Jump Start # 1929
Acts 12:2 “And he had James, the brother of John put to death with a sword.”
A Jump Start reader asked, “Why does faith waiver after the death of a fine Christian, especially when they pass suddenly?” The reader tells of the sudden passing of a preacher. His question took me to our verse today.
James, the brother of John died. He wasn’t just the brother of John, he was one of the chosen, one of the apostles. And, he didn’t just die. He was executed. He was murdered. King Herod arranged this. It was another of Herod’s family that executed John the Baptist.
Up to this point, the apostles had been arrested, occasionally beaten but some how they always escaped. Prison doors opened and they got away. But not this time. James, the apostle dies. What a crushing blow this must have been to the early church. If God didn’t protect the apostles, was any one safe? It looked like God turned His back and it looked like the enemy was going to win. Crush the leaders and usually a moment falls apart.
There are days in our journey with Christ that are very exciting and uplifting. Baptisms are like that. Having guest preachers are like that. Our singing is robust. Our prayers are earnest. The feeling is upbeat. But then there are the other days. The clouds seem to hang right above the auditorium. The mood is dark. The singing is slow and pitiful. No one feels like singing. No one can move past the fact that someone special is missing. A beloved elder has passed away. A preacher, still active and strong, has passed. A teenager has been killed. We understand that this is a part of life, but what a funk this puts us in. Walking back into the church building is so hard. People question whether or not they can recover from this. And filling the hearts is the question, “Why?”
The death of James reminds us of several important truths.
First, we know all too well from Hebrews 9:27, that there is an appointed time for death. The thing about that appointment, we are rarely ever ready for it. Death doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if a person is ready or not, death comes. It doesn’t matter how important the person is. It doesn’t matter how busy a person is. It doesn’t matter what projects remain unfinished. There have been books that were never finished because the author died. There have been uncompleted symphonies, paintings, school years and even sermons because of death. Death doesn’t care how young a person is. Death doesn’t care what desolation it leaves upon a family, or, a church. Death doesn’t care how good a person is. Death simply doesn’t care.
Second, the death of the apostle James reminds us that the kingdom is larger than all of us. The kingdom survived without James. It survived after Peter died. It survived after Paul died. It will survive after you and I are gone. Now, within a congregation, the death of an elder may end the eldership for a while. The death of a preacher may make things difficult for a while. But even with that, things move on. Often, death will cause others to step up and fill in. It may lead to others using a talent that they didn’t even know that they had.
Third, as to the “why,” the immediate answer is because we live in a broken world. This world is not our home, we sing. Because of sin, the world is cursed. Death, disease, disasters are part of a broken world. As I write this, yet another hurricane is nearing American shores. We haven’t recovered from the last one. Problems, trials and tragedies are often like that. They don’t wait in line, one at a time. Often we are hit all at once and from several directions at the same time. Problems at home. Problems at work. Problems at church. Problems with our health. Problems with our finances. Here they come, all at the same time.
This answer doesn’t satisfy us. We want to scream, “It’s not fair.” And, it isn’t. God has never promised safety for his people. You and I pray for isolation from problems. We want hurricanes to turn and get out of our world. Instead, God wants us to weather storms. He wants us to build our foundations upon Him, the rock. There are things we learn and see in the darkness of the night that we can never see in the sunshine. We must stop believing the myth that we can somehow turn things around to make our world Heaven. That will never be. There will always be tears, pain, sorrow and death here. There is no pill that can take those things away. Our world is broken. Our hope, is not in here, but there. Our hope is with the Lord. Our hope is a world in which there are no tears, sorrow, pain or death. That world is Heaven.
Fourth, Jesus said at the end of His great sermon that wind, rain and floods come to all of us. It comes to those who have built upon the sand and it comes to those who have rightly built upon the rock. Having the right foundation did not prevent the storms from coming. They came. But faith in the Lord enabled them to stand and remain standing during the storms. These storms come in many fashions. Sometimes they are literal storms, like hurricanes. Sometimes they are emotional storms. Sometimes they are broken hearts.
Finally, the death of a righteous person is considered a blessing by God. They are through with this crazy world. No more temptation. No more Satan. No more dealing with the things that plague us. They are blessed to be home with the Lord. They are the lucky ones. It’s the rest of us who must carry on that is hard. It’s hard to pick up after the death of a mate. It’s hard to fill that pulpit after the death of a preacher. It’s hard to keep leading the flock after the death of an elder. Righteous people leave a mark upon our hearts. Honor them. Take some time to reflect. But do, as they would want us to do, and get right back into the fight of things. Keep preaching. Keep leading. Keep helping the people of God. Don’t quit until God calls us.
There is something interesting about the death of James. He was the first apostle to be martyred. His brother, John, was the last apostle to die. Brothers. First and last. John had to carry on a long time without James. The two of them were part of that special trio with Peter. Peter, James and John. They, alone, witnessed the transfiguration. They, alone were allowed into the bedroom of Jairus’ daughter and saw Jesus bring her back from the dead. They alone were allowed to be close to the Lord in those garden prayers. Peter, James and John. Now, James was gone. I wonder what John felt. I wonder if it was hard to keep going. But he did. He would later write three letters and pen the last book of the New Testament, Revelation. In that grand throne scene, near the end of the book of Revelation, John sees the dead standing before the throne. Among the dead that he would have seen was James, his brother.
God is counting upon us to be His hands, feet and mouth in this generation. We must work and work hard until He calls us home. We must never stop. Wipe a tear from your eye if you must, but then roll those sleeves up higher, and get back at it. Preach. Teach. Show. Live. Become. That’s our duty. That’s what we must do.
We stand in the shadows of James.