The Spirit Explodes
Part 6 of 22 - And now for the not-so-good news
(Acts 4:32 – 5:42)
The infant church begins to struggle with both internal problems and external ones. It is rather amazing that Luke tells us about some of the more difficult events. He clearly had a purpose in doing so. We will think about that in a few minutes.
We have already commented on the problems of this sort of living. Barnabas, who is going to figure prominently in the expansion of the church, is mentioned with clear approval of what he did. There were huge differences of wealth between the landowners and the working people in those days and this is clearly a comment about how those differences should be overcome within the fellowship of the church.
It also highlights the problem that we read about now in Acts 5:1–11.
Question 1: What exactly did Ananias and Sapphira do wrong? Why was the punishment so harsh? Christians probably do worse things these days. Why are similar punishments not visited upon the offenders?
Ananias was entitled to keep his land if he wished or to use the money from the sale as he wished. Presumably therefore he lied about what he was doing, saying he was giving all the money to the church when he wasn’t, keeping some of it for himself. Peter did not actually punish him; he “heard this, fell down and died”. There will have been a heightened atmosphere in those very early days when everything that happened was new, different and setting a pattern for the future. We (fortunately!) do not live in such extraordinary days so are not subject to such extreme reactions.
Question 2: Sapphira chose solidarity with her husband over solidarity with the Lord and his people. What are the rights and wrongs in what she did?
She had no way out when she was confronted with the accusation. Loyalty to a spouse is important, but she could only be loyal with further lies. Her mistake, her sin, was to agree with him to tell a false story about what they were doing in the first place.
Question 3: What was Luke’s motive in including this account 40 years after the events recorded when he could so easily have chosen to highlight other more positive events?
The essential honesty of the Biblical account shines through Luke’s writing. Also there is a strong warning here that we should be honest in all things.
Read Acts 5:12 –16.
Question 4: Acts5:13 “no one dared join them” and the next verse “more men and women were added to their number” seem to be saying two contradictory things. What can they mean?
This draws a clear distinction between those who had a vague interest in what was going on and those who were prepared to commit themselves whole heartedly to participation in the infant fellowship of those following Jesus. There is a message here for everyone who hears or reads this. Are you vaguely interested, or prepared to follow Jesus? One or the other. You cannot have both.
Read Acts 5: 17 – 32.
These verses record the first of three occasions in Acts when the apostles were able to walk out of prison. Luke emphasises by repetition again.
Question 5: Apart from a record of the facts what does Luke want us to understand as the significance of what happened?
God is in control however much appearances seem to suggest otherwise. The prison is an image of the world’s hostility to God’s purpose but is eventually powerless. The apostle’s return to teaching epitomizes the unstoppable nature of the Gospel.
Not many of us have the confidence Peter had that his hotline to God meant that he knew what his will was. (Wouldn’t we be rather dangerous people if we had such assurance?)
v 29 stands over against what Paul said in Romans 13: 1, 2. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Question 6: Where should we follow what we read here; where the teaching of the verses from Romans?
The general principle is in the verses from Romans. But if what the authorities demand is plainly contrary to the Will and Word of God then we have a responsibility to react as the apostles did.
We read Acts 5: 33 – 42
The Good News of Jesus did not stop as Gamaliel presumably thought it would. And it will not stop until Jesus returns at the end of the ages.
Note the thread of humility that runs through the actions of the apostles. They were surrounded by such an aura of spiritual power that within a shadow’s length people were healed; they taught; they were flogged; they did not stop.
Most of us do not suffer and we do not want to suffer “for the Name”. Yet if we must we must. And we honour those who inescapably do.