James has moved a knight to open. Maybe he’s going to castle early. In any case, his opening is bold and purposeful: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…”
Considering James is a trinitarian who believes in the deity of Christ, this looks like a strange thing to say. The language seems to suggest that Jesus is not God. But if we pry up the words and peer under them, we begin to understand what James is saying here.
As Daniel M. Doriani* observes, there was a time when James didn’t believe in Jesus, even though he grew up with Him. John tells us (JOH 7.3-5) that on one occasion, Jesus’ brothers mock Him by sarcastically urging Him to go to Judea so the world can see how great He is. Mark records an incident when, as raucous throngs of people crowd around Jesus, His siblings try to seize Him and say, “He is out of his mind.” (MAR 3.20-21) They burst in on His teaching in MAT 12.46-50, and His mother is the only member of His family present at His crucifixion. (JOH 19.25)
The watershed issue in the life of James is the question, ‘What will you do with Jesus?’
That is not to say James does not believe in God before he trusts in Jesus. To the contrary. Growing up in an orthodox Jewish family with godly parents, he has no doubt been a God-fearer from his youth. But he has had the same problem Israel as a nation has demonstrated: Jesus is nothing like the Messiah they have been awaiting! Yeshua, if He is the Christ, should at least live up to the reputation of his Old Testament namesake, Joshua, who took no prisoners. God had committed Israel’s foes to complete destruction under Joshua’s leadership. Now this Jesus is telling them to love their enemies! How can He be the Christ? He appears to have no intention of throwing off the yoke of Roman domination–He even commands His disciples to pay their taxes to Caesar! All this leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of his people, including James.
Paul tells us the resurrected Christ appears to James (1 COR 15.7), which is likely a reference to his younger brother. Can this be when James believes? We won’t know until we ask him. But we know he believes now, and proclaims himself to be a doulos–a bondslave–of both God (whom he has served since he was a child) “and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The very name James gives Jesus is his statement of faith. To call Him Lord is a bold declaration of His deity, and is only done by the leading of the Holy Spirit. (1 COR 12.1) There is only one Lord. This is a critical issue, especially since James is writing to other Jews who have also struggled with the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus is Messiah’s given name–probably the name James used for Him as they grew up together as carpenter’s sons in Nazareth. It is the name that portrays Jesus’ humanity.
Christ is not Jesus’ surname, but His title. It is the name that ties Lord and Jesus together. As the Christ–God’s Anointed One–Jesus is the God-Man, the Creator becoming part of His own creation. He has been sent by the Father, conceived by the Spirit in the body of a godly Jewish teenager who accepts her place in God’s eternal plan and acknowledges her own need for the Saviour she is to bear.
Paul tells Timothy (1 TIM 2.5,6a) that “…there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” If Jesus were not God, He could not have become man–mere men are not borne by virgins. And if He were not man, He could not be the Mediator.
The watershed issue in the life of James is the question, “What will you do with Jesus?” We must answer that question, as well. The religions of the world allow their followers to believe many things about Jesus, but what they may not believe is that He is God and that He rose bodily from the dead. Yet, these are two things one must believe about Jesus to be saved from eternal damnation. (ROM 10.9,10) Satan has cleverly camouflaged the truth about Jesus since before He was born two thousand years ago.
Mind you, everyone who has ever lived will answer this question. “…God has highly exalted him, and given him a name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (PHI 2.9-11) One day, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, everyone will kneel before the King of Kings and acknowledge that He is God in flesh–Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.
Sadly, for some it will already be too late. For them, the next thing the Judge will do will be to pronounce their sentence–eternity separated from Him in a hell so unimaginable that no one with even a rudimentary understanding of its horrors would tell anyone to go there.
All because they didn’t do what James refused to do for many years–believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.