All of us should be passionate about the mission of the church, that is, to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and make disciples.
CHURCH GROWTH AMIDST OPPOSITION
All of us should be passionate about the mission of the church, that is, to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and make disciples. As the calendar takes us farther and farther from the life and ministry of Jesus and the activity of the New Testament church, we seemingly have become more passive and casual about the Great Commission. The peril of this passivity has produced a Laodecean state of lukewarmness and a dimming of the light of gospel preaching and the saving grace that was given to a lost world through Jesus Christ, our LORD.
As the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26), it is in our text today that believers are first called “the church.” My intention is, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to preach in expository fashion through these verses, in hope that a fire now smoldering will be fanned to become a bonfire of revival and a stirring in the Spirit.
- But a certain man named Ananias with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
- And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Envy and a carnal mind probably caused the couple to play games with a worship rite that God takes very seriously. They observed the respect for Barnabas and his great generosity, and wanted that for themselves. He kept back part of the proceeds: They sold the possession, and gave only a portion to the church, while publicly implying that they had sacrificially given it all to the church. The word for kept back is nosphizomai, which means “to misappropriate” The same word was used of Achan’s theft in the Greek translation (Suptuagent) of the Old Testament (Joshua 7:21) and in its only other New Testament use, it means to steal (Titus 2:10).
“The story of Ananias and Sapphira is to the Book of Acts what the story of Achan is to the book of Joshua. In both narratives an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God.” (Bruce)
“There may indeed be the further implication that Ananias and Sapphira had vowed to give the whole proceeds of the sale to God, but then changed their mind and handed over only part.” (Bruce)
“Once the love of money takes possession of a person, there is no evil that he cannot or will not do.” (Horton)
According to Calvin, these are the “evils packed under” the sin of Ananias, beyond the mere attempt to deceive God and the church: the contempt of God, sacrilegious defrauding, perverse vanity and ambition, lack of faith, the corrupting of a good and holy order, and hypocrisy.
- But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
- Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, wvas it not in thine own power? why hast thou Conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
- And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
- And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
God apparently gave Peter supernatural knowledge of what Apanias had done. This spiritual gift, called the word of knowledge, is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8. When Peter said this, Ananias must have been crushed. Certainly, he was expecting praise for his spectacular gift, but was rebuked instead. Peter did not accuse Ananias of lying to the church, or to the apostles, but to the Holy Spirit Himself. And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Peter freely acknowledges that the land and its value belonged to Ananias alone; he was completely free to do with it what he wanted. His crime was not withholding the money, but in deceptively implying that he was giving it all. Of course, his sin was greed (in keeping the money); but his greater sin was pride, in wanting everyone to consider him so-spiritual that he “gave it all.” It wasn’t that Ananias’ gift wasn’t big enough, but that the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8). Sadly, the spirit of Ananias is alive and well in the church today. Far too many want to be considered “‘spiritual” while refusing to pay any kind of price in their service to God.
While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Ananias was free to use the money for whatever he wanted, except as a means massage his ego and inflate his own spiritual pride. Satan had filled the heart of Ananias, yet Peter could ask why he had conceived this thing in your heart. Satan can influence the life of a believer, even a spirit-filled believer, but he can’t do your sinning for you. Ananias had to conceive it in his heart.
Peter did not pronounce a “death sentence” on Ananias. He simply confronted him with his sin and Ananias fell down dead. It isn’t the business of the church to pronounce a “death sentence” on anyone!
“The Church has never been harmed or hindered by opposition from without; it has been perpetually harmed and hindered by perils from within. Observe that Peter said no word to Ananias about his death. The sentence was not calling down upon a man of a curse at the caprice of an ecclesiastical official. The death of Ananias was the act of God.” Campbell Morgan
Peter was probably more surprised than anyone when Ananias fell down dead! It was actually God who struck Ananias dead for his sin. Doesn’t this seem rather harsh! Not really! God often delays His righteous judgement, but in this case, God determined that Ananias simply could not live in the atmosphere of purity that marked the church at that time. God acted because this was a critical time for the early church, and the vanity and scandal had to be dealt with. Satan had infiltrated the church, and if not dealt with swiftly, the attack of the enemy could have corrupted the entire church while still in its infancy. The church was vulnerable, but God protected it! The message for all of us is not to presume upon God that we have time and opportunity to repent and make it right. Any such time given by God is a gift that He owes no one; we should never assume it will always be there.
