the Festival of St. James the Elder, Apostle of Our Lord

The sons of Zebedee ask for seats at Jesus’ “right hand and … left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). But they do not know what they are asking (Matt. 20:22), for God’s kingdom is not of glory and power but the cross. We will bear ours after Him. “For [His] sake we are being killed” and “regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” But “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him” (Rom. 8:36–37), for Jesus’ death is unique. He alone is baptized with our sin and drinks the cup of God’s wrath against it (Mark 10:38). We live in service to our neighbors after His example; He alone is “the Son of Man,” who came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Today the Church commemorates the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy about James, killed with Herod’s sword (Acts 12:2). He is honored as the first apostle to be “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom. 8:29). But what is that when “Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God … interceding for us”? Nothing (not even a sword) can “separate” James and “us from the love of Christ” (Rom. 8:34–35).


Sermon Starter

In a week, Jesus will entrust John with taking care of His mother, Mary. James will begin contending for the faith in and around Jerusalem. John will die a natural death in exile on a little rock of an island called Patmos. James, whom we remember today, will be the first Apostle martyred because he was a Christian.

One brother was the first Apostle to die; the other, the last Apostle to be alive. One brother sheds his blood. The other suffers the loss of all he had because of Christ. So, both drink the Lord’s cup–the cup of suffering, which Jesus prayed to the Father to take from Him, but which He did not refuse when it was given Him to drink.

So there is Jesus, leading the way, going to Jerusalem, a couple of days before Palm Sunday. The founder and finisher of our faith that He is, Jesus leads the way to Jerusalem, the city of the Temple, the place of sacrifice. Yet for our Lord Jesus, this sacrifice will be different. It will take place outside the city walls, not in the Temple. He will offer Himself, not an unblemished animal as the sacrifice.

On the way to Jerusalem, the Lord takes the Twelve aside and reveals the purpose of this trip: We are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the high priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death. Then they will hand Him over to the Gentiles, and they will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him.  But after three days He will be raised. (Mark 10:33-34)

This was the third time that our Lord told them of His impending death. Yet, the disciples still did not fully understand this prediction of His death.  It was then that James and John, who had the nickname the “sons of thunder,” came to the Lord with a request, a prayer. They asked Him, “Rabbi, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mark 10:35)

In other words, they asked Jesus to, “Just sign the check; we’ll fill in the amount!” We can easily imagine what went on within the minds of Zebedee’s sons. No doubt they reasoned, “We left our dad’s fishing business for this life on the road. The good Lord did promise to take care of us. Now we’ll ask him to make good on that promise. Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you’ [Matthew 7:7]? Now we’re asking.”