Summary: This message focuses on the judgment that tok place during the establishment of the early Church and why such judgment is not taking place today.
Getting Our Attention
After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to His Father, He left His disciples with some work to do. They were responsible for establishing His New Testament Church. To accomplish this task, they needed the Holy Spirit (as do we) operating within them and the people needed to be awaken out of their slumber as it related to having a true relationship with God. In other words, I believe that God desired to get their attention in a major way so that they would understand that a change had come. Today, when we look at some of the things going on in our country and in the world – the legalization of immoral behavior, the increase in doctrinal error in the church, the lack of holiness in the church, etc. – some are asking “Where is God? Why isn’t He doing something as He did in the early New Testament Church? In the Bible some people were judged and then died because of their sins. Why aren’t we seeing this happening today? Where is the judgment against sin?”
Many Christians believe that God is not judging us because we are under grace. For them, grace allows them to do what they want to do and still make it to heaven. But the truth of the matter is we are being judged every day by the standard that God has spelled out in the Bible. And that standard has not changed; neither has God. (I read an article two weeks ago by a theologian who said the Church had it totally wrong as it relates to hell. He said Socrates had it right in that hell was not a place of eternal punishment but what a person would experience when they stood before a righteous and loving God and come to understand how they had rejected Him in life. They would be remorseful and coming to a full awareness of how much God loved them their hearts would finally be broken being filled with shame. After this experience their loving God would forgive them and allow them into heaven.) If this is true, is there really a need for anyone to accept Christ on this side of heaven? Why not do whatever you want to do and then just repent when you stand before God because ultimately you will get into heaven regardless according to this thinking? If we get a second chance when we stand before the throne of God, why bother living a righteous life now? However, if this is not true, why are we so desensitized to sin and its results?
If it is true that we are being judged every day according to God’s holy standard then why aren’t people experiencing judgment when they sin? Why is God withholding judgment? This morning we are going to look at two examples of judgment for sin. The first one is found in Acts chapter five and involves the apostle Peter. The second is found in First Corinthians chapter five and involves the apostle Paul.
I. Ananias and Sapphira
The record we are about to read is probably one of the most referred to passages in all of the New Testament about judgment in the early church. It’s the account of Ananias and Sapphira.
We pick the story up in Acts chapter four beginning with verse thirty-two. We’re not going to read verses thirty-two through thirty-seven, but I encourage you to read them when you get home. The believers were in agreement about what God expected of them including the need to take care of each other. Those who had more than they needed, sold their excess and gave the money to the apostles, who distributed it to those in the church who had need. The passage says the people who had “possessions” sold them to meet the needs of those who were less fortunate in the church. Let me give you an example. One camel is a possession. Two or more camels are “possessions”. Today we would replace “camels” with “cars.” They were more concerned about their brothers and sisters than material gain and attention. Remember the apostles did the distributing. Something to think about: if you have more than one car would you be willing to give it to one of your brothers or sisters if they needed it? This is what we’re seeing in Acts chapters four and five.
Now let’s read Acts 5:1-11. “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.’ And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, ‘Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?’ And she said, ‘Yea, for so much.’ Then Peter said unto her, ‘How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.’ Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.”