You see, the church that Jesus said, “I will build”, has been established by the blood of the Martyrs. In those first century believers, there existed a heart of determination and commitment that so securely bound them together as one in Christ, they endured the persecutions, hazarding their own lives, dying for their faith at the hands of a cruel Roman emperor. They were fed to lions and tigers and beasts of the Coliseum, an arena where pagans gathered to laugh, mock, and scorn the faith of men and women who paid the ultimate price. They were perched upon a platform, challenged to deny their faith, and when they refused they were thrown upon the Roman knife and sawn assunder. They were hunted like animals, burned at the stake, boiled in oil, and crucified. And while many were giving their life for God and the Church, for Ananias and Sapphira to play such a silly game of fleshly greed, God invoked judgment swift and just. God’s eternal purpose was accomplished in the church at large. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. Surely, this passage is one of the great understatements of the Bible!
- And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
- And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
- Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
- Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband
- And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
Sapphira was a knowing and willing participant in the sin, as well as the blatant cover-up. God’s judgment of her is just as righteous as His judgment of Ananias. This is the first use of the word church in the Book of Acts. What is the church?
“The Christian ekklesia was both new and old – new, because of its relation and witness to Jesus as Lord and to the epoch-making events of his death exaltation and the sending of the Spirit; old, as the continuation of the ‘congregation of the Lord’ which had formerly been confined within the limits of one nation, but now, having died and risen with Christ, was to be open to all believers without distinction.” F. F. Bruce
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.
Solomon’s Porch was a place where disciples gathered. The second temple was a massive compound, with extensive colonnades and covered areas. No doubt, the early Christians gathered together in a particular area of the temple complex, an area open to all.
- And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
- And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.
None of the rest dared join them. The community of Christians had a marvelous reputation for integrity, and everybody knew it was a serious thing to be a follower of Jesus. An Ananias and Sapphira incident would cut down on casual commitment! Yet, the church kept growing, though people knew it was a serious thing to be a Christian, the Spirit of God kept moving with power. Notice how new believers were added. Added to the Lord, not to a “church or a person or even a movement, but to God Himself.
- So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.
- Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
They brought the sick out into the street. People were so convinced of the reality and power of what the Christians believed, they thought they could be healed by the mere touch of Peter’s shadow. However God chose to bring the healing, there is no doubt that a remarkable work of healing was present. We shouldn’t miss the connection between the purity preserved in the first part of the chapter (with the death of Ananias and the fear of God among the Christians) and the power displayed here. God was blessing a pure church with spiritual power.
17. Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation
18. And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
The apostles, like Jesus whom they represent, are persecuted because their good works and popularity are a threat to those who have an interest in the status quo of religious and moral darkness.
- But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors and brought them forth, and said,
- Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
Of course, this was easy for God to arrange. Angels are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14) God sent forth this angel to minister for the apostles. Locked doorş are nothing for the Lord! They are not only set free, but they are set free for a purpose, that they may Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life. God did not set the apostles free so they could run for the hills or so they could just indulge their own comfort. They were set free for a reason. Isn’t this a pattern for our own lives? We are set free so that we may proclaim all the words of this life, instead of being set free for our own pleasure and comfort.
- And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
- But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,
- Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.
- Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
- Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.
- Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.
- And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
- Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.
What obedience! What boldness! They went to the most public place they could (the temple), and as soon as they could (early in the morning). When they were thought to be in the prison, they were obediently teaching God’s word. When the high priests and other officials found out the apostles were gone, but the prison was still shut securely, they wondered what the outcome would be. They might have wondered, but we don’t – we know God’s work will continue.
Satan hates it when he thinks he has Jesus or his disciples trapped and in his control. It’s like going to a snare and find out the trap is tripped but the plan didn’t work.
There is no device of Satan’s concoction that can hold a child of God who has a call of God on his life. The whale cannot keep him down, he’ll spit him up. The lion’s den can’t kill him, the furnace can’t burn him, the cross can’t defeat Him, and the grave can’t hold Him.
The captain went with the officers and brought them without violence The apostles were soon arrested again. It would have been tempting for them to think that since they were miraculously released, that God would keep them from being arrested again, but that wasn’t the case. When the apostles went back into custody, they knew how easy it would be for God to release them again, if it pleased Him to do so. Their past experience of the power of God had filled them with faith for the present.
The accusation of the high priest is a wonderful testimony to the powerful effectiveness of the message preached by the apostles. The high priest himself declares they have filled Jerusalem with [their] doctrine. He also knows that they want to bring this Man’s blood on the Jewish rulers!
By calling Jesus this Man, the Jewish leaders are obviously avoiding the name Jesus, but they can’t avoid the power of the Name of Jesus; it is staring them right in the face.
