Have you been counted? You may recollect that a couple of weeks or so ago it was Census Day, so what I am asking is, “Did you fill in your census form?” If you didn’t, I’ve got bad news for you: you have broken the law and you’ll soon be in trouble!!
These days, many – if not most – countries conduct a census every 10 years as we do in the UK. But did you know that they also had censuses (or should that be censi?) in Bible times?
We find two of them in the Old Testament in the book of Numbers – where else! This book consists of the records of 2 censuses separated by the 40 years that the Israelites went round and round in circles in the wilderness after being delivered from slavery in Egypt. Now Numbers admittedly is not the most inspiring book to study; those wilderness years contain more errors to avoid than examples to follow, but there are also a few gems hidden in the midst of it all – like the priestly blessing at the end of chapter 6 and in chapters 13-14 the faithful report given by Joshua and Caleb after spying out the land. Now there we have two guys who were willing to stand up and be counted – as it were – for God.
Later, King David decreed a census but he should never have done it. It was a mistake and he got into trouble for it, so we will skip over that census.
The one census that I suspect you have all heard about – even if you have forgotten about it – is the one ordered by the Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar at the time when Jesus was born. In fact, it was the human reason why Joseph and Mary had to travel to their ancestral town of Bethlehem in order to register. Of course, the real heavenly reason was that Jesus’ birth in David’s city of Bethlehem was planned far in advance by God himself and foretold by the prophet Micah in chapter 5 verse 2.
Throughout the Bible, there are many other occasions when we read of large numbers of people, though not all were censuses. Many of the numbers are symbolic and that is especially so in the book of Revelation. For example, the 144,000 who were standing with the Lamb in heaven is the Jewish number of completeness, 12, then squared (which I guess makes it even more complete), and then scaled up a thousand times (just to make sure we understand the scope of it all). But we also read about “a great multitude that no-one could count” who will be in heaven. At first glance, it looks as though there is no census record of these people, so how can we know if we have been counted and we will be there among them? Look elsewhere in Revelation, and you will discover that these people are described as those whose “names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” We may have no idea how many there are, BUT God knows each and every one. He has a record of everyone who has believed in Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Saviour who died like a sacrificial lamb in our place. I think we can be certain that God has no paper book, nor even a digital database, but we do know that he does not forget. So, immediately we confess Jesus as our Lord and Saviour we can be absolutely sure that God himself has entered our names in his book of life. John, who wrote down Revelation, also penned the fourth Gospel and in chapter 10, changing the metaphor so that he now speaks of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and us as his lambs, says, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”
So, I return to my original question. Have you been counted, or perhaps, I should rather ask whether you know the Shepherd? If you do, then you can be sure that God has filled in his heavenly census form on your behalf. If not, can I urge you to look into the matter. Completing a census form is a serious affair but getting to know Jesus is even more important.