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Feb 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 7, 2016 – Acts Chapter 5

Problems, Progress and Persecution

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.
And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.
And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. Acts 5:1-11

Intro: As we go through this chapter, keep asking yourself two questions:

“Who got it right?”– that is, who was doing God’s work in God’s way?
– the apostles, who knew Jesus and his teaching?
– the priests and religious Council that followed the law of Moses?

“How can this new community prevent itself from becoming the old institution?”
– the apostles did not consider their life in Christ as separate from Judaism
– but could they avoid pouring old wine into the new wineskins? (Lk. 5:37-39)
• could its unique form resist the influence of their roots in institutional religion?

An upsetting story with a subtle sub-theme

Beginning in the previous chapter (vv. 35 & 37), feet are referenced

  1. Property was sold and its proceeds were laid “at the apostles’ feet”
    • donations made for those in need were placed at apostles’ disposal
    at their feet symbolizes control
    • the figure of speech is repeated in chapter 5
    ◦ only there was a serious malfunction in Ananias and Sapphira’s case
    ◦ Luke indicates their scheme with terms like
    kept back, for himself, and with his wife’s full knowledge 
  2. “Feet” have a different connotation in v. 9 regarding Ananias’ pallbearers
    • in this instance, feet are used as a synecdoche
    ◦ that is, where something is referred to by one of its parts
    ◦ in this case, feet refer to those to whom they belong and their assigned mission
    How lovely on the mountains
    Are the feet of him who brings good news,
    Who announces peace
    And brings good news of happiness . . . . (Is. 52:7)
  3. A third reference to feet brings us back to the apostles (v. 10)
    • but now it is not donations laid at their feet
    ◦ rather, Sapphira “fell at his feet” and died
    • the reference this time is to proximity
    ◦ Sapphira dropped dead at the scene of the crime, so to speak

“Truth” has been strangely warped in our culture

We are no longer surprised by deceit in business, politics or law courts
– for many people, truth doesn’t mean what is real, but what is believable
• advertisers “spin” products and campaign consultants “puff” a politician’s image
• Jesus addressed this issue in the Sermon On the Mount

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with you Father who is in heaven. [Hypocrites] love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Mt. 6:1 & 5)

◦ it is the difference between appearance and reality

For a long time, Calvary Chapel pastor’s mantra was, “Teach the Word”
– Bible studies were considered the foundation of a successful church ministry
• after awhile, the repetitions sounding of this single note began to concern me
• without a corresponding emphasis on character, it was flawed
◦ I ran into a lot of people who knew the Bible and could look seriously devout
◦ but they were also unloving, argumentative, hateful and abusive
– I don’t feel that I have it in me to deal with any more deceit
• I’m worn out with people who cannot be straight forward with me
◦ I am fine if a person will just tell me what he or she is after
◦ ask them a simple question and all you get a lot of double-talk
• it’s understandable why God would want to nip duplicity in the bud

There is another layer of potential sin and compromise in this episode

What if the apostles had accepted this donation? What if they acted as if Ananias and Sapphira were as generous as Barnabas? What if Peter, John and the rest of the Lord’s disciples gave this husband and wife the admiration they hoped to gain, all the time knowing full well the donation was compromised?!

– they would have opened the church’s doors to corruption
• corrupt leadership, corrupt policies and corrupt practices
• the threat they faced was not only to the character of one couple
◦ the entire movement and the future of the church were jeopardized

This chapter contains similarities and dissimilarities to Jesus’ ministry


  1. No one ever fell down dead at Jesus’ feet (and he had a “Judas” in his group)
    • when people were at his feet it was not to give donations
    ◦ beg for healing, express love and gratitude, or listen to him
    • people didn’t die in front of Jesus – he brought the dead to life
  2. Jesus never cursed anyone
    • later Peter will: May your silver perish with you (Acts 8:20)
    ◦ and so does Paul: blinding a “false prophet” (Acts 13:11)
    • Jesus’ miracles had a positive effect on humans
    ◦ he rebuked James and John for volunteering to call fire down on a village
  3. People were never placed in Jesus’ shadow to be healed (cf. Acts 5:15)

Some commentaries compare this story to an Old Testament story (Joshua ch. 7)
– there were many similar deaths in first five books
• Sabbath violation, blasphemy, rebellion against Moses, profaning the altar
• but these examples do not resolve the tension we feel
◦ in fact, they are exactly the problem — this is too much like Moses and the Law
◦ it is not what we have come to expect from reading the Gospels or from Jesus
– even ancient commentators felt compelled to explain and justify this event

It is possible that these sudden deaths could have been prevented

A situation had developed that created the temptation to appear generous
– it had to do with the way donations were made and somehow publicized
• it is natural that people would want to report the community’s love and support
◦ it was, after all, a revelation of God’s work in the hearts of his people
◦ and isn’t this the very reason Luke recorded Barnabas’ generous donation?
• but the problem was that such publicity was a deviation from Jesus’ teaching
◦ again we turn to the Sermon On the Mount

