Thursday, March 1, 2018

Just a Janitor?

In the late 1970’s Bill Crawford was a janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.* While the cadets’ days were filled with academics and athletics, morning parades, room inspections, and leadership classes, Bill Crawford was cleaning toilets, buffing floors, and emptying trash cans.

He was  shy and unassuming , a gray-haired older man who looked like somebody’s grandfather. No wonder the cadets didn't take much notice.

But then one afternoon one of the cadets was reading a book about World War II, and the Allied ground campaign in Italy. It told the story of a Private William Crawford, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, who had been involved in some bloody fighting in Italy. Private Crawford had, on his own, taken out three machine gun nests to prepare the way for the advance of his unit.

And then the cadet read these words: in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire...with no regard for personal safety...on his own initiative, Private Crawford single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions. It continued: ...for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States... 

The young man put down the book, and said to his roommate, “You’re not going to believe it, but I think our janitor won the Medal of Honor.” They couldn’t wait to talk to him. It was the weekend, but the next Monday they showed Mr. Crawford the page in the book, and he said, “Yup, that’s me.” He had continued to serve in the military after World War II and retired in 1967 at the rank of Master Sergeant.  

Well, things were never the same around the squadron. Pretty soon all the cadets knew who Bill Crawford was, and they started greeting him with a respectful “Good morning, Mr. Crawford.” They kept their places tidier. And Bill started getting invited to formal squadron functions. He’d show up in a dark suit and the only sign of his heroism was a simple, blue, star-spangled lapel pin.

It is possible to know people, to appreciate them, even to love them, without really knowing who they are. Some of us grew up loving Jesus. He was for us the gentle Shepherd, the kind Man who cradled little children in His arms, the ultimate Servant. We knew of His miracles, but somehow we didn’t realize who He really was, and the heroism He displayed, and the great victory He won.

Hebrews is written about the Supremacy of Jesus Christ. The people who first read this book knew about Jesus. But they really didn’t know Him in His majesty and fullness. So the first verses of the book are meant to lay out with a wonderful economy of words seven great descriptions or titles of Jesus. He’s not just the servant, not just a loving Friend, not just a miracle worker.

We’ve already talked about how He is Heir of All Things, Creator of the World, and the Radiance of God’s Glory. This time I want to highlight a fourth truth about His character: HE IS FULLY GOD. Verse 3 says He is "the exact imprint of his nature."

"Exact imprint” originally referred to an instrument for engraving, and then it came to mean the mark stamped on something, the imprint of a die, like the wax impression that exactly reflects the seal that made it. Jesus Christ bears the very stamp of God’s nature.

Paul says the same thing in Colossians 1:15. He uses a different Greek word, but the same meaning: He is the image of the invisible God. Or later in Colossians 2:9 he writes, For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. 

Yes, He is a Servant, and our dearest Friend. He is also the greatest Teacher the world has ever known. But we mustn't think of Him as only these things. He won more than the Medal of Honor. He won heaven's highest accolades for completing His mission at the cost of His own life - the redemption of all God's people throughout time. 

When you look at Jesus, you are seeing God.

*I am indebted to Col. James Moschgat's online article "A Janitor's Ten Lessons in Leadership," where I  first read Bill Crawford's story: