(December 8, 2017) Robert and Maureen McQuillan share …

Great! It’s almost Christmas! And what a joyous time it can be!

This Sunday several churches with present their Carols by Candlelight evening, believing for a grand turnout of joyous Christians to celebrate the birth of the Saviour of this fallen world – and to worship our gracious God from full hearts.

Of course many Christians are aware that ‘Christmas’ as such isn’t mentioned in scripture, that no one really knows the exact date, let alone month, when  Jesus was born – but that’s okay for those who really know what this season is truly  all about and celebrate from the heart, not the head!

We’re really celebrating God’s incredible love for every sinner in willingly giving us his Son, born incarnate of the virgin Mary and destined to become our redeemer by dying on Calvary’s cross as our substitute for sin’s penalty (John 3:16).

Traditionally Christmas is a 5F matter… food, family, fun, fellowship and freebie gifts. But the genuine Christian aspect is all about our celebrating that God so loved the world that he freely gave us the greatest gift of all – Jesus – and that forgiveness and full salvation is available on repentance of sin to everyone who accepts Jesus as Saviour.

What an amazing event that so-named ‘first Christmas’ was!
No wonder the angelic host heralding that first good news declaration proclaimed to the bewildered shepherds: ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David’s town… Glory to God… Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

And no wonder the overwhelmed shepherds immediately agreed, ‘Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.  

This Luke 2 Message account adds: ‘They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed… [They] returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.’

The first missionaries? Well, not quite… but they were so overjoyed they wanted others to discover what they had and to likewise believe this declaration from heaven was good news for everyone on earth.

Religious deception spoiling the ‘first Christmas’ scenario
Some other happy details are often included in the ‘first Christmas’ story. Matthew 2 tells of certain rich scholars determined to discover the Christ child … the Magi, who had travelled far from the east to find and genuinely worship him on their knees (that’s what this kind of worship is – proskuneo – prostration before a new royal!).

But from verse 3 on, we learn of a religious deception intrigue…

These honourable seekers, not Jews but Gentiles, had come to Jerusalem looking for the one born king of the Jews. On learning this Herod the current king was immediately disturbed (and probably depressed due to a character flaw) at this news, indeed terrified (v11Mge).

Herod, history records, was self-centred, desiring 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, in this ‘first Christmas’ story, he endeavours to deceive these Magi, even sounding spiritual to them. Having conversed with local religious leaders about messianic scripture predictions, he arranges a secret meeting with the Magi.

The Message reports: ‘Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared…”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 centred king had no intention of fulfilling his word, of prostrating himself before this new king! In his jealousy and insecurity, he obviously felt threatened and had murder, not worship on his mind and in his heart!

The Magi fulfilled what was on their minds, their hearts… they found not a babe in a stable (phatne), but the young child (paidion) in a house (oikia), knelt down and worshipped him and to the amazement of Mary and Joseph from their treasures presented the richest of gifts in adoration (Luke 2:11).

(Side-thought: Joseph would soon be warned in a dream to take Jesus and Mary into Egypt and to stay there for some time, safe from the evil Herod. Ever wonder how they survived financially? Through this godly carpenter’s trade alone? Or also by the encouraging hand of our ever-providing, caring God through those valuable resalable ‘Christmas gifts’).

After humbly worshipping the young child, the Magi were warned in a dream to go home by a different route and avoid Jerusalem’s troubled leader. Obediently they did – to the annoyance of upset Herod: When he later realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and ‘…flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills’ (V16).

The point here is not about timing/places/age re how the ‘first Christmas’ story is presented but this… even as religious deception by the enemy slithered into the garden of Eden sometime after the arrival of ‘the first man’ here in what we call ‘the first Christmas’ was a deceptive religious spirit active again on the arrival of the new ‘second man’ (‘heavenly man’ – 1 Corinthians 15:45)!

Both were intent on destroying what God had supernaturally organised out of deepest love and care for his creation!

Dangerous deceptions are ever rampant
Deception, such as Herod and Satan 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 Timothy 4:1).

In 2 Timothy 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.’

Always the need to be on guard
To some the Message 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 regarding an editorial we’d written about gullible Christians falling for deceiving, seemingly religious so-called ‘prophets’ – one that we had thought we’d worded rather strongly: ‘Robert and Maureen (likewise Dr Jim McClure and Stuart Reynolds) …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 make it sound so spiritual, saying, “Oh, the Spirit told me. I know I’m right.”’

An astute pastor friend also emailed along these lines, 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 (even over the recent ‘Yes/No’ vote).

Cheng, a friend Maureen and I 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 our friend’s (actually a good biblically sound) church had taught and subtly suggested he leave that denomination and church.

Now because Cheng is newly arrived from Asia and hasn’t yet got a full grip on English or ‘Aussieisms,’ but, thank God, he was feeling a little unsure of this glib speaker’s approach.

New Christian that he is, Cheng knows the Holy Spirit and was aware of his inner leading and followed through on the warning sensed within. He just knew that something wasn’t right and was wisely seeking our clear guidance as he knew that he could fully trust us.

Willingly Cheng accepted our explanations regarding what we picked up 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 KJV calls a seducing spirit. Cheng immediately said he’d have nothing further to do with this person with his hidden agenda.

Even more recently, a converted Muslim friend whom we’ve been strongly encouraging shared sorrowfully that he was sensing that certain statements from visiting speakers weren’t quite right and not scriptural, that something just didn’t sit right. His heart was troubled and although just a new Christian he was feeling uneasy especially as he could not get clear biblical answers from his pastor whom he expected to know better.

Here too we shared about the Holy Spirit guarding sincere believers away from deception even in certain churches and directed him to linking scriptures. Immediately he felt relied and reassured of Jesus’ warm love, protection and guidance. He too, merely a new Christian, is on his guard… how much more should be ‘older, wiser’ more experienced and Bible-read Christians be?

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.

Back to Herod of the ‘first Christmas’ story… he 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, know the heart and ways 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 friends mentioned above from those seeking to have their own way by deluding them with their beliefs is both being responsible and 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.

Christmas 2017
Incidentally… appreciate and enjoy this Christmas!

However your church presents this time of worship… Christmas in the church, park, hills or community hall; whether it’s angels, shepherds and Magi all at once – let the heart of Christmas resound!

Jesus Christ came, glory to God! Salvation came to this darkly troubled world freely given to all humankind to receive with joy in faith – and is still available today! That’s the real ‘first Christmas story’!

May Charles Wesley’s popular carol be sung with renewed vigour and heart-felt passion, joy and gladness…
Hark the herald angels sing ‘Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled.’
Joyful, all ye nations rise; Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim: ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.

May the real message of Christmas go forth in churches this year resulting in great church worship and growth… let’s hurry like those humble shepherds and searching Magi to discover and share! 

And have an exciting Holy Spirit directed 2018 – without any subtle religious deceptions!

(Scripture and other emphases ours). Links: Geraldine Brandt’s /   Jim McClure’s   / Ed Delph’s   / George Forbes’  

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