1Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?4Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
12The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
17Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20″Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
21At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23″We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.
25Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”26At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.28″We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! 30The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.35Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
People who don’t know any better sometimes tell me that Christianity is nothing more than a support for the weak. They think that Christianity can be a support for some people, and whilst they don’t have an issue with Christians, Christianity is not for them. They don’t need support; they are strong people who can take care of themselves. What always amazes me about this idea of Christianity as a prop is that it is so far removed from the picture we get in the New Testament of people having to defend their faith wherever they go. The early Christians had to be strong precisely because of their faith. Many of them were killed for what they believed. This doesn’t strike me as being indicative of a religion for weak people! In this passage from Acts we see some of the struggles faced by early Christians. We also see how God came to their aid, however, and helped them through those difficulties.
Acts 5 begins with quite a scary story; two early Christians, Ananias and his wife Sapphira, drop down dead because they have tried to deceive the Church, and consequently God. Ananias and Sapphira had sold a piece of property and brought the money to give to the apostles. They seem to have claimed that they were being super-generous and were giving all the money they had made as a gift to the church, but in truth they had kept some of the money back. Peter sees through them, though, and tells them that it was their money to do with as they wish; they didn’t have to give it to the church. Sapphira does the same thing, even more blatantly than Ananias. Peter specifically asks her if the money her husband has given is what they got for the land, and she says that yes, it is. By claiming to have donated all the money they had made, they are lying not only to the church, but to God too, and are therefore punished. This brings to mind a verse that is written in large letters on the side of a chapel in the middle of the Suffolk countryside – “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). It’s one of those rather scary verses that we all try to ignore, but it is nevertheless true. Its truth is demonstrated in this chapter of Acts; Ananias and Sapphira lie, thinking that they can get away with it, but God sees their sin and strikes them down. Whatever sins we commit, God knows about them, sees them, and, unless we have asked Jesus to be our saviour and strive to live our lives for him, we can be sure that we, too, will pay for our sin. That’s a nasty place to be, because we simply cannot afford the cost of our sin; it is only through God’s grace and the death and resurrection of Christ that we can be saved.
There’s further evidence that being a Christian is not always easy, and that our faith is certainly not a crutch for the weak. Later in this chapter we see the apostles arrested and put in jail by the Sadducees. They subsequently find themselves facing the Sanhedrin and the Chief Priest, who, you may remember, had warned Peter and John not to teach about Jesus. The Sanhedrin are very angry indeed, and feel very threatened by the presence of the apostles. They want to execute them. A Pharisee named Gamaliel, however, intervenes and points out that if the teachings of the apostles were purely of human origin, the movement would eventually die out and would cease to be a threat. This incident illustrates the dangers that confront many Christians. The apostles could have been executed for their beliefs, and this is still the case in many countries around the world today. Far from being a crutch for the weak, Christianity invites persecution from those who disagree with its teachings and feel threatened by its presence.
So far, this chapter of Acts has given us a rather bleak picture of being a Christian. What we also see, however, is the amazing power of God, and the way he supports and works through all of his followers. We have seen the Holy Spirit come with power upon the apostles several times already, and in this chapter we see an angel intervening to release the apostles from prison. We also see the consequences of the Holy Spirit working through Peter, that uneducated fisherman, giving him the confidence and the words to address the Sanhedrin and defend his actions. God is clearly working through Peter and the apostles; this is evident not just from the scene in the Sanhedrin, but also from their activities outside the temple when they were teaching and healing people. Because of the apostles’ actions, we are told that more and more people joined the church and became Christians. God works through all of his followers, even humble fishermen. God can use all of us to reach out to nonbelievers and to spread the Gospel far and wide. The Holy Spirit will support and equip us if we seek to serve God. God works through us all to change the world, and together we can make a real difference in the lives of individuals, and consequently whole communities, countries and across the whole world.
Being a Christian can be tough. We may find ourselves facing persecution and arousing the suspicions of the authorities, just as Peter and the apostles did. Despite that, God can use us and work through us. His Holy Spirit, which played such an important role in the life of the early church is still with us today, and supports us as we seek to serve God. The consequences of not doing so are great. God knows our actions, our thoughts and sees all of our sins. If the price of our sin has been covered by Christ’s death then we are saved, but if it has not been, we can find ourselves in real trouble!