Ananias and Sapphira
In last week’s message, the theme was the challenge that all of us who are Christians work together to know and obey God’s teachings because the failure of any one can result in trouble for other believers in this congregation and beyond.
I want to take a moment to quickly summarize last week’s passage because it will lead into today’s passage. Last week we considered a couple very good things and a very tragic thing that are recorded in chapters 6 and 7 of the Old Testament Book of Joshua.
One of the good things is that the people of God, after being forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years on their way from cruel slavery in Egypt to the land promised to them by God, were finally being allowed to enter that land.
That was a good thing for the people of God, even though there were cities in the Promised Land they would have to defeat in order to occupy their new area.
The first city was Jericho. You will remember there was no fighting in the defeat of Jericho. Instead, the plan of God was, as strange as it sounded and looked, for the people of God to walk around the city, doing so one time for six days straight. On the seventh day, the plan was for the people to walk around the city seven times.
At the end of the seventh time around, the people, who had been instructed to say nothing during any of the walking, were, at the completion of the circling on the seventh day, told to shout. To shout as loudly as possible. To shout all at the same time.
The result was a second good thing that happened. Maybe because of the sound waves hitting the walls of Jericho or maybe because God was pleased with their obedience, as soon as the shout was given, all the walls of Jericho fell, making it very easy for the people of God to defeat the city.
That was a very good thing for the people of God. The very first obstacle in the Promised Land was overcome with relative ease. However, right after that very good thing, the very bad thing happened. It happened with a soldier named Achan.
In announcing the plan of God, Joshua, the leader of the people of God, had added that after the taking of Jericho, all the silver, gold, bronze, and iron in the city was to be taken by the soldiers and given to the LORD’s treasury. Nothing from the spoils of battle was to be kept by any soldier. All that was valuable was to be for the LORD’s treasury.
There was also a warning given. The warning, like the instruction, was from God. It was that if the instruction was disobeyed by anyone, that one would be responsible for bringing trouble to all the people of God.
It seems that all the soldiers who entered Jericho obeyed that instruction. All the soldiers except Achan, who, despite the instruction and the warning, kept a robe and some silver and some gold, hiding them in the ground covered by his tent.
It might seem that just one soldier disobeying an order should not have had much effect. However, it did have an effect. Because of what Achan alone did, God was angry with all His people. The result was that in the second battle in the Promised Land - the battle to overcome the city of Ai - the fighting men of God who had gone to Ai were defeated, at least most of them killed in Ai or in their attempt to escape the massacre.
Shortly after that battle, Achan was accused of the theft. He admitted his sin, including that he had sinned against God Himself. The penalty he faced was the taking of what he had stolen, the taking of his family and all his possessions, and the stoning of him and his family.
As mentioned last week, such an extreme reaction to Achan’s sin seems very, very severe, but the point of Joshua 6 and 7 is that when any person of God sins, there are repercussion for all God’s people. Again, that is what God had Joshua announce before the battle of Jericho. For our purposes, if any of us sin, all the rest of us may be hurt.
That is not to be such a scary thing that we just turn around and leave rather than risk hurting others. It is instead a challenge that we personally strive to know and obey God. It is also a challenge that we help each other to know and obey God, but the point is that whoever does wrong does have a negative effect on other believers.
That point, for whatever reason, is really sticking in my mind. Maybe I am in need of extra prayer to be and stay obedient, but since it is sticking in my mind, I have been led to a New Testament passage for this message that has a similar ending to sin. It is early in the Book of Acts.
The Book of Acts tells of how the early Christian church got its start - the people who were leaders, many of the things that happened, including the rapid growth early on.
One of the early leaders was Peter.
In chapter 1 of Acts, Peter was instrumental is finding a replacement for Judas Iscariot, the disciple who had betrayed Jesus and then killed himself. Interestingly, the replacement - a man named Matthias - is not heard of again in the Bible, but Peter took the lead in his selection.
In chapter 2, Peter gave a sermon. A sermon about Jesus - that Jesus was and is the Lord - the one set aside to rule God’s people - and Christ - the Messiah.
Peter’s sermon was so powerful that upon hearing it, many people - many Jews, who were the ones who heard it - were, as it is worded, “cut to the heart.”
Part of the cutting was that Peter had accused the Jews of killing the Lord and Christ, which had happened when Jesus had been crucified. In their sorrow and their fear, the people said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What shall we do?” The people were anxious to atone for what had happened to Jesus.
The apostles’ answer was this. “Repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That, Peter added, is what “you can do to save yourselves.”
As soon as that answer was given, the people responded. They were baptized, having repented before that. They thereby expressed their interest in being guided by the Holy Spirit.
Listen to this. About 3000 people were baptized that day.
What a sermon Peter had given! More than that, what a tremendous miracle God did in making those 3000 people ready to respond.
And listen to this. All 3000 people, right after being baptized, began their devotion to learning what the disciples were teaching, to having fellowship with the apostles and with each other, to the breaking of bread, which refers to both celebrating Communion and having meals together, and to praying.
And that was just the start. After that, day by day, more and more people became Christians. The growth of the early church was phenomenal, which was a very good thing that happened in the early church.
Other good things that happened are recorded in chapters 3 and 4 of Acts.
Peter, in the name of Jesus, one day healed a man who had been lame all his life. Right after the healing, the man walked and leapt and praised God.
Peter did some more preaching about Jesus. That happened first among common people. After being arrested, the preaching was to the highest religious authorities of the Jews. After being warned by the authorities to not speak of Jesus again, Peter and the other apostles continued to tell others about Jesus, proving by the use of Scripture that He is Lord and Christ.
One more good thing is that all the Christians got along very well. One sign of that was their sharing of their belongings so that no one would have any need unmet.
Just as it had been with the victory over Jericho in the Old Testament, there were a lot of good things that happened in the Christian church early in the New Testament. However, in chapter 5 of Acts, something very bad happened. A sin occurred. In the Old Testament, Achan is the one who sinned. In Acts 5, it was Ananias and his wife Sapphira who sinned.
Here is what happened.
As mentioned, the early Christians shared their belongings with one other. One method of sharing was that those who possessed land or houses sold what they had, then pooled the proceeds with others who also sold land or houses they had.
Ananias and Sapphira had some property. As Christians, they decided to take part in the communal living. They sold their property.
However, with his wife’s knowledge, Ananias kept back some of the proceeds and took only part of the money to lay at the feet of the apostles.
As soon as that happened, Peter said, Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?”
Isn’t that amazing? Last week it was Joshua who seemed to know it was Achan, among all the people of God, who had sinned by keeping some of the loot from Jericho. Maybe it was a guilty look on Achan’s face. Maybe it was a revelation from God. But somehow Joshua knew of Achan’s guilt.
Here Peter knew of Ananias’ sin. Again, was it a guilty look? Or a revelation from God? It is not reported, but even without an investigation or even questioning Ananias, Peter knew Ananias had sinned.
“Why did you do that?” Peter asked. “Why has Satan - why did you allow Satan - to fill your heart? And know this. Your sin was not so much against your fellow Christians. It was against the Holy Spirit.”
Peter added this. “While your property remained unsold, was it not yours to do with as you wished? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal to use the money as you wished?” In other words, there was no law that insisted land and houses be sold. There was no requirement that the proceeds - that all or any of the proceeds - had to be shared with others. That means Ananias and Sapphira had not had to sell their property or turn all the proceeds over. They could have kept their property or some or all of the money made from the sale.
However, Ananias had pretended to give all the money. That was pretending since he kept some back.
Listen to Peter. “How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart. You have not lied to men, but to God.”
Have you ever been caught in a lie, or maybe some other sin? Ae you familiar with the horrible feeling you have in your heart, your gut, your mind? That is what Ananias felt when he was confronted by his sin.
But for Ananias, it was an extremely horrible feeling. So extremely horrible that when he heard the words of Peter, Ananias fell down and died.
Wow. What a happening that was to see. An event that caused great fear upon all who heard and saw what happened.
Interestingly, Sapphira was not in the crowd at that time, so she did not hear the conversation or witness Ananias’ death. Neither did she see the young men who rose and wrapped Ananias before carrying him out and burying him.
In fact, it was three hours before Sapphira went to where her husband had met his end. Maybe she went there because she had expected Ananias home a long time ago. She must have thought he might be with his fellow Christians.
About three hours later, Ananias’ wife Sapphira arrived. Again, she did not know what had happened. She knew about keeping some of the money back, but not what had happened when Ananias had been caught in a lie.
When Sapphira arrived, Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much [the amount Ananias had brought].
Had Sapphira admitted her sin - her and her husband’s sin - the result may have been just some discipline, but she did not admit her sin. She said to Peter, “Yes, the property Ananias and I sold did sell for the amount he brought to you earlier.”
Imagine Sapphira’s shock when she heard Peter ask, “How is it that you have agreed together with your husband to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark,” he added, “the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
Remember what was said about Ananias? The horrible feeling he got when he had been accused of lying? The feeling was so horrible it took his life away?
That is what happened when Sapphira was caught in her perpetuation of the lie. Her reaction was so extreme that she, too, fell down and died. She died at the very spot where Ananias had dropped dead.
The men who, just three hours earlier, had taken Ananias away, re-entered the area. They found Sapphira dead, then carried her out, and buried her beside her husband.
What an extreme reaction to sin. Both Ananias and Sapphira died after lying.
Now, we know that when sins were committed other places in the Bible - when sins are committed even now - falling over dead was and is at least rare. So, as it was last week, the intent of this message is not to make any of us so afraid of messing up we give up altogether. But the warning is still valid. Sin is very, very dangerous. Sin has tragic consequences. Consequences that certainly do affect others, as was the case with Achan in last week’s passage. His sin affected many of the other people of God, including soldiers who were soundly defeated, at least most of them killed during or after a battle against the city of Ai.
Interestingly, in Acts 5 no one else suffered physically. That is because a great fear came upon the whole church. Fear that led to the people being in awe of Jesus, which made it possible for many signs and wonders to be done among the people by the hands of the apostles. Signs and wonders that attracted many more people to believe in the Lord. Both men and women were added to the church and many healings happened, some of them occurring as Peter’s shadow fell on those in trouble. That, by the way, was not because of the power of Peter’s shadow, but because the Lord rewarded the people’s worship and trust.
No one else in Acts 5 suffered physically. However, there was suffering because the other Christians no longer had whatever talents God had given Ananias and Sapphira. They did not have Ananias and Sapphira’s fellowship any longer.
So why did Ananias and Sapphira die? I have read it is because God was insistent that the early church remain pure. If sin had been allowed at that time, the church might have died out very quickly.
And this. As was also mentioned last week, if we sin today, we may not have the severe punishment that Achan faced as he and his family were stoned to death. Applying that to today’s passage, again, we will likely not fall over dead wherever we happen to be standing when our sin is uncovered. But God still wants His people, including us, and His churches, including this one, to be pure.
The point is to keep working for that purity. To accomplish that personally and to help one another to be pure so that none of us will have to suffer from unrighteousness. Instead, that all of us will continue to grow in our faith.
Today’s closing song is one that reminds us the only way we can grow spiritually - the only way we can be obedient and pure - is by keeping our vision on Jesus. The song is the hymn Be Thou My Vision.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art -
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father and true Friend to me;
Thou in me dwelling, and I join with Thee.
Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, o bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Lord, help us, now and always, to know and do what You teach. We know we will be better off when that happens. Help us to remember that others will be helped as well.
It is dangerous to sin. If we sin, we will be affected negatively. Others will be affected negatively. So help us, please, to rise above doing wrong. Help us to strive for purity in all things. Help us to help others to do the same.
Thank You, Lord, for Your standards, for sharing them with us, and for offering Your strength so we can live up to them. Amen.