230. OBEYING GOD RATHER THAN MAN
"We ought to obey God rather than man"
Ananias and Sapphira did not show the true spirit of unity that characterised the early ecclesia when they sold land for the common fund. Instead they lied against the Holy Spirit, and the apostles had to take disciplinary action against this first major sin. However, the ecclesia continued to grow, and the apostles continued to preach and work miracles until imprisoned by the rulers. But this was to be only a short imprisonment for they were released by an angel. At their subsequent trial they were let go by the authorities—who could not argue against their conviction that they must obey God before man.
LYING UNTO GOD (verses 1-4).
The early ecclesia, brought together by persecution, had become completely united sharing possessions amongst each other. Some.like Barnabas had even sold land to provide money for those in need. But as in every age, not everyone is motivated by selfless principles, and an unfortunate incident soon occurred. We are introduced to a change in the ecclesia by the opening words of Acts 5, "But ...”
A married couple Ananias and Sapphira, decided that they also would like to be praised for providing money for the needy—but they did not want to give too much! So, having sold some land, they brought an amount of money to the apostles, claiming that they had sold the land for that price. "With his wife's knowledge he kept some of the proceeds, and brought only a part, and laid it at the apostles' feet" (v.2, R.S.V.). Peter was able through the Holy Spirit to read the heart of Ananias, and he strongly rebuked him. They did not have to sell the property, nor did they have to give all the money gained from the sale of any property. They had the power to give all, or none. But it was not right to say one thing and do another — that was hypocrisy. They were lying to God in saying that they were bringing the whole price of the land for His service. Verse 3 says, "Why hath Satan filled thine heart". This was obviously not some supernatural monster, but rather their deceitful desire which had been a "Satan" or "adversary" to the truth. Verses 4, 8 and 9 show that Ananias and Sapphira were to blame — "why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast lied unto God."
Imagine the feelings of Ananias! He would immediately have realised his guilt and seen the folly of trying to lie to God and to the apostles who had God's Spirit.
THE REWARD OF INIQUITY (verses 5-11).
This was the first recorded sin in the early ecclesia, and it had to be strongly punished so that all the other brethren and sisters would understand that they cannot lie to God without punishment. Ananias would not receive any praise or commendation for his action as he resembled the hypocrites condemned in Matt. 6:1-4, Instead, he suddenly fell down dead in front of them all, to everyone's amazement and fear. Some of the voting disciples then carried the dead body out to be buried. But the drama was not ended. His wife Sapphira came about three hours later, probably to see What had happened to her husband. Peter immediately asked Sapphira whether she had sold the land for the amount of money which her husband had brought, and she agreed. Peter was staggered that the husband and wife could possibly have agreed together to do this wicked act, without apparently any feeling of guilt or realisation of the power of God which the apostles possessed. At Peter's word she also fell down dead and the young men buried her beside her husband — a pair united in sin during their life and therefore as one in a sudden death. The result of this incident was that the ecclesia greatly feared. We should also fear in contemplation of the all-seeing and all-knowing power of our heavenly Father, and be careful that we do not set out to deceive Him. Do we actually do everything for the truth which we tell our friends? We may deceive them and receive their praise, unworthily, but we can never deceive God. Let us always speak the truth. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira we see the process of sin as described in James 1:13-15. Lust—or wrong desires—produced sin, which led to death. James 1:12 shows that we should endure temptations and not give in to them as Ananias and Sapphira did.
SIGNS AND WONDERS AMONG THE PEOPLE (verses 12-16).
In verses 12-14 we have a "progress report" of the ecclesia. The brethren and sisters used to gather in Solomon's Porch in the Temple where Peter had cured the impotent man (ch. 3) and where the apostles did many such signs and wonders. However, although the common people held the apostles in honour, and "multitudes of men and women were added to the ecclesia," "none of the rest dared join them" (RSV.). They feared the rulers who opposed the rapidly growing ecclesia.
THE JEWISH LEADERS ACT (verses 17-18).
The High Priest and the Sadducees were extremely angry and jealous because of the publicity and popularity enjoyed by the apostles, men who believed and taught the resurrection. The Sadducees refused to believe in a resurrection and they were furious at the increasing influence and numbers in the Jerusalem ecclesia. By their orders all the apostles were immediately arrested and put in the common prison to await trial on the next day.
MIRACULOUS DELIVERANCE (verses 19-26).
While the city slept, an angel from God came to the prison and opened the doors for the apostles. He commanded them to go back to the Temple and continue to speak to the people "all the words of this life," i.e., the gospel.
Consequently the early morning found them back at the Temple, enthusiastically preaching the Gospel. Meanwhile the soldiers who had been sent to bring the men from prison returned to the High Priest and all the Sanhedrin who were gathered for the trial. The soldiers reported that the prison doors were locked and the guard outside, but the apostles were not there. Where could they be? Then a messenger came to the perplexed assembly with the news that the apostles were as usual standing in the Temple teaching. So feeling rather embarrassed, the captain of the guard and his soldiers went to fetch them, not daring to treat them roughly for fear of the people.
TRIAL (verses 27-39).
Once the apostles had been brought before the Council, the High Priest indignantly reminded them that they had been commanded not to speak of Jesus, and yet all Jerusalem was filled with their teaching; and, he said, "ye intend to bring this man's blood upon us". They would not call him Jesus, for they believed that Jesus was dead, and yet they virtually acknowledged that they were responsible for the death of a righteous man.
Peter then fearlessly pressed against them the charge of murder. He pointed out that "the God of our Fathers" (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David) had raised up Jesus (the seed promised). But they were guilty of crucifying the promised seed. God, however, had elevated him to power so that he was now as a Prince and a Saviour. For Israel to partake of this salvation and forgiveness of sins they must repent.
He adds that as apostles they were witnesses of these things as was also the Holy Spirit (i.e., the various miracles done by the power of God were proof that the apostles were speaking the truth). How could they stop preaching when they had a responsibility and a command from their Master to witness to his resurrection and the forgiveness of sins available because of it?
The Council heard with anger these words which condemned them of killing the Son of God whom God had raised to glory. Their one desire was to kill the apostles. However, a very learned and well-respected Pharisee named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, asked that the disciples be taken out, and then spoke to his fellow Jews. He showed logically that other men had risen up claiming to be leaders, and had drawn people after them, but in such cases the movement had been disbanded and came to nothing. This, he reasoned could happen with the apostles. On the other hand, if the apostles and their work were from God, what could man do? They could find themselves fighting God, if they opposed the apostles.
THE APOSTLES RELEASED (verses 40-42).
The Sanhedrin and rulers could see that Gamaliel spoke wisely. They called the apostles and beat them for the disturbances they had caused.
Then, after commanding them again not to speak in the name of Jesus, they were allowed to leave.
The apostles, despite a beating which would probably make us very unset if we were treated like that, left in joy, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his (Jesus') name." They continued to teach and preach of their Master Jesus, now the risen Christ, in the Temple and in many houses.
What a wonderful attitude the apostles had to their suffering and persecution. They did not complain of their afflictions, or become scared to preach the Word, but instead considered it a joy to be able to suffer in some small measure like their Master. They were thrilled to realise that they were following in his steps (Matt. 16:24-25, Luke 6:22-23, Phil. 3-10). This should be our attitude too, realising that persecution can strengthen our faith and unite us together around the Word and its Gospel proclamation (1 Cor. 15:57, 58).
LESSONS FOR US:
We should never lie to God as Ananias and Sapphira did, because God knows the innermost thoughts of our hearts and minds. Therefore we should not seek the praise of men but walk in a way pleasing to God. He will then watch over us and deliver us as he did the apostles. We cannot serve two masters, we cannot obey God and man. Let us therefore obey and love God, not fearing the opposition of man. If such an attitude brings persecution, we should rejoice that we can share in a small way the sufferings of Christ as did God's faithful servants in all ages, including the twelve apostles of the early ecclesia.
"Story of the Bible" (H. P. Mansfield)—Volume 13, pp. 33-39
What was wrong with the action of Ananias and Sapphira in bringing money from land they had sold?
What was the wise advice of Gamaliel?
What was the attitude of the early believers and apostles to persecution, as seen after the second arrest of the apostles in Acts chapter 5.
a) Give an account of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.
b) What lessons can we learn from this?
Describe the dramatic events of the arrest, deliverance and trial on the second occasion when the authorities arrested the apostles, as recorded in Acts chapter 5.24