I've often wondered if he was there at the triumphal entry to hear the crowd yell out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!" (John 12:13 TNIV). Did he see the people carry the palm branches and waving them to honor his brother? Did James the brother of Jesus see the people dropping their palm branches and their coats in the road on the way to Jerusalem?
I doubt it. James, like the other brothers of Jesus, had not believed in Jesus during his earthly ministry (John 7:1-5). They had been concerned that their brother was "out of his mind" during a busy time in his ministry (Mark 3:20-21). They had also felt the sting of his words that seemed to suggest that he cared less for his physical family than he did for his newfound followers whom he called family (Mark 3:31-35).
So why would James have followed his brother to Jerusalem or been there in the crowd during the triumphal entry? I'm sure that it had to be hard growing up as Jesus' younger brother. Like his other brothers, James had grown up hearing the slur about Jesus and their mother, clearly suggesting that Joseph was not Jesus' daddy and that Mary had done something unholy:
Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him (Mark 6:3).
In a week when many of us talk about palm fronds, cloaks, and the adoring crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, we mustn't forget the other side of this truth. In addition to those who opposed Jesus, there were many who were critics, skeptics, and unbelievers — not just among Jesus' opponents, but even in his own family! This shouldn't surprise us, for in just a week, the shouts of "Hosanna" are replaced with cries to "Crucify him!" And from all indications, it seems to me that James wasn't there for either of them, for in Jesus' moment of death, he hands responsibility for taking care of Mary over to the beloved disciple, not to any of his physical brothers (John 19:25-27).
Jesus followed a different way than any leader would have normally chosen. This was especially true if that leader was supposed to be Christ the Lord, the Messiah of God. Yet Jesus was firmly convinced that the way God had chosen to exalt his Son as Lord and King was the hard way down a different path that would lead to the dawn of The New Way. Jesus had spoken of this hard path of being exalted, of being "lifted up," to Nicodemus:
"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him" (John 3:14-15).
He told his closest followers the same thing:
"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die (John 12:32-33).
Jesus chose the hard way because God was determined that all people know of his great love for them (John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:9-10). The New Way required Jesus to walk the hard path to Golgotha. This hard way was necessary so that people — even the people closest to Jesus in his physical family — could see the great love of God once they realized that the one they called brother is really the Son of God.
Why do you think it was hard for James, the half-brother of Jesus, to believe that Jesus was the Son of God?
How do you think it felt to be James growing up with Jesus as his older brother?
How would you have felt if your brother had said about you and your mother and your sisters and brothers what Jesus said in Mark 3:31-35?
While James was quite probably coming to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was crucified, none of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) mentions James being present for the triumphal entry or Jesus' passion. Do you think he was there?
James begins his short epistle with these words: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ ..." (James 1:1). So he came from being an unbeliever (John 7:1-5), to seeing himself as a servant (the word literally means "slave") of the Lord Jesus Christ. What do you think changed his view of who Jesus is?