Acts 5:1-11 has always been a challenge for me for some reason. It seems pretty straight forward to me, you sell something, you give money to the church, but then he gets punished. That’s how I always read it when I was younger. Face value reading without looking deeper at the context and even subtext. Have I got you confused a bit? I know, I haven’t shared the verse and I’m already digging into it without giving you the text, therefore you have no context about what I’m talking about. That’s how a lot of us read the Bible and live out our lives as Christians. We’ll read a verse and that’s it, we go no further to understand it or the context in which it was written or the culture it was written to. In order for us to truly understand the BIBLE and in order for us to truly have more then a surface relationship with Christ, we have to dig deeper and ask questions and seriously ask GOD, “What the Heck is the writer talking about?” Don’t be afraid to ask GOD questions, HE’s GOD, HE can handle it, and HE’ll answer….probably not verbally, but HE’ll answer your questions. I started reading Acts 5 this morning and at first I got a bit confused as to what was going on and why, but I started digging into it and, well, let me show you.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
I’m gonna stop here and unpack this moment for you. At the end of chapter 4, we read that the growing early church shared everything. They would sell stuff and give it to the apostles to distribute to the needy. That’s not to say they sold all their worldly possessions and lived communally and therefore we have an example that the early church were communists. NO!!! I’m not saying that, and neither is the BIBLE!! What it is showing is that the early church looked out for each other and when a need was identified they gave sacrificially and honestly. If they gave, they gave honestly without holding anything back. Then we come upon Ananias and Sapphira. These two are identified as Christians, followers of Christ, we don’t know if they were recent converts or if they had been following Christ while he was here on earth, frankly it’s irrelevant, because they tried to scam the Holy Spirit. Bad idea. The text shows that he sold a bit of land and then he and his wife decided to divide up the money and keep a portion and donate the rest to the apostles. No big deal, it’s business, maybe they needed it , maybe they had a reason to hold on to their portion. GOD understands our needs, and MAYBE the money was part of GOD’s provision for one of their needs. It would have been no big deal to hold back a portion if they hadn’t lied about it. Did you get that last part? I’ll Say it again: It would have been no big deal to hold back a portion if they hadn’t lied about it. Ananias made a big deal, got money, divided it in half, and then goes to the apostles and publicly makes a point of putting it at Peter’s feet with the implication that he’s giving everything he got from the sale to the church. He wanted Recognowlegement. What is “recognowlgement” you may ask? Well, Recognition and Acknowledgement. He wanted the leadership to see he was giving and he wanted the praise and acknowledgement that he was sacrificing. It wasn’t about the gift, or about the need or about GOD at all. It was about him and what he was doing, and then Peter calls him out on it. Ananias drops dead. Divine punishment. Peter’s lesson this hour: Don’t lie to GOD, HE knows and HE will bring consequences. But the story isn’t over yet. His wife has a chance to redeem herself.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord?Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
So, three hours goes by, Sapphira goes to where the apostles are and they ask her about the money, having not heard from her husband, she goes along with the plan they had. She’s like, “yep, that’s the whole amount we got for the field and we’re giving it to GOD”. BUSTED!! Peter calls her out on the lie and then tells her that the guys who carried her husband out are about to do the same to her. She drops dead and is buried next to her husband.
At face value, it can seem that GOD is pretty vindictive. They lost their lives because they held back money? No, they lost their lives because they tried to lie to the HOLY SPIRIT about the money. If they had just been honest and said, Here is a portion of the profit, no big deal, but they didn’t. They were after the recognowledgement of man. That’s a hard lesson to learn, no warning, no second chances, immediate and dire consequence. It was an important first lesson for the early church: DON’T LIE TO THE HOLY SPIRIT!! It’s also a lesson for us, it may not be the same consequence, but we are have a tendency to withhold stuff from GOD, lie to GOD, even try and be passive aggressive with God. IT DOESN’T WORK!!! GOD knows our hearts and motives, we need to just be honest with HIM and ourselves and seek the blessing of GOD and not man.
Acts 5 concludes with an example of Peter and the apostles fearless boldness. It tells of how they were preaching and teaching and performing miracles and wonders and adding converts, which absolutely ticked off the Priests and Jewish authorities. They’re arrested again, however this time, God performed a jail break (Acts 5:18-21), and they were back at it again. When the Authorities came to interrogate them the next day, well, shocker….they weren’t there. So the Temple guards went to get them, but it’s fascinating because, well, here’s what it says in Acts 5:26: “26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.” FASCINATING!!! The guards were afraid. They asked them nicely and the apostles came respectfully.
Another meeting/interrogation with the Priests. Another angry accusation and warning. How does Peter reply? Acts 5:29-32:
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Peters reply: Can’t and won’t shut up about Jesus. The Priests were infuriated!! They were ready to kill them at this point, but wiser heads prevailed…..and I’m sure that GOD’s hand was in this as well. Read the whole part of the private meeting in Acts 5:33-42, I just want to key on two verses and that is verses 38 and 39:
38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
This came from a leading member of the Pharisee’s. Leave them alone, if it’s not of God, it will fail, if it is of God, then nothing will stop it. And nothing has. The two tie together if you haven’t figured it out: Don’t fight against or lie to GOD. It all comes to light eventually and fighting against GOD is pointless. GOD doesn’t want to fight, HE wants to have a relationship with us, and like any relationship, it has to be built with honesty and trust. So what happened with Peter and the apostles? Well, another warning, and whipping, and they let them go, but it made them bolder and they continued day after day to publicly proclaim CHRIST. With that being said though, the honeymoon was over and the gloves were about to come off. But that’s another conversation.