Easter is approaching and so your groups will need to work out if you’ll take a break or keep meeting and how to end your term together and how and when to pick it up again. I plan to meet for the last time this week with my groups and then reconnect in the week beginning 20th of April. That gives us a two week break.
A new movement has begun around Jerusalem where God-fearing Jews are turning to Christ because of the apostle’s teaching on the resurrection in Jesus’ name. Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 both share the excitement and joy that came from knowing God’s grace. This was the first Christian community anywhere in the world. They were all one in heart and mind and shared things graciously. One example of giving was selling property for the benefit of others. Barnabas (born Joseph) was a great example of an encouraging man who took care of people before property.
“Now a man named Ananias…also sold a piece of property.” Barnabas was a great example of the kind of things that the Christian community were doing but now, Luke, wants to tell us about Ananias. In contrast to a good example, we have Ananias. BTW: There are two other men named Ananias in Acts: the disciple of Jesus: 9:10-19; 22:12; the High Priest: 23:2; 24:1.
“With his wife’s full knowledge…” Ananias and Sapphira didn’t just make a miscalculation in MYOB – they conspired together (see v9). The issue in this event is not that they kept part of the money to themselves but that they paraded the lie that they had sold property and given all the money to the apostles. This was premeditated deceit, greed and pride.
“…put it at the apostles’ feet.” 4:36 describes what is happening here. The money wasn’t going into the apostle’s pockets or going toward a better sound system, it was being handed over to the apostles in order to be handed on to those in need amongst the believers.
“How is it that Satan has so filled your heart…” This is a remarkable allegation. A Satanic influence is probably what is in mind here rather than a Hollywood-style possession. It’s not exorcism that they need but a right attitude toward God and the gospel (see Mark 8:33) . They didn’t have hearts and minds influenced by the Grace of God (Acts 4:31-37) but by the lies of the Deceiver.
“…you have lied to the Holy Spirit…you have not lied just to human beings but to God.” A few things to pick up on here. Firstly, that the Holy Spirit is God. He is not an agent of God or a messenger from God but he is God – carrying the authority, uniqueness, and glory of God. Secondly, Peter is not concerned about himself being lied to but that God is being lied to – it’s not Peter’s kingdom that he is leading. Thirdly, the issue arising from this passage is that the church must be motivated by the gospel and not by copying others. Ananias and Sapphira owned the property and nobody demanded that they hand it over! Once the field was sold, they still had possession of the money to do whatever they wanted! The issue is not what they do with the money but what they think of God and His Spirit. Are the events in Acts the work of mankind or the work of the Spirit. A and S had the misunderstanding that this was a visible church only where charity displayed godliness. But it is actually an invisible church where we worship God is Spirit and in truth. The church ever since, has been mixed with true Spirit believers and those who are copying what believers do.
It is startling how direct Peter is with both A and S. This is not necessarily a prescription of how we should speak with one another BUT it is a temperature of how serious the situation is! I might reflect a bit on this in the application section.
“Ananias…fell down and died.” The two commentaries that I have on my bookshelf explain away this event as either a cardiac arrest after receiving the shocking challenge from the apostle or that the whole story is just legend! My bible just tells me that they fell down dead and then three hours later the same result happens to Ananias’ wife. It seems obvious that this is an act of God. I suppose modern day coroners may have done an autopsy and concluded that cause of death was unknown.
“…carried him out and buried him.” It is very unusual that they just buried the man straight away instead of organising a burial. It shows the finality of this event. The account is putting across the seriousness of lies and deceit, false religion and false faith. Reading this account teaches us to fear God – it’s not about fearing or mourning death.
“…is this the price…yes, that is the price.” This information in the story makes it clear that the issue is about lying – not about not giving enough.
“…How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord?” Can you imagine the discussion at the dinner table the night that A and S made this decision together?
“We can be generous like Barnabas! We actually have MORE property than him!”
“Yes, we could definitely sell off that field over by the gully – nothing has grown there for ages!”
“Great! Let’s sell that and give the money to the church! People will see how generous we can be!”
“Well, hang on, that will be a lot of money. Let’s set some aside and use that for fertiliser, we’ll take the rest and put it at Peter’s feet. They’ll still have plenty and we’ll have contributed even more than Barnabas.”
“I’ve also got to give some blood to the Red Cross so I’ll catch up with you about three hours after you hand the donation over. I’ll see you at the celebration!”
Of course, I don’t know how they went about conspiring but they probably expected to be welcomed with their gift instead of rebuked and terminated.
What stands out in this passage, I’m sure you see it, is the extreme retribution for such a subtle sin. The contrasts in the passage are huge. Rather than praises, they receive death. Rather than a white lie, they are accused of befriending Satan. Rather than insulting the church, they are directing their insults at God.
“Great fear seized the whole church…” Another contrast is that previously, great praises and amazement had filled the church – now it is fear. To fear God is not out of place even for Christians. He is loving, merciful, gracious, abounding in steadfast love, but he is also Judge and the giver, sustainer, and taker of life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away – blessed be the name of the Lord.
Note that this is the first occurrence in the scriptures of the word “church” being applied to Christians. This word means assembly. In the OT the equivalent word referred to the synagogue and the assembly of God’s people meeting there. It’s good to see that the word here doesn’t refer to a building (see Acts 5:12) but to the believers.
The power of God continued to be with the believers as some among them demonstrated their allegiance to Satan and his deceitful lies rather than the gospel of grace. God’s true church will not be mishandled by those still seeking their own kingdom.
- Pray for our church that those amongst us who are still manipulated by Satan and influenced by his thinking will see the glory of God in the power of the gospel.
- Thank God that he has revealed to us who he is. That the Spirit is God as the Christ is God and as the Father is God. Not three gods but the one God – three persons – one God.
- It’s important that we are not scared of Satan but that we do fear God. Satan’s influence comes again and again in the scriptures as being able to deceive us and steer us away from the grace of God. God is the one who is the author of life and the author of new life. While the believers were celebrating and rejoicing in their new life in the Spirit, Ananas and Sapphira were only aware of this life – their goals and priorities showed it.
- Contemplate what it means to be part of the church. Does your mind take you to property and ceremony, to certain days of the week and tithing…or does it go toward a new living community that is experiencing and practicing grace-filled love and caring? In other words, is church a duty or a community?
- The Spirit of God put an end to the false charity of A and S. The Spirit was blunt about the response to this fake love. We don’t have the same qualifications as the Spirit of life but we can contemplate how much patience we are to have toward people who give to the church without truly understanding the grace of God. This is an opening statement to a longer conversation but what Acts 4 and 5 has shown is that God is creating saved souls alive for the gospel – not a money gathering organisation.
- Where is your heart? Has God captured it? Or is Satan still flirting with it? (or vice versa!)
- As I write this blog, I’m struck today by a few people I’ve met who just don’t understand the gospel. Of course, many people – thousands in our area – don’t understand the gospel and need to be introduced to Jesus. But I’m struck by those who have been a part of the church – our church – for many years – and who have mistaken gospel service of others with just good human spirit. They have embraced a theology of self-improvement and hoping that God loves them instead of embracing Jesus. It makes me sad and a little angry – rightly or wrongly.
Prayer for the week
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank you for the new life that has come from your mercy and your grace. We pray that our community of believers in Campbelltown will grow in their knowledge and love of you so that we put to death the lies of the devil and embrace true worship of you. Amen.