It’s been awhile since we’ve been in Acts and I’m excited and honored to preach on this part of God’s Word today. This passage feels intimidating. It may also feel embarrassing. You might find it confusing and difficult. You might find it cruel, brutal, and unjust. You may be asking, ‘Why in the world is this in the Bible?!’ Let me remind you of what the Apostle Paul says, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17) ALL of Scripture. We do not need to fear this passage.
We do not need to explain it away or get God off the hook. We DO need to read the story of Ananias and Sapphira and engage with it and dive deeply into it, because it really isn’t about Ananias and Sapphira – it’s about God. When we do so and allow the Holy Spirit to pull back the blinders of our fear, confusion and sin, we will be able to see and know our good and HOLY God more.
Holy – this word is central to understanding this passage. This passage is all about holiness. God’s holiness, holiness of his people, the Church; the holiness of the community depends on the collective holiness of individuals. God is holy, God wants and has called (commanded) his people to be holy and what is revealed to us here is that God also preserves the holiness of His Church.
What is Holiness? It’s important to define holiness: for Christian’s it’s a word know and use and just seem to understand, but when we’re asked to define it we pause, think, think some more, and then get worried because we can’t really define it. When we do, we usually (and others do too) land on something like moral purity and perfection. That’s part of it, but a secondary part, primarily, holiness is about being ‘other’, literally ‘set-apart’.
When we say God is holy (Scripture testifies that God alone is holy), we’re saying that there is nothing or no one remotely like God, at all. There are different types of people – short and tall, people of different ages, ethnicities, etc. – but at the end of the day, all people are fundamentally the same (men and women made in God’s image, with a need to know God, same basic needs.
There are different kinds of dogs – all sorts of different breeds of dog, but at the end of the day they’re all dogs not cats, or fish, or anything else. We can’t perform the same exercise with God; he is not one of many of the same kind
‘There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.’ (1 Samuel 2:2 – Hannah’s Prayer) There is no one like God. He is on a completely unreachable, untouchable level; no one can obtain his status, because they are not him.
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ (Revelation 4:8 – John in the Throne Room) Everyone and everything has a beginning and an end, except for God; and he is the same forever.
‘But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.’ (Isaiah 5:16 – self-evident holiness) God’s holiness is part of his nature. Doesn’t come from the outside. Is made visible in all his works.
Isaiah 6 (God’s glory and perfection): God is so perfect that Isaiah immediately knows he is unworthy to stand before this God who is so gloriously perfect.
The glory of God’s holiness is that he makes us holy; the Church is God’s set apart people, chosen by Him to be holy, to be different, to be set apart from the ways of the world and sin.
God sets the context at the beginning of the Book of Acts. He has created a people (the early Church) for himself, and we’ve seen previously (once in Acts 2 and at the end of chapter 4) that they’re living together in holy harmony caring for each other, sharing with each other their gifts and possessions, even in some instances selling things or land in order to meet needs as they arise! Why? ‘All of the believers were one in heart and mind…’ (Acts 4:32)
J.C. Ryle: Holiness is the habit of being one mind with God, according to as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgement, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measures everything in this world by the standard of His Word.
Charles Spurgeon: If you think you can walk in holiness without keeping up perpetual fellowship with Christ, you have made a great mistake. If you would be holy, you must live close to Jesus.
God has made them holy (set-apart) and their holiness is OBVIOUS to everyone around them, BECAUSE they were determined in following the Lord and being near to Him. We have a holy God who in His grace has made a holy people, who are living a holy and beautiful life together. It is into this scenario that this story takes place.
We’ve got a husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, visibly part of the early Church in Jerusalem, and they have sold some of their land. They’re seemingly ordinary people, doing a deed that was not unusual at that point, however, there is one major difference. We have a conspiracy on our hands; not a righteous holy deed, but deception. Together, Ananias and Sapphira hold back some of the money, giving the rest to the apostles.’ (Acts 5:2)
Why is this so bad?: Peter’s words to Ananias make it clear, ‘You have lied to God.’ Evidently, Ananias and Sapphira promised to sell some land (which was not required of them), give all the money to the apostles (also not required of them), and went back on their word in keeping some money for themselves. This act was never about serving other Christians or being holy, it was about serving themselves, gaining a good reputation, being well thought of, and getting to add a little to their wallets
We’ve got a word for this sin: Hypocrisy. This is not when a Christian trips up and sins. The reality of the life of the Church is that we are simultaneously saved, justified before God and sinners. Although we should always be striving for holiness, we are not perfectionists. Hypocrisy is when one professes faith, pretends to pursue Christ with all they are, and yet is faking it the entire time in order to gain status, a good reputation, or to meet some other goal rather than godliness. Like a pimp uses women as prostitutes to make money for himself, so hypocrites seek to use the Church and Christian faith to steal God’s glory for his or herself.
That’s how serious real hypocrisy is; it’s part of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin. (see Mark 3:28-29) Ananias and Sapphira have said this act we are doing is holy, it is of God, the Spirit has lead us to do this, all the while in secret they have planned together, hearts filled by Satan himself.
