There’s a shocking event that occurs in the 5th chapter of the Book of ACTS. Is this how God works? Doesn’t sound very nice and loving to most people. What’s really going on here? ◊
Here’s a nice little story to read to your children at bedtime:
Once upon a time there was a kingdom where the people lived in peace and were ruled by a good king. A nice couple in the kingdom decided to sell their own home so that they could share the money with poor neighbors in the kingdom. They saved a little of the sales proceeds for themselves and gave away the rest. The king knew about their greediness and so killed them both. All the other people in the kingdom lived happily ever after. The end.
Yes, a bit harsh. But except for the names and a few other changes, the story is somewhat similar to what happens in the opening paragraphs of the 5th chapter of ACTS.
How do we deal with this? Is this how God works? Doesn’t sound very nice and loving to most people.
This is a chapter that’s all about discipline, in all its definitions. We will see that God is not mocked and that the Holy Spirit is a power to be reckoned with.
Discipline in the Church
The sad and shocking story of a man named Ananius and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) is played out once in the early and growing Christian Church there in Jerusalem. At least we aren’t told about any other incidents like this by Acts’ author/historian Luke. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen so overtly in our modern day. Certainly we might see or hear about a lot of people dropping dead in their tracks on church facilities!
This story is about God’s discipline enforced by the Holy Spirit at a critical juncture in the growing Church. Discipline is defined as follows:
– (n) the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
In this case, God, via the new power on earth, the Holy Spirit, reveals full truth to Peter so that he says:
“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? Didn’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 just to human beings but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)
Ananias immediately drops dead as does his wife three hours later:
At 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. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. (Acts 5:10-11)
Yes, I bet there was some fear going around after that event. The egregious sin was not in giving any amount of money voluntarily, it was in the deceitful lie that they were passing along all the proceeds to the communal sharing pool.
The lesson here for the entire early Church to see and absorb was that the Holy Spirit/God knows and sees all things. There is no fooling God. The lesson was taught once. Now we know, we’ve all actually known since Adam, that God is not mocked nor fooled.
As wise young children should obey their wise loving parents and take them seriously lest they be seriously disciplined, we as God’s created children do best to take God/Jesus/Holy Spirit very seriously.
The Discipline of the Disciples
In the next part of Acts 5 we see that the disciples themselves were exercising great discipline in conducting:
many signs and wonders…among the people…and more ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women. As 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. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. (Acts 5:12-16)
But Peter and the apostles are arrested and put in the common prison by the high priest and the Sadducees who were filled with jealousy. (Acts 5:17).
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” ( Acts 5:19-21)
The next morning the council and senate of Israel were surprised to learn that that apostles not only miraculously escaped from jail but were now again preaching to the people in the temple:
“Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” (Acts 5:25)
When brought in again for questioning, Peter and the apostles gave the Jewish leaders another object lesson about Jesus:
“We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:29-32)
The lesson here is that we are not to be dissuaded by any ruling authorities from teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
The Disciplined Word of Gamaliel
Ironically, it is a respected member of the ruling council named Gamaliel who keeps the apostles alive for the time being with an impassioned plea and disciplined call for restraint. He advises the Sanhedrin to be patient and let things play out. He reasons that the rebels may turn on themselves as other movements before them.
“…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. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)
Gamaliel’s speech works and the apostles are released. And as we know, the rest is history.
Have you been disciplined by God? Do you exercise Godly discipline?_______________________________
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. – Acts 5:41-42