This program aired on KIUN 1400 AM in Pecos, TX on April 21, 2017.
The abbreviation “etc.” comes from the Latin phrase, et cetera, which means “and other similar things”, or “and so forth”. We most often use this abbreviation when going through a long list of similar items. We use it to indicate that many other items, like the ones named, belong in this list. In the 1956 film, The King and I, Yul Brynner, playing the King of Siam, used this phrase to impress Anna with his great knowledge, and with the fact that he was too important to convey the details of that knowledge.
This abbreviation is common in all areas of life, even in religious or spiritual contexts. Recently, a post on social media made an interesting and unique use of the abbreviation, “etc.” In this post the writer said that “etc.” stood for, “Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas” Christians. Upon consideration, the writer appears to have hit the nail squarely on the head.
His definition is correct on two levels. The most obvious is that there is a large body of professed believers who only show up for worship on the major holidays. Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving weekend, and Christmas are all times when church buildings are generally filled. The happy noise of children of all ages in the company of parents and grandparents is a heart-warming sound. We are uplifted by the presence of so many on these special occasions. However, the rest of the year many of these same children and adults are nowhere to be seen on the Lord’s Day.
The second way that “etc.” correctly defines some professed believers is in the realization that this abbreviation is somewhat of a “throw-away” term in our language. Like the King of Siam, we cast this term around to mask deficiencies in our knowledge of some particular subject. Or, we use it to show our general disinterest in the topic at hand. It is this usage that makes “etc.” fit the holiday-only crowd. They attend worship on special occasions to make a show of their professed faith, but their actions the rest of the year actually indicate their disinterest in spiritual things.
The Lord spoke of such attitudes in one of His confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees of His day. In Mt. 15:8 He said of them, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.” In context, the Lord was speaking specifically of the many traditions which these Jews had implemented that were actually contrary to God’s word. These traditions showed that they truly didn’t honor or respect God’s word. The spirit which led them to do these things is, in fact, the same spirit which makes “etc.” Christians comfortable with their practices. They say they love the Lord, but their actions show that they truly don’t respect God and His word.
The Lord told His disciples that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:20). He said this, not to urge them to become better law-keepers than their leaders were, but rather to urge them to become genuine disciples instead of self-serving hypocrites, like them. In practical application, this meant that they would follow God’s word, first, last, and always as they went about their daily walk. They would put God first, and rely on Him to provide for all their needs (Mt. 6:33). They would make God’s word a living part of their lives so it would truly be a lamp to their feet and a light to their path (Psa. 119:105).
Let each of us become whole-hearted followers of Jesus, instead of “etc.” believers. Let us truly be faithful until death (Rev. 2:10), so we will be welcomed into heaven at the end of time.
The English Standard Version (ESV) was first published in 2001. In the preface to this work it is described as an “essentially literal” translation of the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages in which the original scriptures were written. The goal of this translation is to preserve and convey the exact meaning of the biblical text as originally written, while putting these words into easily understandable modern English. This translation is based primarily on the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of 1971, and has been well received by conservative scholars, commentators, and preachers.
One particularly powerful illustration of the excellent work done by the ESV translators is found in 2 Cor. 4:2. Here the ESV renders Paul’s words in this way: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” In the context of this letter Paul was defending his apostleship against some in Corinth who rejected his teaching and his standing as a legitimate apostle of Christ. In this statement Paul both defended himself, and, by implication, condemned the false teachers who were trying to undermine his influence in this church.
An important part of Paul’s defense in this statement is his refusal to “practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word.” In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them that when he had first worked among them he had not used lofty speech or human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Instead, he had preached the simple gospel of Christ so that their faith would rest on the power of God rather than on the wisdom of men.
The Greek word from which the English word “tamper” is derived was used in the first century to refer to wine merchants who diluted their wares. They “tampered” with their product by selling a watered-down version as though it were pure. This imagery is a powerful illustration of some of the problems that Paul faced in Corinth. His detractors were proclaiming a “watered-down” version of the gospel, but he, “by the open statement of truth”, was proclaiming the unadulterated word of God. Paul could boldly commend himself to the brethren in Corinth because he had proclaimed the pure gospel of Christ to them.
This issue still exists today, and is perhaps even more widespread than it was in the first century. We see it in the current trends to water-down the gospel in order to be more appealing to the unchurched. Some practice what Paul would call cunning by hiding their denominational background or affiliation under the guise of being “non-denominational”. Their teachings are, in fact, the same as those of the denomination from which they received their training and accreditation, but are masked from unsuspecting seekers. In the same way they also water-down the gospel, refusing to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) with respect to salvation by omitting or denying the importance of baptism for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38-41; 22:16).
In the first century Paul renounced such practices and boldly proclaimed that he would not be a party to them. He refused to practice cunning in his preaching. He refused to tamper with God’s word. For this reason he could rightfully commend himself to his hearers. Today we desperately need more men like Paul. We need men who renounce “disgraceful, underhanded ways”, who preach the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel. God’s word will judge us at the last day (Jn. 12:48), and God’s word is truth (Jn. 17:17). Therefore, let us refuse to tamper with it.
