Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 Tom Lowe
10-21-2002

The Game is Over
Acts 5:1-11

 

Introduction

As children, many of us played a game called let’s pretend.  My grand daughter and I still play the game.  Last week, we pretended to be veterinarians and we would treat her stuffed animals for various physical problems.  I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, many continue to play let’s pretend spiritually long after the time for games is over. In Acts 5 we are given the account of two people who played the game of pretending to be Christians. It is one of the most dramatic stories in the New Testament. The story clearly demonstrates the high price of hypocrisy.

Let’s begin by reading our text for today from Acts, chapter 5.

1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.
2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part 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 keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?
4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.
6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.
11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

What is pictured here is deception.  There are three things to note about this situation:
1. First, the act of deception.
2. Second, the discovery of the deception.
3. Third, the price of deception is high.

Let’s begin our Bible lesson today by looking at the act of deception that took place on this occasion.

Ananias and Sapphira had a scheme for misleading the apostles and getting the admiration of their fellow believers.  They sold some land, but they only brought a portion of the proceeds to lay at the apostle’s feet.  They intended to keep the rest. Why did they do it? 

Why was the land sold in the first place? 

It was because they were following the example of a man called Barnabas.  We are told about him in the previous chapter. Barnabas had sold a piece of land and had brought the money to the apostles.  The writer of Acts wrote, And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36-37) 

Barnabas was well-known for his generous monetary gifts to the Early Church.  This is one of the characteristics of the Early Church; it was a praying church and it lacked selfishness.  Each member of this Jerusalem church was interested in the welfare of every other member. They were described by the expression, of one heart and of one soul, which shows the remarkable harmony of this Spirit-filled community.  Richer members of the Church made provision for those who were poor.  No one was in want or hunger.  Those who had houses or land sold them in order to see to the welfare of others.  Money was brought and laid at the apostles’ feet and distribution was made to everyone according as he had need.  No one made windfall profits; no one was impoverished. Barnabus had no doubt brought an impressive sum to the apostles; and this act of commitment and devotion had, without a doubt, been exciting to the young Church.  Ananias and Sapphira had witnessed the excitement that this gift had brought to the Church, and their trouble began with their jealousy of the reaction to Barnabas’s generous offering.  They sought, from that moment on, to be honored members of the Church, and to be admired for their generosity.

God had been good to Ananias and Sapphira.  They were important people in their community.  Ananias literally meant “one to whom Jehovah has been gracious.”  Obviously, God has blessed them, and Ananias was a man who had done good things.

But the lesson is clear.  God is not impressed with what we have or how good we are. He is not impressed with what others think of us, but what interests God, is what is happening inside of us; and the more respect we receive from others, the more God expects of us.

The interesting thing about this occasion is that even though they set out to deceive the Church, they wound up deceiving themselves. We are told in verse 1 that they sold the property on their own initiative. It says…

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. (5:1) 

The story of Ananias and Sapphira shows that the Early Church consisted of imperfect people.  Luke, the writer of Acts, compared the generosity of Barnabas with the selfishness and deceitfulness of Ananias and Sapphira, who were members of the early Jerusalem church.

When this couple sold private property, they purposely did not give all the proceeds from the sale to the fellowship. But that’s not what they did wrong; they didn’t have to give it all away. They could have tithed or even given more, and that would have been good. But, here is the problem; they conspired together to deceive the Church, and in the process, they lied to God.

Verse 2 says, And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

As members of the early Jerusalem church and devoted disciples of Jesus, they had joined themselves to the apostles.  Sapphira and Ananias apparently had a pleasant marriage and they supported each other, and they were popular with the other believers. And on this occasion, they came with confidence, and with a great show of piety and devotion, and they laid the money at the apostles’ feet, as if it was all they had. They then lied by saying they had given the full amount.  They lied because they loved the money, and they couldn’t trust it all to the apostles. 

They couldn’t take God’s word that they would be provided for, so they thought that they would be wiser than the others and lay up some for a rainy day.  In that way, they supposed they could serve both God and Mammon—God, by bringing some to the apostles and laying it at their feet, and mammon, by keeping the rest in their own pockets.

