There's Hope For Unbelieving Family Members- Part 2
In our last study we examined the Scriptures that revealed the unbelief and disrespect of Jesus’ siblings, as well as most of the citizens of Jesus’ hometown, for over thirty years.
According to Mark 3, James, the half-brother of Christ, had gone with his family to try to get Jesus to quit publicly asserting His true identity. James seems to be saying to Jesus, "You're telling everybody you're the Son of God. Our family's now the national laughing-stock. Dearest brother, shut up! You're ruining our family reputation!" In Mark 6, James says, "Jesus, you're mad! You have a demon. We've got to bring you home."
But something happened that suddenly and radically transformed James from a critical unbeliever to a committed and passionate follower, bond-servant and worshiper of his half-brother.
A Family Reunion with Jesus that Saved His Unbelieving Siblings.
If not for a single mention of it by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:7, we would never know for certain how James went from being a scoffing non-believer to one of the foremost disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus had been taken away by a mob of soldiers and given mock trial and was a few hours later officially sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. After being severely beaten, He was nailed up on a cross, were he hung in agony until He chose the moment to die. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there at the cross, watching her Son. But there is no reason to believe that James, or any of the other siblings were present.
However, after His death, resurrection, and ascension a dramatic and miraculous change takes place among His siblings. We know this because His brothers appear among the 120 believers in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.
According to Acts 1:14, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles, “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers,” (James, Simon, Joses and Jude). So the day of Pentecost finds them as believers gathered with the other followers of Christ awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. The sisters may also be included based on the general reference to the women. No longer antagonistic and agnostic, they had come to believe in their brother as Messiah and Lord.
How did that happen? What was the event that turned them from being skeptical, envious, jealous, and critical family members, to being committed followers of the Messiah Jesus? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 15 verse 7.
In the first several verses of 1 Corinthians, Paul is surveying the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. He writes: “I delivered to you, first of all, that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that, He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that, He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.” This is not James the apostle, but James His brother. This passage explains that after his resurrection, Jesus and James had a private family reunion. Although we are not told when or where, we know that Jesus physically and personally appeared to James and spent some time with him. It is possible that the other brothers were there also. Without question it was a spectacular, mind-opening, heart-changing reunion. In that moment of personal encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus of which Paul speaks, James was soundly and savingly born again.
Upon seeing the risen Christ - his brother Jesus – James must have had his breathe taken away as he realized how wrong he had been concerning Jesus claims and identity. This explains why he and the other brothers are gathered in the upper room, and the sisters as well. After James, the stubbornly skeptical second-born son of Mary comes to faith in his older half-brother the Lord Jesus Christ through this special post-resurrection appearance, it appears that he then sought out the rest of the family. No doubt the look on James’s face and the breathless joy and excitement with which he announced the good news concerning the One they thought was just their older brother, impacts them irresistibly and they gladly and freely commit their lives to the risen Lord. Then they all move in with the rest of the family in the upper room on to await the day of Pentecost.
If the life of James had ended at this point, it would have been an amazing story. But the story does not end there. It wasn’t very long until James rose to a strategic leadership role in the church. He became the author of the book that bears his name, the epistle of James; and another brother, Jude, became the author of the epistle that bears his name, the epistle of Jude. Two of the four skeptical, unbelieving brothers would write New Testament epistles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Faith in Jesus Begins with a Personal Encounter with the Risen Christ.
It is not the many historical evidences of the resurrection that converts a person, but the historical event accompanied by a personal encounter with Christ.
James must have been in shock, seeing his dead brother standing right in front of him – not as a spirit being or apparition – but very much alive in a glorified body. He would have seen the nail-prints and the hole in his side where the spear had pierced it. Then he would have been flooded with a mixture of emotions - amazement, humiliation, regret, joy, and sorrow. No doubt he was floored in utter amazement at seeing someone raised from the dead; joy at knowing his brother was alive again; and sorrow for ever doubting Him in the first place.
