It’s virtually Christmas and we should take note that In Matthew 2:1-18 there’s an incident of religious deception that many are not aware of.
Some honourable wise men had brought news of a new king’s birth and that they wanted to worship him. And Jerusalem’s King Herod became disturbed, indeed terrified.
History tells that Herod desired favour with people and things his way. He had even publicly identified himself as religious, claiming conversion to Judaism. Josephus, the Romano-Jewish historian, writes revealingly about him; Modern scholars agree that he suffered throughout his lifetime from paranoia and depression.
Now Herod endeavours to deceive, even sounding spiritual to these magi. Having conversed with local religious leaders about messianic scripture predictions, he arranges a secret meeting with the magi.
The Message Bible reports: ‘Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared.  Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship”.’ 
But this self-agenda king had no intention of fulfilling his word. Verse 16 says, ‘When Herod realised (later) that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem…’ 
Dangerous deception
Deception, such as Herod intended, is the state of being misled by false representation, tricks or illusions or fraud. MacMillan Dictionary lists it as the act of tricking someone by telling him or her something that is not true.
Jesus himself warned against being deceived, especially in the end times.
In Matthew 24: 24, he said clearly that false Christs and false prophets would appear demonstrating signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect – God’s people. 
The Message Bible puts it this way: ‘Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better.’
Paul too,  acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s concern, warned about deception in the end times: ‘The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars’  (1 Tim 4:1).
In 2 Tim. 3:13 he wrote, ‘Unscrupulous con men will continue to exploit the faith. They’re as deceived as the people they lead astray. As long as they are out there, things can only get worse.’ 
A current need to be on guard
To some the Message Bible may sound quite strong here but there is a need today for pastors and indeed every Christian to speak out strongly against religious and satanic trickery. We’ve been hearing recently of a few people deceived by smooth talkers who appear to be knowledgeable about scripture.
A good friend emailed  recently regarding last month’s  blog about gullible Christians falling for deceiving, seemingly religious so-called ‘prophets’ – one that I  had thought I’d worded rather strongly: ‘Robert and Maureen …never hesitate to spell it out or apologise for doing so. A lot of Christians are being so subtly deceived today. We’ve been trying to help such people but just can’t get through. They’re deceived and, worse still, they now sounding so spiritual, saying, “Oh, the Spirit told me. I know I’m right.”’ 
Then an astute pastor friend emailed pointing out a concern that many preachers don’t spell things out clearly. That they merely make suggestions but do not give clear directions or examples to their people.
And even more recently, Cheng, a friend that we had helped lead to the Lord phoned enquiring about someone who engaged him while shopping. This new contact became very friendly, seemed so interested that Cheng was a new Christian and offered to explain scripture for him. At first he seemed so spiritual but then expressed that Cheng shouldn’t accept certain things his church had taught and subtly suggested he leave that denomination, a good biblical church that we had gone out of our way to establish him in. 
Now because our friend is newly arrived from Asia and hasn’t got a full grip on English or ‘Aussieisms’ yet, he was feeling a little unsure of this glib speaker’s approach. 
But at least, new Christian that he is, Cheng is aware of the Spirit’s inner leading and followed through on the warning he was sensing. He felt within that something wasn’t right and was wisely seeking clear guidance from his pastoral friend whom he knew that he could fully trust.
Willingly Cheng accepted our explanations regarding what I was sensing about this Matthew 7:15 ‘ferocious wolf in sheep‘s clothing’ type that Jesus warned about: ‘Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practised sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character.’
It was a case of what Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1 calls a deceiving spirit, what the old KJV called a seducing spirit. Cheng immediately said he’d have nothing further to do with this person with his hidden agenda. 
To delude someone is ‘to mislead his or her mind, to deceive.’ Delusion relates to false beliefs and opinions. This is what enemies of genuine Christianity seek to do – and they’re usually mixed up themselves.
Evidently Herod had been a bit like this. When the magi had shared their good news about the new king, he wanted things his way, to keep his own kingship secure. So he sought, sounding so religious and worshipful to deceive the wise men. But they weren’t deluded. 
Christians, who are experienced in their relationship with the Holy Spirit, are well-versed in scripture and know the heart of God, and can recognise deception and delusion have a responsibility to guard others from such misleading religious trickery of mind. Freeing people such as our friend Cheng from those seeking to have their own way by deluding them with their beliefs is essential.
Proverbs 22:12 says that ‘God guards knowledge with a passion, but he’ll have nothing to do with deception.’ When we hear of God’s word being twisted, misread, misinterpreted, and ‘works programs’ being pushed before God’s grace, let’s quickly reach out with godly passion to help those in danger of being deceived and deluded.

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