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November 2, 2003
I now invite you to turn to the book of Hebrews, chapter 9 and follow along as I read verses 11-14. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),
12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,
14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
All Kinds of Lists
All kinds of lists can be found on the Internet. You can find a list of oxymorons, like: first-strike defense (if it is a first strike, how can it be defensive) or tax return (you do not return taxes, you pay them), freezer burn (if it is in a freezer, how can it be burned?).
Another list I saw gave advice on what not to say when pulled over by police:
Don’t say, “Sorry, Officer, I didn’t realize my radar detector wasn’t plugged in.”
Don’t say, “Are you Andy or Barney?”
Don’t say, “I thought you had to be in relatively good physical condition to be a police officer.”
And lastly, when the Officer says “Gee, Son … Your eyes look red. Have you been drinking?”, you probably shouldn’t respond with, “Gee, Officer, your eyes look glazed, have you been eating doughnuts?”
Some lists come to some strange conclusions. For example, What do President Bush and Hillary Clinton have in common? They are both considered the most-admired people by American respondents to a poll conducted by CNN, USA Today and Gallup in December 2002.
Americans chose the sitting president as the man they admire most. Second on the list is former President Jimmy Carter.
The survey also asked respondents which woman they most admired, and they chose former first lady and current New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Second was current first lady Laura Bush and third was talk-show host and businesswoman Oprah Winfrey.
Another interesting choice: in fifth place among women was actress and pop singer Jennifer Lopez. But when you look at the choices that were made by age group. Then among younger Americans, that is among Americans 18 to 30 years old, Jennifer Lopez is number one, the woman most admired by young Americans.
Johnnie Johnson’s List
I never would have guessed that, but let us look at a more serious list. It has 496 names. The names are written on thin sheets of paper, in tight columns. These are the 496 names that Johnnie Johnson did not want anyone to forget.
The year was 1950, and Johnson was an Army private, just 18 years old, when his division was thrown into combat in what they called a “police action” in Korea. About two-thirds of his comrades were killed, and many others were captured, including himself. While being held as a POW, American planes accidentally strafed Johnson’s building, and several more men were killed. Johnson began to worry that these brave men would be forgotten, and that their loved ones back home would never know where, when and how they had died.
So he started a list. Using a pencil stub, he wrote their names on anything he could get his hands on: discarded cigarette packages, strips of wallpaper, pieces of trash. He wrote their names, their units and their dates of death.
After three months, most of Johnson’s fellow prisoners were sick and malnourished. Seventy were dead, including seven by execution. Johnson kept writing on his list.
Then a cruel North Korean army major took control of the remaining 758 POWs and forced them to march 120 miles across snowy mountain terrain. The idea of the list increased in importance in Johnson’s mind, especially after the North Koreans took away all the remaining prisoners’ dog tags. American soldiers were shot and left to die if they stumbled or fell over, and Johnson kept focusing on his list as he walked, in order to ignore his pain. He managed to jot down the names of more than 100 men who died along the way. That winter, in a camp alongside an ice-choked river, almost 300 more prisoners died. Johnson kept writing, adding their names to his secret list, even risking his life at one point to steal paper from his captors.
Johnson made two identical lists and hid one in the mud-hut wall, the other in the dirt floor. When guards discovered the list in the wall, Johnson was was tortured and accused of maintaining “criminal propaganda” for his government. But it was not propaganda he was writing. It was a gift, a gift for the families of his buddies.
The list he buried in the dirt floor was never discovered, and so at the end of the war Johnson dug it up. He sealed the list inside a toothpaste tube, and did not take it out until he was safely on a troop ship home.
On the ship, an officer asked him, “What have you got there?” Johnson said, “It’s my list, sir,” and he showed it to him—four hundred and ninety-six names. He had risked his life to complete that list.