When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the Lord’s tomb early on the morning of the first day of the week (Mt. 28:1), they found the stone rolled away and the tomb open. In Mark’s account of this event (Mk. 16:3), he points out that the women were discussing who they might get to roll the stone away when they arrived at the tomb and found the open grave. In Matthew’s record, he tells us that a severe earthquake occurred and an angle of the Lord rolled the stone away while the Roman soldiers fainted in fear (Mt. 28:2-4). When the women arrived at the tomb an angel spoke to them and said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying” (vs. 5-6).
Christians recognize these words as a description of the central feature of our faith: the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Skeptics, of course, take a different view, often making fun of this statement of scripture by suggesting that the angel was actually trying to direct the women to the correct location of the Lord’s body. Even a cursory reading of these verses shows how ridiculous such an assertion is.
The risen and exalted Savior was the basis for the preaching done by the apostles on the first day of Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection. The truth or falsity of their proclamation could easily have been proven at the very moment they spoke. In Acts 2:32 Peter said, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” If this statement were not true, all anyone would need to do in order to shame the apostles into silence was to direct the crowds to the tomb and show them the body. It is not surprising that no one challenged Peter’s claim, because the rulers of the Jews knew the truth. In Mt. 28:11 the scripture tells us that the Roman guards told them exactly what had happened.
“He is not here” is the declaration that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Death was unable to hold Him, as it had done all others before Him. “He is not here” is the clarion call to all of honest heart to believe all that Jesus taught during His earthly ministry. It is a call to believe all that His apostles taught as they established and led the Lord’s church thereafter. “He is not here” declared that the Lord was alive and would soon be exalted to the right hand of God to reign until the end of time. “He is not here” is the assurance that the Lord would be with His people always, even to the end of the age, just as He promised (Mt. 28:20).
There were others who had been resurrected before the Lord was. He Himself had performed such miracles on several occasions. No one, however, had ever been raised as He was. In Rom. 6:9 Paul said, “Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again.” Because “He is not here” in the tomb, He ever lives to intercede on our behalf before the Father in heaven (Heb. 7:25). And we who belong to Him, those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, have hope with regard to our own resurrection, which will come at the end of time. Since our Lord lives, never to die again, we have the promise that we, also, will rise one day, never to die again.
As the world turns its yearly attention to the empty tomb of our Lord, let us pray that their hearts will be opened to the full truth about the resurrection, and to the fact that Jesus is now reigning as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). May these truths motivate us to obey the gospel and to live faithfully until death (Rev. 2:10). For in heaven we don’t want anyone to ask about us, “Where is so and so?”, and have the answer be, “He is not here.”
Those who live most of their lives in the fellowship of the Lord’s church are blessed with a plethora of sweet memories associated with the worship of our Father in heaven. Certain songs may remind them of when they were immersed into Christ. Others may remind them of family members now passed. Others still remind them of what the Christian life is all about. One such song is Lead Me Gently Home, Father, which captures the earnest desire of godly people to reach the heavenly goal.
One of the most basic teachings of the Lord is that being His disciple is a journey. In Mt. 7:13-14 the Lord said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The implications of this statement are clear and easy to understand. We all enter one of the two gates as we go through life. Each gate leads to a certain destination. As we live our lives we are making progress to one or the other of those destinations. One destination is destruction, which is a term used here to describe eternal condemnation. The other destination is life, which is used here to describe entrance into the heavenly abode.
It is up to each of us to choose the path his life will follow. We are called by the gospel (2 Th. 2:14) to choose the path that leads to life. We are called by the world to follow the crowd that is rushing, headlong, toward the abyss of hell. We are free to choose either course, but the wise person will choose the path that leads to life.
Just making the choice to enter through the gate that opens onto the way that leads to life is not enough, however. We do not secure eternal life by entering the small gate and then sitting down by the side of the road. Once one becomes a Christian, he must continue down the path toward his heavenly reward until he reaches it. There is much in the New Testament to indicate that this is the case, but Paul the apostle demonstrated it for us in his own life. Near the end of his life he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul was confident of receiving his reward because he had faithfully walked the path that leads to life.
We enter through the small gate that opens onto the narrow way for one purpose only. That purpose is to make the journey, step by step, until we reach the final goal. We do not have to travel as quickly as others, but we do have to move down the path. There is no reward for sitting on the sidelines. This is where the words of this beautiful song teach and admonish us.
As we sing this song we are asking the Father to lead us home. The most important aspect of this sentiment is that it is the Father who does the leading. He does so by means of His inspired word, which our Lord said is truth (Jn. 17:17). Our Lord Jesus said that He spoke only what the Father commanded Him to speak (Jn. 12:49-50). He, in turn, gave this word to His apostles, and to the inspired writers of the New Testament, through the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). Therefore, when we follow the New Testament, the Father is leading us.
Secondly, in order for the Father to lead us home, we must be willing to follow Him. This means that we must place our will under the control of His will. It means that we must be ready to do everything that the Word of God requires of us in order to be obedient to our Father in heaven. In Mt. 7:21-23 Jesus said that only those who do the will of the Father in heaven will enter there. Therefore, let us resolve that we will let the Father lead us gently home by believing and obeying His inspired word. If we do this, He will indeed lead us home.