By Nicole McLeod
Hasn’t it been exciting to study this incredible, and accurate historical account of what the Lord did in the early weeks and months of the church? After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and God’s Holy Spirit was divinely poured out upon the believers on the day of Pentecost, spectacular things began happening, the “greater things” Jesus had spoken of (John 14:13-14), were becoming daily events - miracles, signs, and wonders, the healing of the sick and afflicted, and the meeting of deep human needs through the Spirit filled Apostles in Jesus’ Name. And all this was attracting a lot of attention, both positive and negative. There was more than enough evidence of God’s Divine presence and power at work in this growing church. People travelled long distances to come to Jerusalem bringing with them their sick and helpless as word spread about Jesus’ resurrection. And at the heart of all the life and growth in the church, was The Holy Spirit! And we’ve been paying close attention to what the Holy Spirit did, and how He worked in people’s lives, so that we can learn more about Him, and what it means to “Walk in the Spirit”.
Acts 4:32 “ Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. ”
After the believers had prayed, (vs. 4:23-31) God filled them with such boldness and a loving unity. Great power was given the apostles to testify to the resurrection of the Lord. And great grace was upon them all helping them love one another. What a witness to the watching world around them. As Jesus had said in John 13:35, “35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
They were loving God and loving people in Jesus’ name. Unity, power, grace and growth marks of a Spirit filled church.
34 “ There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
God was meeting the needs and using people to do so in His Name. Remember each one of these miracles changed the life of the individual person and their circle of family and friends would be touched as well. God’s compassion was at work, and people knew God’s love as the church cared for people. Thousands of new believers joined the apostles and disciples, but there was no church building, and these were severely economically challenging times. When people came to Christ, they stayed and many gave up jobs, family, inheritances, and the need for basic food and supplies was great. Believers with means, willingly contributed to help the others, laying their gifts “at the apostle’s feet” to distribute. Not all believers sold goods, and brought gifts – it was the leading of the Spirit. Many owned hones and had private property. The the best guideline for our Christian giving is the leading of the Spirit. Principles of Christian giving are found in the Epistles and especially in 2 Corinthians 8-9.
After making some general statements about early church life, Luke provides us with a few examples we can all learn lessons from. He first introduces a wonderful man who would become an important and beloved figure in the early church – his name will come up at least 25 times. 36 “ Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. ”
Barnabas was a godly man known for caring for and encouraging others. He laid down his material goods, to lift up people in Jesus’ name. When I think of Barnabas I think of that song: “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.” Several of you have these qualities of Barnabas - you are helpful, lift up and encourage people with your unique gifts and personalities. God loves a cheerful giver, and Luke gives us this great example of genuineChristian concern and follows it with an example of disastrous defeat and deception – lest we think this early church was a “perfect” society.
Acts 5:1-10 “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 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. 3 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? 4 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.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last.” (Expire, to breathe out one's life). “ And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.”
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 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.” 10 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. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Believers and unbelievers alike heard and were in awe. Until now the testimony of the church had been spotless. It had faced spiritually charged external attacks from enemies of Christ, but this attack came from within the church, through the devastating sin of this couple Ananias and Sapphira. They too “wanted to be great in God’s kingdom”. Was it after seeing the admiration given to Barnabas, that they conspired together to impress and deceive the church leadership with a gift of money? They sold a property and gave part of the money “laying it at the Apostles feet,” implying that like Barnabas, they sacrificially gave it all. In essence they were (vs. 9) “ Testing the Spirit of the Lord”. The Holy Spirit gave Peter supernatural knowledge of what Ananias did, a spiritual gift called the word of knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8).
Their sin is explained in vs. 3-4 and 9. It was not in the selling or keeping of the money. Peter asks, “ why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter that Ananias was influenced by Satan to lie. This was spiritual warfare. Satan is called “the father of lies”, and can tempt believers to sin, but we are told to turn to God, pray, resist him in the faith and flee temptation. 2 Cor. 10:3-4 and Eph. 6 and other passages tells us that we have spiritual weapons, God has given to us to use in these battles, weapons of truth, righteousness, the gospel, our testimony, prayer, worship, Jesus Name. There is an article by Chuck Smith on this subject that I found helpful and have put on the resource table if you would like one home today.