The charge that the apostles did “intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us” is interesting. The high priest no doubt meant that the apostles intended to hold the Jewish leaders responsible, in some measure, for the execution of Jesus (Acts 2:23) Yet, we know that the apostles must have desired for the high priest and three other Jewish leaders to come to faith in Jesus, even as some other priests did (Acts 6:7). For certain, the apostles wanted to bring the covering, cleansing blood of Jesus upon the high priest!
- Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
- The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
- Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins
- And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
This was a testimony of great boldness, in contrast to the Sanhedrin, who were more concerned about man’s opinion than God’s opinion. The apostles’ response to the Sanhedrin is not a defense, nor is it a plea for mercy; it is a simple explanation of action.
Yes, we should obey rulers, but not when they contradict God! This was a testimony faithful to the foundation of the Christian faith. Peter speaks of man’s guilt (Jesus whom you murdered), Jesus’ death (hanging on a tree), Jesus’ resurrection (Him God exalted to His right hand), and our responsibility to respond (to give repentance to lsrael and forgiveness of sins).
Why does Peter refer to the cross as a tree? Because he is drawing an association from Deuteronomy 21:22-23, where it says that a person hanged from a tree is cursed by God. Peter is bringing attention to the magnitude of their rejection of Jesus, pointing out that they killed him in the worst way possible, both from a Roman perspective (the cross) and a Jewish perspective (the tree association).
“While xylon [tree] was used in antiquity and in the LXX variously for ‘a tree, ‘wood’ of any kind, ‘a pole,’ and various objects made of wood, including ‘a gallows,’ it is also used in the New Testament for the cross of Jesus.” (Longenecker)
We are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit: This was a reliable testimony, because it is based on eyewitness testimony, which is also confirmed by God!
- When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
- Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; 35. And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
- For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
- After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
- And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought.
They were furious! A Pharisee named Gamaliel, this was the grandson of the esteemed Hillel, was the founder of Israel’s strongest school of religion. He was given the title Rabban (“our teacher”), which was a step above the title Rab (“teacher”) or Rabbi (“my teacher”).
The Mishnah says of Gamaliel: “Since Rabban Gamaliel the elder died there has been no more reverence for the law; and purity and abstinence died out at the same time.
Significantly, Gamaliel was a Pharisee. Though the Sadducees had more political power (Acts 5:17), it was politically foolish for the Sadducees to ask the Romans to execute the apostles without support from the Pharisees.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, does mention a Theudas who led a rebellion, but at a later point than this. It could be that Josephus had his dates mixed up or that this was a different Theudas (it was a common name). Josephus does describe a Judas of Galilee (Antiquities, 18.1.1,2,6 and 20.5.2) who may be the same one mentioned here.
Gamaliel was speaking for himself and not for God. There are many movements that are considered successful in the sight of man, but are against God’s truth.
Success is not the ultimate measure of truth.
Gamaliel was really a fence sitter. He spoke as if they should wait and see if Jesus and the apostles were really from God. But what greater testimony did he need, beyond Jesus’ resurrection and the apostles’ miracles? Why does he adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude?
Gamaliel proposed the test of time, and that is an important test, but more important than the test of time is the test of eternity
“We should not be too ready to credit Gamaliel with having uttered an invariable principle… the Gamaliel principle is not a reliable index to what is from God and what is not.” (Stott)
- And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
- So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.
- And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
The leaders thought they would intimidate and discourage the apostles with a beating. Instead, they left rejoicing. They were not rejoicing that they suffered, but that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. It was a privilege to be associated with Jesus in any circumstance, even to suffer shame.
Beaten can also be translated skinned. The beating they received stripped the skin off of their backs. Marshall on the beating they received: “It was no soft option; people were known to die from it, even if this was exceptional. It was meant to be a serious lesson to offenders.”
They did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Whatever beating or shameful treatment the Sanhedrin gave them, it did absolutely no good. The disciples didn’t stop preaching for a moment. Would we have stopped? Is a beating or social rejection enough to get us to back down for Jesus? We need to have the apostles’ courage and determination to stand firm for Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon spoke of this kind of bold heart: “Now, I charge every Christian here to be speaking boldly in Christ’s name, according as he has opportunity, and especially to take care of this tendency of our flesh to be afraid; which leads practically to endeavours to get off easily and to save ourselves. Fear not; be brave for Christ. Live bravely for him who died lovingly for you.”
Spurgeon also challenged the cowardly heart: “Yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject.
What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!”