What Would It Take to Worship Your Brother As God?

Image credit: Mars Hill Church

Image credit: Mars Hill Church

I grew up with three brothers – one older and two younger. If you have siblings, you can imagine what it was like for four boys (and two girls) to share a house together. There were times when things got pretty crazy! We didn’t always get along, but in the end we still love each other just as much as we aggravate each other.

Brotherly love is one thing. But worship? That’s a different story. I love my brothers, but would I ever worship one of them as God? Fat chance! They are cool guys and everything, but God they are not. I’ve seen them at their best and at their worst. And as much as there are ways I admire each of them, not in a million years would I ever fall on my face and pay homage to them as if to the God of the universe. And, I’m quite certain, they would not do the same for me!

Meet My Brother, the Lord of Glory

Yet I do know at least one person who worshipped his brother as God. His name is James. I’m speaking of the James of the Bible, the son of Mary and Joseph and brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19), the one who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name, where he calls himself “a servant of…the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).

Is that some sort of strange joke? James calls himself a servant of his brother Jesus. He says his big brother is his “Lord”. Later, in James 2:1 he calls his brother “Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”. Come again? You think your brother is the Lord of glory? Either James has some really compelling reasons to refer to his brother like this, or he is some kind of whacko nut job. If I ever start calling my brother the “Lord of glory” and saying I’m his “servant”, feel free to just lock me up in a padded room where I can’t hurt myself or anyone else.

The question begs to be asked: Why does James talk about his brother like this? What makes him think Jesus is God, worthy of his worship? Are there any sound reasons to back it up, or is James just a crazy man? What does it take for a man to become convinced that his brother is God?

A Skeptical Brother

The Bible gives us a bit of a glimpse into the conversion of James. It turns out that James, along with the rest of his family, originally thought what everyone else would think if their brother claimed to be God: he didn’t believe him.

In Mark 3, James and the rest of his family think that Jesus is out of his mind. They hear the way he is talking about himself and conclude that Jesus has lost his marbles, and one day they decide to have a family intervention and bring their lunatic brother home.

  • And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”…….[31] And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. [32] And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” (Mark 3:21, 31-32)

They fail in their task to bring him home and Jesus continues to travel around and be about his business. So, later on the brothers take on a different tactic. Rather than try to make him quit by force, they instead mock him and try to bait him into exposing himself as a fraud.

  • Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. [3] So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. [4] For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” [5] For not even his brothers believed in him. (John 7:2-5)

That last sentence is key: For not even his brothers believed in him. This helps us to know that the words they spoke to him were not genuine, but sarcastic. They essentially say something like “Hey big brother, if you think you’re all that, why not head over to the big festival. After all, if you really want to be known, that’s where the crowds will be. Go ahead Mr. Hot Shot, why not use this opportunity to show yourself to the world? What are you afraid of?”

The brothers are hoping that Jesus either (a) takes them up on their offer and fails so miserably that he quits doing what he’s doing, or (b) he is afraid to take on their challenge and decides to quit the whole charade.

What Happened?!

This is the last we hear of James and his brothers until shortly after Jesus is murdered. However, what we find next is quite astonishing!

  • All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

Hang on just a second: the last we heard, Jesus’ brothers thought he was a crazy man and they were plotting to somehow end the embarrassment of him wandering the countryside saying outrageous things, and now they are gathered together with Jesus’ disciples in a prayer meeting? What happened?! Why are his brothers no longer skeptical?

If you are tempted to think that perhaps the brothers were doing it for some phony motive – like supporting their grieving mom or are simply there in person but not in spirit – you cannot come to that conclusion. The Bible won’t let you, because his brothers do a complete 180 and are shown in other places to be full-on supporters of Jesus and everything he stood for!

This is true of James in particular. James….

  • Becomes a Christian preacher: “After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me…'” (Acts 15:13)
  • Becomes one of the key leaders in the Church: “when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars…” (Galatians 2:9)
  • Preached the same gospel as the apostle Paul (which requires faith in Jesus): “they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me…” (Galatians 2:9)
  • Wrote a book of the Bible: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” (James 1:1)

So, we can trace the evolution of James’ perception of his brother. Initially, he thinks Jesus is crazy and wants to shut down his ministry. Later, he mocks him and challenges him to prove himself to the world. Then, shortly after Jesus had died, James is fellowshipping and praying with followers of Jesus, becoming an important figure in the early church, partnering in ministry with those who preach faith in Jesus, writing Scripture that encourages faith in Jesus, and eventually becoming the leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. Not only this, but history outside of the Bible records that James was ultimately stoned to death around 62AD for breaking the law, which most scholars believe to have been a martyr’s execution related to his faith.

How Can This Be Explained?

So what happened to James that made him change his mind? What caused him to go from skeptic to full-on preacher? How did he go from unbelief to being a pillar in the early Christian Church?

The answer is easy:

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. [6] Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. [7] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)

It’s simple. The reason James changed his mind is that he saw the risen Jesus. Think about it: what else could convince someone that their brother was God? What would convince you that your brother – or anyone else – was God? It would sure take something spectacular to convince me! And that’s exactly what Jesus did. His most spectacular miracle of all totally and forever authenticated everything he ever said and did. When Jesus came back from the dead, he stunned his opposition and created converts. Many went from staunch unbelief to unwavering belief. There is no other way to explain the biography of James, Jesus’ bold little brother. The kind of radical change that took place in him can only be accounted for by seeing his brother come back from the grave. The resurrection really did happen!

What About You?

You and I never had the privilege of hearing Jesus preach or witnessing any of his miracles. We never got to see him risen from the dead. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t believe. A rational person will take into account the facts of history and piece together the puzzle. Everything I have stated about James we know to be historical fact. There is zero evidence from anywhere in ancient history that his life was mis-recorded. He really was Jesus’ brother, really thought he was crazy, really changed his mind, and really went to his grave as a Christian pastor and preacher. And the only thing that makes sense to account for this is that he really did see his brother Jesus rise from the dead.

You weigh the historical evidence for yourself. Is the life of James in support of an actual, bodily resurrection of Jesus? James wasn’t the only dramatic conversion. There were hundreds of them – thousands actually – including another brother of Jesus (named Jude) who also wrote a book of the Bible. The historical evidence is overwhelming. But the question is, will you bury your head in the sand and cleverly explain it all away, or will you take an honest look at the facts and follow them to their logical conclusion?

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