David Jeremiah - In a World of Deception, BE HONEST
The Romanian Revolution of 1989 brought to an end the brutal reign of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, and the entire story can be wrapped up in one word. The word is "deception". From the very beginning, Ceausescu's 24-year rule was saturated with falsehood. He deceived the Romanian people when he described the utopian vision of the nation that he planned to build, promising the end of oppression and the beginning of prosperity. Now, of course, instead of that he delivered an iron hand that crushed his own people and squeezed his own nation dry.
Nicolae lauded himself as a man of unprecedented talent in the world claiming the titles of the supreme embodiment of God, hero of heroes, worker of workers, and first personage of the world, and Elena his wife made sure the Romanian press referred to her as a model to be followed up by all the women in her country, the legendary mother, and the most just woman on Earth. Those were words of deception. Those who were deceived by Romania's leaders were not limited to Eastern Europe, either. They basically deceived the whole world. Queen Elizabeth knighted Ceausescu, the United States government granted his country most favored nation trading status, and former Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, credited Ceausescu with mediating Anwar Sadat's peace mission to Jerusalem.
In reality, the Ceausescus were as evil as Hitler. They just didn't have the opportunity to work on his grandest scale. They were in every sense of the word liars and master manipulators. Deception is common in our world today, and it's also a frequent topic throughout scriptures, and while the practice of deceit began in Genesis chapter 3 in the garden of Eden, it seems to occupy an especially significant place in the prophetic passages of the New Testament. When the disciples came to Jesus asking him about the future, Jesus began his response with this serious warning. Here's what he said. "Take heed that no one deceives you". "Take heed," said Jesus, "that no one deceives you". The status of deception in the world of the end. According to Jesus, deception will play a major role in the world of the end. While we should always be on the alert for lies and misdirection, the Lord warned us to be especially watchful for spiritual deceit as the day of his return approaches.
Matthew 24:23 and 24 reads like this: "Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ' or 'there,' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect". Jesus specifically instructed his disciples not to follow or fall for these false claims. If the idea of people claiming to be the Messiah sounds strange or far-fetched, know that even in the 1st century there were several who made that claim. Fifty years after the fall of Jerusalem, a false messiah came on the scene. The Jews were now ready to follow anyone who would lead them in a new revolt against Rome, so when the courageous fighter Bar Kokhba appeared he naturally took on himself the aura of the long-awaited messiah. He said, "Here I am. I am your messiah".
On one occasion Bar Kokhba supposedly caught a stone from a Roman catapult and threw it back, and when the current rabbi heard about that he exclaimed that this man must really be the King, the messiah, and gave him the name Bar Kokhba, which is taken from Numbers chapter 24. It means, "There shall come forth a star". So he was anointed as the messiah. Of course, he was not the messiah, and his rebellion ended in tragedy for God's people. The Bar Kokhba Revolt was also known as the second Jewish rebellion, and it was put down by the Romans in AD 135 when Hadrian led Roman legions to once again destroy Jerusalem and the surrounding area. It resulted in the death of over a half a million Jewish people because of his deception.
In every century since the first, men and women, there have been imposters who have claimed to be the Messiah, but that is not the only deception about which Jesus cautions. In his sermon he says to his disciples in verse 11, "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many". For every one imposter who claims to be the Messiah, there are at least ten false prophets who will rise up to claim knowledge they do not have about a future they cannot know. They are false prophets.
For example, back in 1843 a New Englander named William Miller came to ardently believe that Jesus Christ was going to return. Unfortunately, he began to speculate about the date of that return using dubious mathematical calculations. He collected mounds of data. He analyzed it and was certain he had made no mistakes. He confidently announced to his followers that on March 21, 1843, Jesus Christ would return to the earth. At midnight on the appointed day, Miller's devoted followers dawned their ascension robes, trekked into the mountains, and climbed towering trees to get as high as possible so they would have less distance to travel through the air, but the day came and went and the Lord did not return, and the trees became really uncomfortable.
And so a dejected band of Millerights trudged home to a late breakfast on March the 22nd, accompanied by the jeers and catcalls of their neighbors and friends. It was a sad and bitter day for those deeply disappointed men and women, but Miller is just one example of many false prophets in history. Frankly, when we read that false prophets based their predictions on their study of the scripture I can't help but wonder what Bible they were studying because, you see, if there's one truth about which we can be absolutely certain, it is this. The date of our Lord's return is unknown and unknowable by anyone on this earth. Scripture makes that very clear. Here are just a representative three verses.
