Summary: Just as he had spoiled the perfection of Eden, Satan attempted to disrupt the community of the early church through the Ananias & Sapphira incident.
Turn with me again this morning to the Book of Acts. We’ve been talking about the Church, and last Sunday morning we were looking at the amazing life of the early church in it’s first days as it’s described in Acts 2 and 4. This morning I want to continue on where we left off, reading from the last part of Acts chapter 4.
READ: Acts 4:32 – 5:14
What an incredible story! [Re-tell the narrative briefly]
Can you see the headlines in the Jerusalem papers the next morning? …
- (Jerusalem Gazette) – “Local pastor kills church members”
- (Judean Morning Age) - “God did it, says killer pastor”
- (News for Israel) – “Pharisees say - We told you they were dangerous”
In this story we see several striking images. The first image or picture we see is that of …
1. Gifts Laying at the Apostles’ Feet
- The community of the early church. We talked a lot about this last week. They were DEVOTED people. Devoted to their new life in Christ. Devoted to the Lord. Devoted to worship. Devoted to outreach. And devoted to one another. (2:44-45 – “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” And again in 4:34-35 – “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.”
- The outstanding example of Barnabas (4:36-37)
- So life in the early church was humming. They were experiencing something absolutely remarkable. It’s a portrait of revival!
[Transition: “the melancholy BUT”]
“Every person, and every church, in it’s best state has it’s ‘BUT’” (Matthew Henry). There is no perfection this side of Heaven.
We see here the stubborn honesty of the Bible. God refuses to present in His Word an idealized picture of anything. In the midst of the glory days of the early church, and all the powerful things that were taking place – when you or I would probably like to sweep aberrations under the carpet and just focus on the good stuff – God includes this ugly account.
The first image we see is gifts laying at the apostles feet, but the second image now is …
2. Ananias & Sapphira Lying at the Apostle’s Feet
This story tells of a blight that came upon the wonderful community that the brand new church was experiencing.
a) Their sin DEVISED
- The complicity between them
- Love of money - 1 Tim 6:10 / Matt 6:24
- Desire for pre-eminence – e.g. Diotrephes (the sin of “impression management”) Gordon McDonald: “Half the sin in the world comes from trying to LOOK, instead of trying to BE, what we are not.”
b) Their sin DISCOVERED
- Hebrews 4:13 – “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
- Peter’s word of knowledge
- Some have judged Peter harsh (particularly in light of the recent forgiveness HE had experienced). But don’t “shoot the messenger”! This is not Peter’s judgment – it’s God’s.
c) Their sin DEFINED
- Lying to the Holy Spirit
- No doubt Ananias & Sapphira had no conscious thought that they were setting out to “lie to the Holy Spirit”. At worst they perceived themselves to be lying to men (though they probably couched even that in other terms to quiet their conscience) Nevertheless, GOD pronounced it lying to the Holy Spirit.
- Ananias & Sapphira’s sin was that of the “counterfeiter”. Counterfeiters try to create a fake and pass it off as the genuine – the original. There’s all kinds of counterfeiting goes on in churches (double-lives and so on). The Bible describes it as “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”. WHO are we really lying to? Others? (Yes, but more so …) To ourselves? (Yes, but again even more so …) To GOD! And guess what? He CANNOT be successfully lied to! He is never deceived.
- Our sins are always FIRSTLY (primarily) against God – see David’s prayer after sinning with Bathsheba (“Against Thee, thee only, have I sinned.”) Not a denial of his real sin against Uriah and (arguably) Bathsheba, but a statement about the reality of sin’s offense firstly against the Creator.
- Like David, Ananias and Sapphira imagined that God did not see. So their lie to men was also a lie to God.
- Sideline note - They willingly lied to the leadership of the church, not considering it a great thing to do so. But God took it personally as a sin against Himself. Cf: Exodus 16:8 (murmerings against Moses). A sobering warning here that contempt for God’s appointed leadership is contempt for God Himself.