Mary: I want to tell you about an incredible financial opportunity. “I have a bridge for sale, and for you, half-price, today only. Any takers?”
The most successful con artist in the history of the United States and one of history’s most talented deceivers was the handsome and charismatic George C. Parker.
Parker is best known for his surprising successful attempts to sell landmark items like: Madison Square Garden, the Statue of Liberty, and, you guessed it, the Brooklyn Bridge.
In fact, it is reported that over a period of several years, he sold the Brooklyn Bridge at least twice a week—sometimes for $5,000, one time for $50,000, another time for just $50, what a deal!
Most of the time it was just for whatever he could you to spend, which was pretty much every penny in your pocket. How did he make the sale? He played the role of an over-stressed developer whose health was failing. He just could take it anymore. He showed forged documents that were impressive that showed that he was the bridge’s owner.
Then he’d convince his buyers it was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
They could make a fortune by setting up toll booths on the bridge. Which was all well and good . . . until the police showed up to take them down.
How is it that people could be convinced that the Brooklyn Bridge was for sale? And that the guy talking to them really owned it? And that they could buy it by handing over all the cash that they had on hand?
You might be wondering, Which part of their brains wasn’t functioning?
Have you ever been tricked by a phone call, text, or email, or by someone you met online—only to find out later that you had been scammed?
I was taken in by an email from Apple that appeared to real but turned out to be fake. I spent hours on the first day of our vacation with VISA trying to shut everything down.
Twenty-five million Americans will lose over $2.5 billion to fraud this year. When the con artist is bamboozling you with his impressive names and smooth talk and shell games and playing to your emotions, it’s extremely difficult to spot the deception.
The con in con artist is short for confidence. A con artist convinces you to put your confidence in him and his amazing promises. He plays con games, confidence games, to gain your confidence. He is high skilled at duplicity, cajolery, manipulation, and persuasion.
Now, maybe you’ve never fallen for a financial scam, but I know that you’ve fallen for a spiritual one. We all have. You see, when it comes right down to it, George C. Parker isn’t the most talented con artist in history. That distinction belongs to another trickster—Satan.
Satan is the master con artist—the master! The Bible explains in John 8:44 that the devil cannot tell the truth because "there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he a liar and the fathers of liars” (NASB).
Satan is a pathological liar. He cannot tell the truth. He is the biggest fraudster, scammer, swindler, and victimizer of all. He’s a thief that comes only to kill and to steal and to destroy. He is constantly trying to sell you a bill of goods.
Every day he tried to sell you Brooklyn Bridge through lies, all sorts of lies—especially lies about God and lies about sin.
Genesis 3:1–6 records the story about how this evil fraudster tricked Eve. This was his sales pitch. We are just going to pick out a few of the verses in this passage. The sales was:
Satan asked her, “Did God actually say that you should not eat of any tree in the garden?" (from v. 3).
Now Eve responds. She explains that God had stipulated that only one tree was off limits and that the punishment for eating of it was death.
Satan responds, “You will surely not die! For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5).
Now, Satan didn't say a lot. When you pick it out of the passage, it’s just three sentences. But what he said was extremely cunning. His words were jam-packed with lies.
Lies about God, that God doesn’t tell the truth; that God wasn’t good; that He wasn’t trustworthy; that His ways were too restrictive. He was holding out on her. He really didn’t have her best interests at heart. He really didn’t love her.
Lies about sin, that it isn’t as bad as God says that it is; that she wouldn’t suffer any consequences; that she’d experience these amazing benefits.
But the main concept that the serpent pitched to Eve was the idea that she could do things her own way. She didn’t need God’s input. She had the capacity to make good decisions without His help. She could be the judge.
Satan essentially told her, “You have the right. You have the power. You have the potential. You can figure things out for yourself. You don’t need anyone telling you what to do. You are a smart, strong, independent woman, and you better start acting like one.