Ananias and Sapphira may have given more than Barnabas, but that was not the point.  They lied to both the Holy Spirit and to the Church leaders.  It’s clear that they lacked self-control.  The key to gaining self-control is yielding control of the self to the control of the Holy Spirit and they were never willing to do that. 

Sapphira, whose name means “beautiful” or “sapphire,” was the first woman singled out for prominence in Acts. But Sapphira failed God. Throughout the ages, her name has been linked, not with “beauty,” but with deliberate deceit.

Ananias and Sapphira will pay a terrible price for their deception, but if God struck down all of those who pretended to be totally committed to the Kingdom, we would see many empty pews in our churches. 

People can be easily fooled; but God is never fooled.

Now let’s look at the discovery of the deception.

Verses 3 and 4 say, But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?  While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Peter was prompted by the Holy Spirit to make an examination of the gift.  The Holy Spirit most likely gave him a special discernment into the circumstances.  When Ananias brought the money, he expected to be commended as others were, but Peter took him to task about it. 

There were no witnesses to the crime; however, the Spirit of God in Peter discovered the facts.  Probably, no one in the world knew what they had done except the man and his wife; but God knew.  If the sin had been caused by some great temptation, Peter would have taken him aside, and told him to go home and get the rest of the money, and repent of his foolishness; but he knew that he had his heart set to do this evil thing, so Peter did not give him the opportunity to repent. 

Note that he showed Ananias the origin of his sin, when he said Satan filled his heart.  Satan had suggested it and even assisted him.  The sin itself was that he had lied to the Holy Spirit. The lie was not so much to the apostles, but to the Holy Spirit in them.

There are similar stories in the Old Testament.  Allow me to recount just two. 

The first is the story of Achan; recorded in Joshua, chapter 7.  It begins with the announcement, But the Israelites did not obey the Lord. 

There was a man from the tribe of Judah named Achan.  He kept some of the things that were to be given to the Lord; therefore the Lord became very angry at the Israelites.  When the Israelites attacked Ai, they were defeated, because the Lord did not help them.  When Joshua complained to the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua, “The Israelites have sinned; they have broken the agreement I commanded them to obey.  They took some of the things I commanded them to destroy.  They have stolen and lied and have taken those things for themselves.  That is why the Israelites cannot face their enemies.  You will never defeat your enemies until you throw away those things.” 

The Lord told Joshua to have the tribes present themselves, and He would choose the one who had sinned; the one who had lied and tried to deceive God.  That person would be destroyed by fire, and everything he owned will be destroyed with him.  Early the next morning Joshua had all of Israel present themselves in their tribes, and the Lord chose the tribe of Judah.  So the family groups of Judah presented themselves, and the Lord then chose the family group of Zerah.  When all the families of Zerah presented themselves, the family of Zabdi was chosen.  And Joshua told all the men in that family to present themselves.  Then, The Lord chose Achan. 

Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, tell the truth.  Confess to the Lord, the God of Israel.  Tell me what you did, and don’t try to hide anything from me.”  

Achan answered, “It is true!   I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel.  This is what I did: Among the things I saw was a beautiful coat from Babylonia and about five pounds of silver and more than one and one-fourth pounds of gold.  I wanted these things very much for myself, so I took them.  You will find them buried in the ground under my tent, with the silver underneath.” 

So Joshua sent men who ran to the tent and found the things hidden there, with the silver.  The men brought them out of the tent, took them to Joshua and all the Israelites, and spread them out on the ground before the Lord.  Then Joshua and all the people took Achan to the Valley of Trouble.  They also took the silver, the coat, the gold, Achan’s sons, daughters, cattle, donkeys, sheep, tent, and everything he owned.  Then all the people threw stones at Achan and his family until they died.  Then the people burned them. 

After this the Lord was no longer angry.

