Today’s Reading: Acts 5
Ananias and Sapphira are well known in church history. For those unfamiliar with their catastrophic ending, listen closely as we discuss Acts 5. They are a couple who sold some real estate, brought a portion of the money for the offering at church, and were called out by Peter and judged by God on the spot.
Listen to the scariest offering section of a church service ever:
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and 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. But 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? 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.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. (Acts 5:1-6)
After Ananias’s death, the same thing happened to his wife. We must guard against our services being fireplaces and fireworks and not fire from heaven. God is not a fireplace who simply warms you and makes you feel comfortable while at the same time you still stay a distance from the hearth. The fireplace is contained and controlled. Meeting Him in the church service is not fireworks either. It is not just a show with “oohs” and “aahs” and then everyone goes home in the same condition they came. Both of these create an illusion of fire but is not the real thing. We must have a place where fire from heaven falls.
That was the early church, and this was definitely Acts 5 where the fire fell in the offering time.
Why the harsh penalty for not giving the amount they were supposed to give in the offering? I think it’s connected to the word but, the first word of chapter 5. It connects it to chapter 4 and the last few verses. That day during the offering another person gave and was called out for good reasons, and his name was Barnabas. The story makes sense if we read the ending of Acts 4:
Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36-37)
Barnabas sold property and brought all the money to the offering that day. Then the contrast. I believe Ananias and Sapphira saw what Barnabas had done and decided to put on a show instead of being genuine. They acted like Barnabas but had hypocrisy in their hearts. God could not allow in this newborn church such craziness, and He exposed it.
On the outside, Barnabas and Ananias looked the same: both sold property, both brought money, both laid it at the apostles’ feet. But both were not the same. God knew their hearts.
Something may look exactly the same but be drastically different. And God gave Peter discernment to know that difference immediately.
I have to tell you that to read this on paper is scary. What if you were an outsider and reading about this in the Jerusalem Times under a headline that read “People Who Lie Die?” I would be scared about that church.
Yet here is what is amazing: people want the real thing. They don’t want the fireplace or the fireworks, they want the real fire of God. And when we read the Bible, God’s fire will lead us through a wilderness and baptize us just like in Acts 2. But that same fire will kill people, like Aaron’s sons in Leviticus and Ananias and Sapphira. Either way it’s real.
So here is what happened after the two deaths during the offering: “All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (Acts 5:14).
Instead of it being called some cult thing, the unbelievers knew it was the real thing. It seems the world always knows whether it’s real or phony. And just when we think that a public discipline of a member happens, that the verse would say, “A lot of people left the church, and everyone in town stayed away,” just the opposite happened. Verse 11 says that “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” I bet it did!
I can imagine how big the offering was the next week, and then the Bible says multitudes were getting saved. That to me shows that when God is in the mix, people know it’s real. Whether it’s a sign or a wonder of healing or of God judging hypocrisy, we need more of the real thing today.