************ Sermon on Acts 4:32-5:11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 12, 2011
"Lying to the Holy Spirit"
"The truth always comes out." "The truth always comes out." Just ask various politicians who have been in the news lately: Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, New York Representative Anthony Weiner. Just ask various sports heroes: Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Brett Favre. Ask Charlie Sheen. "The truth always comes out." Or, at least most of the time.
On this Pentecost Sunday we see that it is the Spirit Who exposes lies within the church. It is the Spirit Who cuts through all the deception and the hypocrisy and makes clear what is actually going on. It is the Spirit Who exposes the lie and displays the truth. I've seen this more times than I can count when it comes to elders, deacons, pastors, youth directors, church staff, and members. The Holy Spirit, according to the sovereignty of God and for the glory of God, makes sure the truth comes out.
I Believers Share Their Possessions
A It is a shame that our Bibles are broken down into chapters and verses. Because if they weren't we would realize that our Scripture passage actually starts at Acts 4:32 with the phrase, "All the believers." So, we are talking about believers. We are talking about those who profess Christ as Savior from sin and as Lord of life. We are talking about those who are filled with the Spirit of Christ. We are talking about those who are in the church and part of the church.
Acts 4 mentions two results of their Spirit-filled faith. First, says Acts, "All the believers were one in heart and mind" (Acts 4:32). Do you see what happens when you believe in Jesus and are filled with His Spirit? Spirit-filled faith in Jesus binds believers together. When you become united to Jesus by faith, you become united to the people Who make up His body.
Then comes the other result: "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had" (Acts 4:32). Do you see what happens when you believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord and are filled with His Spirit? First, you are drawn closer to your brothers and sisters in the faith. Second, you are cut loose from your attachment to the things of this earth so that you are able to use those things as a means of loving people.
You should know, congregation, that you can't love both people and things (cf Lk 16:13). You either love people or you love things. Spirit-filled believers love people and use their things to show that love. Which is what we see in the book of Acts. The early Spirit-filled believers cared about people. So what did they do? Scripture tells us:
(Acts 4:34-35) ... from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (35) and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.The result? "There were no needy persons among them" (Acts 4:34). What a beautiful picture.
Don't we see that same picture when we look at Trinity United Reformed Church? We have a mission statement on the cover of our bulletin: "Where God's love shows and our faith grows." This isn't just a nice sounding slogan. As Spirit-filled believers we love one another and we use our things to help in that love. In this light, consider our offering schedule. We help the needy among us through our Benevolence Fund so that no one ever goes hungry or has no place to sleep. And, through our Scholarship Fund we take seriously the commitment we make at baptism to help one another in the training and educating of our children in God's ways. That's what Spirit-filled believers do: they love people and use their things to help them show that love.
B Barnabas is an example of a Spirit-filled believer who loved people and used his things to show that love. Listen to the last two verses of Acts 4:
(Acts 4:36-37) Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), (37) sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.Barnabas did not do this to get praise. He was not like the Pharisees who announced their giving with trumpets in order to be honored by men (cf Mt 6:1-2). Barnabas did this because Jesus was His Savior from sin and the Lord of his life.
C Barnabas gave a generous donation. Barnabas, as I said, didn't give in order to receive praise, yet word must have gotten out. And, many were impressed. Included in this number of impressed people were Ananias and Sapphira.
Now, let your imagination fill in the blanks. Maybe they were sitting down at coffee one morning. Or, it was after supper. And Ananias said to Sapphira, "Did you hear what Barnabas did? The big stack of money he laid at the apostles' feet? I heard it was enough money to feed all our widows for six months."
So, a seed was planted and an idea was born. The next morning or the next night Sapphira said, "Honey, the Lord has blessed us. Why don't we sell that field we have in Bethlehem and be just like Barnabas?"
So, they sell their property. In an age before banks this meant they carried a big bag of money home. Maybe Ananias emptied the bag on the kitchen table. "Wow. Look at all that money. I can hardly wait for Sunday when we lay this money at the apostles' feet. People will be impressed with us. They will look at us the same way they look at Barnabas." That was their intention.
Then what happens? In my mind, I picture them looking at the big stack of money the rest of the week. Tuesday night he said, "Honey, we haven't really saved for retirement the way we should." Wednesday night it was her turn, "What about the kids' college fund?" Thursday night they talked about a trip they wanted to take to Damascus. Friday he mentioned the new location he wanted for his business. By Sunday they had half the money in the bag and the other half under the mattress.
