A Closer Look At The Disciples James and John, Sons of Thunder We have been doing a series where we have been taking a closer look at the disciples. Last week we focused in on the life of Simon who would become Peter. Sometimes we see him referred to as Simon Peter. Peter was a leader and a person of influence within the disciples. But Peter was a person who was very impulsive, rash and hasty at times. So imagine the surprise when Jesus meets Simon for the first time and gives him the name Peter, which also means “rock.” But what we have to realize is that Jesus saw what Peter could be, not what He was. At the time that Jesus first met Peter, he was anything but a rock. But Jesus saw a different person. Peter also had some great moments of faith. Like the time, where for a period of time he actually walked to Jesus on the water. Then what about when Jesus asked Peter who he said that He was and Peter said that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But Peter like many of us, not only had some great moment of faiths, unfortunately, he also had some real failures. The one that is most known was when he denied even knowing Jesus on three separate occasions just like Jesus said he would. Even though Peter said he would never do that, he said he would die rather than denying Him. Yet, when the pressure was on Peter denied his Master and his Savior. We know what it is like to make mistakes and even maybe in some ways to deny our Lord by our actions. But through it all Peter grew into a person who helped the early church be such a changing force. It was with the help of the Holy Spirit that we saw Simon Peter become less Simon and a whole lot more Peter. God wants to chisel away at our lives as well until we reach what He knows we can become in Him. God can see us, not as we are, but what we can become when we yield our lives to Him. Tonight we are going to actually look at two disciples at once. They are brothers, James and John. The most well known of the two is of course John. However, both are mentioned in scripture quite a bit, and often times it is together that they are mentioned. The only time James is listed in scripture without his brother is in the book of Acts when it talks about Him being martyred. Although we don’t see James name separately much in the scriptures there are those that think he was a significant figure among the disciples. In at least a couple of places where the lists of the disciples names were given his name was listed second, right behind Peter. Some think he was second to Peter in influence. You will also notice that whenever James and John are mentioned James name always is listed first which means that most likely James was the older of the two brothers. You will also notice that often times they are referred to as the Sons of Zebedee. According to John MacArthur in his book Twelve Ordinary Men, that they would be referred to in that way most likely symbolizes that Zebedee was a man of importance. As we talked about last Wednesday night in Bible study John had connections to the high priest, that status probably came through his dad. So it sounds like James and John came from a pretty influential family. Now, most of us know that Jesus had a group of disciples that He was closer to than the rest. James and John was a part of Jesus’ inner circle, Peter being the other one. As James and John walked with Jesus they really learned some lessons about being a leader for the kingdom. “A man, known for his terrible temper, couldn’t get his car started one cold New England morning. Taking a wrench and lifting up the hood, he tried to adjust a part that had caused trouble for several days. But no matter what he did, the engine refused to start. Finally, he stepped back and threw the wrench full force right into the engine. Of course that didn’t start the car either. Instead, his temper tantrum resulted in serious damage that required major repairs. Not long after that incident, the man became a Christian. The change, though not overnight, was unbelievable. He rarely lost his temper, for his Spirit-empowered self-control usually reflected the gentle nature of Christ. This same kind of change came over the lives of two of the Twelve, James and John. They were brothers with such explosive tempers that Jesus nicknamed them ‘Sons of Boanerges,’ meaning ’Sons of Thunder.’ They were men of stormy disposition, tempestuous zeal, and fiery spirit. With low boiling points their ready anger could erupt like a volcano. They have been described as hotheads who would shoot off their mouths before taking careful aim. But through their association with the Master, John was transformed in the apostle of love, and James became the first apostle to be martyred…” (The Twelve, Leslie Flynn p. 46) We see this fiery temper the first time as Jesus was approaching Jerusalem with his disciples. This would be Jesus’ last trip into Jerusalem as His time was drawing near. Luke 9:51-56 Now one thing that the scriptures make clear is that Jesus was determined to get to Jerusalem as it says, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Now the thing is, most Jews went way out of their way to go to Jerusalem rather than go through a Samaritan village. That was how strong the hate was for each other. The Samaritans were a mixed race of Jews from the Northern Kingdom. When Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, the most prominent and influential people in the tribes were taken into captivity, and the land was resettled with pagans and foreigners who were loyal to the Assyrian king. Poor Israelites who remained in the land intermarried with those pagans and that is how the Samaritans came to be. Now I won’t go into the rest of the history of how that hate developed and why it was so strong. But the Samaritans did not hold Jerusalem in high regard at all. They worshipped on a different mountain because in reality they took the worship of Jehovah and mixed it with these other pagan religions and what they had was a smorgasboard religion. They came up with their own place of worship and it was not Jerusalem. But because Jesus was headed to Jerusalem with His disciples to worship there the Samaritans were not going to let them through. When James and John experienced opposition to Jesus’ plan they were ready to call down fire from heaven and make these Samaritans toast. Jesus was not pleased with James and John’s response. Matter of fact the scriptures say that Jesus turned and rebuked them. So the first lesson about leadership that James and John learned from Jesus is simply this: Real leaders of God don’t retaliate when they don’t get what they want. Now I think maybe they took their example from Elijah who called down fire in the book of II Kings. James and John had a temper and when the plans were blocked that Jesus wanted them to follow through with, their plan was to eliminate those who stood in their way. If we are going to be the type of leaders and people that God wants us to be, we cannot retaliate against those who block what we think God’s plans are. God’s people are not called to a life of retaliation in any of our relationships. It was Jesus who said in Matthew 5:39 “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In Romans 12:19 Paul writes, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Real leaders of God are not people who are revenge minded. Whenever you’re a leader you will come across people who will not cooperate with what you feel like you should do. But the scriptures are clear that retaliation should not be the answer to that problem. Revenge is not in the heart of the kind of leaders that God wants. Really, it’s not just about leaders here, revenge and retaliation is not what God wants for any of His children. His message is, you let me take care of justice instead of trying to take it in your own hands. James and John had that message brought home and it was a lesson that they would learn through the Holy Spirit. Now we see James and John also involved in another situation. As the disciples saw Jesus’ kingdom getting ready to come to fruition as they approached Jerusalem it was time to make sure for James and John that they had the proper spots that they deserved. After all, they had probably given up the most of all the disciples. They had left everything to follow Jesus and we said they most likely came from a wealthy setting. Didn’t they at least deserve the top spots based on that. Let’s take a look at just what happened. Matthew 20:20-28 Now we don’t know for sure that this ploy was cooked up by James and John and they pulled their mother into it hoping that she would have persuasive pull. It could be possible that the mother was seeking these for her kids on her own. But when you read the other gospels, you get the idea that this was the idea of James and John. Now James and John were very close with Jesus and maybe they even expected to be given an important place in God’s new kingdom, but they wanted to make sure. One thing is quite clear from the scriptures, and that is that their request sure riled up the other disciples. They were not happy about it all. You see what James and John lost sight of here is that leadership is not about sitting on thrones and having the seats of power. Real leadership, real greatness is about serving other people. Jesus taught James and John that godly leaders aren’t concerned about their stature. It seems that at this point James and John were struggling with their humility. They thought they deserved the highest honor they could get, when instead they should have been worrying about if they were serving those who really needed them. When we are the kind of leaders that God wants to be we shouldn’t be concerned about our titles and how much clout they carry. We should be more focused on being the servant that God wants us to be. Just like Jesus, who took on the very role of a servant and came to earth to pay the price for our sins. He left his stature in Heaven behind Him and make Himself nothing so that we could be saved. What greater example do we need than that. You see in a way James and John were almost making themselves like the Pharisees here with them worrying about having the best and most influential seats. Remember when Jesus said this to the Pharisees in Luke 11:43. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” That sound eerily close to what James and John were worried about. Jesus certainly didn’t want His disciples resembling anything close to the Pharisees. You see the truth is, godly leaders become leaders not to make a name for themselves, not to have the recognition, but they become leaders because they want to serve people. If you are a child of God this life is not about making a name for yourself, it’s about making a name for God and bringing glory to His name. James and John were very close to Jesus, but Jesus was not afraid to tell them what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear. Tonight I want to look at one other scripture, and in this one it actually pertains to only John. We don’t see James involved anywhere here in this, yet it is an important lesson of leadership that John learns. Mark 9:38-40 John was out and about, maybe on a preaching mission and he came across a scene where a man had driven out a demon using Jesus’ name. John, being one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, and a member of His inner circle felt like that man didn’t have the right to be healing people in Jesus’ name. John told Jesus, “We told him to stop, because He was not one of us.” Once again Jesus has to bring correction and tells John not to stop him. He just did a miracle in my name, he isn’t going to turn around and say something bad about me. Other words, if he isn’t against us then he must be for us. It’s okay for other people to perform miracles in my name. John had this exclusiveness that made him feel like if they weren’t one of the twelve disciples they weren’t as special as they were and they shouldn’t be doing miracles in Jesus’ name. Once again it was some pride that seemed to be coming out of John. But the lesson that John learned about being a godly leader was simply this: God works through other people, we don’t have the market on Jesus’ name. You almost wonder if John may have not been a little jealous. After all if you remember there was a time when Jesus’ disciples had tried to remove a demon in Jesus’ name and failed. John in reality, should have set his pride aside and said, “Praise the Lord.” There was a man who was just healed of demon possession in the name of the Lord. John should have known if the man wasn’t really of the Lord it wouldn’t have worked to begin with. When we are godly leaders we realize that our church, our denomination doesn’t have the market cornered on Jesus’ name. Other churches and other Christians are doing good things in the name of the Lord. Instead of thinking down on them because they aren’t Church of God or our Church of God are they are some other denomination we should praise the Lord for what He is doing through their ministry and their lives as well. You see that is when the church fails to be all it can be in communities and neighborhoods when the churches see each other as competition instead of brothers and sisters in Christ. When someone gets saved, whether it is our church or someone else’s church, we should all rejoice and be glad. But it was John’s maturity level coming through at that time. James and John had so far to go when they began their journey with Jesus. As they journeyed it seemed they never stop learning lessons from Him. As we seek to be godly people and leaders, Jesus will shape us and continue to teach us valuable lessons. We can be comforted in seeing how John grew to understand the humility and servant hood that is needed. He saw how important love really is as we read His gospel. James, he ended up being the very first disciple who was martyred. These Sons of Thunder, eventually out grew that name. Their character was changed to the point of that name no longer fitting them. That is what happens when we submit our life to the Holy Spirit.
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