Matthew 24:44, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect". Matthew 25:13, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming". Mark 13:32, "But of that day and hour no one knows," listen to this, "not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father". Did you know that when Jesus was on this earth Jesus did not know when he would return? Somebody said, "How could that be true? Wasn't he the Son of God? Wasn't he on mission"? Yes, he was. But for the time he was on this earth, he voluntarily divested himself of the independent use of his attributes. So while he was on Earth, he lived as a man. He knows now, and he's looking forward to it, but when he was on this earth Jesus did not know when he would return. The angels do not know when he will return.
So here's my question. If Jesus doesn't know while he's on this earth and the angels do not know, how in the world did you find out? I mean, it is so ridiculous because it is so clear. I've read three verses. I think there are 12 verses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke where it says you cannot know the hour. We should always be ready for the return of Christ, but we should never give dates. Miller did it, and many others did it. Whenever you hear somebody say they know when Jesus is coming back you know they are wrong because you cannot know that, and the scripture says that very plainly. So no matter how orthodox we may be, no matter how committed we are to the Word of God, no matter how much we think we could not be vulnerable to deception, history teaches us that even faithful men and women have become susceptible to the deception of the enemy.
Jesus said be careful that you be not deceived. That danger will increase greatly as we move nearer to the world of the end. That's the status of deception. Here's the source of it. The spiritual deception that Jesus warns us about isn't mere happenstance. There is someone behind these deceptions; and that someone is none other than Satan, the evil enemy of our souls. He is the father of lies and since the very beginning of human history one of his primary weapons against us has been deceit. In the book of Revelation, John describes him like this: "The great dragon, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world". Here's what Jesus said about Satan in John 8:44. He said, "He was a murderer from the beginning. He does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. And when he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources; for he is a liar, and the father of lies".
Spiritual deception may be Satan's most insidious weapon against those of us in the church. Jesus and his apostles speak of it nearly 30 times in the New Testament. Did you know that? Satan is a liar. He's a serpent, he's a deceiver, but he masquerades as something else and so do those who follow in his footsteps. Here's what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second letter in the 11th chapter. He said, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light". Deception has always been the weapon of choice of our enemy, and when this deception is full blown in the period surrounding the Rapture it will be unlike anything that has ever happened before on this earth. But the birth pangs of deception will be felt throughout the earth before the Rapture, and many prophetic scholars believe they are being felt already today.
While I don't consider myself a prophetic scholar, I believe the deception birth pangs have already begun. Have you experienced the increasing saturation of deception in our society? I know the answer has to be yes. We feel it when politicians regularly fail to follow through on campaign promises. We feel it when media personalities tell us that up is down and dark is light. We feel it when scientists make outlandish claims about basic biology that do not stand up to common sense. We feel it when governments practice censorship in the name of protection and persecution in the name of peace.
Someone asked me one time, "How in the world will the Antichrist ever deceive the whole world"? You know what? We're preparing the way for him. We really are. If we can be deceived as blatantly as we're being deceived right now, the Antichrist is going to have a heyday. It won't be hard for him. If he says it, we'll believe it. The status of deception in the world of the end, and the source of it, and the strategy of deception in the world of the end. If you have your Bibles with you, I hope you will find your place in the third chapter of Genesis. I want to take you through Satan's strategy. This will impact you if you listen carefully.
Someone will say it convicts you. Well, you know, conviction always comes before change, so that's good. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, "We are not to be ignorant of Satan's devices". 2 Corinthians 2:11. As followers of Jesus, we need to know our enemy so that we can stand against his schemes, including the scheme of deception. Thankfully, we can learn a great deal about Satan's strategy by studying God's Word. The strategy Satan implemented in the garden of Eden is the exact same strategy he tried to use on Jesus Christ in the wilderness, Matthew chapter 4, and it's the same strategy he uses on you and me today, and it's the same strategy he will use in the end times. Satan's only got one plan. He's only got one game plan, one strategy. He uses it over and over and over again. And if you want to know what it is, you can find it out and then you can be a little more prepared not to let it happen to you.
So I'm going to show you how he works. First of all, Satan disputes God's Word. The first thing Satan did when he tempted Adam and Eve was to dispute God's Word. Genesis chapter 3, verse 1, "Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, 'Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?''" Satan immediately tried to water down what God had said to change it just a little. He suggested to Eve that she may not have heard God correctly. Here is how this happens to us today. We have the clear, plain Word of God in front of us. It tells us we shouldn't do something we would really like to do, and the next thing we know someone sidles up to us and tries to give us an alternative interpretation of the text that will allow us to do what we know God doesn't want us to do. That is a moment of decision.
