The ecclesia to which I belong is a young ecclesia, without our own hall. By necessity, it means gathering in rented premises. Our current accommodation is a lawn-bowls club, complete with large honour boards which hang across the front of the hall. There are four in total: three for Club Champions (men, women and doubles) and also a fourth board which lists the club’s office-holders: the club presidents, secretaries and treasurers stretching back many decades. Each board is full of names recorded in small, neat gold lettering. Each year, another name – just a single name – is added to each list.

Studying these honour boards is an interesting exercise; detecting patterns in the names and dates, searching out the longest unbroken run as Club Champion, or looking for names with a gold star alongside, indicating that they were the State Champion for that particular year.

Worthies of Old

Examining those honour boards prompted me to think of Hebrews 11, a chapter often referred to as the ‘Honour Roll of the Faithful’. Indeed, in this chapter we have an ‘honour board’ – although of a different kind. It’s not a list of individuals who excelled at lawn bowls, or at any other sport! Nor is it a list of those who held positions of authority and trust, such as club presidents.

Yes, Hebrews 11 contains a list of names: 16 individuals, along with groups such as the prophets (v32) and the multitude that crossed through the Red Sea (v29). But those named on this honour roll are there not because of what they accomplished, although many of them did accomplish remarkable things. They are listed because they all had an obedient faith, a belief that motivated their actions and directed their lives.

So when it comes to God’s honour roll, the key questions we need to ponder are:

What are the common qualities seen in it?

How can we make sure that our own names are on it? Because surely that’s the only thing that matters. We must ensure that our names are recorded there, listed along with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, etc.

Sometimes it can feel like an unrealistic goal. Scanning this list of people, these “worthies of old” listed in Hebrews 11, it can seem like they’re in another league. We think about their lives and what they accomplished… and we feel very inadequate by comparison. We might assume there’s a greater probability of being listed on the Bowling Club Honour Board than of making it into a list like Hebrews 11! Yet, that’s not the case. This chapter wasn’t included in scripture to make us feel inadequate, rather it’s there to inspire us! God’s honour board is not something that is only for the giants of faith: just a few select names in gold letters on a shiny board at the front of the hall. God’s honour board is a very long list of names – so many that in fact it can’t possibly fit onto a board. Rather, it is actually, a list of names that has been compiled into a book.

The Book of Life

The process of compilation for the list of names has been underway for a very long time, for example, a point in time 2,500 years ago. Consider Malachi 3:16: “Those who feared Yahweh spake often one to another and Yahweh hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared Yahweh and that thought upon his name.” Here is a whole group of faithful people. They are not mentioned individually by name. Why were they noted in that book? Did they slay giants, conquer cities and perform amazing miracles? No. They were recorded in this book because, “they feared Yahweh, and spake often one to another”. In other words, they did something that is easily within the capabilities of us all. None of us can say they’re not capable of doing those things and we should be greatly encouraged by this! God doesn’t ask us to do heroic things; we only have to genuinely want to be a part of his family. It really is that simple!

There’s a paragraph in Principles and Proverbs by Islip Collyer (page 193), that fits in well with this theme:

“We need not fear that we shall be excluded, if we really desire to be in the Kingdom of God – even though we are plain men… with little of the hero in our make-up, and nothing in our characters to command the admiration of the world. If we follow the patriarchs in their one outstanding virtue of obedient faith, we shall be guided to the other things needful. Our names are not mentioned in the Scriptures nor in the rolls of human fame, but they are written in the Book of Life.”

None of the names of those faithful lives mentioned in Malachi 3 are ever recorded in Scripture either, nor are they on any rolls of human fame. But, like us, their names are written in the book of God’s remembrance: in the Book of Life. So far as books go, this book is unique. It contains a lot of names – in fact, that’s all it contains: from cover to cover. There are names of the many individuals from all ages, all walks of life, all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, all circumstances and from a vast array of experiences. But what is particularly amazing about God’s honour board, the Book of Life, is that everyone in the book has been a sinner and has needed forgiveness. Everyone in this book has been touched by the blood of Christ. That is why, in Revelation 13:8, it is referred to as “the book of Life of the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.”

It is our faith in Jesus Christ that is the means of our salvation, and the reason why we gather each week to remember his life and sacrifice for us. On our own we could never stand before God, because our sins have separated us from Him. And we can’t earn our salvation because it’s not possible for us to keep any law that might allow that. It’s only through our obedient faith in Christ that we are counted righteous before God.