The second story is a familiar one; the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11)

Bathsheba was the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was a trusted and loyal commander in the king’s army.  Once when Uriah was away on duty in the army, David saw Bathsheba taking a bath, and wanted her.  He took her by force and was intimate with her.  When Bathsheba knew she was pregnant by the adulterous encounter with King David, she sent word to him. 

David brought her husband home from battle, hoping Uriah would enjoy intimacy with Bathsheba and thereby consider himself as the father of her unborn child.  When this plan went awry, David arranged for Uriah’s death on the battlefield, then sent his messengers and brought Bathsheba to his palace.  David’s deceit was not a secret for long, because God revealed it to the prophet Nathan. He confronted David with his sin and David repented and sought God’s forgiveness.  But the damage was done, and even though God forgave him, David paid dearly for his sin.  The child by Bathsheba died despite David’s fasting and pleading before God. Eventually, they had another son; Solomon would be the next king after David.

The lesson from the stories of Achan, David and Bathsheba and Ananias and Sapphira is crystal clear-God knows everything that is going on in our lives.

Galatians 6:7 says, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

Ecclesiastics 12:14 declares, For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

And in Matthew 12:14-16 we read, Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.  But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there.

Then in Romans 2:16 Paul wrote, in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

We do not deceive God.  We can only deceive ourselves.

Finally, let’s see that the price of deception is high.

Look at what happened to Ananias. 

Verse 5 says, Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.

He died upon the spot.  It doesn’t say whether Peter expected that he would be struck dead or not; however, after he died, he probably did expect that the same thing would happen to Sapphira.  This punishment of Ananias may seem severe, but we can be sure that it was just and that it was necessary to uphold the honor of the Holy Spirit.  It was a great disrespect that Ananias had shown for the Holy Spirit and it could have invalidated the apostle’s testimony; for if they could not discover this fraud, by the power of the Spirit, how could they discover the deep things of God which they were to teach to the people?  Also, his death was an example to the people of how dangerous it was to resist the Holy Spirit; and this experience brought great fear to the other church members. 

Now, look at what happened to Sapphira.

Verse 10 says, Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

In this verse, we are told that several hours later, Sapphira came to Peter. She, too, was questioned about the price of the land. She was unaware of her husband’s death, so Sapphira repeated his deceit. Therefore, Peter also charged her with the crime against the Spirit of God.  He told her of Ananias’ death, and then predicted her own impending death. Immediately, she fell down and died and was buried next to her husband.

The deaths of Sapphira and Ananias stunned and frightened the small congregation. God showed Sapphira and Ananias, as well as the Jerusalem church, that He allows no dishonesty in His relationship with His disciples. Through the tragic story of Sapphira, the “beautiful,” God continues to show women that one’s relationship with the Lord must be based on more than outward beauty and empty promises—that is, upon the integrity of a heart commitment.

Through the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the Bible gives the clear picture that we cannot deceive God.

Conclusion

This is no time for pretending or playing games. God did not let the Early Church members play games and He will not allow us to do so either. This is serious business; Church is not a social club, it is a work of God. Those that boast of doing good works that they never did are lying to the Holy Spirit.  And those who promise good works they never do are committing a sin.

And those who make the good works they do more or better than really they are, come under the guilt of Ananias’s lie. But, be not deceived, God is not mocked.  If we think that we can cheat God, we are only fooling ourselves; and we are placing ourselves in the way of God’s judgment. So let’s insist on not playing games in our relationship with God or in our association with other Christians.  When we worship, we should worship in the Spirit and in truth. 

We are under grace today, so we are not obliged to give a certain amount, but let’s be sure to give whatever God lays on our heart.  Let’s never make a vow to God that we don’t intend to keep. Let’s be honest in all our dealings with God and men, because nothing can be hidden from God. But if we sin, we should be quick to ask His forgiveness.

Listen, God is not dealing with His Church today the same way He did in the beginning. He wants us to obey Him, because we love Him. Listen to the Holy Spirit of God that is inside, and listen to what He is saying in His word, and do it. Do it because you love Him.

Now let’s pray and ask God to keep us from sin and from even the temptation to sin.

 

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