Acts 5: 1-11
In last weeks lesson, I reminded us of a fact we often forget: things are not what they seem. Referring back to Pauls second letter to the church at Corinth, we looked at Pauls reminder to: look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things seen are temporal; but the things not seen are eternal. So we remember we live in two realms, two spheres- the heavenly, spiritual realm and the earthly realm. We are to be spiritually minded and not earthly or carnally minded. For Paul tells us in Romans 8 to be carnally minded is death.
Before we get into the stories today in this exciting, action-packed account of the Acts of the Apostles let me remind you of some verses relative to todays lessons. One as quoted above from Romans 8 reminds us of the danger of being carnally minded. But listen to what Jesus said on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion. A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you. By this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have love you. ( John 13:34,35) And also listen to what Paul wrote in Galatians 6: Bear ye one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Also we must remember who we are: What! Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are Gods.( I Cor. 6:19,20.) Do you know the only things I can claim as my own? My sin- my sins. Everything else I have was given to me by God. When I was first born- it was God who gave me physical life. We are all walking, talking visible proof of our Creator, the author of life. When I was born again- it was God who breathed His Spirit into my spiritually dead body and gave me the very life of His Son Jesus.
Together, collectively, the church of born-again believers is referred to as the body of Christ- of which He is the head. A human body houses a life- a spirit, a soul. If I were just a spirit being like the angels in the unseen realm- you could not see me or relate to me. So God has given me a physical body which makes my life visible. This is the same principle of the church as the functioning body of Jesus in the world. To make Him visible- to reveal Him to the world. It takes a body to make the Lord Jesus visible to a world. We are that Body the Church.
So what we are now studying is how the life of this new body (called the church for the first time in Acts 5:11) is to live and behave and manifest the Lord. We will also see how we are to live in our new life as Christians. I believe we will also better understand what the Lord Jesus meant when he said of the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand. Let us look at the height of the first church, the love they exhibited and the first works they performed. For these works were their very reason for being. When we look back we will see the height from which we have fallen and the first works we have somehow lost interest in. Sadly in todays lesson, many of us may find ourselves more like Ananias and Sapphira than Barnabas, and the apostles and others.
So let us look at a Church with a heart for God and what characterizes that church. Let us return to review the first love and the first works. Let us get back to basics. Let us remember to keep the main things the main things. Here is our pattern for what the church is supposed to be.
- Prayer. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly. To be filled with the Spirit means we must first be emptied of self. When this happens we will speak the Word of God with boldness and power.
- Unity. One heart, one mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own. They were of one heart, one mind, one spirit. They were all going the same direction, which is what a unified body does. Remember we to are commanded to love one another as Christ loved us. How did He love us? Sacrificially . Unconditionally. Paul writes: you know the grace of our Lord Jesus, who though He was rich yet for our sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich. (2Cor. 8:9) And also in Philippians 2 we are told: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing (of no reputation) taking the very nature of a bond servant.. This selling of goods and giving to the needy was not redistribution of wealth or a form of communism- it was the attitude of Christ- it was behaving as He would behave giving to meet the needs of others. And let me remind you- give and it will be given to you- good measure, shaken together, pressed down overflowing into your lap.
- The verse immediately following this unselfish giving makes this truth self-evident. They were given great power in testifying and they were given much grace.
We are then introduced to a man will read more about later as he joins with the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys. His name is Joseph a Levite from Cyprus. But he is quickly given a nickname- Barnabas which means son of encouragement. He would be a perfect book end for the Apostle Paul as we will discover later.
So we see the Church at its height a praying, spirit-filled, loving, giving, unified body. Should we be surprised an attack of the enemy will soon occur?
Chapter 5 of Acts begins in the KJV with that conjunction of contrast- but. Every church, every person ever born again runs into this contrary conjunction of contrast. We know where there is good- evil is always present. We are about to see the attack the enemy launches upon the church, the Body of Christ.
