THE TWELVE — THE OTHER JAMES
by Pastor Mike Fortune
July 25, 2009
- With Jesus, less is more [Matthew 27:55-56 NIV; Mark 15:40 KJV; Hebrews 11:38 NIV]
- Power comes from the message [2 Corinthians 12:12 NIV; Colossians 1:15-23 MSG]
- Not a risk because it depends on God [Mark 15:40 KJV; Mark 10:29-31 MSG; 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV]
The ninth name in Luke’s list of the apostles found in Luke 6:15 is “James the son of Alphaeus.” The only thing Scripture tells us about this man is his name. If he ever wrote anything, it is lost to history. If he ever asked Jesus any questions or did anything to stand out from the group, Scripture does not record it. He never attained any degree of fame or notoriety. He was apparently not the kind of guy who stands out. And that’s okay. Because as our video clip revealed, less is more. 1 Samuel 9:2 says the first Israelite king Saul was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.” We have no such description of the other James. He was almost invisible. As his ordinary name suggests.
There are several men with the name James in the New Testament. Last summer we studied the life of James the son of Zebedee, brother of John, who together were known as sons of thunder. There was another James, who was the son of Mary and Joseph and therefore Jesus’ half-brother. Paul mentions him in Galations 1:19 saying, “I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother.” The James who was Jesus’ half brother apparently became a leader in the Jerusalem church. He was the spokesman who delivered the ruling at the first General Conference so to speak of the new Christian church in Acts 15:13–21. He is also thought to be the same James who penned the New Testament epistle that bears his name. He is not the same James, the son of Zebedee, one of the apostles closest to Jesus throughout His ministry on earth.
So those are the more famous men named James in the Bible. Practically all we know about this other James who was one of The Twelve apostles is he was the son of Alphaeus as Luke 6:15 says. We know his mother’s name was Mary. Matthew 27:55-56 says, “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” Joses must have been a well known follower of Jesus. A disciple. Because his name is mentioned as much as James. But he was not an apostle. Their mother, Mary, was obviously a devoted follower of Jesus as well. For she was an eyewitness to the crucifixion. Mark 16:1 says she is also one of the women who came to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. “When the Sababath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.”
So this other James, listed among the apostles, whose father was Alphaeus didn’t write any books. Preside over any councils. Or witness the crucifixion. But he did have a godly mother. And a godly brother Joses. And a very common name. He even had a very common nickname. The Greek word for “Younger” or “Less” in Mark 15:40 is “mikros.” It literally means “little.” Its primary meaning is “small in stature.” In the NIV of that verse, he is referred to as “James the Younger” or in the KJV and more popularly known to this day he is identified as “James the Less.”
Perhaps, this other James was literally younger and shorter than the more well known apostle James the son of Zebedee. Or perhaps the nickname refers to his influence or lack thereof compared to the other more well known apostles. As we learned, James the son of Zebedee was a man of prominence. His family was known to the high priest in Jerusalem according to John 18:15-16. He was a part of Jesus’ closest inner circle. But not this other James. The son of Alphaeus was known as James the Younger or James the Less. Mikroscopic or Little James.
But little James was one of The Twelve. Jesus Himself chose him. Personally trained him. Undoubtedly encouraged and empowered him. Just like the others. And then sent him out as a witness. And this reminds us of point number one. With Jesus, less is more. If you’re just an ordinary person, a regular joe with a normal name, you are qualified to be a follower of Jesus. And if you’re faithful, He just might use you to make his message go further around the world. Jesus called James the Less to do more. And He could be calling you too.
Which reminds me of that group of unnamed followers of Jesus in the Christian Hall of Fame. Hebrews 11:33-38 describes this group of people “...who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; there were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”
Eternity will reveal the names and the testimonies of all of these unnamed followers of Jesus. Like James the Less. Whom this world barely remembers and knows nothing about. In any case, we can be certain that he became a powerful preacher like the others. And this leads to point number two: Power comes from the message not the man. 2 Corinthians 12:12 says, “12The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance.” The Bible is saying apostles, even little ones we don’t know much about, performed many signs and wonders and mighty deeds. That’s what these apostles were known for. And that’s why Revelation 21:14 says his name will be inscribed on one of the walls or foundations of the heavenly New Jerusalem
But despite what 2 Corinthians 12:12 says, I don’t think their names will be inscribed there because these men were powerful in and of themselves. They’ll be there because the message they shared was powerful. We know this is true because even the people following Jesus weren’t convinced by miracles alone right? Not even after His resurrection from the dead! So it had to be more than signs, wonders, and miracles that made these ordinary men persevere and their message meaningful. Yes, Acts 17:6 [KJV] says these men turned the world upside down. But it was the message these men shared that did that. Not the men themselves. And the message still does.
I love the way Eugene Peterson describes that message in his paraphrase of Colossians 1:15-23 [MSG]. “15-18We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.”
“18-20He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
“21-23You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don't walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.”
So with Jesus, less is more. Point number one. Because power comes from the message not the man or woman. And this is point number two. Some folks have noted that Matthew 2:14 says that Matthew a.k.a. Levi was the son of a man named Alphaeus as well. So it could be that Little James and Matthew were brothers. After all, Peter and Andrew were brothers and James and John, the sons of thunder, were brothers. Why not Matthew and Little James? But the bottom line is we just don’t know. Scripture makes no effort to distinguish between these two sons of Alphaeus. Additionally, since Scripture does not associate them together like it does for James and John or Peter and Andrew, their being related is possible, but not likely.
