In the Book of Hebrews the preacher was pleading with these Jewish Christians who were struggling with their faith to stay true to Jesus, that he is the better way. At the end of chapter 12 he compares what the Jews who had come out of Egypt and arrived at Mt. Sinai where they would receive the Ten Commandments, the instruction on building the tabernacle and God’s speaking to them from the top of the Mount, to their coming to the kingdom of Christ. They came to a mountain on fire with the thunderous voice of God speaking to them and warning them for neither the people nor the animals to touch the mountain or they would die. “But you have come to Mount Zion, the the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” Hebrews 12:22-24)
Just as he has constantly through this sermon reminded them that Jesus is a better high priest, a better mediator, he offers better blood than that of animals and gives us a far better covenant today, so now he says that Jesus sprinkled blood is better than that of Abel. But what is all this description? He will go on to refer to this that you have come to as the “Kingdom that cannot be shaken and pleads “Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire.” (Verses 28-29)
His adding one thing after another on top of this elaborate description gives us many concepts that aren’t really talked about anywhere else in the New Testament. But the point is quite clear. When we come to God through Jesus Christ we become part of that church of the firstborn ones. It is easy to miss something in this that is very important. Many have read that phrase and thought it referred to Jesus as the firstborn from the dead to never die again. But the word is plural in the original text and therefore can’t refer to Jesus. It is instead a reference to all that are part of the body, called the church or the kingdom of the Lord, as firstborn ones. It goes back to the concept that the firstborn son in the family was blessed as the leader of the family after the father died and was given a double portion of the inheritance. He was obviously the favored son and God’s point to us is that as disciples of Jesus we are all firstborn ones. Every Christian down through the ages is seen by God as one of the firstborn, who receives the blessing and is placed in a position of honor. He obviously wasn’t trying to give some name for the church, but was wanting us to see what an amazing blessing it is to be part of the family of the Lord and in a covenant relationship with God.
When they approached Sinai it was with fear and trembling. We approach a throne of grace and mercy. We join the innumerable hosts of God’s called out people. It is to a joyful assembly and the city of the living God.
But I want to focus on one statement that is easy to skip over. “You have come to the ones whose names are written in heaven.” All through Scripture God has spoken of the “Lamb’s Book of Life.” All the way back in Exodus Moses prayed that if God would not forgive the Israelites and restore them as His people then to just blot his name out of the book. God informed him that he would blot out those who sinned against him not just one who asked that it be done. It is spoken of in the Psalms, in the book of Daniel and in Malachi. In Malachi 3:16 he said, “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.”
In the New Testament book of Philippians Paul referred to some women in Philippi who had served alongside him and who were having some difficulties getting along as having their names written in the book of life. It demonstrates that people can have problems and need help solving them and still be in the book. In Revelation 22 God warned that if one took away from the words of the prophesies of this book their names would be taken from the Book of Life. Also in chapter twenty when he described the judgment day, those whose names were not found written in the Lamb’s book of life were cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
How do we get out names into the Book of Life? Since they are written in heaven it is obvious it is a God thing. It isn’t something we can just walk up and sign in. A key Scripture that helps on this point is the last verse in Acts 2 when it was said “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” So when a person is saved, the Lord adds them to the Book of life. Here in this second chapter of Acts Peter had preached to thousands of Jews and proselytes who were there to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. When he charged them with crucifying the Messiah whom God had sent into the world to save us and that they had taken and by wicked hands had crucified and slain the Son of God, they were cut to their heart. Guilt overwhelmed them. These religious Jews there to worship God, cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter answered as God’s spokesman, “Let everyone of you repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the promise is to you and to your children and to all who are far away, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” 3,000 people that day reacted to Peter’s charge by believing in Jesus as God’s Son, turning from sin to God in repentance and being baptized or immersed in water to have their sins forgiven and they started new life in Jesus with the Holy Spirit living in them. It was these people and others like them that were being added to the the number of the saved daily and their names being placed in the book of life.
Notice that the church roll that you need to be on isn’t about some local group or denomination. It is to have my name written in heaven. Just being religious obviously wasn’t sufficient or those 3,000 plus on Pentecost wouldn’t have needed to make a change. They believed but God had Peter to tell them to do something more. Notice no one raised their hands, no one said the sinners prayer and no one confessed their sins. Instead they turned from sin to God in repentance and were baptized into Christ out of that faith and repentance. Baptism isn’t a separate action but an outgrowth of faith that submits to God in obedience to his will.
But how do I keep my name there if it can be blotted out? It is obvious that it can be blotted out since both Moses and John the writer of Revelation mentions ones being blotted from the book. But it is important to notice that one is not blotted out of the book every time they make some mistake. Many seem to believe that God is constantly taking our names out and putting them back in when we mess up and then pray about it. It is the person who has come to God and become part of his spiritual family and then goes back into sin, turning completely away from God and his will that is blotted out of the Book. It isn’t about being blotted out because we made some mistake. It isn’t that we should live in fear that we may not do everything right and be blotted out. It is that if after being one of God’s people we determine to leave God and go back into the world and live in sin away from him. Do understand a person can turn away from God without leaving church. God knows our hearts, not just our church attendance. In the story of the Lost Son in Luke 15 it wasn’t just the son who left for the far country who was lost. His older brother who had been there all the time and whose attitude was completely wrong was a lost son as well. The Father went out to plead with him to come in just as he ran to meet the younger boy who came home.
God calls us to be faithful to him not perfect specimens of Christianity. If perfection is required Jesus will be very lonely in heaven. But faithfulness means we are loyal and true to God and belong to him. When we are faithful our names stay in the Book from now to judgment when we are welcomed home to the Lord. Is your name written there?