Peering out from the pinnacle of the temple, James remembered his brother, his Lord, standing at this very place. Quoting Psalm 91, the Tempter had taunted the carpenter, “Throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘I will command my angels concerning you…that they will lift you in their arms so that not even your foot will strike against a stone.'” Now, from this great height, James could see the city of David below him and the Kidron Valley to his left. Standing majestic behind him…just across the court of the gentiles…was the temple itself.
Only in recent times has the word “pinnacle” come to mean “the zenith, or highest point”. Originally a Greek word meaning “wing”, the pinnacle of the temple was a tower on the southwest corner of the temple court. Someone standing here would be able to see the town below. Those below would be able to clearly see, or hear, someone standing up there on “The Pinnacle Corner”, as well. From here a priest would blow the shofar…a trumpet made from a ram’s horn…to signify the new moon, a new month and various holy days like Kippur, Rosh Hashana and Succoth. The shofar signaled the end of passover. The shofar reminded everyone of the mercy of the Lord.
The midrash taught that the messiah would appear here on this pinnacle when he came; the very place where the priest would have blown the shofar on the day the Lord was crucified. At about the ninth hour when Jesus said, “It is finished,” the shofar blew one long, loud blast signaling the slaughtering of the lamb which would be used the next day to sprinkle blood on the altar for the passover. As the signal echoed throughout Jerusalem the sun disappeared, the curtain ripped apart revealing the Holy of Holies, and graves opened in the valley below. From the pinnacle the priest blowing the shofar would have seen all of this and trembled in fear.
Now on this same pinnacle James prayed quietly in his heart. He prayed with fervor, but not desperation. He’d seen too much and prepared too long for this moment; he would not…could not…surrender to fear and lose his resolve. He was fervent. He was ready.
He was about to die.
The unusual thing about praying at this moment was that his custom was to always pray on his knees. He was even known as “Old Camel Knees” for just that very reason. He was also known as James the Just, because citizens of all faiths in Jerusalem knew this man to be wise and fair. He was an elder of the Jerusalem church and a leader among the original apostles even though he had not been one. Yes, he had indeed been given many complimentary titles over the years, but the one he avoided was ‘James the brother of the Lord’. In his heart he felt unworthy. In his convictions he knew that Jesus was of a unique lineage. His only claim to being brother of the Christ, he believed and taught, was the same as any other man who chose to become a disciple. “We are all brothers of the Lord and of one another if we do not give up the hope we have in Him.” That is what he preached. That is what he believed.
He wanted to pray on his knees one more time. But the Temple guards who held him by each arm prevented him from making the slightest movements. And pressing in against the guards were the henchmen of the high priest, Hanan ben Hanan. Hanan had been waiting for the right time to execute James and his patience had finally paid off. The governor, Festus, was dead. Though not a supporter of the Christians, Festus was tolerant of the different faiths that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Festus often used his peace keeping skills to keep check on the fundamentalist passions of men like the High Priest. Hanan had to act fast: since Festus had died, only a few days might pass before Albinus would arrive to assume the role of procurator. Hanan had to hurry in order to seize this opportunity to rally the Sanhedrin against James.
But many of the Sanhedrin admired James and went to him, pleading that he make a statement showing his loyalty to Moses and the Law. James had an answer for them.
“That I can do. I have been zealous for the law all of my life.” James said this to them without flinching. He had unashamedly tried to lead the new church in Jerusalem without offending the keepers of the law. Wasn’t it him, and men sent from him, who fueled the debate on circumcision that caused so much controversy among the gentiles? Wasn’t it because of the differences between him and Paul that a special conference had to be called in Jerusalem to settle the matter? And once they had met, was it not he, himself, who had the last word and ordered that the gentiles of their fellowship follow at least the most minimal of guidelines so as not to offend the Jews scattered around the world? And had he not persuaded Paul to adhere to a strict vow only four years earlier? James was not someone who could be accused of having been against the law.
These men needed James to say more than that and urged him,”But passover is nearly here and many are persisting in preaching that Jesus was the messiah. Please, with Jewish brethren coming from all over the world, stand before them and confirm that you believe no such thing. Say to them that Jesus was not the Christ. You can proclaim him as the rabbi of your sect. You need not deny him. But we know you to be a wise and just man. Surely the time has come that you can once and for all proclaim to your Jewish brethren that you still wait for the messiah the same as we do. Take your stand on the pinnacle of the Temple, where all can see you. And from there let it be known that you are one of us.”
They lead him to the pinnacle and were dismayed when James began to preach so that all could hear, “Jesus Christ is Lord of Lord and King of Kings. He sits at the right hand of God and will come again on the clouds of heaven…” and before he could say anything more, they seized him.
The year is 62 A.D. The temple has been under construction for more than 80 years. The scaffolds still stand around “The Pinnacle Corner” and will be taken down soon. The temple will be completely finished in the next year. And then, in less than seven years, after all of that work and building…it will be totally destroyed. Not a stone would remain standing.
That, however, is in 70 A.D. Now, at this moment, four years before the Jewish revolt, eight years before Titus destroys Jerusalem; James stands only seconds away from being hurled off of the shofar’s perch. Only seconds away from a crushing fall that is certain to kill him and he takes a deep breath. And he smiles.
He smiles as he thinks to himself, “Did I not write it myself?”
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
“Now is no time to be double minded,” he preached to himself, feeling the southern wind in his face and seeing the hills leading to Bethlehem on the horizon.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
He feels their hands tighten on him. The edge His Lord stood on almost thirty years earlier is under his sandals. And just then, as their grasps loosens and they...push... he hears her voice again. Though she has been in Abraham’s bosom for five years now, he hears her voice clearly.
“You’ve done harder things,” she says…