Matthew 10:1-4 – These Guys Changed the World? Part 5 (James, Son of Zebedee)

Posted: November 22, 2015 in 40-Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 5 (James, Son of Zebedee)

These guys changed the world. Fishermen mostly. Just regular guys. Some of these guys are well-known to us. They wrote books of the New Testament. Now, we start to look at the disciples that were part of this band of ordinary men who changed the world that were less well-known. What can we learn from their lives? Some of them are hardly mentioned in the New Testament other than being in the list of disciples. What do we know about them and what can we take away? With James, I think it is about maturity. When we are immature, we are impetuous and don’t think things through but as we get older we learn wisdom and we learn about what’s really important. Let’s see how this applies to one of the “sons of thunder.”

The Apostle John’s brother, James, sometimes referred to as James, the Greater (to differentiate him from the other apostle named James, son of Alphaeus, often referred to as James, The Less), is less well-known than Peter, John, and Matthew. Yet, the apostle James was honored with a favored position by Jesus Christ, as one of three men in his inner circle. The others were James’ brother John and Simon Peter. When Jesus called the brothers, James and John were fishermen with their father Zebedee on the Sea of Galilee. They immediately left their father and their business to follow the young rabbi. James was probably the older of the two brothers because he is always mentioned first. Three times James, John, and Peter were invited by Jesus to witness events no one else saw: the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37-47), the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3), and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37).

But James was not above making mistakes. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place. This earned them the nickname “Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder.” The mother of James and John also overstepped her bounds, asking Jesus to grant her sons special positions in his kingdom. James’ zeal for Jesus resulted in his being the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. He was killed with the sword on order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D., in a general persecution of the early church. Two other men named James appear in the New Testament: James, the son of Alphaeus, another apostle; and James, the brother of the Lord, a leader in the Jerusalem church and author of the book of James.

Here are some of the key passages where James, Son of Zebedee, was mentioned

Luke 9:52-56
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (NIV)

Mark 10:35-40
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (NIV)

Matthew 17:1-3
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (NIV)

Acts 12:1-2
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. (NIV)

What does all this mean? What can we learn from this man’s life that we can use today in our lives some 20 centuries later? I think the first thing that we can learn from James is that we do not know everything when we meet Jesus and that we mature as we grow in our relationship with Christ. The second thing we can learn is that as we mature in Christ we are given greater levels of trust in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Finally, we learn that as we mature in Christ we consider it a privilege to sacrifice for Him.

When we think about James and John, his brother, we think first about how completely clueless that they were at times, during Jesus’ earthly ministry. In Luke 9 and Mark 10, we see these two wishing to reign down fire from heaven for those who rejected Jesus and we see them jockeying for positions of honor with Jesus. Man, this is so us when we are babies in Christ. We have so much to learn. We often as Christ-followers make fun of how clueless the disciples were at times. We have the advantage of 2,000 years of church history and we know how this story turns out. However, when we are immature in Christ, we are just as foolish as James was. As James, along with his brother, thought Jesus should reign down fire from heaven on those who rejected Jesus, we often, as new Christians, only see things in black and white shades. Often we are black and white about things as newly minted Christ followers. We think that those who don’t get it are lesser than us because we do get it. We forget that, when we are new Christians, that it was just a short time before that we were just like the people that we are condemning for their cluelessness. We were in the darkness and have just recently come into the light. We are very zealous and passionate when we are first following Christ. We buy the bracelets, the T-shirts. We devour any of the latest books by the coolest Christian authors. I am not saying that this is bad. I am saying that it is part of the process of growing up in Christ. We are just beginning to learn about these new shoes we are wearing. We are like newborn babies trying to figure out how our bodies work. Sometimes, we get it wrong. Sometimes, we just don’t understand. Sometimes, we are misguided. We sometimes, like James and John, measure the depth of our spirituality by how much access we have to pastor at our church. We think that if we are close to the preacher, we must be doing something better than others who are not.