Sunday morning Ananias brought the half bag of money to church. "Hey, Peter, use this for the widows."
II Lies, Lies, Lies, and More Lies
A Scripture tells us that Ananias and Sapphira committed a sin. So, we need to ask about the nature of the sin.
What was the wrong here? Was it wrong for Ananias to give only some of the money to the church? The first answer: No. No, it wasn't wrong to give only some of the money to the church. Notice what Peter said:
(Acts 5:4) "Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal?"The property was theirs both before and after the sale. They were under no obligation to sell their piece of land. And, once it was sold, they were under no obligation to donate the entire selling price to the apostles. So, no, it wasn't wrong to give only some of the money to the church.
B What was the wrong here? Was it wrong for Ananias to give only some of the money to the church? The second answer: Yes. Yes, in this instance it was wrong to give only some of the money to the church. Notice the word used in both verses 2 and 3. We are told Ananias "kept" part of the money for himself (Acts 5:2). The Greek word means "to misappropriate or embezzle." Do you remember the news story about the secretary of the Visalia First Assembly of God Church? Last Summer we learned that she misappropriated or embezzled more than two million dollars from the church. [Thank God this could not happen with our secretary.] The one other time the word is used in the New Testament it means "to steal" (Tit 2:10). And, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament the same word is used to describe Achan's theft of gold, silver, and cloth from Jericho that belonged to God.
If, as Peter put it, the property and money was theirs, how could Ananias and Sapphira be guilty of embezzlement? Again, let's use our imagination. Go back to the night Ananias dumped all the money on the kitchen table. The next morning Ananias ran into James on the way to work. "Hey, James, we sold our property in Bethlehem and we are giving all the proceeds to the church." And, at coffee with her friends that day, Sapphira made sure she let "slip" what they were going to do on Sunday.
Ananias and Sapphira somehow, in someway, let it be known that they were selling a piece of property and giving all the proceeds to the church. We can go so far as to say it was some kind of contract. It had to be, or else it wouldn't be embezzlement and misappropriation of funds.
C Lies, lies, lies, and more lies. That is what we see here. At a number of different levels. Ananias and Sapphira pretended to be generous like Barnabas when they were not. Ananias and Sapphira pretended to love their poor brothers and sisters when, in fact, they loved themselves more. Ananias and Sapphira pretended to give the whole sum of money to the church even though they held part of it back. Not only did Ananias and Sapphira lie to the church but they also lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3) and, therefore, to God (Acts 5:4).
Lies, lies, lies and more lies. On the part of Ananias. On the part of Sapphira. Scripture tells us they were in on this together.
What a sad commentary on both Ananias and Sapphira. The name "Ananias" literally means "God is gracious." The name "Sapphira" means "beautiful." Ananias certainly did not act as though God was gracious to him. As for Sapphira, her beauty was only skin-deep because inside she had an ugly, ugly heart.
III The Spirit's Response
A We see three responses on the part of the Spirit.
First of all, do you remember the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139? He cries out to God and says,
(Ps 139:23-24) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (24) See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.A study of Psalm 139 reveals that it is no use trying to hide from God. He sees our thoughts from afar. He knows our words before they are on our tongue.
At the same time, do you remember what Jesus said about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees?
(Lk 12:2-3) There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. (3) What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, this means the Spirit of God sees through all the lies and deception. So, the Spirit somehow reveals to Peter the truth about Ananias and Sapphira.
B Secondly, the Spirit struck down Ananias and Sapphira. Within three hours both of them were dead. We don't know if they left any children or grieving parents behind. We don't know what happened to the rest of their possessions and wealth. We aren't told because none of this is important next to the horrible truth that they were killed for lying against the Spirit.
C Thirdly, the Spirit brought "great fear" upon the church (Acts 5:5,11). A holy fear. A reverent fear for God and the things of God. This is the fear experienced by Isaiah when he saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted. Remember what Isaiah cried out?
(Is 6:5) "Woe to me!" ... "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."It is never a bad thing to have a holy fear of God.
IV Lessons for Today
A Now, on this Pentecost Sunday, what lessons can we learn for today from Acts 5?
