The Christmas story began with a census, and the Bible itself ends with a different registration.
2021 is the year of the UK’s next census. William the Conqueror carried out the first one in England, the results of which were published in the Domesday Book in 1086 AD. Since 1801, when the first census of England, Scotland, and Wales was undertaken, there has been one every 10 years except 1941.
The New Testament begins with a Roman census. 2,000 years ago the Romans were registering how many people were in their Empire so that people could be taxed or conscripted.
In Luke’s Gospel we read: ‘And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
‘So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.’
But how interesting – the Bible not only has a census at the beginning of the story of Jesus, but also ends with a census!
The first and last census
The first registration was ordered by the Emperor Caesar Augustus and would have included the baby Jesus. Joseph, the head of the household would have written the names, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
The final registration records the names of all who, during their life, trusted the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible calls this register ‘The Lamb’s Book of Life’. Jesus got into Caesar’s book, but I wonder if Caesar got into Jesus’s book. Everyone who is in this book has been given eternal life with God.
In the first census every person was legally obliged to register. But in the final one, all are invited to ‘register’ but each of us has to make a response. The Bible says, ‘Whoever will, may come.’
Jesus’s invitation is not about taxes or money; he wants nothing from us. Instead Jesus was born that he might give us something which is more valuable than money. He came to purchase eternal life, and that is a free gift to all who will receive it. The only thing we give to God is all our sin – our wrong – and because Jesus has died for us, he is willing to forgive the past and give us a new power to live as we should for the future.
There is no way today that we could ever be registered in the census at the time of Jesus’s birth; but the invitation to have our names for ever written in the Lamb’s Book of Life remains open. Anyone who is willing to turn from their own way and trust Jesus can be included in this registration.
To miss this invitation is to miss everything. For what a person does with Jesus in this life matters for all eternity. Nobody deserves heaven. And hell is an awful thought. Why would anyone choose that? Jesus came not to call people who feel they are alright, but to purchase forgiveness, which is something we all need. To have your name in God’s Book is not just being a statistic, but it means you belong to God in life and through eternity. You become God’s son or daughter and are kept by him.
Joseph was given the name of the baby Jesus, which means Saviour, because he would save his people from their sins. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to seek the lost and to turn his enemies into family members. If Jesus had come for good people, He would never have found any! But the fact that he came for people who have messed up means he includes me… and you! We all need Jesus to be our Saviour. We each qualify for him!
To get into Caesar’s census, one just had to be born; to be in the Lamb’s Book of Life, one needs to be ‘born again’. This means that a person is ‘born from above’, given new, spiritual life. This is a free gift from God, received by faith as we turn from our own way and trust in Jesus. The Bible repeatedly, clearly declares that ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’. And whoever comes to him he will in no way cast away.
Why is it called ‘The Lamb’s Book of Life’?
At the time of Jesus, lambs were sacrificed as symbol of forgiveness. But an animal could not take away sin. Only God can do that. But Jesus, who was actually called ‘the Lamb of God’, was perfect and pure in all his thoughts, words, and deeds. He was born to be the only Lamb to take away sin.
The One who once lay in a manger died on a cross carrying on himself the sin of the world. The One who once lay in a virgin womb was taken down from that cross and laid in virgin tomb. Three days later Jesus rose from the dead, declaring his victory over sin and death. He came into our world for this.
Today, will you thank God for sending the Lord Jesus to die for you, and allow the Lamb of God, to take away your sin, and write your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Your name is recorded in the last national census and hopefully in the 2021 one, but is it written for ever in the most important registration, the Lamb’s Book of Life?
When the Romans filled in their census they used ink that faded in time. God uses indelible ink that lasts through eternity. Whatever else happens, make sure your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Roger Carswell and David Earnshaw. Roger is a travelling evangelist and author. David is pastor of Inskip Baptist Church, Lancashire.