Ananias and his wife Sapphira wanted to receive some of the praise and perhaps they started out with good intentions, we do not know. What we do know as revealed in these verses is what they ended up doing. The perpetrated a fraud- pretending to give all of the proceeds from the sale of a piece of property but keeping back a portion for themselves. It was the height of hypocrisy. To pretend you are something you are not. Was this not what Jesus despised most about the religious group? Did He not call the Pharisees, you teachers of the law- hypocrites. Where does hypocrisy come from? Pride. What does God hate- pride. They lied, as we will see not just to the church- but as Peter says to the Holy Spirit. This is the first recorded sin in the new body called the church. Why did God strike them dead? I do not presume to know what exactly was in the mind of God. I can only know that He has the right to do all things and always does what is right in His judgment and in His mercy. Since this was the first sin in the church, perhaps God wanted to make His judgment of this sin as startling as His judgment for the first sin in the Garden of Eden, the first sin in history. After all most of us probably think eating fruit from a forbidden tree shouldnt call for such drastic action- as spiritual death, eventual physical death and banishment from their home. But that just shows our views of sin are not the same as Gods view doesnt it?
We live in two realms- two spheres- the seen and the unseen. The earthly realm and the heavenly, spiritual realm. When believers try to straddle both- live in the world and the spiritual realm also we call them carnal. May I remind you- to be carnally minded is death.
Let me share with you some insight into a carnal believers life from the book, Life on the Highest Plane by Ruth Paxson. A book I highly recommend. Mrs. Paxson writes: The carnal man is a Christian because he has obtained sonship through faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior. But he has entered into neither the possessions nor the privileges of a son and his practices are not those becoming his position in the family of God. The carnal man lives his life partly unto God and partly unto himself. The Lord Jesus is really at the center of his life but the old man is usually on the throne. There is divided control over his life. The two natures are side by side in the carnal man, the divine and the fleshly, and he is under the sway of each in turn according as he yields to one or to the other. He attempts to live in the two spheres, the heavenly and the earthly and he fails at both.
Paul writes of these types of believers in I Corinthians 3. And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as babes in Christ. Paul then goes on to explain the actions and behavior of the carnal as : envying, strife and divisions. He or she grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit thus restricting the power and dominion over the life of the believer and thus impacting the body the church. And Paul does not mince any words when he writes-to be carnally minded is DEATH.
Notice what Peter says to Ananias: how is it that satan has so filled your heart that you lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself part of the money you received for the land? First observation- how did satan fill his heart if he was a believer? Maybe hes not a believer. But since this account is dealing with the church, the body of Christ, we believe Ananias and his wife are believers. We are seeing what we know from our own experience can occur- sin in the life of a believer, sin in the camp. We can assume they are carnal. For we know a believer can deny their old nature in one area- but serve themselves, that is their old nature, in another area. Paul made this abundantly clear in Romans 7.
Well if the devil made him do it, isnt that a good reason and a defense we can use? No- the devil tempts to sin- puts the thought into our minds to do such a thing, but we must take full responsibility for our sin. As James wrote in James 1: but each is tempted when, by his own evil desire is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full-grown, gives birth to DEATH. Here in these verses and this story we see the three stages- desire(lust), sin, and death. We cannot battle these temptations in our own strength- we are powerless. God knew this and that is why He has given us weapons which are mighty not carnal to the pulling down of strongholds and taking those tempting thoughts captive. (2 Cor.10)
What happened? Ananias and his wife sold the property and there was the money in their hands. Perhaps they started out to give all the proceeds but now came the temptation- the desire to keep a portion for themselves. It would be easy for them to rationalize those actions wouldnt it? We can put ourselves in the same position and begin to rationalize why not keep a portion back for a rainy day or for another investment? And even Peter says you could have kept it- the money was at your disposal. The sin was in pretending to have given it all. To appear to be better than they really were- to be more sacrificial. In other words putting on show in the flesh hypocrites.
When Peter confronts Ananias with his sin- we are told: When Ananias heard this he fell dead. Notice he was speechless. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. No kidding- can you imagine how people must have viewed the foolishness and the danger of sin? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Let me make this perfectly clear the punishment of Ananias and his wife is severe- but I am absolutely sure it was just. Just reading this account- does it not make you a little afraid of what can happened to a sinner in the hands of a Holy God? Are you not glad you returned home, oh prodigal? Are you not praising Him now for His mercy? The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us for our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who FEAR HIM. (Psalm103)
Arent you glad we have these verses to turn to after reading this story? Is this not reason to praise Him for His mercy, love and compassion! Oh how great is this love the Father has bestowed on us- lavished on us that we should be called His children.