Another interesting thing about Little James’ lineage can be found when comparing Mark 15:40 and John 19:25. We already read Mark 15:40 and noticed in the KJV that his nickname is James the Less. But let’s read the entire verse to see what else it says. In my NIV it says “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses, and Salome.” So we know there were at least two Mary’s at the cross. Mary Magdalene. And this other Mary. The mother of James the Less. Then just listen to what John 19:25 adds. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
Did you catch that? That’s three Mary’s at the cross! Mary Magdalene. And this other Mary. The mother of James the Less. And then Mary the mother of Jesus. It is possible, perhaps even likely then, that Jesus’ mother’s sister, identified as “Mary the wife of Clopas” and “Mary the mother of James the Younger” are the same person. Scholars suggest that Clopas may have been the surnname for Alphaeus. So his mother would’ve been married to Alphaeus of Cleophas. Others suggest James’s mother might have remarried after his father died. Either scenario would have made James the Less the cousin of Jesus.
Was he Jesus’ cousin? Was he Matthew’s brother? Again, we just don’t know. Scripture doesn’t clarify. But even if it did, would it really matter? For Little James’ significance and influence didn’t come from his gene pool. And neither does ours. As we’ve seen, what made Little James a Big Mac was the message he proclaimed. He may have been able to claim that he was Matthew’s brother or Jesus’ cousin, but instead, the Gospels merely record that he went quietly about his Master’s business. And as a result, this world remembers next to nothing about him.
But it won’t always be that way. For one day, when Jesus comes again, we’ll have an opportunity to interview Little James. And hear his side of the story. And I have a feeling, the rest of the story will sound a lot like how Jesus described it in Mark 10:29–31 (MSG). Jesus said, “‘Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.’”
Who cares about fast cars and big screen TVs? Well, many men do. Including me! I think about that sometimes when I’m tooling around town in my min-van. The Christian kids group Go Fish has a great song called “It’s Hard To Be Cool (In A Mnivan).” It’s my theme song just joking. But many men like cars that go fast. Am I right men? Can I get a witness or a “Hoo-rah” out there? But you know what else men like? Big screen TVs. The bigger the better!
I just bought a gently used, one year old, 65" inch Mitsubishi TV on Craigslist. I’m making a man cave in the basement so I can DVR or watch the Redskins in stunning high def this fall. I call it my 4 weddings and a funeral tv because that’s how many additional services it took for me to save up enough money to buy it! But you know what I found before Shawn helped me move it the other day? A big old scratch on the screen! In fact, there’s more than one scratch. Nearly had a heart attack. And at first, I was kinda mad about that. Because when the TV is off, you can see it when you look at it from the right angle. But you know, when the TV is on and I’m focused on something else I enjoy, I don’t notice the scratches at all!
And I think maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be for all of us on this earth. It’s okay to collect fast cars and watch appropriate TV if you’ve already put first things first. It’s okay to have a big house and go on vacation if God has blessed you with more than you need. Wealth is not a sin. But you know, it’s not okay to want wealth more than Jesus. It’s not okay to do those things without doing the little things first. Like faithfully and consistently returning at least 10% of your wealth as a gift to God. So the message of His kingdom can continue to turn the world upside down. That’s such a little thing I know. But less than 50% of Christians actually do it. Like many professed followers of Jesus, we need to grow up in this area of giving and finances. So Jesus can do more with less. And if we, like Little James, keep focused on the message, we won’t even notice what we’re missing. Isn’t that how it works with fast cars and big screen tv’s and the Gospel?
So let me ask you this morning: Do you believe Jesus can do more with less? Do you believe that the power and meaning comes from the message not the man or woman? Do you believe Jesus knows what He’s talking about? Or does his strategy of calling the ordinary and seemingly insignificant among us sound too risky to you? To be honest, I used to think this strategy of supporting and sharing the message was way too risky. Not because the message is bad, but because I’m not very good as sharing it! But the more Christ grows in me, the more I realized the beauty of His plan to do more with less. Because the power of the Gospel does not come from my checkbook. My charisma. Or talents. The power comes from the message. And the message comes from the dunamis / dynamite power of the Holy Spirit. That’s specifically what that Greek word for power means in Acts 1:8. Dynamite.
With our selfish hearts working and doing our own thing, this strategy of Jesus won’t work. But with humble hearts, willing to sacrifice and give, for the sake of the Gospel this strategy really isn’t all that risky. It is not Mission Impossible. It is Commission Possible. One that cannot be compromised or derailed. Because it is God and His power that fuels and guarantees its success. And this is point number three. The message is not a risk because it depends on God not us!
Maybe you already knew that. And that it was God’s plan to use Little James to support and share the Gospel. But did you know it was God’s plan to use you too? God delights in using the ordinary to accomplish extraordinary things. The question is, will you let Him? Will you do the little things and become willing to be less, so God can do big things and become known more and more? James the son of Alphaeus did. And I think God is calling us to be happy with less so God can do more too.
Early church history is mostly silent about this man named Little James. Some of the earliest legends about him confuse him with James the brother of Jesus. There is some evidence that Little James took the Gospel north to Syria and Persia and modern day Iraq. Accounts of his death differ. The historian Eusebius [as well as Hegesippus] says that the Pharisees threw him off the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and then stoned him to death in the year 62 AD although they greatly esteemed his person and had given him the surname of “James the Just.” Others say he was beaten to death. Still others say hew as crucified like Jesus.
The truth is we don’t know how he died. But what we do know is how he lived. And from the life he lived, we can be sure that with Jesus, less is more. Point number one. That power comes from the message not the man. Point number two. And that supporting and sharing that message is not a risk because its success depends on God. And that is point number three.
Jesus said that no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times. And then the bonus of eternal life! If this is your desire, would you stand and read in unison with me one more text? 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen. For more information see John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men pages 167-180.