First, God hates any hypocrisy or pretense in our worship. When we look through the Gospels we see that Jesus was very compassionate, patient, and tender with those who fell into the sins of the flesh. But He was very harsh with those who were religious hypocrites. With some people He was the meek and gentle Lamb; with others He was the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery? He said, "I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more" (Jn 8:11). The woman at the well had five husbands and was shacking up with a sixth man. To her Jesus said, "I give you living water" (Jn 4:10). Zacchaeus, the wee little man, was a liar and a thief. Yet Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham" (Lk 19:9). Jesus could talk the way He did to each of these because they all repented and believed. They knew they needed the Savior.
But what did Jesus say about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees?
(Mt 23:27-28,33) Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. (28) In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness ... (33) You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?Why did Jesus talk this way? Because hypocrites, like the scribes and Pharisees, did not repent. They did not think they needed to repent. They thought had no need for the Savior or forgiveness.
God hates hypocrisy. It is a stench in His nostrils. So, congregation, don't ever pretend to be a better Christian than you really are. Don't ever try to fool God with your acts of piety and faith because God is more than able to see right through them. Don't ever pretend you don't need the Savior and His blood.
The people of this church look so nice as they sit in front of me this morning – row upon row of families and individuals in nice Sunday clothes. But do you really want to be here this morning? Is your heart in your worship? Are you loving God this morning with your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Or is it all a show? God may not strike you dead but don't conclude from this that He doesn't know. Because He does. He knows all things and sees all things and is more than able to look into your heart.
B Second lesson. Christians can fall. Christians can fall big. Think of David. A man after God's own heart. The king of Israel. Yet, he committed adultery and murder and tried to cover it all up. Think of Peter. The leader of the apostles. Yet, he denied knowing Jesus three times.
There are those who try to say that Ananias and Sapphira were not Christians. But, apart from the chapter and verse division, remember how the portion of Scripture in front of us starts? It starts with the phrase, "All the believers" (Acts 4:32). In Barnabas we are given a positive example of a Spirit-filled believer. And, in Ananias and Sapphira we are given a negative example.
Ananias and Sapphira were part of the church. They heard the Word. They participated in worship. They took communion. They gave to the poor. They prayed. Yet they fell.
Why did they fall? They allowed Satan to distort their thinking. Did you hear how Peter put it? "Ana-nias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart ..." (Acts 5:3). The Greek term for "filled" means to make full. It carries the idea of totality. Their inner being, their spirit or soul, has been filled with a lie. It has been filled with the lies of Satan.
This does not mean Ananias and Sapphira can blame Satan. There is no place in the Bible that lays the blame for a Christian's sin on Satan. Satan may tempt us. He may lure us. But it is our decision, our act, our sin. No one can ever say, "The Devil made me do it."
Ananias and Sapphira gave the Devil a foothold in their heart. Satan used their greed, their desire for fame and recognition, their pride and arrogance, in order to get his way. So we need to be careful, congregation, to never give Satan the foothold that he wants. Through worship and prayer and Bible reading we must allow our inner being to be filled with the Holy Spirit rather than with Satan and his snares.
C Third lesson. Unlike Ananias and Sapphira, we must keep our promises to God. We must keep the promises we make at baptism to raise our children in God's ways. We must keep the promises we make at profession to grow in the faith (by attending worship) and submit to the authority of the consistory. We must keep the promises we make at marriage to be faithful and loving until death do us part. We must keep the promises we make at installation to do the work of our offices faithfully.
We must keep every promise we make to the Lord.
D Fourth lesson. Ananias and Sapphira show us the necessity for church discipline. Throughout the ages the church tends to oscillate between extreme severity (disciplining members for the most trivial of offenses) and extreme laxity (exercising no discipline at all, even for serious offenses). It is a good general rule that secret sins should be dealt with secretly, private sins privately, and public sins publicly.
E Fifth lesson. God must always be glorified in His church. Ananias and Sapphira were not glorifying God by lying to the apostles. Spirit-filled people live for the glory of God and not for their own glory.
In conclusion, our Scripture reading, in verse 11, marks the first time the word "church" is used in New Testament. We see on this Pentecost Sunday that we are not allowed to "play" at being a church. Instead, we must be sincere, real, and Spirit-filled. Therefore, it does us good if we always keep in mind the prayer of the psalmist:
(Ps 19:14) May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.If Ananias and Sapphira had only kept these words in mind, they would not have fallen for Satan's snare and been struck dead by Almighty God.
My prayer is that none of us "play" church. Instead, may we always be sincere, real, and Spirit-filled as the people of God.
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