Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"James, the Lord's Brother"

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic 

The Book of James

Lesson 1: "James, the Lord's Brother"


Beginning a new series of studies on James, we need a new and refreshing understanding from the 1888 perspective. James is a perplexing figure in the early first century church. He wrote only one letter preserved in the Scriptures in contrast to Paul who is represented by fourteen letters.

James was the older stepbrother of Jesus by Joseph's first marriage. He, along with his siblings, did not "believe in Him [Jesus]" (John 7:5). When Jesus went out to minister to the multitudes in Galilee, James thought, "He is beside [insane] Himself" (Mark 3:21). Early in His ministry the Jews in Judea hated Jesus; nevertheless, "His brethren" urged Him to "show Thyself to the world" (John 7:3-4) at the Feast of Tabernacles. If Jesus had followed the counsel of James, it would have prematurely ended His ministry.

James' treatment of his younger Brother was a constant source of grief and perplexity for Jesus during His growing-up years at home in Nazareth. "This bitter spirit of prejudice and unbelief" in His messiahship "was most cutting to the heart of Jesus." [1]

Undoubtedly the turning point for James was at the time of Jesus' resurrection appearance to the "five hundred brethren" at which time "He was seen of James" (1 Cor. 15:6-7). The convincing power of Jesus' return from the dead was the tide that turned James' unbelief.

Herein is revealed the love of God. It was demonstrated for all to see at the cross. Jesus' made the decision to go to hell for James, the sinner--to pay his wages of sin. But the Father could not permit Satan the victory of claiming Jesus a captive of the tomb. Such love must return to life. So the power of the resurrection from eternal death was manifested in Jesus. The faith of James in His Brother being the Saviour was founded on the love of God.

James was in the upper room at Pentecost, in "one accord in prayer" along with "Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren" (Acts 1:14). The greater miracle at Pentecost was the truth articulated by Peter, that they were guilty of the body and blood of the divine Son of God, "whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (2:36). "Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and ... killed the Prince of life" (3:12-15).

This was the "early rain" message of Pentecost that brought James to his moment of truth. Side by side with the devastating conviction of known sin came the conviction of Christ's forgiveness. Here at the very beginning of the Christian church was "high fidelity" Christian experience! We are awaiting the "latter rain." What is the difference from the "early rain"? It is the 1888 message of Christ crucified which the Holy Spirit uses to convict of all sin, both known and unknown, in order to prepare a people for translation.

By the time of the Jerusalem council, James emerged as the leader of the dominate force within the Christian church, Jewish Christianity (Acts 15:13). For the most part, the apostles remained in Jerusalem focusing their ministry to their fellow Jews. Consequently, James and his colleagues had a very successful mission, with large numbers of Jews joining the followers of the Messiah. They were permitted to bring with them circumcision and "keep[ing] the law of Moses" (15:5).

This precipitated a crisis with the Gentile mission to which God had ordained the Apostle Paul. At Antioch, where there were many Greek-speaking Jews, Paul taught salvation by faith in the Saviour of the world. But "certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed" "from Judaea" taught, "ye cannot be saved" without circumcision (Acts 15:5, 1). [2] In other words, salvation is by faith, but there is something else you must do. In Paul's view, this was "another gospel" (Gal. 1:6).

The crisis came when Peter, who had been accustomed to eating with the Gentiles, compromised himself in front of the "false brethren" from Judea, and he would not be seen eating with the uncircumcised (Gal. 2:12). Paul could not permit disunity in the church resulting from the error of this false gospel. So he went to those "who seemed to be somewhat in conference," "James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars" (2:6, 9).

James, who was zealous for the law of Moses, recognizing the Holy Spirit had also been given to the Gentiles, announced the sensible decision of the council regarding Paul's mission to the non-Jewish world. They would not be troubled with circumcision or the law of Moses, but out of deference for the Jewish Christians in the diaspora, the Gentiles should be taught not to eat bloody meat offered to idols (Acts 15:20).