Severe sin means severe judgement. Now, there are some things to mention about this sin in general.
1. This example is not normative: On this occasion this is how God has judged Ananias and Sapphira in their sin of hypocrisy, but this is not the way we should be expecting God to do so. This judgement took place in this way, at this time, for a specific reason: These were the beginnings of the Church, infant stages, holy and devout, and Satan is attempting to sow seeds of chaos in order to thwart God’s plans.This sin left unchecked would have absolutely destroyed the community and character of the Church; they would have lost the unity of heart and mind, the holy community and distinctiveness.
This is really a moment of grace. By this judgement God prevents His people from being corrupted by evil of how God would continue to protect and preserve His church from sin and hypocrisy,
2. It demonstrates just how holy/righteous God is and how awful and terrible sin is. The nature of sin is horrible. We must know this and it is a glorious act of mercy that God would AGAIN be so clear! Sin has separated us from God, it’s corrupts us, dehumanizes us, mutilates us, defiles us, literally kills and destroys us! And yet, often times we don’t take sin seriously enough!
You might read this passage and think, ‘Well, God’s being a bit harsh isn’t he?’ No! Ananias and Sapphira have essentially done what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. Undoubtedly they’ve heard the good news of Jesus, they’ve heard that in faithful response they too must walk in righteousness, and they ignored it all. They’ve communicated that they believe they’re better at being god than God is! They’ve said what matters is my glory, that the Church serves my aims! They’ve proclaimed themselves Lord, directly going against what they have undoubtedly heard, THAT CHRIST ALONE IS LORD!
When we excuse sin as not being all that bad or when we live in sin as if God wasn’t holy (or let alone real) then we do the very same thing. We mock God the Father, we mock Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us. We mock the Holy Spirit.
Kevin Deyoung: The hole in our holiness is that we don’t really care much about it.
An absolute shame because God is holy, and we’d better care about at. He certainly does. He cares enough about your holiness to send His one and only, holy Son to die for us. You think this passage is rough? You haven’t looked at the cross enough or at all.
‘Have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.’ (Ephesians 5:11) How seriously do we take that command? More often than not we don’t take it seriously enough. God takes sin seriously, he takes our holiness seriously – we ought to as well
So what is to be done? Repent. Notice that Sapphira gets a chance, but sin has so hardened her heart, she holds God in such contempt that she doubles down (don’t double down, God is faithful and just…), confess your sins to each other: wives and husbands, parents and children, brothers and sisters, friends, etc. otherwise sin will fester and holy fellowship among us will be spoiled. Stay close to Christ: we will never be holy if we never look to the one who is holy.
The judgement was necessary because God is holy and judges wickedness, and in order to direct and preserve his people (fear of the Lord).
God’s judgement also yielded one other MAJOR result: the Church grows. Now, this is seems surprising doesn’t it? Two people have instantly fallen over and died. Under any other circumstance, you’d turn tail and run and, indeed, some do. ‘… no one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.’ (Acts 5:13) but what about verse 14: ‘Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.’
Why? Because God’s holiness is beautiful. When God’s holiness is on full display its captivating and breathtaking. It demonstrates that God is faithful and dependable. His holiness shows us that there is something else beyond our frail ideas, philosophies, and desires. He proves that he is worth following. He demonstrates yet again that His people will never be overwhelmed, let down, lead astray, or defeated. We are reminded that the gates of hell will never prevail against His church.
God’s holiness makes a lasting impression on those who see it. The many people who, by faith, were added to the Church’s number saw it and bent the knee in joyful adoration. They couldn’t help it. Even the few who didn’t dare to join did so because they knew that following Christ was serious business.
Our own holiness as a people: in those days the Church was few in number and was for persecuted for centuries. Today we find ourselves in that minority position too. Because of that you will hear people rightly talk about evangelism and mission – the spreading of the Gospel.
Praise God for that; what Christians have always been about.But what about our own holiness? What is it that drew people in and made the Church stand out? What made people see the power of God’s truth? God’s holiness fleshed out in the lives of the Church
All our evangelism, all of our outreach, all of our strategies, all our churches will not make a difference in the lives of the lost and in the world at large if the holiness of God has not first changed us. We must first be holy just as God has called us to be, as he makes us to be.
Elizabeth Elliot: Holiness has never been the driving force of the majority. It is however, mandatory for anyone who wants to enter the Kingdom.
God’s holiness and the holiness of his people always speaks louder and more effectively than we think it does. So what are we to do?
- 1. Reckon with God’s holiness and by faith make him the Lord and center of our lives,
- 2. Do not let sin reign in your life and in the Church (repent, continually confess, do not knowingly let brothers and sisters dwell in sin)
- 3. Stay near to Christ. God’s will for you is your sanctification. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:3) He has given you the means by which you are made holy (Holy Spirit, His Word, prayer).
- 4. Be holy together. Is this your primary community? How could it be? How could we together continue to make Kirkcaldy Free Church a thriving place and people? How can we be a holy and warm alternative to the fellowships of the world? Be of one heart and mind together in Christ Jesus so that the world may see and know that our God reigns, that He is good, that He is holy.