We have to choose at that moment either to accept the truth of God's Word as it is written or to allow ourselves to be deceived. Satan told Eve that God didn't really mean what he said. Then Satan denies God's Word. Next, Satan said to Adam and Eve, "You shall not surely die". Wait a minute. The road from doubt to denial is not very long. And when Satan said, "You shall not surely die," he was brazenly contradicting what God had said. See for yourself. Genesis 2:17, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it". What does it say, class? "You shall surely die". It is important to note the sequence here. Doubt opens the door to denial.
If Adam and Eve had not listened to Satan in the beginning, they would not have been victimized in the end. And every time you try to find an interpretation of scripture that will permit you to do something you know is wrong in your heart, every time you give a little ground up to the enemy, you open the door until Satan can drive a truck through that opening and dump a load of stinking garbage in your life, and he will do it every time. Satan disputes God's Word, and then he denies God's Word, and then he displaces God's Word. He said to them, "If you do this, you will be like God". He told them, "If you do what God told you not to do, you will be like God".
Can you believe that? I mean, if you just put that out there in a little circle and nothing around it you'd notice it, but it's kind of buried in the context. Satan was putting into their minds the same disturbing thought that had once entered his own mind, the same impulse that had transformed him from the anointed cherub to the devil of hell. That is the master strategy of Satan. He first disputes, he then denies, and then he displaces the Word of God. One of the easiest places to see Satan at work in the world today is to observe how our culture treats sin, how innocent it seems to shift aside the pure truth of scripture when doing it suits our purpose. For instance, lying doesn't seem bad if we're trying to spare another person's feelings. Adultery doesn't feel as wrong when we describe it through doublespeak as an improper relationship.
Gluttony and addiction aren't the result of personal choices but genetic disorders or chemical imbalances. When we allow Satan to sow doubt in our minds that some sins are really not sins after all, we have opened our hearts to his deception. Quickly then, right and wrong get turned upside down and God's Word is replaced with our own wisdom. He disputes God's Word, he denies God's Word, he displaces God's Word, and then he discounts God's goodness. This is really subtle, but please notice. Genesis 2:16 and 17, "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'"
Notice how generous God is. An abundance of goodness was offered freely, just one restriction, yet look at how Eve reframed God's original command when she spoke with Satan in Genesis chapter 3. "And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden.'" Do you see what's missing? Eve omitted God's gracious provision that she and Adam could freely eat of every tree in the garden. In other words, her comprehension of God's provision was not merely as magnanimous as God intended it to be. Satan had gotten to her with his evil implication about God. Listen carefully. When you start to question the grace and goodness of God, you are on the road to deception. Don't allow Satan to push you into thinking God has abandoned you or that he has not been good to you. It's when you open the door to those kinds of thoughts that you'll find Satan has sown his seeds of deception in your heart.
Let me ask you a question: Is God good? Has he been good to you? Have you had a good week? You've probably had some problems like I have, but it's been a great week. And God is good and life is good when you walk with the Lord, but Satan doesn't want you to believe that. He wants you to believe God is a stingy, compromising person. The Bible tells us that Satan disputes God's Word. He denies God's Word, he displaces God's Word, then he discounts God's goodness, and he dramatizes God's restrictions. How many times I've heard young people talk about this. Adam and Eve not only discounted God's goodness; they dramatized God's restrictions. Perhaps I should say they overdramatized God's restrictions. They added to them.
Nowhere do we find that God told the first humans not to touch the forbidden tree, but Eve said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'" Again, God never said that. He made no mention of touching. "What difference does that make"? you say. "Isn't that kind of nitpicking? Isn't that kind of silly"? No. It's a good question, and I think the answer is that when you give Satan an inroad into your life you will soon be thinking less of the grace of God and more of the law of God. You'll be focused on what you can't do rather than what you've been enabled to do, and the next thing you know you begin to think God doesn't really care about you and maybe he isn't interested in your welfare at all.