Peter later wrote in 1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober-minded;be watchful. Youradversary the devilprowls aroundlike a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. ” The Apostle Paul warns believers in Eph. 4:27, “and give no opportunity to the devil.” Ananias and Sapphira gave place to the devil, but Jesus was advancing His church, and He did not let the devil have place in the church!
Peter also asks Ananias why he hadcontrived this deed in his heart? AsJames 1:15 tells us,“After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Sadly, for them, they let this temptation conceive into reality. Did they forget God is a Holy God? Did they forget that God sees and knows all, and that He dwells at the heart of everything in the church? It appears so. But God has used this example for good - to warn the church for all generations to be holy.
Saphira agreed with her husband in this plan. (vs. 9) Peter asks her, “How is it that you have agreed togetherto test the Spirit of the Lord?” She had to make a choice, to obey God or obey man (her husband). Submission does not mean agreeing with your husband to sin against God. This was a matter of great consequence and it cost her life. It was a deadly serious matter.
People read this story and judge God for judging, but does He not see what we do not see, the hearts and motives – the hidden and unseen things. God loves His church, and it was purchased with the precious blood of His Son. (Acts 20:28, Eph 5:25). The church is on earth to glorify Him and do His Work. This judgement was a sign and wonder of a different kind, and it made a definitive statement. This warns us of the need to guard our hearts from the hidden temptations of heart – especially sins of hypocrisy, vainglory, insincerity, and self-seeking.
One more contrast I want to point out is: Barnabas put Jesus first, then others then himself last – this is a pattern for JOY – Jesus Others Yourself. Ananias followed a different pattern I would call SELF which leads to Sadness, Emptiness, Loneliness, and fear.
One last thing I want us to see before we move on, is this phrase, “at the apostles’ feet” (3 times) This is where gifts and offering given with surrender to the Lord. But this is not all we are to lay at Jesus feet – we are to lay down our very lives. Have we given our lives to the Lord?
The name Ananias means “God is gracious”, but he learned that God is also holy. The name Sapphira means “beautiful”, but she learned that in God’s eyes, purity is beautiful, what’s inside is what counts, not what’s on the outside.
We’ve seen the Holy Spirit give Great power,great grace…Acts 5:11 “And great fear (Greek, Megas Phobos) came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Fear and reverence for God’s presence. All three are present in a Spirit filled believer and church.
12 “ Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.”
Solomon’s portico or Colonnade is a special place for this early group of Christians. It was named because it still had the footings from Solomon’s original temple. In John 10:22-39, it tells us that Jesus taught there, and it was the place He told the Jews (John 10:30 ) “I and the Father are one.” This place had been sanctified by the teaching of our Lord and again by the wonderful preaching of Peter in Acts 3.
14 “ And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,” 15” so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 “ The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Men, women, old and young, afflicted and well came to Christ and their lives were transformed. This gave opportunity for the apostles message and the preaching of the gospel. People believed that Peter’s shadow could heal, (the text does not say it did), but a lot of spectacular things were happening, and the crowd was drawing attention.
17 “ But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
The party of the Sadducees were very aroused. Remember, all of this is happening after the council had already charged them (4:18) “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Notice the Sadducees were filled with- jealousy – and it moved them to action. The apostles and Barnabas were filled with The Holy Spirit are moved to heal, share the gospel, love, and do good, Ananias and Saphira were filled with hypocrisy and a conspiracy to deceive, and were removed.
( What fills our hearts today? We are either filled with Christ’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit to testify of Christ and walk in love… or we are filled with something else. If we are filled with other things… we come lay them down at the feet of Jesus.)
This is the second incarceration – and it appears all the apostles were apprehended this time, 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
Which they did! This was the first of 3 divine jail breaks in the book of Acts very perplexing to their enemies and this council that was gathering to try them. “The words of this life”, is the gospel, that Jesus Christ came into this world to give abundant and eternal life to all who turn to Him and believe. God was clearly at work. Let’s skip down to vs. 25 (to save some time …)
25 “ And someone came and told them ( the council) , “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.”27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them,28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, … “Yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.”
