Lesson 12: A Period of Calm/ Ananias and Sapphira/ God Demands Sincere Obedience
Welcome aboard, for another leg of our journey through the book of Acts. Thus far we have seen how Jesus appeared to his apostles several times after his resurrection from the dead before he ascended into heaven on that 40* day. We have seen how Jesus promised the apostles spiritual powers, in that the Holy Spirit would dwell in them and direct them. Also he left specific instructions with them to wait in Jerusalem, which they did along with a number of other disciples. An appointee, by the name of Matthias took Judas' place in this ministry restoring the number of apostles to 12.
After 10 days of waiting, these 12 received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, according to that promise and began to speak with other languages, which they had never learned. The apostles preached to a crowd of Jews that had assembled at Jerusalem from every nation under heaven. 3000 were convinced that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. They repented and were baptized for the remission of sins. The Lord's church was established. This was the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus spent 3 '/2 years teaching and preparing the apostles for the establishment of this kingdom. Jesus dies on the cross and give his own blood to purchase and cleanse this institution. This church is not a building or some man made organization. Only our Lord can add to it and only our Lord can subtract from it. The church IS the saved, the children of God, those redeemed by the blood of Christ.
The disciples who composed the Jerusalem church are an example unto us. They used every opportunity to teach about Jesus and grow in the faith, right in the face of national hardships and religions persecution from their own Jewish brethren. The church grew rapidly. The Lord confirmed the word in the apostles by wonders and signs. They spake the word of God with boldness. At the time of the incident recorded in Acts 3 and the first 31 verses of Acts 4, the Jerusalem church must have consisted of at least 10,000 members, counting men, women and children. We now direct our attention to the remaining six verses of Acts 4 (v. 32-37). Luke describes another period of calm, among the life of believers. These verses remind me of the section at the end of Acts 2. Let's see how they lived and solved their problems. Read with me v. 32 -37.
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was given upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation,) a Levites, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
In verse 32, the followers of Christ are referred to by the word "multitude." They are also referred to as "them that believe" and they were of one heart and one soul. That is, there was perfect harmony and perfect agreement among them. They were not divided into various cliques and various clans each with their own set of by-laws. They were not governed by the creeds of men, councils and conventions. Never was a congregation of the Lord's church more united than this body of believers at Jerusalem. Jesus had requested this, in the 17^ Chapter of the book of John. Where one of the last prayers of Jesus to the Heavenly Father is recorded. Jesus prayed this prayer on that Thursday night before He was crucified on Friday. While the eleven gathered around their master at the Feast of the Passover, Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father. This prayer consumes 26 verses, the entire 17th Chapter of the book of John. Please read Chapter 17 of John. Did you notice how Jesus prayed that his followers would be united? The word "one" is used six times in that prayer, v. 22 in that chapter said:
that they may be one, even as we are one.
Every time, the word is used in similar context, petitioning that unity prevail among the disciples. Jesus knew, that if this little band of followers stayed united; with one heart and one soul as Act 4:32 says; He knew that then, and only then, they would overcome the world. The New Testament teaches unity of believers from the beginning to the end. Division is condemned with the same fervor. Perhaps you have heard public prayers in our day, thanking God that we can worship in the denomination of our choice. Lord, bless every man in his own faith (denomination). Think how different this wording is than the prayer you just read in John 17. The two concepts areas diametrically opposed as night is from day, or north is from south. You see, Jesus asked that we be ONE. Today, people are encouraged to go to the denomination of their choice. Everyone has a different choice. Everyone is doing what THEY want to do, going where THEY want to go; then, they asked the Lord to bless them in what they do. Jesus said;
If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).
It's just that simple. Jesus said;
He that is not with me is against me (Matt. 12:30)
Denominationalism in our religious world today has far exceeded the divisions and sectarian separation known in the days of the apostles among the Jews. We have already discussed the Pharisees, the Sadducees and all that division in the Jewish religion. In was wrong the, and it's wrong today. It seems any doctrine a man is capable of thinking up can be found in our world today, if we look far enough. A different denomination is meeting on almost every corner. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus said:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom ofheaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast our devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Now, v. 21 said, in essence, that NOT all religious people will be saved, only those that DO the will of God. Verse 22 is a scene at the judgement. In v. 22 Jesus says many are going to argue with him at the judgement. They are going to ask questions, I would assume sincere questions. Some think the words "Lord, Lord" implies insincerity, apple polishing, or flattery. He gives three questions they will ask as examples. # 1 - some will argue:
Have we not prophesied in thy name?
They are saying, Lord, surely you remember me, I taught in your name, don't you remember? The 2nd argument is this:
And in thy name cast out devils?
Surely you remember ME Lord! They are saying they did miracles in the name of Jesus. Get that? Lord, don't you remember me? You MUST be mixed up! Here's the 3ri question:
And in they name done many wonderful works?
Do you get their argument? Surely Lord you remember me. Why? I was a Sunday School teacher, I've done miracles in your name, I've done MANY wonderful works ... IN YOUR NAME. Lord, surely you remember me. And then, can you imagine Jesus' answer in v. 23?
And then will I profess into them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Notice: Jesus did NOT say - "Yes, I knew you once but then you ceased to follow me." Jesus said: I NEVER knew you.
