Today we are staring a new series in the book of James in the New Testament.
The title of this series is True Religion.
The title of the series is True Religion. That word religion has developed a bad rap over the years. We believers are often hesitant to claim the word – we are interested in a relationship not a religion.
What comes to mind when you hear the word religion?
For some it may be stained glass and incense, soaring cathedrals.
For others the word might call to mind rituals and sacraments like communion and baptism.
For some it brings up feelings of moral standards and guilt and judgment.
For many it is a foreign word that brings up things learned in school about conflict and war and burning witches.
For most, the word carries a negative connotation.
John Lennon invited us to imagine a world with no religion. Karl Marx labeled religion as the opium of the masses and the enemy of progress.
Yet the word carries a meaning that we may not want to lose. Britannica defines religion as human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence.
All of us long for something sacred, something worthy of reverence in our lives.
We are looking for something clean and pure. We are looking for a higher love that brings meaning and security to our lives. We are looking for something that is good and true and will never disappoint us. We are looking for something that outlasts this temporary physical life.
We just can’t give up the search for something sacred.
The last hope for many in our culture is to find something touching on the divine in love and sexuality. We hear it every day in our music.
Cause you’re my religion, you’re how I’m living
When I’m down on my knees, you’re how I pray
Hallelujah, I need your love
-Lana Del Rey, Religion
Yesterday my youngest son and I went to the funeral of a Dad from his football team. Sean died unexpectedly of a heart attack. At that service we all revealed our longing for something sacred to give meaning to life and death.
We are all religious, and we all experience disappointment with religion. What shall we do?
I want to show you this morning that James, the brother of Jesus is the perfect person to show us the way.
We are introduced to James in Matthew 13:54-56
and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
When he first proclaimed that the kingdom of God had come, the people who knew Jesus were incredulous. Isn’t this Jesus. Aren’t that his family over there? Where did this come from?
We can guess that James shared that sentiment.
John 7:5 tells us explicitly:
For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
The gospels tell of brothers who were skeptical of Jesus’ new ministry and at times even seemed to mock him. They were not interested in more human claims at divine knowledge.
Yet this same James became the writer of a New Testament book. What happened?
The answer is in 1 Corinthians 15:7:
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
When Jesus was publicly executed his brothers probably saw a sad confirmation of their skepticism. Imagine James’ shock when, days later, Jesus appeared to him again.
If my brother told me he was the Son of God I would rightly be skeptical. If my dead brother appeared to me following a very public and clear death, I would be willing to listen. I would realize that there was much more than my brother than I had ever imagined.
When the resurrected Jesus appeared to James, he encountered in his brother the sacred absolute. The encounter changed everything.
Acts 1:14 tells us that James and the other brothers where gathered with the first Christian in prayer:
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
In Acts 12:17 we see that Peter, after miraculously escaping from prison, singled out James as a leader to be informed.
“Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,”
When Paul the apostle traveled to Jerusalem for a conference on the issue of non-Jewish converts in the church, he listed James as one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9):
James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship
At the end of that conference, it was James who stood to give a concluding judgment on the issue and compose a letter to all the churches (Acts 15:13):
After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. . .”
Tradition tells us that James gained an honored reputation, not only among the early Jesus people, but throughout the city of Jerusalem. James was the real deal. His knees were said to be calloused like an elephants due to his long hours praying for the Jewish people. He was widely seen as a man of deep love, faith and integrity.
James was ultimately arrested and offered an opportunity to renounce the message of the Resurrected Jesus. He refused and was killed for his faith.
When the city of Jerusalem was razed by the Romans in 70A.D. many attributed the disaster to God’s judgment against the city for its treatment of James.
James was a man who encountered the divine. He found in Jesus that sacred object of worship our hearts are longing for. He found something weighty and glorious, something to give his whole life to.
He found true religion.
The letter of James is a manifesto on true religion. God is there, He is not silent and any who come to him must come prepared to surrender themselves to his glory.
James is a call to authentic faith. It’s a call to worship and humility before a holy and living God.
Before any of us critiqued the failings of man made religion, James was there first.
As we enter into James’ world, he asks us first to consider our approach.
Will we come before God casually, ready to pick and choose as we wish, crafting a religion that suits us?
Or will we come bowing our knee in reverence, ready to obey?
Bible scholar D.A. Carson puts it like this:
When God speaks to us through his Word, those who profess to know him must respond in an appropriate way. . . If the text is God’s Word, it is appropriate that we respond with reverence, a certain fear, a holy joy, a questing obedience.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown