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The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 5

John Baugh

August, 2009

 

Acts 5 (New American Standard Bible)

Significant Events From Chapter 5

 

Fate of Ananias and Sapphira

1But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet.

 

3But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4"While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."

5And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 7Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

8And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price."

9Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well."

10And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

 

The story that Luke shares concerning Ananias and Sapphira is tragic. It is stark and difficult to deal with. The outcome is terrible. Luke makes a statement twice that may help us see the lesson in their story.

 

"and great fear came over all who heard of it."

 

There are facts concerning Ananias and Sapphira that we need to remember:

 

1 - The choices they made led to their death. They chose to send a false message of support to the other believers (claiming to give everything from the sale of their property, when they held some of it back. They claimed faithfulness in excess of what they actually did.

 

2 - They were not rebels against God. They were weak and false in the expression of their relationship with and commitment to God.

 

3 - Every thing we do, every choice we make has consequences. We become what we choose. Not only do our actions shape and form our character, they affect the character of others around us. Many are altered by the choices we make.

 

Peter asks two questions n verse 3 and verse 9. To Ananias Peter said in verse 3, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?”

 

Ananias and Sapphira were under no obligation to sell their property and that is what Peter says. His words were - "It was yours to do whatever you wanted with. You are the steward of it. You’ve been given the responsibility before God to decide about it. The church is not in charge of this. There’s no apostolic commandment to sell all your property. You could give a portion of the price of the land and keep a portion of it.”

 

What the couple did that was wrong was to misrepresent themselves. Peter asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie?” The problem was that Ananias was a hypocrite. He wanted the reputation of generosity. He wanted to be known as someone who responded to his stewardship responsibility as a thoughtful, caring, generous soul who gave without any hesitation the things that might bless another. But he didn’t deserve that reputation.

 

In verse 9, Peter asks Sapphira, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” The idea behind Peter's question is, "You have convinced yourself that God either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care what you are doing. You’ve decided to test either God’s oversight of his church, or his righteous standards.”

 

Ananias was questioned about their desire to fool the congregation, Sapphira with their determination to test God’s authority.  Both of these choices were foolish and led to judgment.

 

In his book, The New Study Bible - Acts of the Apostles, William Barclay writes about the obvious things that may be gleaned from this account:

 

1 - The power of suggestion on the human mind is very powerful.

Ananias and Sapphira knew what they were doing when they sold their land and claimed to give all of the profits to the church. As their actions became public, they were painfully aware of what they had done. Peter was correct in his evaluation of the situation when he told Ananias that he had lied to God and that was the problem - not that he had lied to the church.

 

2 - The apostles were held in incredible respect by the early church.

The atmosphere of respect of the early church contributed to the effect of Peter's words to Ananias and Sapphira.

 

3 - Sin is sin against God.

What the couple did was not an act against the church. It was an act against God.

 

4 - Failure to use our talents is a failure to God, who gave us whatever talents (how great or humble) we have and our duty is to use them for His glory. We hold our talents in stewardship for God and to squander them for ill is to demonstrate poor stewardship of God's possessions.

When the couple falsely held back the moneys from the sale of their property, they were holding back from God, and not the church.

 

5 - Failure in truth is sin against God. When we fail in the truth and slip into falsehood, we sin against the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Their falsehood was to God and not to the church.

 

There are truths that need to be said before leaving the first 11 verses of Chapter 5:

 

1 - It is interesting that the Bible never pulls punches. The first 11 verses of Chapter 5 present difficult matters that are confusing. The harshness of what Luke reports is difficult to deal with, especially in light of how casually some treat their obligations to The Lord, today.

 

2 - The things Luke wrote about in his day seem to fly out in opposition to the feel good brand of Christianity that many follow today. The most that can be said after reading the first part of Chapter 5 is that the things reported here could happen again.

 

12At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. 13But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

 

Luke tells us that several things were happening during this time. In verses 12-16 we see a picture of the life of the early church and of the Power of God's Holy Spirit:

 

1 - They met in public in Solomon's portico of the Temple. This was one of the major courtyards of the Temple and many would have seen the believers worshiping there.

 

2 - For whatever might happen to them as the result of this public display, they met in one accord.

 

3- Miracles were being performed by the Apostles as they led the church. At this time, the church was still a congregation witnessing miracles.

 

4 - The acts of the early church led many people to conversion. Multitudes of believers were being added to their numbers. Many people were responding to the call of the Gospel. People were accepting the message of the Apostles and accepting Christ as Lord. They were sharing with their friends, neighbors and associates who were also coming to Christ. The entire city was being affected by the lifestyle and witness of daily life presented by the believers.

 

5 - For at least some (Peter), the acts of the Holy Spirit were great. Great acts of healing were common in this church. Through the Apostles, blessing was being expressed, not only to those who were becoming believers, but to others who were too scared to even attempt faith in Christ, though they were in great need of help. Luke mentions that the people in Jerusalem brought the sick and afflicted out in hopes that even Peter's shadow had power. Nothing is said I Acts that Peter's shadow had any power, only that the people hoped that it would. This indicates that the mere presence of believers without their making contact with anyone may raise hopes, do good, and awaken possibilities for people in ways they aren’t even aware of.

In short, some were healed, some believed, some merely had a shadow pass over them, but in every case the fact that there were followers of Christ in Jerusalem was doing good in the entire region, even if it was just a subtle awakening in people that God might care for them after all.

 

Imprisonment and Release

17But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said,

20"Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life."

21Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23saying, "We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside."

24Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25But someone came and reported to them, "The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!"

26Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned). 27When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man's blood upon us."

29But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. 30"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31"He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32"And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him."

 

There was no way the apostles would not be arrested again. The Sanhedrin had warned them to abstain from their testimony concerning Jesus and their actions in the Temple. In the minds of the Sanhedrin, these men were disturbing the peace and taking authority away from the religious authorities. Lastly, they were rousing up the people, creating unrest that might very well result in intervention by the Romans. There was no way the Sanhedrin could allow that to happen, ad so they had the apostles arrested and thrown in Jail.

Verse 17 says that the Sanhedrin was jealous. Why were they jealous? Perhaps, because with the new Christians, the temple had become a place of spiritual renewal. The work of priests of offering sacrifices and making pronouncements was being replaced by a handful of fishermen who were saying, “God already loves you,” preaching what the angel called “the whole message of this Life.” Healing, the breaking of the power of evil spirits, the love of God, community, hope, life—these things were being given away for free! And none of the Sadducees or the Council or the important people were getting any credit for it; in fact, they were being ignored. So they became Jealous

Verse 28 says that these enemies were guilty. They complained, “[You] intend to bring this man’s blood upon us!” That’s an interesting note, isn’t it? It was not the apostles’ preaching that was making them guilty. The high priest and his associates were the ones responsible for Jesus’ death. They had in fact conspired knowingly to accomplish it. The apostles’ preaching was just exposing their guilt.

In the face of this, after their arrest, there was an intervention. The intervention was from no less than an Angel of God.

 

The actions that occurred after the release of the apostles show:

 

1 - The courage of the Apostles. Going back to the Temple after being commanded to not do so seems foolhardy, and yet that is exactly what the apostles did.

 

2 - They had principles - Their ruling principle, the fact that led their lives was that in all circumstances, they would obey God. This obedience to The Lord came first in their lives.

 

3 - They knew the purpose of their ministry and their lives. They were witnesses for Christ. In their minds, they had known Jesus first hand and were to witness that to the world in Jerusalem. In their minds, it would be impossible to stop the truth.

 

33But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.

 

 

All that Peter and the other apostles did was simply to tell these men the truth. They stood before them and very quietly said, "Look. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you killed." That is a clear statement of fact. "God has exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." That is another statement of fact. "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit." With that simple statement of clear, plain truth, these rulers became jealous, violently furious and enraged, and set about to kill them. 

 

Gamaliel's Counsel

 

34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.

 

35And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36"For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37"After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38"So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."

40They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

 

Gamaliel was a Pharisee and a teacher of the law. We will learn later that he was responsible for the teaching of Paul. Luke tells us that he held apposition of respect among the people. His words to the Sanhedrin were unexpected and helpful to the apostles as they stood, once again in judgment by those who ruled over the Temple.

 

As a Pharisee, Gamaliel would have had no political ambition. His heart and actions were limited to obedience to the law. It would have been what he devoted his life to and all of his actions. And so in reason, he spoke in their favor.

 

The Pharisees believed that everything is in the hands of God, but that we humans have free will and because of that are responsible for our actions. His counsel was that care should be given in consideration of the Apostles in the case that the Sanhedrin might be going against God's will in judging them. His thoughts were that if the actions of the apostles were in opposition to God's will, that nothing would come of it and in the end it would fail.

 

Here, Gamaliel essentially quoted Peter in his speech, when he said “We must obey God rather than men.” Gamaliel said, “What if this is of God? If it is, we can’t resist it; and if it’s not, it will fall apart on its own.”

 

In Gamaliel's mind, the Apostles were similar to the two examples (Thedeus and Judas of Galilee) he places before the Sanhedrin. If the motives of the Apostles were not within God's will, they would fail.

 

The Sanhedrin yielded to the reasoning of Gamaliel and released the Apostles after flogging them. Their release was accompanied by harsh punishment, but they were released to continue the witness that would rule their lives until their eventual martyrdom. In any event, the apostles did not stop their work. They counted themselves fortunate to suffer dishonor for his name and so they went away rejoicing:

 

1 - They had demonstrated their loyalty to Christ.

 

2 - It was an opportunity to share in the experience of Christ - Those who shared in the cross bearing of Christ would also share in the crown wearing.

 

Perhaps the lesson of Chapter 5 is at the very end of Chapter 5.

The church should not to wring its hands, and say, "Oh what a terrible thing! We're being opposed! These committees against us. This prominent unbeliever constantly speaks out against us, and the powerful won't let us do what we want. What an awful thing!"

That is the wrong attitude. We are to rejoice, like the apostles did. We should count it an honor that we have been called to suffer a little for his name's sake. Opposition is a call to stand up and be counted.

We may consider these to be perilous times for the Church and perhaps they are. Yet the same factors are as present with us and the modern day church as they were in that days of the early church:

1-     There is (still) power present. It is the power of God to change lives, to heal, to restore, to make people whole.

2-     The power of the Holy Spirit is manifest all around us. It is everywhere - all around the work of the church and Christ's people - those he has claimed for Himself.

3-     Truth and liberty, the word of God is not bound. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can hinder it. Nothing can thwart it or change it.

4-     Our physical circumstances are quite irrelevant. They do not make any difference.

5-     Opposition is here. As in past days, it is terrible, frightening and deadly opposition, designed to strike to the heart, to the jugular vein. Someone said "The devil is no pimple-squeezer; he goes for the jugular vein."

6-     There is suffering. But there is also rejoicing in that suffering.

7-     To these things, we are called.

 

 

Copyright © 2009, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries

 

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