Monday, September 14, 2009

Called to Follow - James Son of Zebedee

Were you the eldest sibling amongst your brothers and sisters? The one looked to first by family or maybe friends and teachers at school? I was not. Instead I was the younger of two girls born just two years apart. I remember so vividly everyone looking to my older sister first and feeling a bit under appreciated. Especially at school. I heard the words, "Your Tammy's sister aren't you?" so often that I began to reply, "NO! MY NAME IS SHERRI."

James, unlike me, did have the privilege of being the eldest sibling. We are told in scripture he was the older brother of John. When we see James mentioned in scripture, we always see his brother John also mentioned. Unlike my sister and me though, sibling rivalry didn't seem to divide the brothers. Instead, we see two brothers working very closely together. Maybe that says something for the character of both James and John in the way they handled their position in the family. James instead of using his position as a form of control over his brother became an inspiration and encouragement for John. John instead of being petty or jealous looked up to the one who could teach him much.

It is no surprise that they were called to be followers of Jesus at the same time. Mark 19-20 shows us this.

When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.

Just as Andrew and Peter had, they left everything and followed after Jesus. James and John even had there father present, leaving him behind still in the boat. Once again we see, when we are called, we must leave behind our personal choices and begin to just follow Jesus.

Both of these brothers were seen at some critical places while following Jesus during His earthly ministry. First we see them on the mountain when Jesus' transfiguration occurred in Matthew 17:1-3. We see them question Jesus on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 17:10. Once again we see them witness the grief and passion of Christ as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane before he was to go to his death. (Mark 14:33)

The picture painted for us in scriptures is one of two brothers that stuck together like glue. Although there is much value and many lessons about brotherly love we can take from there togetherness, I would like to pull them apart for a just a little bit and look at James by himself.

Each of us being of a very different make up from our creation, we have our own uniqueness and contribution to offer Jesus. Let's see what James individual contribution was.

In Mark 3:17 Jesus gives both brothers the name Boanerges, meaning "Sons of Thunder". What a curious name to be given. What did it mean?

James being a passionate, fervent man, was zealous for the things of God. Sometimes zeal can go to the extreme, which was the nature of our disciple James. He was thunderous, a force of nature.

Maybe this became his nature because of the experiences he went through with Jesus. To see the one you are following transfigure in front of you must have been an incredible experience. In Matthew 17:2 it says Jesus' face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light. Verse 3 says that Moses and Elijah (who had long been dead) appeared and were standing there talking to Jesus. How incredible would that be to see the glory of God exposed right before your very eyes? Then not only is Jesus a glowing light, as bright as the sun, but Moses and Elijah appear! WOW! That's got to make you just a little bit zealous for Jesus.

But that wasn't all our friend James saw. In Mark 14:33 we see his journey to the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. As the hour of betrayal approached, Jesus takes James along with Peter and John with him into the garden. Jesus is troubled and deeply distressed. Here in his humanness, just like us at times, he is deeply troubled inside. He then says to them "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." His soul, being fully God but yet fully man, was overwhelmed with sorrow. So much sorrow that it felt like death. Jesus then goes a little further, falls to the ground, weeping tears of blood he asks of the Father, “if possible let this cup be taken from him.”

What it must have been to see someone you loved go through such pain and betrayal. To be present in those last moments, then witness Him arrested and dragged away.

James, full of zeal was the first of the disciples to be martyred. Hated by Herod Agrippa for his fervent belief, the King hoped to squash the Christian movement with James' death. Instead the word of God grew and multiplied. According to Foxe's book of Martyr's, James' accuser was brought to repentance at the death of James. This man saw his extraordinary courage and undauntedness, and fell down at James feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone.

What courage and extraordinary character this elder brother had. If only we too could be so steadfast in faith. Steadfast in life and even unto death just as James was.

What must we learn from James? I believe we must first see his amazing transformation from a man willing to go off the deep end for no reason to a man full of zeal for Jesus Christ. We also must learn to have an undying belief in Jesus that will sustain through all things. It is in that kind of faith that we will not only live life well but also live death well, leaving a lasting legacy behind.

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