Three brawny fishermen, whose differing characters have given colour and charm to their immortal names, have a message for us today. James, the unobtrusive elder son of Zebedee and Salome, might turn us to the writings of his namesake, the Lord’s brother, and say, “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing … ask in faith… Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life”, James 1. 4, 6, 12. Thus we are directed to the life of faith stretching away before us. The apostle Peter, his impetuosity now tempered with the wisdom of spiritual maturity, would say, “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless”, 2 Pet. 3. 13-14. Simon Peter’s expression is the look of hope. John would no doubt remind us that the truth of God changes not with changing years as he says, “I beseech thee … not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another”, 2 John 5. This is the law of love.
If this small group of apostles emphasizes faith, hope and love, 1 Cor. 13. 13, we also discover that James represents a faith that springs from the grace of God, that Peter’s hope burned through the grief of life, and that John’s comprehension of love paved the way for his vision of the glory of heaven. The Gospel narratives record three occasions when this trio was particularly favoured, (i) They were three of the seven in a little girl’s bedroom, Luke 8. 51, where the Lord manifested the grace of His power, (ii) They were the only disciples permitted to follow the Saviour through the garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14. 33, where they saw the grief of His passion. (iii) They were three of the seven persons involved in the awesome scene on the holy mount, Mark 9. 2, where the Son of God revealed something of the glory of His person. Clearly the Holy Spirit, by selecting these three significant occurrences, intends that students of Scripture should investigate all that is implied by the names James, Peter and John. We shall consider these three friends in turn.
James – “By grace are ye saved, through faith”, Eph. 2. 8. This name, like the Hebrew Jacob, means “heel” or “supplanter”. Such a self-seeking “son of thunder” would have nothing commendable about him. The Lord’s sovereign grace is displayed as He takes such a man into His intimate counsels. Peter was to use the keys of the kingdom, Matt. 16. 19, John was to have a revelation of the One who holds the keys of hell and of death, Rev. 1. 18, and has the key of David, Rev. 3. 7. But there was no special commission for John’s brother James. He was not destined to become one of “the chief men among the brethren”. Yet he was brought into the closest relationships chosen to join the great leaders peter and John. In murdering James, Acts 12. 2, Herod typified the human attitude to God’s grace; men still prefer the sword to the Saviour.
Similar grace is noticeable in the Lord’s dealings with James the Lord’s brother, John 7. 5; 1 Cor. 15. 7, whose earthly life, according to Josephus, also ended in martyrdom. It was this man who wrote of the Lord; “He giveth more grace”. The message of his Epistle may be summarized by the words, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble”, James. 4. 6.
Around us are brethren and sisters who sometimes feel lonely or forgotten. Like James, the son of Zebedee, they seldom seem to be considered. They walk “worthy of God”, and yet life’s path winds through sombre shadow. We all need to remember that earth knows no darkness through which God’s grace cannot penetrate, no work of faith that will pass unrewarded. How comforting it is to realise that even if we are incapable of any great enterprise, God’s dear Son wants to have us close to Himself, Song 7. 10.
Peter – “My life is spent with grief . . . My times are in thy hands … Be of good courage … all ye that hope in the Lord”, Ps. 31. 10, 15, 24. Only of this apostle is there a record of weeping, Luke 22. 62. He later wrote, “This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully”. The theme of Peter’s first letter is Christian suffering, 1 Pet. 1. 11; 4. 13; 5. 1, but associated with this is the seven-fold appreciation of the precious things of Christ, 1 Pet. 1. 7; 1. 19; 2. 4; 2. 6; 2 Pet. 1. 1; 1. 4. The two go together. In ageing Peter we see one who was “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation”. Tradition tells us that when the time came for the prophecy of John 21. 18-19 to be fulfilled, Simon Peter went to his death with courageous fortitude, his stability being reminiscent of “petros”, a rock, which is the Greek form of “Peter”.
A perusal of those events in Peter’s life which have been reported by the inspired writers discloses how fully his sky was beclouded with grief. Behind the clouds, however, gleaming through with silver rays, was “the lively hope”. As he penned his Epistles Simon, son of Jonas., had learnt the “reason of the hope”, 1 Pet. 3. 15.
It is John Mark, whom Peter called “my son”, 1 Pet. 5. 13, who seems., in his Gospel, to give us the best insight we have into the apostle’s impetuous character. The first incident, mentioned by Mark, in which Peter figures as a disciple, is set amid the sickness and sadness of his own home; but the Master changed the grief into gladness, Mark 1. 30-31. The last we see of Cephas in this Gospel is in 14. 72, but hope’s sunbeam in 16. 7 is not to be missed; the silence of tears was to give way to the song of triumph.
Peter describes himself as “a witness of the sufferings of Christ”, 1 Pet. 5. 1. By faith we also have looked upon the Man of sorrows and have become partakers “of the glory that shall be revealed”. Sorrow visits every home, sadness pierces every heart; yet we sorrow not as others who have no hope. There is a hope set before us. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills”.
John – “The wisdom of God in a mystery … which God ordained … unto our glory: . . . the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”, 1 Cor. 2. 7-9.
In the Synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke catered respectively for the Jewish, Roman and Greek communities. John, probably still a youth when called to follow Jesus, learnt at an impressionable age the wonders of the truths to which he testifies, John 21. 24; this perhaps explains why his writings have always had a special appeal to those who believe, 20. 31. This apostle seems to epitomize the position of the Church in the heavenlies in Christ. “Joannas” – gift of God – is described by the Holy Spirit as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Like John, we who have received the gift of Romans 6. 23 are near to the Saviour’s heart. At Golgotha, Jesus brought John into His own family with the words, “Behold thy mother”, proving our claim to be of the household of faith, born of the Spirit into the family of God through the redemption similarly accomplished at Calvary.
In his Gospel record, after the sequence of seven miracles selected from the Lord’s earthly ministry, John adds an eighth in the appendix. This last miracle, John 21. 3-14, is set in circumstances which fill the passage with parabolic teaching, causing us to ponder again those events with which this age will close. As the dawn breaks, first Peter splashes through the dark water to reach his Lord, followed by John and his companions in their boat. When in the last watch of “this present evil age” the Saviour steps into the air, the dead in Christ (cf. Peter) will rise first; then we who are alive and remain (cf. John) will be caught up with them to meet the Lord. Then follows the fire (cf. 1 Cor. 3. 13) and the feast (cf. Rev. 19. 9) on the resurrection shore.
James is never mentioned without his brother John; everyone who is a recipient of saving grace through faith is thereby linked with the Saviour’s glory. Peter and John, so frequently seen as partners on the page of Scripture, thus remind us that if we suffer with Him we shall also be glorified together.
|(a supplanter)||(a rock)||(a gift of God)|
|(Jud. 9. 8-15; Hab. 3. 17; James 3. 12)|
|The Spirit’s supply||The Father’s chastening||The Son’s satisfaction|
|The house of Jairus||Gethsemane||The mount of transfiguration|
“We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, … we glory in tribulation also: knowing that … hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts”, Rom. 5. 1-5.
Our study commenced with the marvel of grace as we looked at James, continued with the trial of grief as we considered Peter, and now it concludes with the prospect of glory. Emblematic of the apostle John is the eagle, whose soaring flight serves as a faint illustration of our ascent through the azure skies to the glory beyond.