God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
Last post from the book of Acts we looked at how God’s Spirit was manifested in the life of Barnabas. If you’re interested you can learn more about that here: Encourage One Another: Acts 4:34-37. In today’s post we’ll learn about a couple who sinned in a way that’s common to nearly all of us, and how God responded to that sin. And we’ll examine the why behind God’s response.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.Acts 5:1-11
Our last post sets the scene for what’s about to happen. In our last post we saw how “the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” And we saw how “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” And with great power the apostles were sharing Jesus. And the owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Barnabas the great encourager was among those who sold property and laid the money at the apostles’ feet.
And “great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:32-37)
Now, in the midst of all this abundant grace, a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira also decide to sell a piece of property. But they want to keep some of the money for themselves, and yet, they also wanted to be seen as people who sold their property and gave up the full amount to the apostles for God’s people, even as others had done.
So they made a plan to say they sold their property for less than they actually had. The price, they would say, was for the amount we’re laying at the apostles’ feet. But in reality, they sold their property for more, and they held some back for themselves.
When Ananias lays the money at Peter’s feet, Peter says: Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the money from the land you sold? Before you sold it, it was yours to do with as you wished. And after you sold it, was not the money at your disposal to do whatever you wanted with it? Why then did you contrive this in your heart? You haven’t lied to a man, but to God.
Upon hearing these words from Peter, Ananias dropped dead. And great fear came upon everyone who heard about it. The young men wrapped him up and carried him out to be buried.
About three hours later Sapphira comes in, not knowing what had happened to her husband. Peter said: Tell me, is this the amount for which you sold your property?
And she said: Yes, that was the price.
Then Peter said: How is it you and your spouse agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? The feet of those who buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out too.
Immediately she too dropped dead. And the young men carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
And great fear came upon the whole church and upon everyone who heard about these events.
The Sin of Ananias and Sapphira
When Peter speaks to Ananias he makes it clear that Ananias was free to sell or not sell his property. And even after he sold it, Peter explains, Ananias was free to do whatever he wanted to with the money. There was no sin in not selling the property in the first place. And there was no sin in selling the property and using the money for something other than a contribution to the group of Jesus followers gathered there in Jerusalem.
The sin that was committed was lying to the Holy Spirit. (As an aside, we see here that the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Trinity. In Acts 5:3 Peter tells Ananias he has lied to the Holy Spirit. Then in the very next verse Peter tells Ananias he has lied to God.) So holding back money wasn’t the problem at all. The problem was the lie. Many people today might not even call what they did a lie, but they might describe it as an exaggeration. This gives me chills because at different times in my life I’ve fallen in similar ways. I’ve exaggerated who I am. I’ve exaggerated my contributions to a given group. And it’s not just me. So many people I know have fallen into this temptation. At any rate, God responds to their exaggeration, or lie, or whatever you want to call it, by striking them dead.
God’s View of Sin and How He Communicates at the Beginning
It’s the beginning of that time when the followers of Jesus were entering into Church life, and we see God do something similar at the beginning of the time when God’s followers were entering into the promised land. The morning before Jericho fell, Joshua told everyone of the nation of Israel not to touch the spoil. He gave these instructions, “. . . all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” Nothing was to be taken from Jericho for themselves.
But Achan the son of Carmi saw a beautiful garment, and some silver, and a gold bar. And he broke faith in regard to the devoted things and he took them for himself and hid them.
God of course knew this and when the Israelites went into battle against the next city, God wasn’t with them and thirty six men died in battle.
When Joshua inquired of the Lord as to why they lost this battle, God told Joshua the Israelites had stolen and lied and taken devoted things for themselves. And He said the Israelites wouldn’t be able to stand before their enemies until those who sinned were dealt with.
So God revealed that it was Achan. And he and his family were stoned.
In subsequent battles, Israel was instructed to take the spoil for themselves. (Joshua chapters 6-7)
In the early Church, when there were subsequent exaggerations and lies, people didn’t “fall down and breath” their last.
So there appears to be this response from God in the beginning of things. And it would seem that He wants us to recognize how serious He is about sin. Not very popular to say, but it’s a truth we see here in our text today. God is serious about sin. I believe God is serious about sin out of love for His children. He knows better than we do the repercussions of sin. He knows how destructive it is for us. I believe when we’re in His presence, after we pass over from this life into the next, we’ll all have an enlightened understanding of how devastating sin really is. But God already has that enlightened understanding and in His Word we see Him do things to communicate that understanding.
And God is powerful enough to cause someone to “fall down and breath” their last.
Not surprisingly great fear came upon all who heard about what happened to Ananias and Sapphira.
God’s Power and the Fear of God
Again, something not popular, but the fear of God is a good thing. It’s a good thing because it helps us to be in the best place in our relationship with Him. I don’t know about you but every time I board a plane I look at the jet engines and think about those articles I’ve read where someone standing too close gets sucked in and — well — you know what happens when you’re sucked into a jet engine. It gives me the chills every time I think about it. If I’m standing in the wrong place in relationship to a GE CFM56 jet engine that produces up to 34,000 pounds of force, I’ll be sucked into that jet engine and ground to pieces. But if I’m where I’m supposed to be, maybe thirty feet away from the dangerous place, inside the cabin of the aircraft, then that CFM56 is the best thing ever. It’s what makes it possible for me to soar into the heavens. It takes me to good places.
I have similar feelings when I think about elephants. Elephants are amazing but I never want to be on the bad side of an elephant. One step of the elephant onto any part of me and that part of my body is crushed.
I consider both jet engines and elephants to be good things. But although they’re good they’re also powerful. So I have these concerns or fears if you will.
Well, here’s the thing: God is infinitely more powerful than an elephant or a jet engine. God is the One who created all elephants and He is the one who created the people who used His created materials to produce the jet engines that fly through His created atmosphere. God is the One who created the world the elephant and all creatures live in. And He created the solar system our world inhabits. And He created our galaxy and our entire universe and everything that’s in it. He created the eagle, and, He created the Eagle Nebula — which is seventy light-years long. And the Eagle Nebula is only 1/755th the length of the galaxy it inhabits, the Milky Way. And the Milky Way is only one of two trillion galaxies.
Two trillion galaxies.
What kind of power does a being have to have, to create what our God has created? What kind of knowledge must a being have, to create what our God has created? He is incomprehensible. We can know He is good because He sent His own son to die for us. And we can know of His love because we see it in His gospels when we read about Jesus. But the power. His power. God’s power is beyond our understanding and anyone who doesn’t fear Him hasn’t thought this through. (If you’re interested in exploring God’s creative capabilities further, you might like this article: God’s IQ.)
So because of His power, and because of His knowledge, when we see what He teaches us about sin: we should fear Him. And we should take sin seriously because God, who knows infinitely more than we do, takes sin seriously.
We should fear Him and do what we can to make sure we’re in the best place in our relationship with Him.
When we do that we avoid destruction.
When we do that we can even soar.
Image of the Eagle Nebula via Wikimedia Commons
Love Like Jesus by Kurt Bennett, now available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.