Sapphira, the wife of Ananias, does not arrive until three hours later, unaware her husband fell dead and is already buried. She is given an opportunity to tell the truth but continues in the lie and the deception. She falls dead also. And once again we see great fear upon the body of believers. Great reverence and awe of Almighty Holy God.
You see the minute you and I as believers pretend to be something we are not- death occurs. Not always physical death- but spiritual death. The wages of sin is death. When we come to church dressed up in our Sunday best complete with our mask of hypocrisy- the result is the death in the body. Are we pretending to be something on Sunday- we are not on Monday. That is how death creeps in and slowly the church the body of Christ. While some churches may not be completely dead yet, they have become lukewarm. Lukewarm is what you get when you take that which is supposed to be hot and remove it from the source that created the heat. It also occurs when cold is mixed with hot. I believe lukewarm is a condition the carnal believer passes through that if not dealt with will eventually lead to cold- as in dead cold.
One thing we know a lukewarm condition makes the Lord sick. And when we view that church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, the Lord is outside the church knocking on the door pleading for someone to listen to Him and open the door so He might come in and fellowship once again with His beloved bride.
So let us first deal with the beam in our eyes rather than the sawdust in our brothers eye, lest we be guilty of hypocrisy. Let us examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. Take your own spiritual temperature- are you walking closer to the Lord today than you were a year ago? Does your heart burn within you when you read the scriptures? When you look in the mirror of Gods word do you see a Baranbas? Or a Ananias or Sapphira?
Have you even looked in the mirror lately?
Acts 5: 12-42 Part 2- The Right Man on our Side
Following the sudden demise of Ananias and Sapphira, the apostles continue in the work of the ministry. We read in verse 12 of Acts 5 the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. They healed the sick and cast out evil spirits and verse 16 says they healed them all. How was this done? And are these apostles given special powers that are available only to them? Or are we expected to as the church in the 21st century to have these same powers? Interesting questions and we see those today who claim to possess healing powers. Make no mistake about it- God still has the power to heal physically. So let us look at each of these questions and find our scriptural answers.
Were the apostles given special powers or signs of the apostles? We are told in scripture- the apostles were to be the foundation of the church, of which Christ was the chief cornerstone. The signs and wonders the apostles did were as men anointed by the Lord with unusual and striking powers. The Lord enabled them to perform these signs and miracles in the physical realm in order to reveal the spiritual realm. Paul when questioned about the authenticity of his apostleship (2 Cor. 12) replied: Well let me ask you this. Have you not seen the signs of an apostle done among you?
If we look back at Acts 4:29-30, we see that Peter and John after their first appearance before the Sanhedrin prayed this prayer: Now, Lord, consider the threats and ENABLE your servants to speak the word with boldness. Stretch out YOUR HAND to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your Holy Servant, Jesus. It always was and still is the power of the Invisible God working in the physical, visible world that created and creates physical healing. These healings were not only signs and miracles that testified these men were anointed by God, but they served as illustrations of the Lord who is able to heal spiritually. We need to be reminded spiritual healing is the greater work. Why do we say that? Because everyone who has been healed physically realizes this healing is temporary. You and I will be healed of sickness and disease but eventually we will die. So what is seen is temporary. But what is unseen- the spiritual healing, the being made whole is the greater work and is eternal. Jesus often told people he healed to tell no one- for he did not want the emphasis of his ministry to be on signs and miracles of healing- but to be focused on the spiritual healing.
Dr. Luke goes on to tell us no one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded (KJV-magnified) by the people. After seeing what happened to Ananias and Sapphira for trying to pretend to be something they were not- no one dared to claim they were equal with the apostles. Notice also Luke tells us they were highly regarded by the people; they were magnified by the people it says in the KJV. They did not think of themselves more highly than they should, nor did they magnify themselves the people did. These signs and miracles had the desired affect: more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to the number. The signs and miracles did not result in them joining a movement, a cult or a group- it resulted in them believing in the Lord.
