I was at the doctor’s office a week or so back. There weren’t too many of us in the waiting room and we were all patiently waiting to be summoned. After a bit, the nurse came around the corner and said, “John.” Up I popped. I was taken to the back, weighed – an unpleasant experience in itself – and led to the room. The nurse spent some time looking over my chart, asking some questions, and finally said, “You are here for a full physical this morning, please get undressed.” I gave her an odd look, she looked at her chart again, and said, “You’re not John Hammond, are you?” “Nope.” I went back to the waiting room and waited a bit longer.
Why do I mention this? Today, we celebrate James the Just also known as James of Jerusalem and also known as the Brother of Our Lord. But this James is not the only one we read about in the New Testament. The Gospels mention James the Son of Zebedee, the brother of John the Beloved, and the Book of Acts speaks of James the son of Alphaeus. So, when we get to talking about James, we have to be sure it’s the correct one. I confess to even having preached a sermon on the wrong one. So which one is James of Jerusalem?
This James, although mentioned as the brother of Our Lord, was actually a first cousin and was not one of the original disciples. In fact, the Gospel of John says, regarding Jesus’ ministry, “For not even his brothers believed him.” (John 7:5) However, sometime along the way James believed and Paul mentions how Jesus, following the resurrection and prior to the ascension appeared to James. (1 Cor 15:7) Following the ascension, James was elected as the first Bishop of Jerusalem. A second century historian writes, “Control of the church passed [from Christ] to the apostles, together with James, whom everyone from the Lord’s time till our own has called the Righteous,” and he is therefore listed as one of “the Pillars” of the church, along with Peter and John.
It was James and the other leaders of the Jerusalem church that Paul would later come to and make an appeal on behalf of the Gentiles. As we read in our first lesson, James said, “Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God,” and it was decided, barring a few stipulations, that the Gentiles should be accepted into the Church.
In addition, he is also remembered for his piety and life of prayer, even being respected by the Pharisees. It is reported that his knees had become “hard like a camel’s” due to so much time in prayer for the souls of all God’s people.
In the year 62 A.D. James would be martyred for his steadfast faith and testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus.
The words of a prayer asking James of Jerusalem to intercede on our behalf serve as a concise reminder of this great saints roll in the early church. Let us pray: As the Lord’s disciple, righteous one, you received the Gospel; as martyr you have steadfastness, as the Lord’s brother, boldness of speech; as bishop, the power of prayer. Intercede with Christ our God, that our souls may be saved. Amen.