Acts 4 finished with Luke telling us about how the early believers shared what they had with one another. From time to time, those who could sold their property. And the proceeds were used to help those in the church who were in need. And Luke mentions the name of one person who do this. Joseph, who is better known as Barnabas, sold a field and brought the money and put it at the Apostles’ feet. So, Luke tells us how the believers loved one another. And he also tells us how the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And so we have these two emphasises: faith in the Lord Jesus who died and rose again and love for one another.
Verses 1 to 11
In chapter 5, we’re reminded that the church on earth, though being sanctified by God’s Spirit, is not yet perfect. We have been justified, but we have not yet been glorified. Though we love the Lord, we’re still tempted to disobey him. Though we are bound for glory, we still must struggle in this life with sin and the effects of sin. And so we read about Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Ananias sold a piece of property, just as Barnabas did. And, just like Barnabas, he brought the proceeds of the sale to the Apostles and laid it at their feet. But he didn’t bring all of the proceeds. He kept back some for himself. Now, there was nothing wrong in that. This was a freewill offering. No one was obligated to bring it. No one was being forced to bring it. You were free to bring some of it or all of it. And, in fact, no one was being compelled to sell anything. That’s what Peter is saying in verse 4 when he says that the property belonged to Ananias before he sold it. It was his — and he was free to do whatever he liked with it. And after it was sold, the money was at his disposal. In other words, he has free to do whatever he liked with the money. Keep it all. Give it all away. Give away a portion of it. It was at his disposal — and he could use it in any way he wished. So, the problem here is not that Ananias only brought some of the proceeds and kept the rest for himself. That’s not what the problem was. So, what was the problem? Well, according to Peter in verse 3, Ananias lied. He lied about his offering. Now, we don’t know the details, but we can guess, can’t we? Others were selling their property and bringing it all to the Apostles: ‘Here you are. This is what I got for my property. Please use it for the good of the church.’ And presumably Ananias did the same. He brought the money. Laid it at the feet of the Apostles. And said something like: ‘Here you are. This is what I got for my property. Please use it for the good of the church.’
The thing was: That wasn’t what he got for the property. He got more. Now, why would he lie like this? Well, again we don’t know for sure, but we can guess. We can guess that he wanted the Apostles and others to think well of him. He was seeking praise from the Apostles and the others for his generosity.
Look at me and how generous I am. I’m giving it all away.
Presumably it was something like this. However, Luke doesn’t explain why he lied. He doesn’t speculate about his reasons. He simply reports Peter’s accusation and the judgment that fell on him afterwards. So, look what Peter says in verse 3:
You lied to the Holy Spirit.
And then look at the end of verse 4:
You have not lied to men, but to God.
This reminds me of when the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul, when he was still known as Saul. He was on the road to Damascus to persecute the church in that city. And the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to him. And the Lord said to Saul:
Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
He was persecuting the church, but the church and the Lord are so closely related that an attack on the church is an attack on the Lord. And here in Acts 5 we learn that to lie to the church is to lie to God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and the church are so closely related that to sin against one is to sin against the other. Well, there is no other organisation in the world which is so closely related to God. We’re united to him and we’re under his care and protection so that whoever opposes the church is opposing our God. And whoever opposes the church must one day answer to God. But Peter’s words also remind us of the source of the opposition to the church. Peter says at Peter in verse 3:
How is it that Satan has so filled your heart….
Paul, in Ephesians 6 teaches us that members of the church are involved in a spiritual war. But in this war, we’re not fighting against people. We’re not fighting against flesh and blood, because we’re to love others, even our enemies. No, we’re fighting against the spiritual forces of evil. In other words, we’re fighting against the Devil and all his demons who are trying to destroy the Lord’s church.
And that’s what Satan is doing here. Luke has told us how the early believers loved and cared for one another. It’s almost like heaven on earth. But here’s the Devil who comes along and he’s trying to wreck the church the same way he wrecked the Garden of Eden when he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey the Lord. He’s trying to get one member of the church to lie to another member so that instead of sharing with one another, they’re deceiving one another. Instead of enjoying fellowship together, they’re being false to one another. And so, the unity and peace of the church is under threat here. And isn’t it interesting? In the previous chapter, the Devil was trying to destroy the church by force from without — the religious authorities threatened the Apostles and warned them not to speak about Christ. But in this chapter, the Devil was trying to destroy the church from within. And that’s the way it always has been, and always will be, until the Lord returns. That’s why we sometimes refer to the church on earth as the church militant, because we’re involved in a spiritual war and the Devil is always trying to wreck the church. But the Lord has promised (hasn’t he?) that the gates of hell will not prevail. Christ will continue to build his church and the Devil will not be able to stop him.