Eve mulled it over, and then she bought in to Satan’s sales pitch.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Eve was duped. She was deceived. Satan played her—he played her. He convinced her to place her confidence in his words rather than in what God said.
How did he do this? He didn’t win her over with an intellectual argument. He didn’t sit down and have a debate of the merits of what God said. No, he appealed directly to her senses, to her desires, and to her emotions.
The fruit would give her what God was withholding. It would satisfy her in a way that God could not.
When I was a kid, one of the Sunday school teachers drilled an acronym for sin in my head. Sin—S-I-N: Sure Is Nice. The devil, she emphasized is always going to tell you that sin is nice. He is in the business of making sin look nice.
The forbidden fruit looked so good. It looked great. It looked attractive, alluring, beautiful. It was a delight to the eyes. It looked harmless, tasty.
Eve was hungry, so hungry. It looked good for food. She didn’t think it was going to kill her. It held such promise. It was desired to make one wise. Anybody who wanted to be somebody would surely take a bite.
If the fruit hadn’t seemed so appealing, do you think Eve would have fallen for the offer? If it had been rotten and crawling with worms, do you think she would have considered disobeying God? I don’t think so. Of course not!
What makes Satan’s offer so alluring and so deceptive is that they always look so good. Sin, S-I-N, sure is nice. That’s the lie that Satan tells you.
I watched an interview online with a Washington top fraud investigator. He said that a con artist’s central strategy, and the central strategy of every con artist that he had ever encountered and interviewed, was the same. Their central strategy is to get their victim’s “under the ether” by by-passing their reason and appealing to their deep, emotional desire or feeling.
You know what ether is, don’t you? Ether is also known as laughing gas. Dentists sometimes give ether to patients to relax them and make them cooperative. Under the ether the patient feels happy, so happy that she doesn’t notice and she doesn’t care that her teeth are getting drilled.
Satan got Eve under the ether. She wanted to feel fulfilled. She wanted to reach her potential. She wanted to be happy. According to the serpent, all she had to do for her dreams to come true was to bite into the forbidden fruit. So simple.
I reminds me of the story of Snow White. You know the story. The dwarves warned her not to let anybody in and not to eat anything that any door-to-door salesman might offer her. But then the evil stepmother shows up disguised as an old lady peddling apples.
Snow White refuses, “No, no, no.” But then the peddler tells her this, “It’s a magic apple. Just one bite, and all your dreams will come true.”
It was a sham, of course. Biting into the apple didn’t make Snow White’s dreams come true, and biting into the fruit didn’t make Eve’s dreams come true. The ether wore off pretty quickly, and the horrible sin set in.
It produced appalling consequences in her body, in her mind, in her will, in her emotions, in her relationship with God and her marriage. Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in destructive consequences for every human who has ever lived.
Sin. Sin. It looks so attractive, so harmless, so promising. God says there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality in my life. But that TV show sure is entertaining. That fantasy I’m replaying in my mind excites me. Indulging is harmless, right? It looks so good, smells good. It’s harmless. It’s going to be good for me.
God says that marriage is for life, but my husband doesn’t love me. The guy at the gym thinks I’m amazing when I’m with him! I feel so alive, so nice, so good, so attractive!
God says not to slander, but I have the chance to make her look bad and me look good. I think I’ll take a bite.
God says to exercise self-control. Death by chocolate . . . ha.
Each day Satan hold out a basket of delicious looking fruit and invites you to indulge. Maybe the fruit he is peddling to you is lust or pornography, illicit sex, adultery, cohabitation (living with someone you’re not married to), sexual impurity, substance abuse, stealing, lying, profanity, criticism, complaining, bitterness, malice, unforgiveness. Maybe it’s impulsivity, insolence, insubordination, materialism, comparison, envy, hardness of heart, contempt, lack of love. Have you indulged? I have.
Whatever it is, Satan will try to get you under the ether and convince you that the pleasure and benefits you’ll receive from doing it your own way are worth it—are worth any potential consequences.
Though you intellectually know that it’s sin, the ether, the delusion, and the deception of the promised benefits motivate you to indulge.
