Saturday, September 24, 2016

'Ananias and Sapphira' (Acts 4-5).

Backstory: God called Abraham promising him a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. Abraham’s descendants became slaves in Egypt, so God called Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai where God formed them into the ‘Nation of Israel’. God led them into their land under Joshua. Later God found David to be a king after His heart so He promised David a ‘perpetual kingship’ over God’s people. David’s son, Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple as a dwelling for God, but he also introduced an idolatry that led to the ‘Northern kingdom’ being scattered by the Assyrians and the ‘Southern Kingdom’ being ‘exiled in Babylon for 70 years’. The Persians conquered the Babylonians and let the Jews return to their land but they remained under Pagan rule. God’s people longed for a ‘conquering king’ to liberate them. God sent Jesus, who He ‘anointed by the Spirit’ at his baptism, and who overcame the Devil’s temptations. Jesus proclaimed the ‘Kingdom of God’, gathered a ‘new people (12)’ around himself and once they recognized his Messianic identity he went to Jerusalem where he was enthroned as ‘KING of the JEWS’ on a cross. Yet, God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus showed himself alive to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. From there Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit, empowering his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The apostles, Peter and John, amazed the people by healing a crippled beggar in the temple courts. Peter explained that the man had been healed ‘in the name of Jesus’ who they had crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. They acted in ignorance but the ‘prophets’ had foretold that the Christ would suffer so they were to ‘repent and turn to God’. Peter said that Jesus would remain in heaven until he returned to restore all things. Now number believed was over 5000 and when the religious leaders heard Peter’s preaching Jesus, they put Peter and John in prison. When questioned, Peter and John said that it was by the ‘name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth’ that the man was healed and that there was ‘no other name by which we can be saved’. To stop this message from spreading, the religious leaders forbid that they teach or preach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John had to obey God and couldn’t stop speaking about Jesus. The crowd was praising God so the leaders didn’t know what to do. They threatened the apostles and let them go. When Peter and John told their fellow believers what happened they prayed and God shook the place where they were and they were filled Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God boldly. This brings us to the story of ‘Ananias and Sapphira’ from Acts 4-5 which you may watch here and read the comments below.
Ananias and Sapphira: Now we find all the believers were together and unified. They shared everything in common and the apostles testified powerfully about the resurrected Christ.  Some believers even sold their houses and their land and gave the money to the apostles to be distributed to those in need (4:34). These believers shared everything in common and they were God’s ideal community. God had established the ‘new covenant’ through Jesus and they were the renewed ‘covenant community’. Jesus had claimed to have brought about the Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19) and these believers are described in terms of the Jubilee (Deuteronomy 15:4) ‘there will be no needy person among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.’ They were the true covenant community who had experienced the forgiveness of sins and who had been released from their debts (Luke 4, Isaiah 61). A man named Barnabas, a true Levite, sold some land and entrusted the proceeds to the Apostles. As a true priest among a ‘kingdom of priests’, Barnabas sold his property and the apostles shared the proceeds with those in need (Ex. 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9).

Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold some land but claimed to give all the money from the sale to the apostles. But they kept some of the money for themselves which was revealed to Peter. Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to kept some of the money you received for the land for yourselves?”  Evidently, Ananias was trying to make it look like they were giving all the money from the sale to the church ?as Barnabas had. According to Peter, Satan had put it in Ananias’ heart to lie to the Holy Spirit so that Ananias had not lied to men but to God. Then Ananias mysteriously fell down and died and some young men came in, carried out Ananias’ body, and buried him. The result of all this was that ‘great fear’ seized all who heard about this.

According to Peter, the land and the money belonged to Ananias so it is not that Ananias had to do what Barnabas had done. The problem with Ananias and Sapphira was that they were deceiving the community and lying to God the Holy Spirit. Sapphira was unaware that Ananias had died so when Peter asked her about the price of the land she had the opportunity to tell the truth. Yet, she continued the lie, which according to Peter was ‘testing the Spirit of the Lord’. Peter, mysteriously, was made aware that Sapphira would suffer the same fate as her husband. She died and the young men who buried Ananias buried her as well. The result was that ‘great fear’ seized the whole church and all who heard about this (Acts 5:1–11). This story is similar to the story of Achan (Joshua 7). After the victory at Jericho, Achan had taken some of the things that were to be devoted to the Lord, and had kept them for himself. Achan’s deception, like that of Ananias and Sapphira, was exposed and a supernatural judgment resulted.

The apostles continued to perform ‘signs and wonders’ and the people held them in high regard. Due to the circumstances, people were fearful about joining them, and yet the number of those who believed increased. The people put their sick on mats in the streets hoping that if Peter’s shadow passed by them then they would be healed. Moreover, crowds from all around Jerusalem brought their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. The miraculous signs validated the apostle’s message, but the high priests and the religious leaders were filled with jealousy. They put the apostles in jail, but the Lord sent an angel who released them and told them to go into the temple to speak the message of ‘new life’ (5:12–16). In the morning the apostle went into the temple to teach he people while the religious leaders of Israel met to discuss the problem of the apostles. They sent to the jail for the apostles but they found the jail locked and guarded with no one inside. Then someone reported that the men they had put in jail were in the temple courts teaching the people. They had the apostles brought to the elders without using force for fear that the people might stone them. The high priest questioned the apostles about their filling Jerusalem with their teaching and that they were trying to make them responsible for Jesus’ death. The religious leaders feared the people, but the apostles feared and obeyed God rather than men! They testified that the religious leaders had hung Jesus on a tree, but that the God of their fathers had raised Jesus from the dead. Moreover, God had exalted Jesus to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. The apostles were witnesses of these things and so was the Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him (5:17–32).

The elders were furious and they wanted to kill the apostles. However, Gamaliel, a Pharisee respected by all the people, stood up and addressed them. Gamaliel gave two examples of men who led revolts but were killed so that their movements died with them. Gamaliel’s advice was to let the apostles go for if their purpose was of human origin it would fail. On the other hand, if it was from God then wouldn’t be able to stop it for they would be fighting against God.  Gamaliel persuaded them so they flogged the apostles, ordered them not to speak in Jesus’ name and let them go.  The apostles left rejoicing for being considered worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus. Moreover, despite the warning, the apostles went daily into the temple courts and from house to house proclaiming that ‘Jesus is the Christ’ (5:33–42).

These religious leaders, instead of being guardians of Biblical faith, they were actually opposing God and God’s people. They were filled with jealousy and they wanted to kill the apostles until Gamaliel intervened. Gamaliel’s wise words won the day so the elders took his advice and left the apostles alone. The story highlights how far we fall short of the example set by the early church. The unity of purpose and the care they had for one another puts us to shame. The generosity of Barnabas in selling his property and sharing the proceeds with the community should challenge our complacency. The powerful working of God’s Spirit and the bold proclamation of the apostle in the face of opposition even their glorying in suffering for Jesus should humble us. Let us to pray in the words of the psalmist, “will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6, NIV84)

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