"So what difference does it make? I should just do whatever I want to do". That is how deception gets into your lives. Almost every week of my life as a pastor, I've seen that demonic process play out. It happens to young people. It happens to older people. It happens to new Christians and individuals who have been in the church for years, to the rich and to the poor, to the highly educated and to the high school dropouts. Whenever we overemphasize the boundaries in our lives, we allow ourselves to be deceived. And then this is the last one. Satan diminishes God's penalty. Eve said, "Lest you die". Now, that's not what God said. God didn't say, "Lest you die". God said, "You will surely die". Verse 17 says, "But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat of it you shall surely die".
Eve left out the surely-die part and changed it to a simple lest you die, and the latter sounds like death is something that might happen. It could happen. It's a possibility. The former makes it clear that death is inevitably connected with sin. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The wages of sin is death. It's easy for modern Christians to just start reading the Word of God and see maybe when the text is definitely or to hear consider when the scripture says obey. When you do that, you leave yourself wide open to the deception of Satan. Listen to me, friends. The devil doesn't want to help you. He wants to destroy you. He doesn't want to build you up He wants to tear you down. He doesn't want to set you free. He wants to enslave you. And Jesus said this about the devil. He does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly".
So there you have it: the status of deception in our world today, the source of it, and the strategy of it. Here's the solution to it. What is the solution to our world being driven deeper and deeper into deception? What is the answer to Satan's strategy of deceit? You know what the answer is simply? It's the truth. That is the answer we need, and that is the answer Jesus provides. We know that because he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life". Jesus doesn't just tell the truth. He's just not about the truth. He is the truth. He is the truth. That means Jesus is utterly dependable and trustworthy. You can take him at his word. When you meet him, you move from false to true, from deception to reality, from relative confusion to absolute knowledge.
Let's think practically, though. What can we do in our everyday life that will help lift up the value of truth to a world drowning in deception? Three things. First of all, tell the truth. Let's be frank. Many people feel comfortable with little lies. They call them white lies, minor misdirections. "Yes, the check is in the mail. No, officer, I wasn't aware I was driving that fast. I had no idea I wasn't supposed to use my friend's account for that streaming service". As a culture, we have convinced ourselves that dishonesty is only dangerous if it actively harms another person. We are fooling ourselves because the scripture says, "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord". Not lying lips that hurt other people, not lying lips that get you in trouble, just plain simple lying lips are an abomination.
The Lord does not want us to lie, and all deceit is deadly. This is an especially deadly and dangerous trap for Christians. We see our culture becoming more and more saturated with major incidents of deception and when we see that we become more comfortable with what we believe to be minor lies. We think, "It's just a little bit dishonest, not anywhere close to the way my coworkers lie all the time". Yet because of who we are, because of our identity as children of God and ambassadors of the King, even a little deception can cause massive damage to our lives, to our loved ones, to our testimonies. For that reason let us speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
In the words of Paul, "Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him". Tell the truth. You know, it's so interesting. I've been in the church all my life. My daddy was a preacher, so I tell everybody I had a drug problem. I was drugged to church since I was a little tiny baby and been going ever since, and so I know the church. I've lived in the church and I know what it's like.
When I first became a pastor back in the '70s, one of the things that was true, when you have a pastors meeting you couldn't pray before you told everybody how many you had in Sunday school the day before, and the rumor was that pastors weren't always honest about their numbers. That was a rumor. I heard of one discussion that went like this. "If I lie about my statistics and you know that I'm lying about my statistics and I know that you know that I'm lying about my statistics, isn't that like telling the truth"? No, it's not like telling the truth. We're supposed to tell the truth, the unvarnished truth. Ask God this week to help you be totally truthful, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.
So tell the truth. Then secondly, test the truth. There's an interesting moment in the book of Acts that is helpful when we think about truth and deception specifically in terms of the danger that false teachers and false prophets present within the church. Here's the passage. Acts 17:10 and 11, "Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. And when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so". Do we do that? Do we search the scriptures daily?
You say, "Oh, man, I come to your church, Dr. Jeremiah, and you teach from the Bible". You have my permission to go home and check about... what I say if it's not right, if it's not in the Bible, if I'm not being true, you should... don't send me an email. Make an appointment. The Bereans did not reject Paul simply because he presented something new. They did not accept what he said simply because he was passionate and knowledgeable. The Bereans invested their time and their energy into determining what was true by studying the scriptures daily. The Bible tells us that if you go to the scripture and you ask God ahead of time to help you understand it, he will do it. He will help you understand it and you will know whether it's true or not.
