Sts. Philip and James
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
May 1, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
538 "Lord Speak To Me That I May Speak"
390 "Thou Art The Way, To Thee Alone"
568 "If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee"
292 "O Take My Hand, Dear Father"
WALK IN THE WAY
TEXT (vs. 20-21) “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
Today we are celebrating a festival according to the liturgical calendar. May the 1st is designated as the festival commemorating two of the apostles—Philip and James the Less.
When I studied these two men, I discovered that the festival used to be on May 3rd—and I could find no reason whatsoever as to why the early church fathers decided to move it ahead a couple days. I also could find no particular rhyme or reason as to why these two guys got lumped together on the same day. They’re not blood relatives, nor do they really have anything in common, except that they were both Apostles. A lot of the other apostles have days of their own, so I don’t see the particular reason why these two guys have to share a day. Maybe it is because the Bible says so little about them, and preachers couldn’t come up with enough material to write an individual sermon about each one of them. I probably could, but that’s just me.
All this being said, let’s have a look at these two guys. First, let’s look at Philip. There are two Philips mentioned in the Bible; Philip the Apostle, and Philip the deacon, mentioned in the book of Acts (his day of commemoration is June 6th). It’s the Apostle that we’re concentrating on today.
Philip lived in the city of Bethsaida, in Galilee. The day after Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to be his disciples, he finds Philip and calls him into service.
Philip was a married man with several daughters. He was also employed as a fisherman. But even with the responsibilities of home, family, and a career, he meditated constantly on the Scriptures, which provided him with excellent instruction about the promised Messiah. So when Jesus calls him, he is only too eager to follow.
Indeed Philip was a most enthusiastic disciple. The first thing he did was to go and find his good friend, Nathanael. Literally bursting at the seams, Philip says: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, that is the Messiah; Jesus, the son of Joseph, of Nazareth!”
Nathanael was a bit skeptical at first. He asks the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” To which Philip replies, “Come and see.” Of course when he does meet Jesus and he tells him, “Before Philip called you, I saw that you were sitting under a fig tree.” That was pretty convincing proof.
Three days after this, Philip was present at Jesus’ first miracle, when he turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. A year later, when Jesus formed the college of the Apostles, Philip was appointed to that number. From what we can tell, Philip was particularly dear to Jesus.
As a test of his faith, Jesus presents the dilemma which they faced with the feeding of the five thousand. Then shortly before Christ’s Passion, there were certain Gentiles who approached Philip and Andrew with the request, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
In our Gospel lesson for today, from John chapter 14, we read the dialogue Jesus had with his disciples following the Last Supper. Jesus had promised them a more clear and perfect knowledge of his heavenly Father. Philip then responds with his sense of eagerness, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Jesus uses this occasion to do a fresh study of his divinity, and his equality with the Father. Jesus says, “So long a time have I been with you, (teaching you who I am by my words and actions) and have you not known me? (If you saw me through the eyes of faith as I really am, in seeing me you would see the Father also, because) I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.”
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Gospel was to be preached to the whole world. Those who had been eye witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, with the power of the Holy Spirit, were dispersed quickly into all parts of the world.
According to legend, Philip went to the two areas both named Phrygia in Constantinople, known today as Istanbul. He very well might have been in other areas too, but none are recorded.
Also according to legend, Philip lived to be a ripe old age, but died a martyr’s death—and I could find no details of that. He was originally buried in Hieropolis with his two daughters, who “grew old as virgins.” A third daughter, reported to be a prophetess, is buried in Ephesus. His body is said to now be in the church of Saints Philip and James in Rome, which was built in AD 560.
Next comes James. James was a popular name, because it is the Greek and Latin variant of the Hebrew name, Jacob. There are three men with the name of James in the Bible (some sources say there were upwards of 5). But from what I can tell, three seems to be a more accurate figure. There was James, the brother of John who were sons of Zebedee, also known as James the Greater. Then there was James, the brother of Jesus, and most likely the author of the book of James, also known as James the Just. And then we have the third James, the brother of Jude, who were sons of Alphaeus, also known as James the Less. That’s who we are going to be talking about today.
The name James the Less has nothing to do with importance or accomplishment. Most likely, there was an age difference. That’s why he is also called James the Minor, or James the Younger.
It is reported that he became the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem following Christ’s ascension. The church there was in a state of danger and turmoil because of various factions and persecutions. James was just the man for the job.
James was an extremely loyal disciple. One commentator states, “He prostrated so much in prayer, that the skin of his knees and forehead was hardened like to camel’s hoofs.”
Apart from his prayer life, James was very gifted in theology, and had excellent communication skills. His preaching was bold and fearless, and commanded the respect of a great many people. He also wore a gold plate on his head, which was part of the garb worn by the Jewish high priest.
One commentator gives this rather colorful picture of James: “He was always a virgin, and was a Nazarite; or one consecrated to God. In consequence of which, he was never shaved, never cut his hair, never drank any wine or other strong liquor; moreover, he never used any bath, or oil to anoint his limbs, and never ate of any living creature except when of precept, as the paschal lamb.” That’s a picture that boggles the mind!
