Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, September 24, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

03/06/16 Sermon - The Honeymoon is Over

“The Honeymoon is Over”

Acts 4:32 – 5:11

 

Today’s Scripture is difficult to accept. Up to this point Luke has been writing about all the amazing things the apostles have been doing. How they have been filled with the Holy Spirit and have been sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those who will listen and the church has been growing daily. We have read how Peter and John miraculously healed a man who had been crippled since birth. Oh yes, they did have a bit of a disagreement with the Sanhedrin, but even then Peter and John were let go and had returned to their new Christian community. And hadn’t we read that the community was in one accord, living in harmony, sharing everything so that no one was in need. The verse Acts 4:33 gives an excellent summary,

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

So what happened? The story of Ananias and Sapphira doesn’t seem to fit in.

Luke gives two accounts of different people selling  property and giving the proceeds to the community. The account of Barnabas seemed to fit right in, but the instant, drop dead, account of Ananias and Sapphira’s sounds a bit judgmental, harsh and cruel? It certainly doesn’t sound like the loving God of the New Testament we are accustomed to hearing.

Or is it?

Suffice it to say, the honeymoon is over.

Let’s be realistic. Sure, the first Christian church was made up of the apostles and those who had experienced the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah. They had already been through a great deal of transformation from their Jewish upbringing to the understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus. They had been visited at least two times now by the Holy Spirit, himself, when the rooms had shaken and they had been able to speak in tongues or the scripture. But let’s face it, in spite of all these religious happenings, the first Christian church was still made up of “human beings”.

And not only are humans capable of sinning, they are also capable of allowing Satan to take over, just as they are capable of having the Holy Spirit take over.

It becomes a matter of the heart.

For all extensive purposes, this story of Ananias and Sapphira gives credence to the authenticity of Luke’s account of the beginning of the Christian church. By recording the difficult situations along with the amazing stories, Luke’s writings seem credible. If all Luke wrote was how perfect the first church was and how the Holy Spirit made everyone holy and there were no problems and they lived happily ever after, wouldn’t you begin to wonder? I know I would. I must admit, this situation does seem a bit extreme, until you take a serious look at it.

We would like to think that the God of heaven is loving, kind, compassionate. Well, He is. However, we often forget that that same God is not to be trifled with and will not be mocked.

Let’s take a closer look at each narrative.

This portion of the letter describes how the believers were sharing their possessions, to make sure there was no one of need within the church. Those who had extra, from time to time, would sell what they had and give the proceeds to the apostles for them to use to provide for the members of the church.  Luke first tells us about a man named Joseph, whom the church had renamed, “Barnabas” which meant “Son of Encouragement”. That statement already gives us some insight on what this man was like. Well, Barnabas owned a field and decided to sell the field and give the proceeds from the field to the apostles for the community’s needs. We can read into the story that this would have made Barnabas well liked and admired within the community.

Next, Luke tells us about this couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who also sell a piece of property, with the understanding that they were going to give the proceeds to the apostles for the benefit of the community, except, this couple have an interesting discussion beforehand. They decide to keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves, and give the rest to the church. This was where the stories differ. Please note, that in itself was not the crime.

Ananias and Sapphira would not have been condemned had they been truthful and shared that they were keeping some money for themselves and giving the remainder to the community. The crime committed was that the two chose to lie about what they had done. They decided to tell the apostles they were, in essence, giving ALL the money they had received from the sale of the property. That the amount of money the apostles received was, in fact, ALL of the money they had received for the sale of the property. This way they would look like they had sacrificed their property for the benefit of all, when in reality they had personally benefitted, not sacrificed. Peter’s question demonstrates his gift of discernment, for Peter asks Ananias, in verse 3 of chapter 5,

“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 to men, but to God.”

Hypocrisy continues to thrive in the community of God’s people. Satan knows that it is more effective to destroy the church from within than from the outside. In the New Testament Series, on the book of Acts, by John R. W. Stott, he writes that Ananias and Sapphira were not so much misers and they were thieves.

“They wanted the credit and the prestige for sacrificial generosity, without the inconvenience of it. So, in order to gain a reputation to which they had no right, they told a brazen lie. Their motive in giving was not to relieve the poor, but to fatten their own ego.”

The Holy Spirit was in fact, in the world and allowing glimpses of heaven to be revealed. But Luke also wanted his readers to remember, a different spirit was also in the world, and in the church.

This warning is important for us to remember today. The first century Christian church was not perfect, and neither are we.

Many of us remember what we read in the New Testament, how God is love and grace and forget that the God of the Old Testament would not tolerate sin, and especially would not be mocked. The God we worship is the God of both testaments. It shouldn’t surprise us when Luke ends this text in verse 11 by saying,

“Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

To “fear the Lord” is a good thing. It doesn’t mean we are
“scared” of the Lord, but that we have a respectful awe. We are certain of His love, but recognize His authority and commitment to truth and holiness. And that it is only by the grace of Jesus Christ we are even able to come before Him. We need to recognize that it is only the person with Holy Spirit inside them that can do the good God requires of us.

We read in Romans 2 verses 8-10,

“But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil;…but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good:…”

You may still be asking, “So why were they put to death for their actions? Aren’t all of us at some time or another guilty of the same or similar sin?”

The answer to those questions is, “Yes”.

So then why aren’t we punished with a death sentence?

The short answer is “grace”.

Psalm 103 verses 10 & 11 say it best,

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him;

Each day we have is a day of grace. This story should be remembered as a story of judgement that opens our eyes to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, towards us.

And in memory of that grace, we come together to celebrate the gift of God’s sacrifice of His one and only Son, so that we may participate in that grace. God has come among us in his Son, in order to restore the world and bring forth His kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.

Today, let us participate in communion remembering that each day we exist and go about our daily routines, we are given grace. May we bring glory to God by repenting of our sins and asking the Holy Spirit to guide us in our living.

Let’s pray,

God, you are sovereign, you are holy. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that we may in turn become agents of your grace wherever you lead us through this day, this week and weeks to come.

Amen.