Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Story of Young Jacob

     Jacob was one of at least seven children born into a relatively poor family. He was the second oldest, with a significant age gap between him and his older brother. Their father was a hard-working man who took good care of the family but apparently died when Jacob was just a young boy. Jacob and his brothers and sisters were now fatherless, and their widowed mother was left to care for the children on her own.1
You Can’t Choose Your Family
     By default Jacob’s older brother was now the head of the house, with the responsibility of providing for, protecting, and caring for his mother and younger siblings. Under normal circumstances this would have been feasible, but there was a problem. The older brother wasn’t “normal.” He started hanging out with the wrong crowd and developed a questionable reputation. He also had extreme views about religion and politics, consistently going against the flow, rocking the boat, and making people uneasy and often angry.2
     This put a lot of pressure on young Jacob and his family, and they suspected that the older brother might be mentally unstable. He appeared to be trying to make a name for himself, more concerned about his own selfish agenda than about his loved ones and their needs. In fact, it got so bad that the people in their home community threatened his life and ran him out of town, which meant that Jacob and his mother and siblings had to go with him. Through no fault of his own, young Jacob was forced to leave his friends and the only home he had ever known. They ended up living far away in a tiny fishing village, where Jacob didn’t know anyone. His little world had been turned upside down, and it didn’t get any better.3
     The older brother seemed to be getting more radical, generating further controversy and conflict. When Jacob and his family confronted him, letting him know they didn’t accept his unorthodox views or support him in any way, it was to no avail. The family had to move yet again, this time to a big city, which was even more unsettling and traumatic.4 It was here that Jacob’s world came crashing down.
The Life-Changing Event
     Late one afternoon Jacob’s mother came home observably distraught, crying and heart-broken. She brought the tragic news that her oldest son had been violently murdered. Jacob had not only lost a brother, but now he was the oldest among his siblings, which meant that the responsibility of taking care of the family fell on his young shoulders. Since he was still not old enough, they ended up living with a friend of the older brother, who was known for his volatile disposition and bad temper.5 
     While it never got any easier for Jacob, one day something extraordinary happened that changed his life and his perspective forever. He saw his brother – the one who had been killed – alive! How could this be? His own mother had watched him die. But Jacob saw him walking, living, and breathing! It finally occurred to him that his brother wasn’t a freak, a nut case, or as fanatical as so many had assumed. He was exactly who he professed to be all along. Though biologically related through their mother, they didn’t have the same father. As it turns out, Jacob’s older brother was none other than the Son of God!6
     From that day onward Jacob was a loyal disciple, and as he got older he became a prominent leader in the movement his brother had started. He married a believing wife and stayed in Jerusalem for the rest of his life, faithfully teaching and ministering around the region.7 He also produced an inspired manuscript that has been preserved in our New Testament, sandwiched between Hebrews and 1 Peter.
Jacob’s Writing
     The document, originally written in koinē Greek, begins with the author’s self-identification: Ἰάκωβος (Iakōbos) – the Graecized form of the name “Jacob.” This name, however, has been modified through the centuries. The Late Latin Iacomus was a variant form, which passed into Old French and then into English as “James.”8
     In the opening verse, Jacob identifies himself as “a bondservant [doulos] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas. 1:1 NKJV). While it would have been legitimate to call attention to the fact that he was a brother [adelphos] of the Lord Jesus Christ, apparently his spiritual relationship was more important to him than his physical connection. Jacob’s younger brother Judas also contributed an inspired manuscript to the New Testament, where he too humbly identifies himself as “a bondservant [doulos] of Jesus Christ ...” (Jude 1).9
     Jacob admonishes his readers: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (Jas. 1:2-3). Notice that he uses the term adelphoi (“brethren” = “brothers and sisters”) to address his reading audience. Seeing that Jacob was the younger brother of Jesus, and he regards his readership as brothers and sisters, in God’s family the Lord Jesus Christ is our older brother too (cf. Heb. 2:9-18).
     From his earliest years Jacob was all too familiar with the “various trials” that accompany living in an imperfect world, so from personal experience he offers a seasoned outlook. One can “count it all joy,” he insists, not because of the unpleasant circumstances but in view of the outcome. Life’s inevitable adversities that test our faith help to produce the perseverance [hupomonē] necessary to face the challenges of this world as dedicated bondservants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lessons from Young Jacob’s Life
1. Jesus loves all the children of the world, and Jacob appears to have been the first, even though he didn’t always appreciate it. While there are still many around the globe who don’t know about or care about the love Jesus has for them, this in no way diminishes the fact of his love. Surely everyone deserves a chance to hear about the love of Christ and an opportunity to respond (John 15:13; Mark 16:15).
2. Jacob had a hard life, full of uncertainty and fear. From his youth he was unsettled and displaced, acquainted with hardship and loss. Nevertheless, he eventually learned to “count it all joy” because these various trials produced in him the patient endurance he needed. He now invites us to share this godly perspective (Jas. 1:2-3, 12; 4:10; 5:7-11).
3. There was a period in young Jacob’s life when he was skeptical about his older brother, and at times antagonistic. Nagging doubts are understandable, as long as we remain open to the evidence God has provided through his creation and through his word. “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7).
4. Jacob reached a point in his life that he couldn’t deny the evidence any longer, compelling him to acknowledge his brother as the Lord Jesus Christ. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:29b-31).  
5. While Jacob spent the rest of his life as the Lord’s faithful bondservant, think of all the opportunities he missed during his years of unbelief. The longer one puts off accepting and obeying and serving Christ, the more he/she misses out on what is truly worthwhile (2 Cor. 6:1-2).
     According to tradition, Jacob (a.k.a. James) was killed in the year 62 by hostile Jews who threw him off the pinnacle of the temple and then stoned him (Josephus, Ant. 20.9; Clement of Alexandria, Hist. Eccl. 2.23). Therefore submit to God …. whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (Jas. 4:7a, 14). 
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Matt. 1:24-25; 13:55-56; Mark 4:31; 6:3; cf. Luke 2:22-24.
     2 Matt. 9:10-11; 11:19; Mark 3:22; Luke 4:28; 6:11.
     3 Mark 3:21, 31-35; Luke 4:29, 31; Matt. 4:13; John 2:12.
     4 John 7:1-10; Luke 9:51; cf. Acts 1:14.
     5 John 19:25-27; cf. Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54.
     6 Matt. 1:18-25; 1 Cor. 15:3-7; Jas. 2:1; cf. Rom. 1:4.
     7 Acts 1:14; 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19; 2:9.
     8 See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed, s.v. James.
     9 See The NT Epistle of Judas.

*Prepared for the Kaitoke NZ Christian Camp 6th June 2016.

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