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Friday, December 30 2011
Our last study saw the new believers selling their properties and bringing the proceeds to the apostles. A sense of awe is resting upon everyone. But something happens that is going to bring a new dimension to the new covenant community, and to Jerusalem at large. Satan is going to make an appearance, and he will attempt to do it from within the ranks of believers. Let's see what effect this will have on the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us continue with our Acts studies. This next study is going to have its serious side.
Ananias and Sapphira
Vs. 1,2: "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."
Why did Ananias and Sapphira decide to involve themselves in a deception? It may be that the esteem given to Barnabas caused envy to rise up in their hearts. Notice that Ananias did exactly what Barnabas did, "He laid it at the apostle's feet."
As we look at the Scriptures under study, I want to share two considerations with regard to this issue of deception. One will address whether Ananias and Sapphira were ever believers. The other will address the issue of how Satan tries to plant among believers, someone who is actually working for him.
Vs. 3,4: "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."
Some Powerful Lessons
Let deal with our first consideration as to Ananias and Sapphira being believers. There are some powerful lessons to be had here. Notice.
(1) It is Satan who has filled Ananias heart to lie. James tells us how a temptation works in a believer's life. In reading what James has to say, I will provide some fill in with the use of brackets [ ]:
James said, "Let no one say when he is tempted [a solicitation to evil], 'I am being tempted by God' [Or, God is in this]; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone [with evil]. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. [personal sinful longings.] Then when lust [personal sinful longings] has conceived [the temptation is in full control], it gives birth to sin [sin is acted on]; and when sin is accomplished [completes its act], it brings forth death [something always dies where sin gives birth]. Do not be deceived [don't be fooled. It works this way, every time], my beloved brethren [addressed to believers]." (James 1:13-16)
What James says may fit Ananias and Sapphira. With this couple, the sinful leaning appears to be envy, or pride. But any sinful leaning can become an opportunity for Satan to gain an advantage over that area. This is why believers should not flirt with sin. And as for temptation, we are told both to flee from temptation, but also to pray that we not enter into temptation. 1 Thessalonians 5:22, Matthew 26:41
Listen again to what Peter says to Ananias; "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit ... Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Do you see it? This is exactly the way James lays it out.
Here's the crux. If a temptation can gain full control over a believer, that person loses all sense of moral bearing. The believer's discernment gets muddy. White becomes black. Evil becomes good. And who is going to be hurt doesn't become part of the picture. In fact in a temptation of this sort, Satan paints a picture of everyone ending up happy. So while Ananias was thinking about how to get honour from the apostles, the idea of death and destruction, or the idea of actually lying to God didn't enter the picture.
Planted By Satan?
Now let's take the second consideration, in which Ananias and Sapphira were never true believers to begin with, but had been planted by Satan.
When Peter said that Satan had filled their heart. The Greek term for filled is 'pleroo', which means to make full. It carries the idea of totality. It can only mean that their entire inner being had been filled with a lie. This speaks of Satan being fully in charge.
Is this a case of a sinner being empowered by Satan in an attempt to destroy the work of God? John seems to think so. He says, "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1John3:10)
Notice the language used of Judas:
"The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people. And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them." (Luke 22:2-4)
The scene appears much the same. But what is the lesson we need to learn? The lesson is that the greatest damage Satan can afflict among believers will always be to get someone into a position or leadership. This is true whether it is be someone he is able to plant, or if he somehow can get a believer misled in this area. In any event, Satan has made an intrusion.
The Judgment of God
Vs5: "And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it."
Notice that it doesn't say that Peter pronounced a death sentence on Ananias. This was God's doing. But Peter took his cue from the Holy Spirit, and did pronounce the death sentence on Sapphira.
Let's take verses 6-10 as a whole. There is little comment to be made.
Vs. 6-10: "The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, 'Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?' And she said, 'Yes, that was the price.' Then Peter said to her, 'Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.' And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband."
Very often we as believers are unable to conceive of God bringing such an awesome judgment upon anyone. We are so use to preaching love and grace. But keep in mind that Satan is always looking for a place to work among God's people. And in this case it was crucial that such a serious offence be dealt with quickly. And this judgment would ultimately serve to advance the gospel.
Bad Things ... Good People?
Note: There is a form of teaching today that leaves the impression that if anything bad ever happens to a believer, it has to be Satan's doing, and the believer simply needs to rebuke the enemy. Not only is that form of teaching none Biblical, it can do damage to the walk of a believer. It allows for the no true repentance.
The fact is that because God does love us so much, He will introduce a punitive judgment in our life to bring about a correction or repentance where it is needed. The apostle carefully spells this out. Paul says ...
"For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world." (1Co11:30-32)
What is the result of this incidence of Ananias and Sapphira? Note:
Vs11: "And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things."
Now a new element is involved. Not that this will take away from the joy and rejoicing of believers. Rather, it will help produce the true fruit of repentance, both among believers who may be erring, and among those who are turning to the Lord.
In completing this portion of our studies, I want to point out something about the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord refers to an awesome respect and love for our heavenly Father, and for His truths. It is a healthy fear. When the prophet describes the attributes of Messiah, this is what is said,
"And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is his treasure." (Isaiah 33:6)
How about it? Would you not like to have the same treasure? Think about it.
Apostolic signs and wonders
Vs12: "At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico."
The word sign 'semeion' speaks of something that serves as a pointer or an aid in perception or insight. Semeion carries the idea of a distinguishing characteristic, such as a miraculous event that serves to confirm something. In this case the 'signs' confirmed the apostolic ministry. The word wonders 'teras' is similar. It speaks of something that is so unusual that it causes wonderment among the peoples. The purpose of these would be to establish the spiritual authority of the apostles of the Lamb. The apostles are the witnesses of Jesus.
Vs13: "But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem."
Who are these who dare not associate themselves with the apostles? These are Jewish people who have not come to the place of accepting Jesus openly, or fully as Messiah. Why are they so fearful of associating with the believers? There could be multiple reasons, but one reason would simply be to recall the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
Vs14: "And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number ... " We might have expected a decrease among believers after Ananias and Sapphira, but the ranks of believers are swelling. God is pulling to Himself a people. And the apostles of the Lamb are ministering right under the nose of Caiaphas and the high priestly authorities.
The Shadow of Peter
Vs15,16: "... to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed."
Notice that these awesome healings and miracles are taking place through the apostles. Some are being healed when Peter's shadow passes over them. We didn't even see this with Jesus. Perhaps these are some of the 'greater things' He said the disciples would do. Have you seen anything like that? Have you even heard of anything like that?
These awesome miracles are for one purpose --- not only the spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they served to validate the apostles of the Lamb as His witnesses. And to give them their rightful place in laying the foundation for the Church. (Remember people taking handkerchiefs or aprons from Paul's body and demons and diseases left the peoples.)
Also keep in mind that it is these apostles alone who have the full right to determine what true doctrine is to be. They had particular authority that would be given to no other person. And this is why that any Church tradition that disannuls the writings of the apostles is a tradition that can be considered a false doctrine.
This brings is to a most important Scripture. Paul said, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord..." (Eph2:19-21)
A Second Encounter With Temple Authorities.
Vs. 17, 18: "But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail."
Notice that the driving force is jealousy. The high priest and his associates was use to receiving honour as the highest authorities in Israel. Now the honour is passing to the apostles. You see, jealousy is never rational. It is a consuming power that destroys anything that gets in its path.
The Ministry of Angels
Vs. 19-20: "But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 'Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life. Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. '"
Angels are servants of the kingdom. And they have special concern for believers. Heb1:14. You can be sure that the angel who was sent to release the apostles, came directly from the throne of God. What was the message to be given? The angel said, "Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life." And so the apostles head right back to the temple. The message of eternal life in Jesus Christ to be spoken to the heart of the Jewish nation.
In conclusion Sign and wonders are to confirm the message of the kingdom, but we must understand that the enemy will always be upset with anything that glorifies the name of Jesus Christ. In the face of any opposition to the preaching of the gospel the Angels of the Lord are always available to help us as we trust in the Lord always.