But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Mt. 6:3)

– Jesus wanted to prevent public display or doing things to be noticed by others

Last week we saw that the apostles weren’t planning every move
– they were being driven along by God’s Spirit
• now they are beginning to learn the importance of pause and reflect
– in the meantime, this story upsets us — and I believe it was meant to be disturbing
• we don’t have to like what we learn for it to open our eyes
• Christians had to learn the difference between the old system and the new
◦ the whole chapter illustrates this
◦ their faith was not a continuation of what Israel’s religion had become

Thankfully, we do not see this type of instant judgment occur in Acts again
– perhaps afterward they followed the example of King David
• when a death like this occurred on his watch,
◦ he hit the books to see where he went wrong (1 Chr. 13:9-11; 15:11-15)

News of what happened produced a mixed response (vv. 11-13)

Fear spread through “the whole church”
– it seems sad that first time the word church appears in Acts, it is in this context
• we could wish to see love and joy spreading through the church
– outside the church, people respected the apostles, but were afraid to join them

John Stott observed, “The presence of the living God, whether manifest through preaching or miracles or both, is alarming to some and appealing to others. Some are frightened away, while others are drawn to faith.”

• “drawn to faith” or drawn to spectacle — people will go out of their way for it
◦ magic, extreme talent, death-defying feats
• miracle (the Greek word also means “sign”) points to something beyond itself
◦ miracles do not occur for their own sake or to entertain
◦ this is one reason the apostles were so adamant to preach Jesus after each miracle

Another subtle sub-theme is now introduced

Luke shifts from the apostles feet to the “hands of the apostles” (v. 12)
– soon the religious rulers will lay hands on the apostles and imprison them
• (however, an angel will break them out)
– two phrases in this passage are especially worthy of reflection:
• opened the gates (v. 19) – we feel fenced in, but God opens doors
message of this Life (v. 20) – no one knows what to call it yet
◦ believers were not called Christians until sometime later in Gentile Antioch (11:26)
◦ it was also “the Way” and here “this Life”–this new way of being in God

One other reference to hand, Jesus at God’s right hand (implied v. 31)

Jesus did not want his church to be what Judaism had become — Religion, Inc.
– it’s the exact opposite of his will
• Religion, Inc. is a human institution
◦ more likely to be filled with jealousy than the Spirit (v. 17) to kill than heal (v. 33)
• fortunately calmer minds prevailed (vv. 34-39)
– that the apostles rejoiced to bear shame was radically counter cultural
• in this regard, they illustrate beautifully the Sermon On the Mount (Mt. 5:10-12)

Conc: There is yet another theme, running from verse 12 to 34

It is “the people” — the anonymous masses – they are in the middle of all this
– stock characters, history’s “extras,” unknown and without influence in society
• collectively they had some influence (v. 26), but they could also be manipulated
– Jesus felt compassion for them (Mt. 9:36-38)
• in his eyes they were distressed and disheartened, like sheep without a shepherd

In the Greek text, the last words of the chapter are Christ Jesus

This is the light we must hold ourselves to constantly,
allowing it to reveal what we’ve got right
what we’ve got wrong
and what we are to do here and now
to be the message of this Life


Leave a comment
  1. Bill Livingston / Feb 13 2016

    Roma and I have lived this…….the Acts2 community that started as a home bible study, grew into a loving community much like in Acts, and finally an incorporated church! which proved to be its undoing as in Acts 5,ff. When I submitted the application to the IRS, I including two other mature couples as elders. Some time later when this was mentioned, there was murmuring about , ” so we have elders!?” We wound up appointing deacons, but that didn’t stop the murmuring. Eventually, our perfect, loving, pure as the driven snow, Spirit-led community that was blazing new territory came to an end! Murmuring is deadly.

    As to another point you made, Chuck, manipulation is a relationship killer.

    The story of Ananias and Sapphira IS troubling. Previously, I just accepted it as normal: just a strong warning about lying to the Holy Spirit. But you’re right, Jesus never did anything like that. And it sure isn’t good PR for the church. Also troubling is that Peter must have had divine backing! I’m still asking God to explain this one.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking message, Chuck.

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Feb 15 2016

    I always appreciate your perceptive insights, experience and comments, Bill.
    If there is an upside to people lodging complaints and wanting to control the new Bible study or home church they have helped to start it is the sense of personal ownership. Now, in one sense not even a church pastor should feel that the “flock of God” belongs to him or her. Yet, at the same time, when people really care about their spiritual community they want to be assured that it is all God wants it to be. Our biggest challenge is the religious baggage we all carry and how difficult it is to dump it.

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