But the issue of circumcising the Gentile Christians did not go away in the early church. In an expression of unity from the Gentile mission with the Jewish church Paul collected an offering and presented it to James (Acts 21:18). But James' concern was "many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law" (21:20). James said, you "teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children" (21:21). [3] Paul, could you not extend an olive branch to these zealots by sponsoring four Nazarites who must complete their vows? Would you accompany them to the Temple and offer a purification sacrifice? (21:23-24). [4]

As a concession to James, Paul took this action. His presence in the Temple caused a riot among the Jews and Paul was beaten and put under arrest for his safety by the guards. Thus James, the moderate church politician, in seeking to appease the zealots in the Jewish church, put Paul in harm's way, and precipitated his loss to the Christian Church. [5]

James was the leader of the largest Christian Church and consequently had a broad influence over the early church-at-large. His faith started out with the right motivation of divine love. However, through a series of compromises, he was responsible for bringing into the church Jews who believed in the continuing observance of the laws of Moses--in others words, Jesus plus works. Thus James lost the dynamic motivation for faith by trusting in what self must do in order to be saved. James lapsed into the error of the old covenant,--what we must do for salvation.

Christ's evaluation of the first church, Ephesus, is "thou hast left thy first love" (Rev. 2:4). James presided over that church. As such, his one letter in the New Testament stands as a warning for future generations of compromising "the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:5). Can we find the 1888 dynamic for faith in the book of James?

--Paul E. Penno

[1] Ellen G. White, "Some Shall Depart from the Faith," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 8, 1888.

[2] "Judaizing teachers were opposing the work of the apostle, and seeking to destroy the fruit of his labors. ... It was impossible, by scriptural arguments, to overthrow the doctrines taught by Paul; hence they resorted to the most unscrupulous measures to counteract his influence and weaken his authority. They declared that he had not been a disciple of Jesus, and had received no commission from him; yet he had presumed to teach doctrines directly opposed to those held by Peter, James, and the other apostles. Thus the emissaries of Judaism succeeded in alienating many of the Christian converts from their teacher in the gospel" (Sketches from the Life of Paul, p. 188).
[3] Paul "could not count upon the sympathy and support of even his own brethren in the faith. ... Some, even of the apostles and elders, had received [unfavorable] reports as truth, making no attempt to contradict them, and manifesting no desire to harmonize with him" (Ibid., p. 207).

"Instead of doing justice to the one whom they had injured, [the elders at Jerusalem] still appeared to hold [Paul] responsible for the existing prejudice, as though he had given them cause for such feelings. They did not nobly stand in his defense, and endeavor to show the disaffected party their error; but they threw the burden wholly upon Paul. .. They continued to cherish prejudice against him, they were constantly working to counteract his influence" (Ibid., pp. 211, 213).

[4] One of the offerings made in purification of the Nazarite was a "lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering" (Num. 6:14). This indicates that Jewish Christians continued to sacrifice animals after the Crucifixion. To worship God through an animal sacrifice was an inherent contradiction and denial of worshiping God through "the Lamb of God."
[5] "Had the leaders in the church fully surrendered their feelings of bitterness toward the apostle, and accepted him as one specially called of God to bear the gospel to the Gentiles, the Lord would have spared him to them to still labor for the salvation of souls. He who sees the end from the beginning, and who understands the hearts of all, saw what would be the result of the envy and jealousy cherished toward Paul. God had not in his providence ordained that Paul's labors should so soon end; but he did not work a miracle to counteract the train of circumstances to which their own course gave rise. ...

"How often would the Lord have prolonged the life of some faithful minister, had his labors been appreciated. But if the church permit the enemy of souls to pervert their understanding, so that they misrepresent and misinterpret the words and acts of the servant of Christ; if they allow themselves to stand in his way and hinder his usefulness, the Lord removes from them the blessing which he gave" (Ibid., pp. 231-232).

"Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org

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Raul Diaz