It is reported that he penned one of the Church’s first liturgies that was used for worship. Parts of it were written down, while other parts (namely the Words of Institution for the Lord’s Supper) were learned by heart and handed down.
In the year AD 60, after the death of the governor Festus, a group of Jews who had been adversaries of the Apostle Paul sought revenge against James. And so the Jewish Sanhedrin were assembled, and they summoned James and a few others to appear before them. James was accused of blasphemy, breaking laws, and delivering people to be stoned.
So they carried him up to the pinnacle of the temple, wanting him to make a public renunciation of his faith in Christ; and according to their terminology to “undeceive those people who had embraced Christianity.”
It was April 10 in the year 62. There were a great number of people assembled, because it was Passover. So James addresses them from the top of the temple with these words: “Jesus, the Son of God, was seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and would come again in the clouds of heaven to judge the world.”
The Scribes and Pharisees were absolutely furious. So they went up to the top of the temple, and threw him to the ground saying, “This man must be stoned!”
James, rather beat up and bruised from his fall, was able to get up on his knees; and from that position he lifted his eyes up to heaven, begging God to pardon his murderers, seeing that they did not know what they were doing.
The crowd began to pelt him repeatedly with stones. Finally a fuller (that’s a person who does laundry for a living) repeatedly beat him in the head with a club used for washing clothes, which finally killed him.
Thus ends the stories and legends about the two apostles, Philip and James the Less.
As we look at these two men, we see some very great characteristics worthy of our emulation. Philip had his enthusiasm for Scripture and the Christian faith; and James boldly proclaimed the Christian faith in a manner which earned him the respect of the people. Both men were very faithful, and both men defended the faith in the face of some very real adversity.
I chose the Old Testament lesson for today as our text, primarily because it focuses our attention on the importance of God’s Word and his will in our lives. Even when the going gets tough, and we are faced, as our text says with “the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction,” the voice of God, our divine teacher comes through it all very clearly. The Lord hears and understands our cry. He loves us and cares for us very much.
Philip and James were very much concerned about the will of God in their lives. We also must be ever mindful of God’s will in our lives, and heed his voice. Isaiah puts it so well in our text for today: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
In a similar sense, we have the words of Proverbs 3, 5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.”
In our lives, we are always to seek God’s will. So how do we know what God’s will is?
I was talking to a woman one time who was looking to buy a house. She told me that she prayed as she drove around, asking God to lead her to the house he wanted her to have. She said she was asking God to “direct her paths” like it says in Proverbs. After awhile, she found a house she liked, and bought it. She was convinced that it was “God’s will” that she have that house.
People seem to do this all the time. They’ll say, “It was God’s will that I have this car,” or “It was God’s will that I move here to this town,” or “It was God’s will that I met this particular person,” or any number of “God’s will” statements.
Is this true? Not so; because to go against God’s will is a sin. So if it was God’s will for that woman buy that particular house, it would have been a sin for her not to have bought it. The same applies to all those other “God’s will” statements.
Certainly we can look back at things and see how God has blessed our decisions, and we can certainly ask him for guidance in everything. But to make things “his will” that are choices we are free to make is not right at all. God’s will would be fickle and subject to change; but we know that he never changes.
We know what God’s will is by looking in the Bible. He very clearly tells us what is and isn’t his will. He tells us what is sin, and he tells us what he wants. He tells us about Jesus and the Christian faith, and what we are to believe.
As we consider Philip and James, as great as these men were, we also know one other thing about them. They were sinners. In our Gospel lesson for today, sin had impaired Philip’s vision, to the point where he didn’t realize that by seeing Jesus, he was seeing God. Philip also expressed some doubt when Jesus fed the five thousand.
Sin blinds us too. Adversity and affliction tend to drown out God’s will. We have this tendency to doubt God and his wisdom. And too often, when we hear God saying, “this is the way, walk in it,” we ignore him and walk our own way and march to our own tune.
But God is gracious to us. He loves us. He hears our cries and answers our prayers. But most importantly, he loved us so much that he sent Jesus to us. Jesus, who took the weight and burden of our sin directly on his shoulders, and carried it all to the cross, is the Saviour through whom we have forgiveness. God loved us so much that he gave us the faith to believe in Jesus our Saviour. Through Jesus, our blindness caused by sin is removed and gone forever.
This is the faith that Philip and James so valiantly proclaimed; and even in the face of death, they still heard God’s voice very clearly. James when he was being stoned and beaten to death was able to forgive those who were killing him, using much the same words Jesus spoke from the cross, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Speaking a blessing instead of a curse at a time like that indeed shows God’s will being lived out in his life.
It is indeed God’s will that we come to faith and know Jesus our Saviour. This is the Gospel message. It is also God’s will that we share this Gospel with others. That’s why we’re here. And while we walk this path of life, may we always hear the voice of God speaking clearly: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
Philip and James were wonderful examples of faith, and very faithful disciples. We thank God for them. Let us now go forth and do likewise.