The Feast of St. James of Jerusalem

Readings: Acts 15:12–22a | James 1:1-12 | Matthew 13:54–58

Text: James 1:1-12

Theme: The Lord rescued James from relying on his own understanding, and gave him heavenly wisdom to lead the Church after the Ascension.

I. The followers of Jesus after the Ascension have become a mess. Conflict over circumcision (Acts 15:1-5), being driven away from worship in the synagogue (Acts 13:44-50), uneven distribution to the poor (Acts 6:1-2), and persecution from the Jewish authorities that got so bad they scattering out from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3).

II. What have you done, Lord?  You left the Church in the hands of men—not the wise and capable, but fishermen and family members.  What kind of basis is that for a movement with a commission like, “Go and make disciples of all nations”?!  How will that ever make it from “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”? (Acts 1:8)  They’re having trouble keeping it together just in a 100 mile radius!

III. But in the middle of this chaos, on the heels of the death of John’s brother, another James arises from a most unlikely place—the Lord’s formerly unbelieving family.  This James is the one who thought Jesus was out of his mind (Mark 3:21), who thought Jesus simply Joseph’s son (Matt. 13:55).  But now, who is this to whom Peter says to tell after his angelic release from prison? (Acts 12:7)

Remember what the Lord does powerfully through weakness.  The very pinnacle of this is how God was at work in suffering, death, and rejection of the Christ.  Yet in that very act, it was the salvation of the world. As St. Paul also highlights, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:24-25)

IV. Now, James is not just a man turned believer, but God raised him up as a fair and wise leader (Acts 15:12-14). 

After they finished speaking, James replied, “Men and brothers,[1] listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
            16         “ ‘After this I will return,
                        and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
                        I will rebuild its ruins,
                   and I will restore it,
            17         that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

He diplomatically navigates this contention which could have divided the Church, able to see clearly to God’s intention drawn from the Scriptures (vv. 15-18)

James continues to reflect the divine wisdom and true fear of the Lord as he writes to the scattered believers (James 1:1-12). By his inspired epistle, he reminds them of the words of Jesus (Matt. 5:12), of Peter (1 Pet. 5:7), of Solomon (1 Kings 3:9-12), and even of Jeremiah (Jer. 9:23-24).

James takes these and applies it to their present situation, because above the present circumstance are the Lord’s promises, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” and “You will be My witnesses.” (Matt. 28:20; Luke 24:48)

V. We often look to the past and nostalgically dream about “the good old days” of the Church and our congregation.  Times when there were “enough” people, there was money, things were easy.  (We do the same thing with our own youth and wish we could relive that.)  This is vanity, a chasing after wind.  There never has been a time when the Church has been at ease in this world (at least as long as the Church is being faithful to her Lord and His Word). James learned this early on: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Without the testing of faith, such a faith mutates into pride and complacency.  But the testing is the very way by which we are made perfect and complete.

Carefully consider the Church even during the time of the Apostles.  Even though there was confusion and division, the Lord saw to it that His Church would not lose sight of Him, that His Word and His gifts would not be neglected or maligned.

So, what is it that we lack now?  Do we lack heavenly wisdom? Follow the example of Solomon, who saw that he was in way over his head and asked God to equip him for the task.

Do we need a strong leader to stand at the helm and ground the flock in God’s Word?  By His grace, He provides for that—not just in pastors, but also in laypeople. Those who can say, “Brothers and sisters, this is the way we need to go.”

Are there concerns about money?  Yes, the congregation, according to our reason and our misplaced trust in money doesn’t measure up. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation”  This is no reason to cry that the sky is falling.  If there isn’t enough money for everything we used to do, we recount where true riches are: in the priceless Word of God preached and taught, the treasures of heaven given to us in Christ, the Body and Blood of God’s Son on the altar for you.

  • The Lord brought James from unbelief to faith, and soon into a position where he was needed to provide direction to the fledgling Church.  He was given the wisdom needed, the tested faith, the steadfastness for his task which the Lord had laid before him.  James addressed the church, “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” because they were separated from one another, weak and incapable in the world’s eyes, but the Lord had given them a common destination—a true home.  This reminds us that the Lord doesn’t expect us to set up long-term here. There’s no promise of leaving a building to the next generation.  Rather, His promise, spoken by James is: 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”  In the Name + of Jesus.


[1] The Greek specifically mentions that the assembly which was deliberating this theological issue was all men.  This is distinct from the use of “brothers” elsewhere in the New Testament that refers to both men and women. (cf. verse 23, ESV footnote)