Have you ever been around somebody who's espousing some new thing? And in your heart as you listen to it you're trying to be respectful, but you just feel like in your heart there is something wrong with that, man. That doesn't sound right. Well, if it doesn't sound right, don't do anything until you can get it to sound right because it'll get you into trouble. Oftentimes the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, helps us to recognize error that we can't even explain to ourselves. We just know in our heart that is not actual, that is not true, and what you don't want to do is to let untruth into your life. So don't just tell the truth, test the truth. 1 John 4:1 says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world".
Tell the truth, test the truth, and then teach the truth. One way for us to stand against deception is to tell the truth at every opportunity. Another is to test what the world and even the church tells us is true. But finally, we can lift up truth in a world of deception by teaching the truth. Teach it to those who need to hear it. The Bible tells us in the book of Colossians that as believers we're to teach one another or to teach the truth in such a way that we lift people up, help them understand we have been called by Almighty God to be a part of his forever family.
Recently, a 67-year-old woman was caught shoplifting in the city of Stockholm, Sweden. Her method was to place grocery items in a woven bag: Christmas ham, meatballs, sausages, cheese, and more. And then she attempted to leave the store while covering those items with another bag, and the clerk noticed what the woman was doing and confronted her. Now, here's the really strange part. The woman in question was one of the justices on Sweden's Supreme Court. On the one hand, this woman's crime was relatively minor. I mean, for many around the world, shoplifting is not a big deal. Here in California it's almost expected that people will steal from stores and suffer no consequences. So this woman had not transgressed the law in a major way, but listen carefully. Because of her status, because of who she was, because of her identity as a representative of the law in her nation's highest court, she was forced to resign and was prosecuted for her theft.
My challenge to us all is this. We cannot change the world. I don't know when it was, but sometime probably in the last 10 years or so I gave up on that. I can change the world one soul at a time. I can't change the world politically. You can't change the world by any other means. The world is changed one person at a time when people receive Christ. I feel badly for so many people who spend all of their time as Christians trying to change the world. I dare you to find one passage in the New Testament where the Christians were trying to change the Roman world. They lived in that world.
And so here's what I want you to understand clearly. Jesus's message to his four disciples on the Mount of Olives telling them what was going to happen in the future was not given to make them smarter about what would happen but to help them understand what would happen so they could be the people God wanted them to be in the midst of that situation. That is the whole force behind this series of messages. I don't want you to be smarter about the future, although there's nothing wrong with that. I want you, I want me, I want to be the person God wants me to be so that no matter what happens I can be his person and be a difference maker in the world in which I live. To the vast majority of moderns there is no such thing as objective truth. "We create our own truth," they say. "You have your truth, I have my truth, and your truth is no truer than mine".
Satan has effectively inserted this false definition of truth into our culture. It's in our schools, and it's even in some of our churches, but you cannot be a genuine Christ follower if you embrace this idea. Listen to me. Every true Christian should know and love the truth. Scripture says one of the key characteristics of those who perish, people who do not go to heaven, is that they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved, and the clear implication is that a genuine love for the truth is built into saving faith. It is therefore one of the distinguishing qualities of every true believer. In Jesus's words, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free".
So what I want to say to all of us today, I say to myself first and before I say it to you, those who are listening on the internet or wherever this is heard, don't spend your life trying to undo the deception of the world. You are not strong enough, big enough, influential enough. But what you can do is you can follow Solomon's advice. He said, "Buy the truth, and do not sell it". Isn't that a great verse? I love that verse. Solomon said, "Buy the truth, and don't sell it".
So this week let's not only buy the truth, let's be the truth. Let's tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Let's stand against the things that are false by standing up for the things that are true. Let's stop posturing and actually be the people we want people to think we are. This is what I know. As we ease into the days that Jesus is telling us about in Matthew 24, the world is watching and it is time for us to be the truth. 3 John 3:4, John wrote to this little congregation to whom he was writing 14 verses in that chapter, and 6 times the word truth is found in that book. Here's what he said. "I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth".
Let's be people of the truth this week. When we catch ourselves starting to move away from that, let's catch ourselves up short and say, "No. In this deceptive world, I will be the truth. If I never say anything to anybody, if I never get in a conflict with anybody about what's happening, when they think about me they will know I stand for the truth. I am a representative of the truth". People of the truth, here's our marching orders for the week. Be the truth. You be the truth. Jeremiah, you be the truth. Let's go into this world of deception and lies and falsehood and let's by the grace of God let's be the truth, and all God's people said amen.