It is important for us to have spiritual mentors when we are in this stage of development. We do not want to stay here. Not understanding. Getting it wrong. Relying on feelings. We want to become Christians who make life choices through reasonable understanding of Scripture not someone who reacts purely on emotion. Being a Christian is about making mind choices, about understanding Scripture, about learning to live a new and different way such that it becomes second nature to us. So many of us live life stuck as Christian babies, we rely on feelings alone. We are like the drug addict seeking another high. We think that warm-fuzzy feeling we get at really moving church services is what being a Christian is supposed to be about. We seek that high and are disappointed when we don’t feel spiritual the rest of the week. We want to live in the Jesus-high. We want that soul-felt emotion that makes us cry and makes us want to change our lives. We cannot stay there. It is just untenable to live life on an emotional high. Being a Christian, sure has those moments of intense emotion where we feel closer to God than ever. However, being a Christian, is more about living in the day-to-day where we have to make life choices that reflect our faith. It’s not sexy like the emotional high but it the real stuff of being a Christian. I think we see James mature from being a son of thunder to something more. We must do the same in our walk with Christ.

From these impetuous moments in the life of James, we see him later become part of the what scholars call the inner circle of Jesus. James, John, and Peter were the three of the twelve that Jesus trusted the most. They were able to witness things that the others did not as we see in the scripture references above. As we mature in Christ, we become more and more understanding of what this Christian walk thing is all about. As Christ becomes greater in us, our need for ego soothing becomes less. As we mature in Christ, we no longer make things about us. When that happens, Christ will trust us more and more as we grow in our relationship with Him. He will trust us more. He will give us more responsibility. He will call upon us to do more, and to be more. He will let us go deeper and deeper with him. As we go deeper with Christ, we become more attune to the work that Jesus is doing. We can see the miracles more clearly. We can see Jesus as the Son of God more clearly. As we mature in Christ, our eyes are opened to the things of the kingdom that we could not see before. James became part of the inner circle of Christ after being rebuked by Jesus for wanting a place of honor at His side. This reminds us that as we mature in Christ, we are going to make mistakes and that we must learn from them. Jesus will rebuke us. But, Jesus will not abandon us just because in our spiritual immaturity that we make mistakes. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is leading us to the place He wants to take us. He wants us to be in His inner circle where He can trust us, where He can have an intimate relationship with us. Just as a child growing into adulthood is at times both emotionally, mentally, and physically challenging, so is growing up in Christ. But if we want to grow into a mature Christ follower, it is a necessary process. Let us not stay spiritual babies. Let us grow up in Christ so that we have intimate, inner circle relationships with Him.

Finally, we see in James, a man who was once impetuous, a man who matured, and we now see a man who risked it all for Christ. James was martyred somewhere around 44 AD. To have been martyred for Christ means that he was causing an impact. Herod Agrippa had James killed. The only reason that this happened was that James was an on-fire apostle of Jesus Christ. He was causing a stir for Christ. He laid it all on the line for the Christ that he knew so well and saw risen. That is the maturity that we see in James. He grew up! No longer did he care about his place by Jesus’ side. He died for Christ. He no longer wanted to reign down fire on those who rejected Jesus. He worked to get people to hear. He shared the gospel with the very people that he used to want to reign down fire upon. He made kingdom impact not because he was trying to make a name for himself. He worked tirelessly for the kingdom because of his deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ as the Risen Savior! There was once a saying that rolled around the Christian world that said, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” For James, the answer was yes. He was beheaded for Christ’s sake. He had become such a thorn in Herod Agrippa’s reign that he had James killed by the sword. James was willing to die for Jesus. He was willing to put his life on the line for Jesus. That is the question and the challenge for you and me. In today’s world, here in the US, we may get marginalized for being Christians at times. But we really don’t suffer yet like people do in other parts of the world. Here, we attend church without fear. We pick our church based on what it does for us. We pick the trendy church and when it doesn’t work for us, we move onto the next one. What if being a Christian in the United States would really cost you something? How many of us will have the strength of James to gladly die by the sword. James came a long way in those three years with Jesus that propelled him to be such an evangelist that it cost him his life. Are we going to step up for Christ when it counts? When it will cost us something? When it will cost us that promotion? When it will cost us our job? When it will cost us our very lives? How much do you and I love Jesus when it counts? When it requires sacrifice? Let us be like James when that time comes!

In James we see a man, a human being, just like you and me. We don’t know everything when we meet Jesus and accept Him as our Savior. We must grow and mature. We make mistakes in our maturation in Christ. It is painful at times, but from our mistakes we learn, grow, and mature. As we mature, Jesus trusts us more and more. He invites us to go deeper and deeper as we mature. He invites us to be all-in with him. He invites us to be like James who grew up to the point that he laid it all on the line for Jesus because He loved His Savior THAT much. Help us to grow up and be like James!

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