Back in 1970, James Taylor wanted to give his newborn nephew and namesake something special, so he wrote the babe a lullaby. That song, “Sweet Baby James” was the title track for the album that catapulted Taylor to fame and fortune. He still sings the song at the end of almost all his concerts. “Sweet Baby James” ended up being pretty sweet for Uncle James.
I’ve been humming that song because my Bible Reading Plan for 2023 kicked off with a stroll through the book of James. Before diving into the first chapter, I had to stop and think about the writer of this letter. Who was he? Why did he write it? To whom did he write?
The book of James was written by Jesus’ half-brother. No other book of the Bible was written by someone who knew Jesus as a child or who lived in the same house as teenagers.* The two boys grew up together, played together, did chores together. They probably shared a bedroom, or bed, or mat. Three more brothers were added to the family and at least two sisters. (Mark 6:3) That had to have been one lively household.
We are not given a peek into the early home life of Joseph and Mary’s family, so we are left with conjecture and holy imagination. However, it couldn’t have been easy for James to follow Jesus, the Son of God, in birth order. Having the sinless one as an older brother might have been challenging.
None of Jesus’ younger half-siblings were part of His earthly ministry. They are rarely mentioned in the gospels and when they are, it isn’t in the best light. “When his (Jesus’) family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” (Mark 3:21)
It appears that not one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters were at the execution of their oldest sibling. From the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother Mary into the care of John, the disciple.
Then, in Acts 1:14, there’s a breakthrough. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” His brothers! James even got a one-on-one encounter with his brother after the resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:7)
By the time James wrote his handbook on how to live like a Christian, he had fully accepted Jesus’ Messiahship, calling Him “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1) . Not once did James portray Jesus as anything less than Lord. There were no old childhood memories dredged up. The division in the family over Jesus’ ministry was not mentioned. The words “Mom always loved you best,” were never recorded. James saw the glory and he became a believer and leader of the early church.
James’ death is not recorded in the New Testament, but historians believe he was either stoned to death or beaten to death with a club. All for love of his Brother, the Savior.
Are you reading along with me?
What has James been teaching you?
*I stand corrected. James is not the only book of the Bible that was written by someone who knew Jesus as a child or who lived in the same house as teenagers. The short book of Jude was also penned by a half-brother of Jesus. I’m so grateful for someone who not only reads, but also checks up on me! Thanks, friend!