Jesus’ Disciples: James

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, August 17, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Who is Jesus’ disciple James? First of all, there are two different men named James who were a part of Jesus’ band of twelve followers: one was the son of Zebedee, and the other was the son of Alphaeus. Today, we’re going to look at James the son of Zebedee.

James is often referred to with his brother John, together known as the sons of Zebedee. Jesus also gave them the name Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17), likely because of their boldness and energy. We see from Mark 1:16-20 that James was a fisherman with his brother John and their father Zebedee before Jesus called the brothers to be His disciples. In the account of this event in Luke 5:1-10, we see there that James and his brother John were fishing partners with Simon Peter. This account ends with Jesus telling them, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:10).

It was James’ occupation to catch fish. James’ father was a fisherman, and James and his brother John were fishermen, so that was what they knew: catching fish. Fishing likely encompassed basically all of their lives to this point. Jesus took what they knew and used that as a metaphor for what He was calling them into. Instead of catching fish, they would now be “catching” people for Jesus’ mission.

This is our first lesson on being Jesus’ disciple from James: our mission is not only to follow Jesus but to join Him in His mission. Jesus came to earth on a mission to save all of humanity. To do that, people would need to get to know Him and His teachings, then make the choice to follow Him or not. We don’t see James and John asking Jesus a bunch of questions to make sure that’s what they wanted to do; they simply started following Him. The account in Mark makes this look like it was an almost immediate thing, whereas the account in Luke gives us a bit more of a story of Jesus showing them who He was before they followed Him. Either way, the end result was that they knew that following Jesus was the right thing to do, so James and John did it.

The next account we’ll look at for James is when he was present as Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter back to life. You can read the full account in Mark 5:21-43. Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, and his daughter who was around 12 years old was dying. Jairus knew that Jesus could heal her so they started toward his house, but then they got stuck by the crowds who often followed Jesus. In the midst of the crowd, a woman with a bleeding issue touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed, which stopped them from their mission of getting to Jairus’ house. Before they could get there, they receive word that Jairus’ daughter had died. Jesus encourages Jairus to still have faith. Once they finally arrive at Jairus’ house, only Peter, James, and John are permitted to go inside with Jesus. They got to witness Jesus speaking to the girl and her coming miraculously back to life!

Why was James included in this trio of men to be Jesus’ inner circle? That really isn’t spelled out for us in Scripture, but it is clear that James was a truly devoted follower of Jesus by this point. Jesus must have had a particularly close relationship with these three that they were allowed to witness this powerful moment with Him.

Perhaps that is why James and John’s mother makes a big request of Jesus for the sake of her sons in the next passage we’ll look at today. You can read it in Matthew 20:20-28. The boys’ mom asks Jesus to make sure her sons will sit at Jesus’ right and left in His Kingdom. These positions would mean that James and John would share in Jesus’ power and prestige. But their mother clearly doesn’t know what she’s asking. While she is the one who actually asks the question, the context shows that her sons were right there and not stopping her. They all knew that Jesus was a powerful person to know after all they had seen of Him to this point, but they were likely still thinking it was political or social power for this world.

Jesus’ reprimand of their asking this question gives us another lesson in discipleship: “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). The point of following Jesus is not to become great in this world. We must be focused on being a servant to all, just as Jesus was, rather than trying to make a great name for ourselves. Sure, people may recognize us and applaud us for our service when they see it, but our focus needs to be on doing what Jesus did - serving others, even to the point of giving up His life for the whole world.

So what ended up happening to James? Acts 12:1-2 tells us, “It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” Being “put to death with the sword” means that James was beheaded. This likely happened around the year 44 AD, so approximately 10-15 years after Jesus was crucified.

While we don’t have many details on what this Son of Thunder did to show his faith after Jesus’ death, clearly he was seen as a threat by King Herod. James clearly lived a life that followed Jesus even after Jesus’ earthly ministry, and he died a martyr’s death for his faith in Jesus.

If James could boldly live out his faith in a time of intense persecution such as the middle of the first century, what are you doing to boldly live out your faith today in 2020?

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