Acts 5:1-11 reads:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With 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. Then 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? 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.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land? “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also. 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.
Remember this story from Acts 5:1-11? We don’t hear about it much in our churches do we? At least I have not heard much about it. I’ve never heard it preached before and up until last Sunday, I’ve never preached on it (you can hear that sermon, titled “Serious Business” here).
This story doesn’t seem to fit so well with our understanding of God’s grace and mercy. How can such swift divine judgment be rendered? Could or would God ever render such swift judgment on Christians again? Well, I don’t really expect that to happen but I won’t say “no” because I don’t think God likes it when I try to box him in one way or the other.
But the story of Ananias and Sapphira does have me thinking. Like the rest of this young emerging Jesus movement, Ananias and Sapphira would have made the commitment to live their life “in the name of Jesus Christ” by the power of “the gift of the Holy Spirit” through repentance and baptism (cf. Acts 2:38). This was a commitment to living as witnesses of Jesus and one of the primary ways this movement testified to the messianic reign of Jesus Christ was in the way that they met the needs of each other.
Therein lies the basis for the serious offense that Ananias and Sapphira have committed. Instead of being filled with the Spirit, their hearts have been filled with Satan so much that they put their needs above the rest and lie about it. Just as a person cannot truly love God without loving neighbor, placing their needs above the community and lying about it is not just a sin against their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a sin against God. Their deceit is a lie spoken to God…to the Holy Spirit.
The consequence is swift judgment. Both Ananias and Sapphira drop dead. Even though the text never says God killed them, this is the natural assumption and the assumption the movement had because great fear comes upon the rest of the church?
The judgment rendered on Ananias and Sapphira is a judgment rendered because they rejected the gospel with their actions. Their judgment makes one more thing clear: God needs neither of the two to carry on his redemptive mission. It also means one more thing is clear which I want to relate to the local church. God does not need any one local church, as there are plenty of other local communities gathered in the name of Jesus Christ. What God wants is for our churches to live the gospel, to be living witnesses of Jesus in word and deed. But if we are unwilling to live out the gospel, which requires a 100% all in commitment, judgment may just be rendered. It may not come so swift like it did for Ananias and Sapphira. Instead, God just might let our church die, letting the doors close once and for all.
The judgment on Ananias and Sapphira provoked fear into the rest of the believers that propelled them further into faithful witness of the gospel. Rather than ignoring this passage in scripture, it should do the same for us.