Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James… (I Corinthians 15:6-7 ESV)
This week we’ve been looking at the life of James, one of the brothers of Jesus, leader of the early church in Jerusalem, and author of the book of James. We’ve explored what his relationship with Jesus might have been at various times in his life. Here’s a synopsis of Hegesippus, Historia 5, a record of how James died:
During the festival of Passover in 62 AD some of the priestly class, eager to deter the Christian sect from spreading, crowded around James and urged him to denounce Jesus while standing on the parapet of the temple. Instead of denouncing Jesus, James said with a loud voice “Why do you ask me about the Son of Man? He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power and He will come on the clouds of heaven.” As a result of this testimony, some onlookers rejoiced and others placed their faith in Jesus. Seeing their mistake, the priests shoved James to the ground below. When James fell he was still alive, so some stoned him, but the final death blow was administered with a club.
Why did the priests think James might denounce Jesus? It likely was because the priestly class regarded him as a righteous, honest man who would respect their authority. Here are some of James’ urgings to us:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing….Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:22-27 ESV)
How did James have a winsome way with those priests even though they viewed Christianity as a dangerous heresy? Again, James wrote:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)
The account of James’ earthly end reminds me that Jesus followers who are kind listeners, gentle helpers and above reproach are not assured protection from persecution by virtue of those character qualities. In fact, just the opposite can occur.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23 ESV)
Maybe it’s the Sunday School exhortations and rewards some of us received as children that make us think we’ll get lots of automatic “likes” for godly behavior. At any rate, it’s false hope to think the world around us is eager to give us kudos for obeying Jesus and giving Him the glory for it.
Take a minute to remind yourself – when you please Jesus with your actions (especially if it seems no one else notices) – rejoice that your reward is great in heaven.