It’s like the high priest didn’t want to even say Jesus’ name, so he says, “this name”. Another contrast we see, those who hate Jesus’ name and those who love His Name.
The Apostles were charged with having filled Jerusalem with the gospel. It's like the council confirmed that they were successfully fulfilling the great commission Jesus gave them. “Mission Jerusalem” … accomplished! The accusation is ironic, “ and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” Had they forgotten that when Pilate was trying Jesus, and they were pushing for His crucifixion, finally Pilate symbolically washed his hands before them in a basin of water saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood, see to it yourselves.” And they responded in Matt. 27:25, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
They took a stand; and were bold in their commitment to the Lord. In general, the New Testament teaches that we submit to government unless it is a sin to do so. (Romans 13:1-7, and 1 Peter 2:13-17) but we are not to follow rules which contradict God’s rules. The Lord was giving them boldness to stand and glorify God and Jesus Christ as Lord.
In Matthew 10:18-20, Jesus had prepared his followers for this time, teaching them, “On My account, you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to respond, or what to say. In that hour you will be given what to say. For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.…”
Peter then, filled with the Spirit, gives them an incredibly powerful gospel presentation.30 “The God of our fathersraised Jesus,whom you killed by hanging him ona tree. (Referring to the cross)31 God exaltedhim at his right hand asLeader andSavior,to giverepentance to Israel andforgiveness of sins.”
What kindness of God to offer repentance and forgiveness to these men who were Christ’s enemies. (His sermon may have been longer, and this may be a summary by Luke.) 32 Andwe are witnesses to these things, andso is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Isn’t God is so good and merciful! 33“When they (The Sanhedrin) heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. They were cut to the heart!
34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while.35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. In vs. 36-37 he reminds them of Theudas and Judas – who had followings yet came to nothing … 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
Dr.Gamaliel was a Pharisee, and a highly respected rabbi who followed the Rabbi Hillel. Acts 22:3 tells us that Paul was “ educated at the feet of Gamaliel”. (Many commentators believe the Apostle Paul, as Saul may have been in this private council meeting, giving Luke later an accurate report of what was said.)
God used this man as a calming influence to take the heat off the apostles.He was a moderate and appealed to their common sense. In essence, Gamaliel took a wait and see approach. He is criticized for not deciding for or against Jesus, but God used his influence for good. His ending statement was “let them alone, forif this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail;39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
Did the council take his advice? Yes, and no. (vs. 40) “ and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go.” Don’t miss that the apostles suffered an undeserved terrible beating, a flogging - which was not according to Gamaliel’s counsel. It was a bloody and very painful ordeal.
We may not suffer a painful flogging as they did, but we may suffer blows and suffering of a different kind. Health setbacks, losses of many kinds, unwanted circumstances, and challenges, so their example to us, is to keep on trusting God, walking by faith and looking to Jesus – rejoicing that no matter what, we belong to Him and He will be with us in and through it all. 1st Peter chapters 2-4 are full of encouragement for suffering Christians…
Look at the response of the Apostles, 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. They were visibly rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor and suffer for the name of Jesus and they left the presence of the council rejoicing… what a witness to their enemies! “A victorious church rejoices in God working, in spite of persecution.”
42 “ And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” This last verse, is our application for today’s message so don’t miss this:
- When did they witness? Every day
- Where did they witness? Everywhere
- Who did they witness to? Everyone
- How did they witness? In the power and boldness of the Holy Spirit
· What did they witness of? Jesus as the Christ
· Why did they witness? Because this is the work of the Holy Spirit and we may participate in his effort to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
I want each of us to think of 1 person – just one person we could pray especially for and witness to this week. When we go to group today, pray God will enable us to tell them all the Lord has done for us. And since the book of Acts is unending, may we take this to heart and reach out with the gospel to all who will listen, telling them that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and that by believing in His name we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We are His witnesses. Amen
May the world see our unity, our purity, our boldness, and our love. May God help us all. Amen.
Appendix: Words of encouragement for suffering believers:
1 Pet. 4:12-14 “ Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
1 Peter 3:14-17 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”
1 Peter 2:19-21 “ For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”