However, we must remember the spiritual law Paul speaks of in Romans 7. So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me- (always present). Good and evil travel on parallel paths. Whenever one sees good being done that can only be accounted for as the work of God, for all good things come from God- we can know that evil is lurking and waiting to attack. Sometimes the attack comes from the outside- sometimes it comes from the inside and we will see both as this timely story unfolds.
Keep in mind this wonderful truth- And we know that ALL THINGS work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) What a great sermon we heard last week from Michael Kelley about the good that came out of that horrible , almost unspeakable event that took place between Lot and his two daughter in that cave. Incest and drunkenness would take place in that dark cave and the result were two sons fathered by Lot via his two daughters. The sons were: Moab- the father of the Moabites; and Ben-Ammi- the father of the Ammonites. Two people groups who would be the enemy of Abrahams descendants. Yet we discover how God is able to bring good things out of what appears to be bad, horrible things. A descendant of Moab, a Moabite woman named Ruth would marry Boaz and their marriage would produce a son called Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David through whom the Messianic line would produce the Lord Jesus. In fact you can trace the line back to Perez, the illegitimate son of Judah through an act of adultery with his daughter-in-law, Tamara. God underscores time and time again how He is at work in the spiritual realm accomplishing His Sovereign Will through what appears on the surface in the physical realm to be the most horrible and despicable actions of man. Truly- things are not what they seem.
Notice the two reactions- the two responses to the revealed working of God: those who believe in the Lord and were added to the church and the response of the high priests and his associates they were filled with jealousy. One group is filled with the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the other group is filled with hatred by the spirit of antichrist. So we are witnessing the reactions in the seen world based upon actions in the unseen world. The battle in the spiritual world spills over into the physical world as God the Father battles the prince of this world, the one who Jesus said to those priest and Pharisee- your father is the father of all lies- the devil.
That we will be attacked for our stand for the Lord is assured. Peter said we should not even consider it strange when we come under fiery trials. The Lord Jesus told us we would be persecuted for His Sake. The attack as we will see in this story of the first church will come from without and within.
First we read of the account of the attack from without. The Sanhedrin takes immediate action. After having told them not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and John and the apostles continue to do so and the movement continues to grow. Verse 18 tells us: they arrested the apostles and put them in jail. You do know Christians around the world today are being arrested and put in jail for preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus, dont you? The time is coming and is now upon us that this can be what will happen to us in the United States. We are going to be held to the worlds standards as to what we can and cannot say in the public arena. We will be more closely monitored for the appearance of hate speech or what is politically incorrect.
Evidently they put all 12 apostles in one holding cell. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. Go stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life. Dont miss this principle. Have you ever been set free from that which held you captive by the Lord? I have- and if you are saved you have been set free also. Free from the captivity of sin. For it is for freedom that Christ set us free. And having been set free- the Lord commands us to go tell the full message of this new life. How can we who have been healed, made spiritually whole, set free and redeemed by the Lord Jesus not also be RULED BY HIM? Let the redeemed of the Lord go tell the story of the miracle that has occurred- healed, freed from the prison of sin, redeemed, that is all my sins paid for by my Savior. How can we not serve Him? How can we not tell others what He has done.
Do you not see the greater works we can do? Healing comes from the hand of the Lord. Physical healing is temporary. You and I get healed from disease and sickness but eventually we die. But spiritual healing is eternal. We can be held captive by sin- but nothing can stop the hand of God from reaching down and setting us free when by grace through faith we are saved.
So where do we find the disciples at daybreak? Hiding in their homes, planning how to stay out of harms way? Not on your life- they began at daybreak, first light teaching the people.
I find this next scene humorous. And the laugh is at these powerful mens expense. They gather in full assembly, the Sanhedrin, the most powerful and influential group of men in Israel, or so they thought of themselves. They sent for the captives, the 12 apostles. Can you imagine the shock and disbelief when they unlocked the locked doors of the cell to discover it was empty. Wonder if it reminded anyone of an empty tomb? The officer had to return to the Sanhedrin to tell them the doors were locked, the guards in place- but the cell was empty! The mighty body of men are shocked, puzzled and in wonder. But no sooner had they heard this remarkable report than another report comes to them even more remarkable. These 12 apostles are in the temple teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus.
