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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
 rcmasterton.co.nz
 
Title:A Letter to Israel
Text:James 1:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-05-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

AM Service

Song before the Service: 87b

Silent Prayer

*Call to Worship

*Votum and Salutation

*Song of Praise: 163

Reading of the Law: Exodus 20

Song of Confession: 130

Assurance of Pardon: 1 Peter 2:21-25

*Song of Thanksgiving: 295

Congregational Prayer

Tithes and Offerings

*Offertory Prayer

*Song of Preparation: 33:1-2

Scripture Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; James 1:1-11

Prayer of Illumination

Text: James 1:1

Sermon: A Letter to Israel

*Song of Response: 354

*Blessing

*Doxology: 528

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


James 1:1 Manuscript

Well, today we begin a new series in which we will be looking together at the book of James. Here, we are jumping to a book that is very concrete, clearly applicable to the Christian life, one in which the author places a high degree of emphasis on how we need to live.

Now, this emphasis has created some consternation in the church in the past. Martin Luther, in his earlier years called this the ‘Epistle of Straw’ because he thought it didn’t teach the doctrine of justification by faith alone clearly enough, and that it didn’t proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ with the same clarity as happens in the other epistles. And this is certainly true. Using the categories of guilt, grace and gratitude, James sets up shop firmly in the third section. And far from making James unworthy of the Bible, it makes it a valuable jewel in the crown. A value that later caused Luther to say “I praise James and hold it to be a good writing because it does not propose human teachings but drives God’s law hard.”

So as we consider James together we are going to see a picture painted of the design of the Christian life, one of love for God and each other that needs our constant vigilance.

And we begin that today by looking at the first verse of James.

We will see that because we are the dispersed Israel, we will consider ourselves servants of Jesus.

1) The Author

2) The Recipients

1) The Author

Now, as we begin this letter, we find that it is written by someone named “James.” And there are a few James’s in the New Testament. Remember there were 2 James’s among the disciples. One was the brother of John, a son of Zebedee, one of the sons of thunder. The other was James the son of Alphaeus. But these are not the James who wrote this letter. This is James, the brother of Jesus. What we find after the death of Jesus is that the church begins to grow and spread, especially in Jerusalem. And as this happens, the apostles and other elders take up leadership in the church of Jerusalem. And one of those leaders is this James. This is what Paul says in Galatians 1, “Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” And then Paul says that this same James was reputed to be a ‘pillar’ of the church. He was recognized for his leadership and wisdom in the early church.

And this is why, in Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas come to Jerusalem and ask about the mission to the Gentiles, it is James who stands up and gives an answer that the Gentiles do not need to be burdened with circumcision or the ceremonial law, an answer that everyone recognizes to be wise.

Now, some of you might have questions about this James character, especially because we read in Galatians 1 that Paul seems to refer to him as an apostle. But aren’t apostles those who have been sent out by Jesus? Specifically the twelve disciples? And James certainly wasn’t a disciple. In fact we find that in Matthew 13, the people of Nazareth say about Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Incidentally, this Judas is likely the ‘Jude’ who wrote the letter) James was in fact still living in Nazareth. This was the family of whom Jesus said ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ James was among those in his family trying to stop him, because as John 7 says “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.And we find no account of him being present in Jesus’ ministry or at his crucifixion.

So how does James become an apostle? How does he become a leader in the church. Well we get a clue in 1 cor 15 which speaks about the appearances of Jesus and says “and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”

Do you see what this means? That after Jesus was raised, he went to his brother specifically. What he said we don’t know, but the result was that he became a follower of Jesus. To the extent that in Acts 1 we read that “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”

This means that in the same way that Paul was called to be an apostle long after the death and resurrection of Jesus by receiving a vision of heaven on the road to Damascus, so James saw the risen Lord, his brother, and was changed.

And so James was called to be an apostle of Jesus, and from that day began to grow in wisdom and knowledge and to begin to lead this fledgling New Testament church.

And this is what’s amazing about the introduction to this letter. James is the brother of Jesus. And so James writes, not on the authority of his family relationship to Jesus, but on the basis of his service to Jesus his Lord.

