St. James the Elder, Apostle July 25, 2021
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[a] 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave[b] of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In the Name of Jesus.
The Day of St. James the Apostle. It rolls around every July 25, so on ends up on a Sunday only about every seven years. He was an Apostle, he was martyred, so we see the red paraments up in chancel.
So on this day, we get to look at the life of St. James the Apostle.
He lived his life at the face of God. That may sound a bit pretentious to put it that way, but he did live his life at the face of the Lord. He started as a fisherman, an average Joe making a living with nets. Is that living at the face of God? Mark 1:19:
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, [Jesus] saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
That’s the first time we meet James. He’s mending his nets, then he’s with Jesus.
He will find out that his whole life is at the face of God. Right up until the end, when he’s murdered by evil King Herod. Acts 11:1:
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
Herod martyrs him, but that just leaves James at the face of the Lord in eternal life.
Quite an arc of life for a man: starting out a common fisherman, just out making a buck; ending up beheaded by Herod because he belonged to Jesus.
Jesus was with him through it all; nothing could separate him from his Lord. Romans 8:39:
Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What does a life lived at the face of God look like? For James, it looks like a humble fisherman approached by God in the flesh and made an Apostle, so that he is with Jesus all the way through cross, resurrection, and ascension.
And James’s life at the face of God also looks like an innocent Apostle being martyred by evil Herod, all for confessing the Name of Jesus.
And this life at the face of God also looks like this, Mark 10:35:
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to [Jesus] and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
How do we explain that? James, holy Apostle chosen by the Lord; James, holy martyr, giving his life for the confession of the Name of Jesus; and James, sniveling sycophant, pompous power-grabber, pathetically trying to secure for himself the highest position in Heaven.
The same James? Is this all at the face of God? It is at the face of God. James and John literally came up to the face of Jesus to ask for the coveted power.
We can sympathize with James. We live in the same world he did—a world run by power and impressed by position. A world where no one rejoices in being a servant, everyone strives to control others.
So we can understand what James is trying to do here. Because, it’s our sinful flesh, too. If the life of faith is to live before God receiving his good gifts, then the life of the sinful flesh is to live before God acting like you don’t live before God, all the while grabbing for what you want.
The way of faith: receiving gifts from God, living by grace, looking to God for every good gift, knowing that all things come to you as gift.
The way of the flesh: not receiving, but grabbing. Not being given to, but taking, grasping, getting control of, as if everything came to you by way of your effort, your decision, your choice, your drive, or however else we want to describe this sinful compulsion to think that we are our own lords.
We can understand what James wanted, in this attempt at power. But how do we explain that in living this sinful life at the face of God, James still belongs to God?
It’s not James, it’s God. It’s not the sinner, it’s Jesus.
James belongs to Jesus not because of James and who he was and how he lived, but because of Jesus, and who Jesus is, and what Jesus gives to James.
James belonged to Jesus, and it is all the doing of Jesus. At the boat, at James’s pathetic grab for power, at James’s martyrdom, Jesus is with him, and he belongs to Jesus. Romans 8:29:
For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
James belongs to Jesus because God predestined him, he called him, he justified him, and in eternity, he glorifies him.
This is the Gospel: that you belong to the God of life not because you made a decision for him, not because you called him into your heart, or any other such nonsense, but because, as Paul says, he predestined you. He elected you to life. He called you to himself. He justified you. He made himself your Lord. It is his calling, his predestination of you. It is his word of justification, which is the forgiveness of all your sin.
Along with James, you belong to Jesus. Your life is at the face of Jesus.
We don’t know this all the time, we don’t see it, we don’t feel it, we often forget it. But we live our lives at the face of God.
He sees our sin. Just as he heard James’s pathetic play for power—“Grant us to sit, [Lord,] one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory,”—just as he heard James’s play for power, so Jesus hears our voices of sin, too.
Be we belong to Jesus not because we said the right thing, not because we are any more worthy than James, for that matter, but because he [Jesus] called us, out of his grace he has predestined us to be his own, and daily we are given to hear his word which justifies us.
What of our pathetic plays for power, our seeking to control others—what of our sin before the face of God?
Of that, Jesus gives repentance. He repents us by, first, accusing us with his Law, letting us finally see that we cannot justify ourselves, and, then, forgiving us. The sin is released, the guilt is washed away, our shame he covers with his own honor, he reconciles us to his father and to one another—that is to be given repentance by the Lord.
It is his work, his gift, his promise that nothing, neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither earthly nor demonic powers, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And Christ Jesus our Lord? He is the One who is with us, who came not to be served, but to serve, giving his life a ransom for many. [Mark 10:45] He is the One serving out to us always the gifts of his cross.
In the Name of Jesus.