Familiarity with Jesus was James and his sibling’s greatest obstacle to their salvation. They, in general, like their neighbors in Nazareth, and James, in particular, were filled with incredulity and contempt for their older brother when He claimed to be the Messiah. Their skepticism, scorn, and shunning of Jesus was not due to any imperfection in Jesus, but to their own jealousy and sin-deadened hearts.
Yet, the Lord had plans for James and to bring them to fulfillment, He arranged a divine appointment and set a benevolent ambush that captured him and bound him by the cords of love to Jesus, the Messiah. In a marvelous act of divine grace, after the resurrection Jesus appeared to James, and in profound mercy dispelled his doubts, disbelief, and derision, and radically saved him. And when he appears in the history of the church in the book of Acts, he does so as the willingly love slave of his older brother. He passionately worships Jesus as his Lord and Savior. His loyalty to Jesus is so strong that he willingly gave his life as a martyr for his older brother.
According to church tradition, somewhere around 67A.D., James was martyred. When the Roman governor Porcius Festus died, there was a brief time before the next Roman governor was assigned and installed in Judea. And in that transition period without a governor, the Jewish high priest began to exercise his hostile powers against Christianity. He took advantage of the lack of imperial oversight, and had James arrested under the authority of the Sanhedrin. He was accused of breaking the law of Moses and was convicted and sentenced to die. History tells us he was thrown off the edge of the Temple, and then stoned, and beaten to death by an angry mob.
Focus on Jesus’ Ability to Save Anyone, Anytime and You’ll Be Encouraged Concerning the Salvation of Family and Friends!
The good news of the gospel is that the Lord is in the business of doing that with the most unlikely people, including you and me. No case is too hard or too far gone to be saved.
The late evangelist, Rolfe Barnard, was an unusual preacher of the gospel. He shares an incident that occurred in his first pastorate that will encourage you in sharing the gospel:
"In my first pastorate in an oil town, Mrs. Carnes became a member of our little church. Her husband was a big shot; he was making a lot of money, but not in the right way. He was highly educated and traveled a lot. He finally got to coming to hear me preach and would sit and listen. His wife got greatly concerned about him. One day she said, "Sunday we want you to have dinner with us. After the meal I have an errand I've got to run, and I really want you to talk with my husband." She said, "For the first time in our life together, I actually believe he might listen."
We had a lovely dinner, then she made some excuse and left me, just a young 23-year-old preacher boy, to tackle that man. I did the best I could, and he cut me to pieces. He had a head knowledge of the Bible from cover to cover; he used it argue about. He was smart. I never will forget how he butchered this poor little preacher boy. He butchered me so that I burst out in a sob, got up out of a chair, and ran out of his house. I was in awful shape.
After being cut to pieces by that intellectual giant, I was wounded, discouraged, and mighty blue. I got up that night and preached a little half-hearted sermon. I don't know whether I believed any of it or not. I decided when it was over it wouldn't do any harm, so I said, "Stand and sing. Somebody may want to publicly confess Jesus Christ." Before the song-leader got started good, here came Mr. Carnes running down the aisle sobbing like his heart would break. He put his big arms around me and liked to have crushed me to death. I'll never forget what he said, "I can rebel against Him no longer. I surrender, I surrender!"
Some years later, he gave me a stick pin and a note which said, "Dear Pastor, when you get the blues, when you want to quit, when it looks like you are not getting anywhere, I want you to take this pin out and look at it and remember a God who can conquer a man like me can save anybody He pleases!"
Dear believer, always remember that it’s not your ability to live as near perfect as possible, or your brilliant and pervasive knowledge of the Bible, coupled with irrefutable apologetic logic, or your polished articulate communication skills that is the key to the salvation of your family and friends. Jesus declared that “all those who the Father has given to him will come to him.” Salvation is of the Lord!
Do not give up on that loved one that you have been burdened for, have witnessed to many times, and have agonized in prayer for so long. Salvation is of the Lord!