Jump Start # 2847
Acts 5:11 “And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.”
They are called “Yogisms.” They are the colorful, odd and backward sayings of Yankee great Yogi Berra. He had a bunch of them. He said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” One of my favorites is: “We don’t want to lose by making the wrong mistakes.” You have to think about that one for a moment. Is there such a thing as “Right mistakes?”
Our verse today might rightly be called losing by making the wrong mistakes. Things were going well for that first church in Jerusalem. They were growing, united and taking care of each other. But when we come to the fifth chapter, we fly right into a problem. It was an internal problem. It was a problem among the members.
Carrying over from the fourth chapter, where wealthy brethren were selling property and giving the money to the apostles so the needy among them could be taken care of, Ananias and Sapphira want to join in on this. No one told them that they had to do this. They sold some property, gave the money to the apostles, and they also gave them a lie. That lie ruined the good that they were doing. That lie was like a major tremor rumbling through the congregation. They seemed to want the emphasis upon the giver and not the gift. They seemed to have trouble taking their fingers off of the money. They wanted to look good to the brethren while still padding their own pockets.
Their scheme failed. Peter knew. God knew. Peter rebuked Ananias directly. This was not kept secret from the church. God struck Ananias dead. Three hours later, the same thing happened to his wife. She carried on the lie. She too, lost her life in disobedience and disgrace.
This is where our verse comes in. Fear, great fear, came upon the whole church. The God who pardons and offered salvation also took the life of those who were disobedient.
Now a few thoughts for us:
First, the purity and the integrity of the church was at stake. Had God looked the other way, deception may have filtered into the makeup of His kingdom. The first step of discipleship is to deny yourself. Ananias violated that. He thought more of himself. God could not have that continue. In cold reality, based upon Scriptures, the fist Christians to die, did not die by the hands of Jewish or Roman persecutors. The first to die were not martyrs. The first to die, were struck down by God in disobedience. God had tolerated a weak and uncommitted people for centuries in the Old Testament. But now, God was expecting holiness and purity.
Second, this reminds us that God does not overlook wrong because there was some good. Certainly, for whatever money Ananias gave, some brethren were benefitted. That was good. That made a difference. But we are not in a balance scale and as long as we have more good than bad, everything works out. We can justify the bad because we’ve done some good. That’s the way we think. It’s not the way God thinks. Our bad is not equaled out by our good. Sin can only be removed by the blood of Jesus, not our good deeds. All the good that we do will not give us a pass on the sins in our lives. We must confess those. We must seek the mercy of God for those things. Very easily and very quickly, we can turn our salvation into a system of works by believing the more good we do will take care of the bad that we do. That leaves no room for Jesus and for grace. That idea just doesn’t fit in with what the Scriptures teach. There is no encouragement to stop the wrong. Just make sure you do more right than wrong. We must be doing good. Not to get a better seat in Heaven and not to overcome the bad we do. We must do good because the Lord wants us to. We must do good because we love the Lord.
Third, this story reminds us that God does not play favorites. When Peter did wrong, Paul confronted him. No one gets to bend the rules. There are no double standards with God. The kids of the preacher are just as accountable as the kids of the janitor. And, the kids of the preacher should not be expected to do any more than the kids of the janitor are expected to do. God killed Ananias. God didn’t use that as a warning for the wife to change. When given the opportunity to be honest, she chose to be dishonest. When given the opportunity to come clean, she kept the lie going. It wasn’t all Ananias. She was just as involved. She was eating the forbidden fruit right along with him. God was consistent. God was just.
Fourth, great fear came upon the whole church. Rightly so. They had never seen anything like this. God struck down his own people. And among the church, there would be a great resolve to be honest and to draw closer to the Lord. Imagine someone among them who was thinking of doing the same thing. Imagine among them someone who had recently lied. What fear and what cleansing of the soul they must have had.
We don’t have great fear in the church these days. In fact, it’s just the opposite. People hear of others getting away with murder, so they do the same. Tolerating sin only weakens the message, pollutes the church and drains commitment. Nothing to fear. Nothing will happen. So, without accountability, members keep a foot in the world. Their hearts are not pure. They are not dedicated. They are not fully committed. And, why should they be? Nothing will happen.
This fear factor comes up again in the New Testament. In writing to Timothy, Paul told the preacher to rebuke sinful elders before all. The outcome of doing that would make others fearful of sinning. If an elder doesn’t get a pass, you know you and I won’t get one. If an elder is rebuked before everyone, likely the same will happen to us if we do not change our ways.
Fearful of sinning…great fear came upon the whole church. It’s sad that it takes dealing with wrong for that to happen, but a purer, more connected and more faithful church is the outcome.