Obviously, some are going to be disappointed at the judgment. Did I say some? Jesus said "many." Now, we're talking about good religious people, good moral people, but they are NOT doing the will of God. The last word hi v. 23 is an interesting word, "iniquity" (the dictionary says it means - "a very great injustice... a wicked or unjust act.) Is it just or equitable for us to go where we want to go, worship the way we want to worship, follow the creeds we want to follow? And then expect God to bless us for having our way? What is a servant of God, anyway? You answer the question! Try to analyze the words in the last verses of Acts 4. Try to visualize how this multitude of believers fulfilled the prayer of Jesus in contrast to the religious divisions we know today. Notice how these believers attained this unity. They were of ONE heart and ONE soul, v. 32. They did not look upon their possessions as their own. They considered themselves stewards in God's vineyard. They had all things common. This is not some communistic, communal or militant concept. It is based on love, sharing and common concern. This does not violate the concept of property rights. Quite the contrary, everyone respects the property of his brother, he doesn't have to guard it, fence it, lock it, insure it against theft. It's God's system.
In v. 33, the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: with great power. I think you recall, these apostles were ordered not to do this by the council in v. 18 up above. It takes courageous people to serve God. Great grace was upon them, they were all blessed. The church conducted it's own welfare system (v. 34 - 35). There was no government welfare, just taxes. Those brethren believed in caring for the needy, the widows, the orphans, and the down and out. They believed in it, to the extent they were willing to share the goods or properties they possessed. The expression: "laid it at the apostles feet", most likely didn't literally mean that. It means, as we would say - with no strings attached. According to v. 35, the apostles acted as elders of that congregation. They distributed that which was contributed on the basis of need.
Verses 36 - 37 record how a man by the name of Barnabas contributed money from land he sold. I do not know why Barnabas was singled out as an example. It may be he was a close friend of Luke. It may be because he is discussed later in the book of Acts and was active in missionary work outside of Judea. Thus, Luke may just use this opportunity to introduce him to us here. The parenthesis in v. 36 and the comment on his name merely means he had been nicknamed by the apostles. He was given the second name of Barnabas, which in then-native language meant one how consoles or comforts another. It might be a little like this: assume one of your neighbors, we'll call him Joe, walks for exercise. If he passes your house every day, you might refer to him as Joe the walker. It was common in those days for a person's name to mean something in relation to his life style and activity. Some translations give Barnabas' first name as Joseph. You can see, by this remark, that Joses Barnabas was looked upon as a great comfort to his brethren. There is some indication his nickname had reference to his ability as an orator. They did show appreciation and give credit where credit was due. They were just like one big family. God was their heavenly Father. They were God's children. It might be mentioned here, just in passing, this Barnabas was apparently an uncle of John Mark who wrote the second book of the New Testament (Col. 4:10). We shall meet John Mark also in this study of Acts. According to the last phrase in v. 36, Barnabas' ancestors must have lived in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Although they lived hi a foreign land, they were Jews by race, as the world "Levite" indicates. Verses 32 -37 give us a picture of life among the believers. It would appear, that the resistance movement of the Jewish leaders was having no perceptible impact at that time.
Now, the first eleven verses in Acts 5 tells of an internal problem that arose in the Jerusalem church. You see, the church may be persecuted by outside enemies, as we saw in the first part of Acts 4. However, one of the greatest and most inexcusable destroyer of the church is internal division, factionalization, lack of faith and those who would hypocritically exploit and extort the church, by those who claim to be members. The case we are going to read is the first recorded of its kind in the Christian age. Let's read v. 1 -11 in Chapter 5.
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 Satin 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, would 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.
Notice the introductory word "But" in v. 1. This shows the contrast in this incident of Ananias and Sapphria with that of Barnabas recorded at the end of Acts 4. Notice both sold land. You see, Ananias and Sapphira pretended to contribute the price of a certain land to get recognition and glory from then-brethren. But secretly they had conspired together to lie about the price, in an attempt to extort personal gam and influence. It is easy for us to lose sight of the fact, our lives are an open book before God. I hope that you understand, Ananias and Sapphira were not required to appropriate this land or any part of the price to the church. That point is made clear by Peter's questions in v. 4;
While it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?
There only sins were then- lying attempt to extort personal gain and influence. It was not a sin for them to have the land, to keep the land of the price they received from it. You see, they could just as easily have been honest and said we are contributing half of whatever percentage it was. They could have invested the remainder as they saw fit. It was then- money. As Peter's question makes it clear. It was in their power. Instead, they saw here an opportunity to extort influence, have their "cake and eat it too." This information was revealed to Peter through the Holy Ghost. Ananias and Sapphira were made examples for our benefit hi the Christian age. Apparently God wanted it indelibly impressed on his people, we cannot serve both God and mammon. Verse 5 means Ananias was struck dead. A similar example was made of a man named Achan in Joshua Chapter 7, just after the Ten Commandments came into force hi the Jewish Age. The words "wound him up" hi v. 6 has reference to their method of burial. Apparently, they used a narrow roll of cloth, to wrap the body, sort of bandage style. It is ironic, that Sapphira was not informed of her husband's death until the last moment of her life and that her husband was buried so quickly. It could be they withheld this information from her, giving her an opportunity to confess her sin. But, what ever the case, she met the same fate as her husband. Notice, the last part of v. 5 says,
and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
The message came through even to those who were not Christians. You see the first eleven verses in Acts 5 are like a grave maker in full view of any hypocrite that would elect to enter the church. The epitaph on that tombstone says, "God will not tolerate worldliness in the church." You should notice, the Bible treats everyone on an impartial basis. Barnabas was given a place of honor. The story of Ananias and Sapphira was told like it was with the cold, unvarnished facts. God demands sincere obedience.