Do you see how the spiritual battle between God Almighty and his adversary play out on the physical stage of life. We are witnesses to this each day and must learn to look beyond the seen to the unseen hand of God. Just as on that Friday, the devil and the demons thought they had defeated God by the death of His Son and for three days celebrated their victory, only to find on the third day God had used what they meant for evil for good. Is that not why we call it Good Friday?
Having been checkmated once again by these men they once called unschooled, ordinary men the Sanhedrin realize they must move cautiously. They sent soldiers to request the apostle to come appear before the Sanhedrin, but they were not to use force for fear the people would stone them.
THE APPEARANCE OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN.
The twelve freed apostles come before the Sanhedrin to be questioned. Note the word freed. These apostles have been set free not only from prison, they have been set free from the fear of man. They have been set free to be all that God created and empowered them to be. The first thing the high priest tells them is: we gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this mans blood. Did you happen to notice the high priest never utters the name of Jesus? Also remember what they said to Pilate at Jesus trial- let his blood be on us and on our children. (Matthew 27) Now they do not like this blood or the accusation of guilt.
Peter and the apostles reply as one- We must obey God rather than men. And the amazingly Peter gives the Gospel message. The God of our Fathers raised Jesus from the dead- whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that He might give REPENTANCE AND REMISSION OF SINS TO ISRAEL. We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him. What is their response to the Gospel? When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. This the way of the Gospel. The Gospel invites men, women and children. It attracts mankind, it redeems mankind- but others are enraged by this Gospel. One man, Christopher Hitchens, wrote a book called God Isnt Great Anymore. A professed agnostic, who is enraged by the gospel, he calls Billy Graham the most evil man in the world.
Do you not see the spiritual truth- that evil and good travel on a parallel path and wherever there is good evil is always present. The battle that once took place in heaven between Lucifer and 1/3rd of the angels against God has been continuing ever since. That is why even when comments as outrageous and as hate filled as the comment of Christopher Hitchens and these enraged , arrogant powerful men of the Sanhedrin- we must remember this : we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in heavenly realms.
These who oppose the Gospel, the Word of God and the Lord Jesus as Savior believe the thoughts arising in their heart and minds which they think originate within themselves. They believe with their learning and intelligence they have come to these conclusions on their own, not realizing they were put there by the invisible forces of wickedness which are at work in the world to oppose the will and purpose of God.
But as we study the scriptures we realize- God cannot be stopped. Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world. God is unstoppable.
God uses one of their own, Gamaliel, a teacher of the law to keep the Sanhedrin from executing the 12 apostles. Gamaliel was considered as the most famous Jewish teacher of his time. Saul of Tarsus was one of his students. He advises the Sanhedrin after the 12 apostles are put outside not to do anything too drastic- to let these men alone. His reasoning is as follows: if this is a work of human effort alone- nothing will come of it. And he cites previous human leaders who had come and gone. However, he cautions, if this work is from God you will not be able to stop it. For God is unstoppable. And Gamaliel says you will find yourselves fighting against God. His speech persuaded them to let these men go. Once again they warn them not to speak in the name of Jesus. Then they have them flogged, beaten and set them free. Those men who were controlled by evil forces were subject to the sovereign overriding of the Holy Spirit. ( reference to 2 Thess.2:7)
The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing, not because they had been set free- but because they had been flogged and counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Jesus. And this chapter ends with the apostles teaching day after day in the temple courts, and house to house. They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Today the world we live in is no different than what the first church faced. We live in a world run by the prince of the power of the air, the devil. It is a world run by illusions, governed by deception and the victim of lies by the one called the father of all lies. We are called to stand for truth and to speak the gospel boldly. When we do this some will receive the gospel and some will reject it, just as it was in those days. When we stand for truth we can expect to be persecuted and reviled. Peter came to accept this as normal. And told us do not consider it strange when fiery trials come upon you.
OUR NEVER FAILING GOD
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were it not the Right Man on our side; the Man of Gods own choosing: dost ask who that might be? Christ Jesus it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His Name from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.
And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed His Truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him, His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure, one little word shall fall him.
That word above all earthly powers , no thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth; let goods and kindred go, the mortal life also; the body they may kill; Gods truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever. ( Martin Luther)