Hebrews 11 is the chapter on faith. Everyone listed there shared that same quality: an obedient faith. It’s a family characteristic: the quality through which we become part of the family of Abraham. The vast majority were not Jewish by ancestry; and yet Galatians 3 reminds us that because we share that family characteristic of faith we are adopted into that family, as part of Abraham’s seed and therefore joint-heirs with Christ. Hebrews 11:1 describes how we share an ability to see the unseen, to believe with absolute conviction and certainty in things that you can’t actually see and touch: faith provides “the evidence of things not seen”. And so, with the eye of faith, we perceive that “the ages were framed by God’s command” (v3). Because of this, as we look out into the world, we are convinced without doubt that God is in control of everything. We believe that world events are being directed by the unseen hand of the angels – the momentous events of 2017 such as the Brexit vote, the shock election of Donald Trump as US President – amongst others. These are the birth-pangs of the Kingdom, with all these events converging to a point: the climax of history when the Lord returns to the earth.

The Victory Crown

And how we all long for his appearing! Because, together with an obedient faith, this is the other characteristic that is shared by everyone in the Book of Life: a love of Christ’s appearing (2 Tim 4:8).

All those in this group will receive a crown of life – a reference to the “victory crown” (the laurel wreath) from Greek and Roman times, which was awarded to only two groups of people:

  1. Those who returned from battle victorious. History records how Caesar would return from fighting a war and would parade through Rome in his chariot wearing his laurel wreath.
  2. The victors in athletic competitions. Before the era of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals, in Greek times only one result was recognised. It was only those who won the race or competition who received this most coveted prize. The ‘victor’s wreath’ awarded was a tangible token of having been noted in the honour roll.

It fits the context of what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4 – having both fought a good fight and having finished the course (race), Paul was assured of receiving that victory crown. Only there’s a key difference between this crown and what was awarded in those times and that is, its durability. The wreath of leaves awarded to the victor didn’t last long – after a few weeks it was just dry, crumpled leaves. Not so the crown we will receive in that day! As the apostles said: “now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we, an incorruptible” (1 Cor 9:24-25 WBT); and “when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away” (1 Pet 5:4 KJ2000).

The Joy Set Before Us

Whilst the faithful in Hebrews 11 have all “finished the course” they have not yet received the promise and it’s clear from Hebrews 12 that we are still running the race. And cheering us on as the end comes into sight is this ‘great crowd’ of the faithful. Let’s picture the ending of that “race.”

Despite the fatigue that is starting to set in, and despite the doubts that occasionally try to push into our consciousness, we hear the roar of the crowd as we enter the stadium, and it spurs us on! We’ve cast aside every weight that would hold us back or slow us down, and we press on toward the mark, for the prize of our high calling. And as the finishing line comes into view – there, just up ahead, stands the Lord Jesus Christ, the righteous judge. And in his hand he’s holding the prize: a crown of life! The crown which doesn’t fade.

Our eyes must remain focussed on him. He is the author and finisher of faith. He is the one who has already overcome and won the struggle, and he is the example we follow of always looking ahead, “to the joy set before him.” It enabled the Lord to live a life of perfect obedience to his Father’s will and to endure the cross, and overcome the terrible treatment at the hands of wicked men as he was crucified. And yet he is now set down at the right hand of God (Heb 12:2).

Brethren and sisters, there Christ remains, for just a little while longer, until God declares that the time has come for him to open the Book of Life – the honour roll containing all those names. These are not the names of sports champions, whose glory and memory has long since faded, just like their crown of leaves. This honour roll is for the real champions, the champions in God’s eyes – champions of faith. This honour roll is for the “faithful lives whose names have been recorded”(Hymn 360).

  • It’s for all those who: have thought about Yahweh, and spoken often to one another about this precious hope they had in common;
  • through the ups and downs of life have “loved the Lord’s appearing” and looked for it with single-minded focus;
  • obtained a good report through faith and will now finally, together with us, receive a Crown of Life.

And surely that time is so near! We know we live at the time of the end. The world will shortly face “a time of trouble such as never was, since there was a nation” (Dan 12:1). Let us pray that we might be among those who “shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” of Life.