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Brian Thiel


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The Glory of the Ordinary

Who was Little Jimmy?

James the Less - Glory in Obscurity?

Texts of Interest: Mark 6:3, 15:40, 16:1, Matt 27:56, Luke 6:15-16, & Acts 1:6-14, John 19:25, Treasure in earthen vessels - II Cor 4:4-7 (quoted from NIV unless noted otherwise)
Mark 6:1-3 - Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!
3 Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, [Joses in GR] Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

At the beginning of his ministry, as crowds began to gather, Jesus was downplayed by the people of his home town.  That is how people are.  They hate to see somebody they know break out of "obscurity."

Mark 3:13-19 -- 13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons.
16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter) 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

How many of the 12 disciples names can you repeat? Most of them we have some information about them from other passages, but several of them are just names on a list. They are the OBSCURE ones.

This is a message about obscurity.

This is the point that "jumps out" to me....when people live their lives in OBSCURITY, It does NOT imply...
...they lived without noble and good purposes.
...their entire existence was, in effect, meaningless.
...their net value was trivial.
...their life was wasted.
It certainly does NOT mean there is no place in heaven for them (or the rest of US, who also live obscure lives).

Let me repeat the thought I have been saying over and over: every person mentioned in this series is a very real person.  All of them exemplify the "glory of the ordinary." So you see, there is nothing "ordinary" about being ordinary. Even in the "ordinary" obscurity of most people's lives, there is the supreme glory of living by faith.

In the New Testament, there are a many mentions of the name James, including one of the books by a man named James. Surely there were several people named James. Which one was which?

James, the brother of John, son of Zebedee - was an early martyr in Jerusalem.

James the half brother of Jesus, aka "James the Just" -- Mark 15:40 associates James with Jesus' mother Mary and brother Joses. Mark 6:3, when referring to Jesus, states that people asked if he was not the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon.

James as the son of Alpheus is mentioned in all the standard lists of 12 (along with Simon the Zealot and another Judas the son of yet another James.) James the Less is usually identified with James, son of Alpheus, one of the Twelve Apostles. This association might possibly identify his mother as the same person as Mary of Clopas, mentioned only in John 19:25. It must however be noted that the Gospel of John does not include anyone called James among Jesus' disciples.

This study wants to know more about the one called, James the Less (that I have whimsically called, Little Jimmy) or the "younger James" -- this is the James who is the hard one to sort out.  (KJV & many other v. translate this as,  "James the less." But the NIrV and some other translations say, "the younger James.")

James the Less (younger) as the son of a "Mary"
Mark 15:40-41 and Matthew 27:56 name several women who followed the cruel procession to Golgotha and remained there a distance from the cross - presumably as close as they dared to get.

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

In both these passages "James" is accompanied by a brother called Joses or Joseph. John 19:25-27 reports that others were closer to the cross, Mary who was mother of Jesus and her unnamed sister plus Mary the wife of Clopas (Is this the same person called Cleopas by Luke in chap 24 - one of two who walked and talked with the risen Jesus not realizing it was HE until the end of the walk?), Mary Magdalene, and John. That is why it seems to me there were some followers near and others further, and there were several women named Mary, and two of them had sons named James and Joseph.

From this collection of not completely overlapping information, most people think James the Less was also James the son of Alphaeus. But you cannot say that is a certainty.

What else do we know about James the son of Alphaeus, who probably is also known as James the Less, or the younger James (Jimmy)? Not much, practially nothing.

The story line for his life is this, "he lived in obscurity."  Except that this particular disciple had a common name, we know very little about him beyond these important facts:
1. He was chosen by Jesus to be one of the 12.
2. He continued to follow Jesus all the way.
3. After the resurrection and departure of Jesus for heaven, he was still there, a faithful follower.

In this respect, he is a perfect model for all of us. History will not remember us, either. Our lives will soon become obscure, only a fading memory for the few who knew us best. Being ordinary, living in obscurity, by faith, like James the Less, is enough. In fact, it is everything.

KEY LESSON: The scriptures do not glorify people's lives, only Jesus'.

II Corinthians 4:4-7
4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

One of most important of Paul's concepts of a Christian's life is this... every Christian's life is like a simple clay pot... what matters is the "treasure in within the pot." The measure of any person's life is what they live for,  i.e., their faith.

Keeping our faith -- being a witness for Christ is all that really matters. Paul says, "I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.... This further explains the concept ... we are the "temple of God." (II Cor 6:15)

It is not the glory or lack of it that matters about anybody's life. It is the PURPOSE of your life that matters. If you keep your faith, no matter that your life is imperfect,
THAT is what counts most.

As the better known James tells us so vividly...
"keeping the faith" is a true description ONLY if it is carried out consistently and intensely. This is not an excuse for merely having good intentions without putting in real effort. But still, it is not our works that matter most... for they are simply the external result of what lies within.

If, in the life you live, you will say, "Have Thine Own Way, Lord" you will be another one of the great multitude in heaven who sing or shout (if you cannot sing much) ---
Glory and Honor to the Lamb who sitteth upon the throne.