But the military showed no immediate interest in the list, aside from a note in Johnson’s debriefing report. It took many years for people to discover its value, and it remained largely hidden until it appeared in a Reader’s Digest article and a History Channel documentary. But now, at Korean War Veterans’ reunions, Johnson is overwhelmed by relatives who want to hug and thank him. Those who have lost loved ones are anxious to see the list, which Johnson has in a scrapbook, and when they find their loved one’s name, you can sense their relief and gratitude. As long as a man is on the list, he is not truly lost. Johnnie Johnson risked his life to complete his list — a piece of paper that has brought true peace to the families of his fallen comrades. It is a record that cost him considerable pain and suffering, but in the end he has no regrets about putting it together.
The Divine Directory
Johnnie’s list is a righteous roster, no doubt about it, but it pales in size or significance to God’s list. To get on Johnnie’s list, you had to die; to get on God’s list, someone died for you.
Revelation 20:12 calls this divine directory “the book of life”. Admission to the eternal city of God will be limited to “only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). In Luke, Jesus invites his disciples to “rejoice that [their] names are written in heaven” (10:20). Hebrews speaks of “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (12:23). And in his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul speaks of colleagues who have struggled beside him in the work of the gospel, people “whose names are in the book of life” (4:3).
What a list this is, and what a price Jesus has paid to put it together! Like Johnnie Johnson, Jesus was a man on a mission, a mission that would cost him terrible pain and hardship. Jesus played the role of a high priest, a person who had the job of performing temple sacrifices to bring people forgiveness of their sins. But unlike an earthly high priest, Jesus offered his own blood — not the blood of calves and goats. Killed on the cross, he was slaughtered in an unbelievably humiliating, excruciating and bloody sacrifice designed to bring us back into a right relationship with God for all time. Hebrews 9:14 says, he “offered himself without blemish to God,” in a sacrifice designed to “purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!”
The Pre-eminence of Jesus Christ.
The author of Hebrews has one purpose to emphasize to us the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ. Jesus is greater than Moses and the Aaronic priesthood. The author of Hebrews marshals his arguments: Christ is a better witness to God’s truth than Abraham or Moses and greater than Levi and Aaron because Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as an atonement for sin is greater than any priestly offering. The priest’s offering is a continual and repeated sin offering, Christ’s self-offering is the final and complete, once and for all, offering that makes all other sacrifices obsolete. The more perfect offering of Christ overwhelms the less perfect offerings of sheep and goats in the Old Testament. Jesus is the perfect and unique High Priest. all the hope and expectations of Judaism are found Jesus. He is prophet, priest and king.
In Hebrews 9:11-14 the author continues his theological and philosophical assault on the Old Testament priestly tradition by presenting Jesus as the ultimate High Priest. Everything that comes from the Old Testament tradition, be it the tent that covered the ark, or the Holy of Holies in the innermost part of the temple in Jerusalem, is fulfilled by the perfection of Jesus Christ and his blood sacrifice.
The Jewish priests are descended from priestly families. Jesus is a God incarnate. Because priests are descended from offspring of Adam’s first sin, they are sinful. Since Jesus is not related to Adam, he is perfect. The priestly sacrifice offers the blood of animals. Jesus’ sacrifice is an offering of his very self. Jesus who is without sin makes, therefore, the ultimate and perfect sacrifice. The Old Testament offerings were done over and over every day, and were not and were never intended to be a final solution to the problem of sin and repentance. Christ, however, being the pure and spotless perfect sacrifice, having direct access to God, finally solves the sin problem, finally saves the sinner.
How Do I Get On the List?
So, Jesus’ death on the cross gives us a place on the list. It offers us an opportunity to join the roll call of the redeemed, the sanctuary of the saints — all the saints, those who are forgiven, purified, renewed and restored.
When you’re on this list, you can never be lost.