You know, in our world, the phrase goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And this is pretty accurate and is abused. People use and abuse their connections to other people to get ahead. But not James. He describes himself here as the ‘servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ His authority to write doesn’t come from who he knows, it comes from who he serves. This reflects new relationship that has been created. That he has been given a commission by his God and his master, his Lord, Jesus Christ. As Paul describes his apostleship as being a slave of Jesus, so James describes himself the same way!

Embedded in this greeting is the story of how James was turned from being an opponent of the Gospel, to a follower of Jesus by his power! You see, even this introduction is a testimony to God’s grace given to him. A testimony to the gospel. That we are dead, blind, opponents to the message of salvation unless we are shown the light by the power of God. For James this was done in a literal, visible way. But the same is true for all of us that we need to be turned by a supernatural act of God or else we remain opponents of Jesus. But by his power, he takes enemies and makes them servants. So that we are all described as servants of Jesus. Given a new master, with the greatest servant as our lord. The one who died to set us free.

The gospel is not absent in James, it is indeed essential to its introduction. A letter which begins with who we are and moves to how we live. The gospel is the foundation of how James sees himself and the church, and we will see this in the rest of the verse as well.

2) The Recipients

Because we see that it is addressed here ‘to the twelve tribes of the dispersion.’ Now, this phrase would have been very meaningful, especially in the circles that James was a part of. Because James was in Jerusalem and so the majority of his contact was with Jews, people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And who can trace their lineage to one of the twelve tribes. This was God’s special covenant people. He brought them out of Egypt and gave them a place in the promised land. They were his inheritance, his nation. And so these 12 tribes are the entire nation of Israel, his covenant people.

However, this phrase here ‘the dispersion’ represents a dark period in the history of this nation. That because of their continued disobedience and unfaithfulness God removed them from that land by the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. And so the nation was taken into captivity. And they were scattered among the nations, as we read in the prophet Joel, the nations sold them to the four corners of the earth. And this was called the diaspora, the dispersion.

And so, he uses this term of address for the church, for Christians. And notice here that for the nation of Israel, these things would have been blasphemous to put together. Being a servant of Jesus and being a member of the 12 tribes of Israel. And how can he do this? Because as Jesus says, the true children of Abraham do the deeds of Abraham. They share the faith of Abraham as Paul says. The true Israel is the is the Israel of faith. It is by faith that one becomes a member of God’s new covenant community. And so these twelve tribes describe the church, described in such a way that the churches, and especially the Jews recognize that they are God’s true holy nation.

And certainly the unbelieving descendants of Abraham wouldn’t have wanted to hear this. They hated Jesus, who said that the true children of Abraham listen to him, they hated the church for claiming to be the true people of God. This is precisely why Paul was persecuting the church, because of his misguided zeal for God! And this created a uniquely Christian dispersion.

We read about this in Acts 11 “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch.” We see that the hostility that arose against the early church from various quarters forced Christians away from their homes, away from the nation of Israel, and into distant nations. And as they went out into the world they proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ wherever they went. And no doubt they wondered, ‘who are we now.’ Many of these people were displaced from the land of promise. They were no longer surrounded by people they had things in common with. Homes, family, customs, land. Wondering ‘who are we now?’

What a comfort for them to hear from the mouth of this apostle ‘you remain the Israel of God, who have been dispersed throughout the nations.’ Their identity remains secure, their community remains intact. They belong to the people of God, no matter where they are.

And so James writes this letter to the church, some of whom have left all things for the sake of following Jesus. Who themselves have had their hearts changed, had their eyes opened, have believed in the saving work of their master, Jesus Christ. And he greets them. And the rest of this letter will be a description of how they can live as the people of God dispersed throughout the world, subject to suffering, subject to hostility, subject to the sin that comes from within.

James pulls no punches. And as we look at this book, as they did, we will be challenged, as they were, but may God use this book to, as Luther said, ‘drive God’s law hard’ into our hearts, so that as the Israel of God we may produce lives pleasing to him.

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. David Stares

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