And so here, the Lord acts swiftly to deal with Ananias first. Verse 5: when Ananias heard Peter’s word, he fell down and died. Now, some commentators try to explain this away and say that the shock of being found out was too much for Ananias and he must have died of a heart attack. However, that will not do. It’s clear that what happened was an act of divine judgment. And then, three hours later, Sapphira comes in. She hasn’t heard what’s happened to her husband. Peter asks her in verse 8:
Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?
She has the opportunity to be truthful. But no. She tells a lie: ‘Yes, that’s the price.’ And this time Peter accuses her of testing the Holy Spirit. To test God means to provoke him to act. And in this case, it’s to provoke him to act in judgment because of their sin. And, verse 10, she too fell down and died.
What’s going on? It’s the Lord, acting swiftly to deal with this danger, the danger from within, just as he acted swiftly in the previous chapter when he heard the prayers of his people and gave them the boldness they needed to continue to preach the gospel despite the danger to them from without. The Lord Jesus, from his throne in heaven, will build his church here on earth.
Verses 12 to 16
In verse 12 Luke tells us that the Apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And in verse 15 he tells us that people laid the sick on the streets, hoping that they would be healed when Peter passed by and his shadow fell on them. Now, Luke doesn’t say that the people were healed in that way, but he does tell us in verse 16 that all those who came into Jerusalem from the surrounding towns were healed of their diseases and evil spirits. And (verse 13) while many people were afraid to come too close to the members of the church as they gathered together in Solomon’s Colonnade in the temple, nevertheless more and more men and women believed in the Lord Jesus and were added to their number so that the church continued to grow. In other words, as well as healing the people, the Apostles were preaching about Jesus Christ so that many would trust in him and added to the church.
Let me finish by saying that we need to distinguish clearly between the extra-ordinary and the ordinary. The Bible clearly teaches that extra-ordinary things can happen. And so, here in today’s passage, we have extra-ordinary things happening. We have people being healed in an extra-ordinary way. And we have people being disciplined in an extra-ordinary way. People were healed in a miraculous way by the Apostles. And people were disciplined in a miraculous way by the Apostles. And, of course, this isn’t the only place where we find such things being reported. In Acts 3 there was the lame man who was healed by Peter and John. And in Acts 13 Elymas the magician is struck blind for opposing Paul. Or in 1 Corinthians 11 we read about believers who became ill and died because of the way they abused the Lord’s Supper. These are all extra-ordinary events which we read about. But they’re extra-ordinary. Not everyone was able to perform miraculous signs and wonders in those days, for Luke tells us in verse 12 that it was only the Apostles who performed them. And we don’t read of other people dropping dead like Ananias and Sapphira did. These were extra-ordinary and unusual events. Now, God is able, of course, to do extra-ordinary things. However, he also works in a very ordinary way — and this is the way he ordinarily works today. He still works through signs, but they’re the very ordinary signs of water, and bread and wine, which speak to us of the truth of his promise to wash away our sins and to give us eternal life through faith in his Son. He still disciplines us, but he does it through his elders who have been appointed to oversee us and who have the authority to teach us the way of the Lord and to warn us whenever we go astray. And he continues to bring people to faith in Christ and to build up believers through the very ordinary preaching of his word by very ordinary people, which seems foolish to many, but to those who believe it’s the power of God for salvation.
As we read through the book of Acts, we read of these extra-ordinary things. But we also read of very ordinary things as well. And the remarkable thing is, God is so mighty and powerful that he’s able to work powerfully through the very ordinary things which we do in church every week to build us up in our faith and to enable us to remain faithful to him always. So, we shouldn’t despair because we don’t see extra-ordinary things happening today. Instead we should trust that God will continue to work through the ordinary things to build his church here on earth.