What Was It Like To Be the Brother of Jesus? by George T Geis
PURE SPECULATION? No! There is a Biblical account of a man who actually was Christ's brother. His life story is full of lessons for us. James — the author of the book of James — is very distinctly called "the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:19). His mother was Mary. Let's briefly examine his story and see for ourselves what it was like to be the brother of Jesus. When the brothers of Jesus are listed, James' name appears first, which may well indicate that he was the eldest of Jesus' younger brothers (Matt. 13:55). After Jesus was born, both His mother Mary and His stepfather Joseph knew that God would be well pleased for them to have children of their own. Soon the expansion of their family was under way. In time James was born. Living Faith. James grew up in the town of Nazareth and had continuous and profound contact with Jesus until Jesus was thirty years of age. He saw Jesus in every conceivable situation. James was able to observe from childhood the epitome of the Christian way of life! And so after his conversion later, James would know — perhaps better than any human alive then — what it meant to be a real Christian! Perhaps when Jesus and James were young children, they wandered together in the green countryside and explored the rocky ledges in the cliffs around Nazareth. On occasions they would walk together along the shores of the Lake of Gennesaret to watch the fishermen haul their nets to shore. They sat at a common table for family meals and rehashed the day's events in dinner conversation. As they grew older, perhaps they talked over the problems, aspirations, frustrations and desires of youth as they went to sleep. They sat next to each other in the synagogue on Sabbath and traveled together along the road with their parents to Jerusalem to keep the annual feasts. After a hard day's work in their father's construction business, they perhaps "talked shop" as they scrubbed off the grime and sweat. James probably had many discussions with his older brother, who displayed unusual wisdom at a very early age (Luke 2:40). Although James could not have realized it at the time, he was having set for him the perfect example of obedience to God, living faith — honoring one's parents, for example (Luke 2:51). Later, this constant, lifelong example would act as a guide to James in ministering to Christ's Body — the Church. James found Jesus easy to get along with — even when Jesus was going through His teen-age years and then His early twenties. They must have shared many enjoyable moments (Luke 2:52). Familiarity. Yet. of course, James must have sometimes gotten quite angry with his brother, and thought Jesus was dead wrong. Even though Jesus was living perfectly, James didn't realize it: and at times he must have thought that his brother's actions "didn't make sense." He was to learn differently later. Jesus was an important example in another way. Indications are that Jesus became the head of the family while still a teenager — as we don't read of His stepfather Joseph after the family's journey to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old (Luke 2:41-51). If so, Jesus set an important example for James as the family leader. And He also set the example of hard work and right management of the heavy and technically proficient construction business the family was noted for. (The Greek word teklon, translated "carpenter," be taken in the broad sense as "builder of houses" — that is, both woodworker and stoneworker.) Yet there was the element of familiarity that is always present when two people spend a great deal of time together. A prophet is without honor in his own country — or his own family. James respected and deeply admired his brother in many areas, but for a long time Jesus was always simply "Jesus" to James, and never "the Christ." Which, of course, was quite natural. Then when Jesus became thirty, family events took a new turn. James became a little bit concerned when his older brother and leader of the family went wandering off in the wilderness away from home — for a forty-day fast preparatory to starting His ministry. Jesus surely left someone in charge of the family — perhaps James himself. But however Jesus prepared for and explained His departure, it must have seemed a little odd to James at the time. Strange Brother. Then Jesus reappeared at a wedding in Cana with some friends (disciples) whom James probably also knew. James was relieved to see his brother again — and was filled with many questions. What happened when Christ turned the water into the finest quality wine? Perhaps it did not even register in James' mind. He may have heard about or even seen what happened, but after all, how could Jesus — his own brother — do something like that? After the wedding, James went to Capernaum with Jesus and His new disciples. Mary herself also went on the trip (John 2:12). This gave James the opportunity to talk with the men who would now be his older brother's constant companions — and who believed on Jesus enough to follow Him in His work (John 2:11). Jesus would not be spending many more days at home. Because from here on, He was going to devote full time to proclaiming the message of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17). He was making many statements that must have troubled James. Some teachings like "the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath" eventually caused a group of Jesus' former friends to attempt to cart Him off out of the public eye — as they thought He had gone berserk (Mark 3:21). Perhaps even James was among this group. As late as the autumn preceding Christ's death, James still did not believe that his brother was who He claimed to be. John 7:2-9 gives the account in which James and the rest of Jesus' brothers somewhat skeptically asked Jesus: If you want to convince people of your power, why don't you go down to Jerusalem at Feast time, where there'll be hundreds of thousands of people to see you? If you are really doing these miracles, let the whole world see! Jesus answered His brothers eyeball-to-eyeball in no uncertain terms. I'm headed on a collision course with this world, but the time for me to be put to death is not here yet. That reply must have really set James thinking. James' attitude of unbelief was not going to last much longer. After Christ's death, James experienced something that he would never forget — something that would act as a driving force for the remainder of his life. Convinced at Last. James must have had his brother's murder constantly dominating his thoughts and must have been considering the strange stories about the circumstances surrounding Jesus' death. So it was quite a moving experience for James to see his supposedly dead brother suddenly appear and then say words to this effect: James, remember all those things that I told you about myself, about the fact that I am the Christ? James, my brother, they were all true, and now you're seeing firsthand evidence of them (I Cor. 15:7). James was absolutely convinced! What else could he have been? He now searched out Jesus' disciples, the very men that he had previously shaken his head over (Acts 1:13-14). From this point on, James was in on the "grass roots" foundation of the Church of God, receiving the outpouring of God's Spirit on Pentecost in 31, A.D. Now the constant contact that James had had with Jesus could be valuably used by God. True, he hadn't spent a great deal of time with Jesus during His three-and-a-half year ministry, but think of all the years — the tens of thousands of hours — he had spent with Jesus when he was so young and so impressionable. Even Peter and John and the other apostles, though many had been childhood friends, hadn't had so much contact with Jesus at such an early age and for such a long time. Many times in a true Christian's life when there is a decision to be made, he will ask himself: Let's see, how would Christ do it? In many cases in James' life — after his conversion — all he had to do was to think back and say: Let's see, how did my brother do it. James now grew powerfully under the direction of God's Spirit. And a very few years later he is shown as an apostle in the Church of God (Gal. 1:19). Here Paul refers to James as an apostle. James' powerful writing style is preserved for all time in the epistle of James. The heavy influence of Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" is obvious in this epistle — no "epistle of straw" as some call it, but an epistle of LIVING FAITH! It was probably written shortly before James' death, James dying in martyrdom, according to tradition. So James, the man who wanted nothing to do with his brother's message in the beginning, died for that same message at the end — and will forever, from the time of his resurrection, remain as a real brother of Christ, in the fullest sense of that word, in God's Family.