of his unbelief


ILLUS. One of the great hymns of the Christian faith is He Lives.
The first stanza rings out:
I serve a risen savior, He’s in the world today;
I know that he is living, whatever men may say;
I see his hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me, and talks with me;
Along lif’s narrow way;
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart;
You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart
1. James discovered that great truth


1. according to each of the gospels, Jesus had been tried, crucified, buried and had risen from the dead
2. then, for a period of 40 days, He appeared to many of his disciples before ascended up into heaven
a. one of those appearances was to James
b. in defending the Gospel message to the believers at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, (1 Corinthians 15:1-7, NIV)
c. wouldn’t you have liked to have been the proverbial “fly on the wall” when Jesus appears to James?
3. it is faith in this great truth — that Jesus Christ is the risen Son of the living God and that he died for you that brings salvation to the individual


ILLUS. When Jesus dies, his brothers are not there. They aren’t there to defend him. They aren’t there to stand by him. They aren’t gathered around their mother, Mary as Jesus’ life comes to an end. They are not there to carry his lifeless body to the tomb. They’re nowhere to be seen. They’re stubborn and skeptical. But when we find the believers gathered in the upper room on the day that Jesus ascends back to the Father, we find them gathered with their mother Mary in prayer. Something happened, and that something is the resurrection.
1. James was already a religious man but now he was a righteous man
2. he became a servant of God
3. he became a leader in the early New Testament Church
4. he became a prayer warrior
ILLUS. It is said that James spent so much time on his knees in prayer that they became hard and calloused. It even earned him a nickname – Camel Knees.
5. ultimately, he was a martyr — dying for his faith



1. since the resurrection of Christ, many people have had a knowledge of the man Jesus, yet have never received him as Savior and Lord
a. from everything we can glean from the life of James, he is a skeptic to his brother’s messianic claims
1) and not just skeptical ... he and the three other brothers actually appear to be antagonistic — taunting him at times to prove himself
“The Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 so His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea so Your disciples can see Your works that You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even His brothers believed in Him.)” (John 7:2–5, HCSB)
b. do you hear the sarcasm in their voices?
1) they’re convinced that what Jesus really wants is acclaim and public recognition
ILLUS. C. S. Lewis, in defending the deity of Jesus, wrote, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not [merely] be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell ... Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”
1) James — and perhaps all of Jesus’ siblings — thought their brother a lunatic — or worse
2. but then the resurrection took place; “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, ... “ 1 Corinthians 15:1-7
a. here in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul is defending the doctrine of the resurrection to the Church at Corinth
1) it is, he says, of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
2) he then identifies some of the people that Jesus appeared to after the resurrection — that number includes James
a) by process of elimination, the only James this can refer to is his brother
b. James has an encounter with the risen Christ
1) he no longer sees Jesus the elder brother, but Christ the Lord, and his life is changed
ILLUS. Some 15 years later, when James wrote the New Testament letter that bears his name, his humility is evident by the way he identifies himself. He is not, James, the brother of Jesus, but, James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1).
2) forty days later, on the very day that Jesus ascended into heaven, we also see James along with his brothers (and I’m assuming his sisters) in the Upper Room in constant prayer
“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:12–14, NIV84)
3) the resurrection turns Jesus’ siblings — who previously believed their brother to be a lunatic — into a family or worshipers who now accept him as Lord
c. what’s the point?
3. there are many in our culture, indeed many in our churches, who can tell you all about Jesus
a. they are throughly acquainted with his life and throughly orthodox in their doctrine
b. but they are lost, and doomed because they know Jesus, the man of Scriptures, but they don’t know Christ the Lord
ILLUS. David Renken’s testimony.
c. tragically, we live in a nation where many citizens have been inoculated to the true Gospel
ILLUS. The discovery of vaccines is one of the major success stories of medicine. They have protected millions of people from contracting deadly diseases. Vaccines work by using a dead (or weakened) form of a virus to help our immune systems raise their guard against the real virus. This process is called ‘inoculation.’
1) similarly, we have many citizens who have heard a quasi-gospel ... love Jesus and be good
2) that’s a dead gospel — a false gospel — but it’s enough to keep many people from having the true gospel penetrate their lives and save them
4. the question for some of you this morning is not do you love Jesus, and are you trying to be good, but have you received Christ as Lord and Savior? — are you fully trusting in his atoning sacrifice by faith alone?
... James Knew Jesus the Man, but Didn't Know Christ the Savior until He Did and That Made All the Difference


1. the little epistle of James is a letter about practical Christianity
a. it’s entire theme is wrapped up in one short verse:
James 2:26 “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” NIV
2. this becomes the theme of James’ life
ILLUS. We know from both biblical accounts and 1st century Jewish historians that James became a primary leader within the early Church. In Galatians 1:19 and 2:9 the Apostle Paul refers to Peter and John and James the Lord’s brother as pillars in the Jerusalem church. In fact, he refers to James first. In time Peter heads to Rome, and John heads to Ephesus leaving James to lead the Church in Jerusalem. He does so for thirty years. In about A.D. 50, when the early Church is dealing with a serious issue that could have separated Jewish believers from Gentile believers, it’s James who listens to the testimonies of Gentile conversions and offers the solution that keeps the church from splitting. Gentile believers do not need to be circumcised nor keep the Jewish dietary laws. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone — not by keep the Jewish law. James understands this, and it saves the early church from splintering. James also becomes a prayer warrior. He spends so much time in prayer at the Temple that he earns the nickname “old camel-knees” because his knees become so calloused from kneeling in prayer.
a. at the insistence of the Jewish religious hierarchy James in martyred in A.D. 62 —
1) he was thrown off the Temple wall, and when that didn’t kill him he was stoned to death
3. James teaches us that the Church needs righteous leaders and prayer warriors
a. believers and not saved so they can set, believers are saved so they can serve
1) James makes this clear in his letter to the Church
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? ... But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14, 18, NIV84)
ILLUS. This begs the old revivalist question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you in a court of law?”
b. if you read through the letter that bares his name, you’ll discover that James encourages believers to life lives of righteousness, lives of virtue, and lives of obedience
James, the brother of the Lord is one of the most interesting characters in the New Testament. What was it like for James and the other siblings to live in the same house and grow up with Jesus? What had their parents told them about the angel who had visited them both to announce his miraculous conception? What, if anything, had they told Jesus’ younger siblings about the adoration of the shepherds, the visit of the Magi, and the flight to Egypt?
James is obviously a skeptic of his brother’s messianic claims. He even appears to be antagonistic. Jesus is the “crazy uncle” he doesn’t want his children hanging around. But an encounter with the risen Lord changed his life ... and it will change yours.
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