We all know that the thing about elite lists is that they are just about impossible to get onto. Consider the list of the forty richest people under age 40: In order to knock computer tycoon Michael Dell off his perch at number one, you’d have to come up with about 17 billion dollars. Not an easy task. In fact, to squeeze onto the list at number 40 — to make the very bottom of the list — you’d have to unseat a thirtysomething Internet retiree named W. Glen Boyd. He’s worth only about a hundred million dollars.
Such a list is tough to crack, and so are the high-octane rosters of Most Powerful Women, All-Star Athletes and Most Admired Men.
This list we are talking about today is not like those lists.
This list is for everyone. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” says Jesus to Nicodemus, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). This gift is for everyone who believes.
The list is for life. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus to Martha. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11:25). This gift brings life to those who die — not just peace to those who have lost loved ones.
The list lasts forever. Christ “entered once for all into the Holy Place,” says the letter to the Hebrews, “not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (9:12). Jesus gave his life, and the result is eternal redemption — his list is never going to change or diminish or disappear.
So the question for us then is how do I get on the list? Now we come to the greatest heresy in the Christian church today. Most Christians today when asked how do you get on God’s list reply that I put myself on that list. That is they believe in free will. I decide what happens to me. I decide what I am going to do, and I decide if I am going to be saved. That is the majority opinion in American Christianity. I would like to file a minority report.
If we accept the doctrine of free will then that inevitably ends in a kind of atheism. I am in charge of my life. I make my own decisions. That is the doctrine of free will. If we apply that to everyone then every one is in charge of their own life, and what they do is their own business. By the same token it applies to nations. Nations just do whatever they decide to do. At which point we realize that God does not seem to do anything. People who believe in free will have a God that may make suggestions and may help them do what they decide to do, but they do not have a God who commands and who rules. In other words, people who believe in free will do not believe in an almighty, all-knowing, all-seeing God. They have a sort of absentee God, which is in effect atheism. If God is not here, ruling and effecting what we do, then you might as well say that God does not exist.
But that line of thought is not what historical Christianity is about. God is almighty, all-knowing, all-seeing. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe. God is in charge. So return to our original question. How do we get on the list? Let’s answer that with another question: Whose list is it? Its God’s list. That answers the first question. God determines who gets on the list.
Have you ever noticed that there are two different kinds of people in this world? Some people do not have faith, do not believe. They are indifferent to spiritual things. Others believe, accept Christ as Lord and savior. Question: Why do some have faith and others do not? God gives the Holy Spirit to some, and the Spirit generates faith in those people, and they believe.
Understand what I am saying then about the process of salvation. Salvaton is a miracle of God. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit of God. Every Christian is a walking, talking, living miracle—because it is only by a miracle that anyone can believe in Jesus.
Note again the contrast between this way of thinking and those who believe in free will. If my decision to believe in Jesus is my free will decision, that I make on my own, then I can at any time make another decision not to believe in Jesus. In other words, I can believe in Jesus today, but tomorrow I may change my mind, I may decide I want to be a Buddhist or a Moslem, or maybe I will make that final jump and decide to be an outright atheist. But this is not a biblical view of salvation at all.
The biblical view is that God makes the list. God saves us, we do not save ourselves, and God cannot fail, so every person God chooses to save, will be saved.
From our point of view, it may seem like we have free will. We think we are making our own decisions, doing our own thing. In fact, we are not. God rules the world; God rules our lives. You are here today, hearing this sermon, because God led you to be here. God draws you to Christ, draws you to make a profession of Christ, because you are on the list. If it were otherwise, you would not even be here.
And once you are on the list, you will never be lost. Just as everyone that God chooses to save is in fact saved, so once God has saved us, we are always saved. How could it be otherwise? We are dealing with God decisions here, not human decisions. God does not make mistakes. God does not change his mind. Through Jesus Christ, God saves his people and keeps his people.
So what then do we do? We rejoice that we are God’s people. God has saved us, Praise God. God has chosen us. Praise God. God has elected us. Praise God. As the psalmist says, “Give thanks to him and bless his name” (100:4). Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/28/04