Many of you are living with the tragic, painful consequences of your sin or of sins committed against you.
Sin may look attractive, and the ether may keep you running after more, but the wages, the payment of sin is death. That is what God says. You take a bite and it will kill your spirit. At night when you are lying in bed when you are alone with your thoughts, you know that to be true
Missy was enamoured with a man that she met online. She thought he was Prince Charming. He romanced her, took her to Hawaii, professed his love. There were a few things that she was concerned about, but it didn’t matter. She was under the ether.
She didn’t realized that he was emptying her bank accounts and taking out lines of credit in her name. She was being scammed by a con artist.
Derek Alldred claimed to be a decorated war hero, a doctor, a lawyer, or a professor. He romanced dozens and dozens of women across the country over the years.
He’d take them on lavious trips. In some cases he moved in with them or proposed marriage. He went to church. He knew the Bible. He was handsome, personable, and came across as entirely legitimate, and they were all smitten. He claimed to love them, but all he was doing was using them.
He stole their identities, stole their credit cards, emptied their bank accounts, their retirement savings, and even their children’s college funds.
Over the years this con artist left a trail of financially and emotionally broken women in his wake. A whole bus load of women testified against him in a court in Texas last month.
Many of you have fallen for Satan’s lies. We all have. But here’s a question I want to ask you: Has he got you under the ether right now, when it comes to sin? Because Satan is the master con artist.
He will use you, abuse you, steal your identity, and rob you blind. Only the truth can set you free from the con artist who has got you under his spell.
The truth that is found in the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. The truth can set you free from the death spiral you are in. It can set from the sin. It can set you free from the guilt, from the shame. It can set you free from the brokenness, from bondage, from defeat. It can set you free to love holiness more than you love sin. It can set you free to love obedience more than you love self-determination and self-indulgence. It can set you free to love Jesus more than you love anything.
“Those whom the Son sets free are free indeed.”
Jesus wants to set you free from the deception of sin and help you see sin for what it is. He wants to set you free from the power of sin. He wants you to step into His mercy and grace so that sin loses its draw and its death grip over you.
I’m going to read the passage from Ephesians 2:1–5, and then I’ll read another passage from Romans.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
I’ll invite the worship team to come up. I want to read this passage from Romans:
Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires. Do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness but as those who are alive from the dead offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourself to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you because you are not under law but under grace.
Thanks be to God that you who were once slaves to sin have now become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. And having been set freed from sins, you have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:12–18 translation unknown).
God wants to set you free from the lies Satan is telling you about sin. He wants to set you free to look at sin for what it is. He wants you to stop falling for the con artist who is scamming you.
Then He wants to give you the power to look, to see it for what it is, and to walk away.
Would you please stand.
What is that sin. Close your eyes for a moment. We’ll spend a moment here with the Lord.
What is the sin that is attracting you, that you are looking at and it looks attractive. It looks harmless. It looks promising. What is that?
Holy Spirit, would You please reveal to us our sin. Thank You that You show us our sin—not to condemn us, but to set us free, for forgive us, to release us from that death grip that the con artist has over us.
Would you take a moment right now with God and just confess? Say, “God, I have been attracted to ____.”
Now I want to pray for you. May your eyes be opened to sin and that you walk in the authority and the power that God has given you to say “no!” to sin.
That’s the thing about becoming a Christian; that’s what God gives us—the power to refuse.
Father, I thank You that there is no sin big enough that the cross cannot take care of it. Thank You that You forgive us; that "if we confess our sins, You are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 KJV).
Father, we come to You as Your children, Your daughters. We ask that You’ll open our eyes to sin; that You’ll help us to see it for what it is; that You will help us to say “no” to the con artist who’s trying to deceive us, and that You will make us alive to God and dead to sin and that we may serve righteousness.
Thanks be to God that we who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the Truth. And having been set free from sin have become slaves to righteousness.
All Scripture is taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted.