Lessons: Isaiah 30:18-21, Ephesians 2:19-22, John 14:1-14
Hymns: LSB 518, 459, 645, 480, 467, 718
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
An important teaching for Christians to consider is the clarity of Scripture. We believe, teach, and confess that there can be no clearer author on Earth or in Heaven than God the Holy Spirit. The Bible was written to give us clarity on who God is, who we are, what God has done for us sinners, and how we can achieve eternal life. These important matters are clearly taught in Scripture.
Some Biblical teachings may appear unclear due to our own sinfulness. As sinners, we have a hard time letting go of our own personal feelings to trust solely in the Word of Christ. Perhaps we have been misled in our past to strange and false teachings and want to honor those who taught us, so we have a difficult time letting go of those teachings for the pure Word of God. This often happens when we are raised in other denominations. Perhaps we hear what the world is preaching and are trying to figure out a way to accept both the world’s doctrines and God’s doctrine. The world, of course, preaches all sorts of things contrary to God’s Word, especially when it comes to marriage, gender, life, and creation. Or maybe we simply feel something is true, but it contradicts the Bible. I’ve seen this happen often when people don’t want to believe closed communion, the roles of men and women in the Church, or even that salvation can only be granted by Christ Jesus who alone shed His blood on the cross. So when they don’t like what the Bible says, they dismiss it as unclear.
You see, many do not believe that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Many want to believe there can be other ways to God the Father than just through Christ. This false belief is tempting, especially when, for example, we have a wonderful and caring neighbor or relative who doesn’t believe in Jesus. We really, really want to think that person has a place in Heaven without Jesus. But Jesus is clear in today’s Gospel. He’s the only One who died on the cross to prepare a place for us in Heaven. It is only through Jesus that we have access to our Father in Heaven, for He is one with the Father.
While some things appear not so clear in Scripture due to our own sinfulness, there are other things that God has chosen to not reveal to us fully. If God doesn’t fully reveal us something, it does not mean God is being unclear. Instead, He has simply chosen what is best for us to know. One of these areas relates to predestination and our salvation. We know that Jesus alone paid for the sins of the world through His sacrifice on the cross. We know that God the Holy Spirit converts sinners through the Word. Now if God paid for the sins of all and if God is the only One who can bring about man’s conversion (electing him), why aren’t all saved? Why some and not others? The only answers we have is that God is gracious, and man can resist the work of the Holy Spirit and that it is man’s fault if he does not receive the blessings of Christ for his salvation. Beyond that, we cannot answer.
There are other, far less weighty matters that God-fearing Christians have studied and have been unable answer. Was Mary a virgin until her death or was Mary only a virgin until after she gave birth to Jesus? While many think the answer is obvious, the Bible doesn’t explicitly say. In fact, it is difficult to begin answering this riddle without first figuring out how many Jameses there are in the New Testament. You see, when the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus, dismissing him as the carpenter’s son who has James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas as His brothers (Matt. 13:55), we are also told there’s a James and Joseph whose mother, Mary, was at the crucifixion (Mark 15:40). We know John took Mary, the mother of our Lord, home (John 19:26-27). Are there two Marys with two sons who have the same name? Were the people at Nazareth confused about Jesus family? It’s possible, and then there goes the notion that Mary, the mother of our Lord, had other children. And just so you know, Martin Luther and most Missouri Synod theologians well into the 20th century asserted the perpetual virginity of Mary. My point is not to get into a debate on Mary. It doesn’t matter to me if she remained a virgin or had other children. Such teachings don’t save us anyway. Instead, my point is that on this day, the Church remembers St. James, the son Alphaeus, one of the lesser apostles. Who this James is comes into bearing when considering the perpetual virginity of Mary. The Bible doesn’t clearly say. But this doesn’t mean that God is unclear; instead, God found it unnecessary to state these matters definitively.
How many men named James in the New Testament is also difficult to determine. There could be three or four or five. First, there’s James the Elder. He’s part of our Lord’s inner circle, along with Peter and John, and a brother to John. Another James is the father of an apostle named Judas (not Iscariot), also called Thaddeus (Matt. 10:3, Luke 6:16). That’s all we know about that second James. The third James is the son of Alpheus, an Apostle (so yes, of the Twele Apostles, there were two Jameses and two Judases). Then there’s the James I already mentioned as the brother of our Lord in Nazareth. Finally, there’s a Mary who is at the crucifixion with sons named James and Joseph. In fact, these last two could be the same James—and maybe even the same James as the son of Alphaeus. It’s hard to figure out who is who. Because my middle name is James and my son’s name is James, I have studied this topic many times. All I can say is that I don’t know how many Jameses there are in the New Testament, but I’ve grown in the Word every time I’ve studied this.
The inability of theologians to figure this out does not negate the clarity of Scripture. It’s just that God has seen it fit for us to not know all the details. God will not keep Christians out of Heaven if they can’t state how many Jameses there are in the New Testament. Such details, though, are interesting for Christians to study. And, in fact, it forces us to wrestle with the Scriptures, spend more time in the Bible, and submit ourselves to the teachings of Scripture, for as Christians we desire to grow in our understanding of the Sacred Scriptures.
God really is brilliant in this regard. If he spelled it all out for us, we would not think. We would just read the Scriptures in a lazy, unthoughtful manner. But God gave us minds. Our human reason and intellect are unparalleled among God’s creation. And He wants us to use our minds, our time, and our devotion in study of God’s Word. And so He has chosen to leave some details out so that we take time to study and sort things out. And when we still do not understand, we give God the glory and move on to other matters of theology. What a treasure we have in Scripture!
God has established the ministry so we can also gain clarity and insight. After all, we can’t be experts on everything we encounter. So we gain wisdom from the teaching of those who have studied. Pastors must study. In fact, they don’t have offices inside churches to conduct business affairs, but they have studies to contemplate the Scriptures, pray, counsel Christians, and prepare to teach.
Two ministers God raised up are Philip and James. Philip is easy to determine in the Bible. In the New Testament, there are four Philips. Two are half-brothers and the sons of Herod the Great (Luke 3:1, Matt. 14:3). One was an apostle. One was an evangelist and deacon who was selected by the Church in Acts 6 and much is written of him in Acts 8. Philip the Apostle is first mentioned in John 1:43, when Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Philip immediately told Nathaniel that he has found Jesus of Nazareth, the One Moses and the prophets wrote about. Jesus also asked Philip where they could buy bread when Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6:5-7). And the day after Palm Sunday, some Greeks asked Philip to see Jesus (John 12:20-26). On Maundy Thursday, Jesus taught the disciples that they have access to the Father only through Jesus. Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father (John 14:8-11). Jesus then explains that if you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. Tradition suggests that Philip went to Phrygia and labored there (which is part of central modern-day Turkey), and he was likely put to death for faithfully preaching the Gospel.
The other apostle the church remembers today is James, the son of Alphaeus. If Alphaeus is not married to a Mary, then little is said of this James. He’s only referenced in the list of apostles, and tradition suggests he died by being sawed in two. If Alphaeus is married to a Mary, then this James was possibly the one confused as a brother of Jesus at Nazareth, he wrote the book of James, and he became a leader of the Church in Jerusalem. But many theologians assume that is a different James, whom we observe on October 23.
God established the ministry not only so we can gain clarity and insight on God’s Word, but especially so that our hearts and minds may be fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Faithful preachers will proclaim Christ Jesus who was crucified and risen for the forgiveness of our sins. Faithful church services will focus on Christ, as the liturgies do in our hymnal.
After all, Jesus alone went to the cross to pay for our sin. Jesus alone shed His innocent Blood to render the ransom payment for our sin. Jesus alone then went to the Father to prepare the place for us to dwell with Him in Heaven. Jesus alone swallowed up death in victory, triumphing over the grave. Jesus alone earned our forgiveness and grants us eternal life. He alone will return on the Last Day to raise our bodies in perfection so that we can dwell with Him to all eternity, where our joy and praises will never end. Thanks be to Jesus, who has revealed this all through His clear Word! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen