We’re continuing on with the series “What If I Stumble?” It’s a question you might ask in the community of faith, in your group of friends or your family. “What if I screw up? What if I make a choice that is the worst possible choice imaginable? Will you still love me? Can I be redeemed?” We have looked at stories of Peter, Judas, and Samson. For Peter, he got his opportunity at redemption and he accepted it. Judas tried to make things right, but trusted in the religious people for absolution instead of Jesus himself. And Samson led a life for himself, though God still worked through his imperfections. At the end of Samson’s life, he recommitted to God’s purposes. His last act was destroying the enemies that God wanted to confront in the first place. Today we take a look at an odd couple, so to speak. Their names: Ananias and Sapphira. I’ll talk in a bit about their shenanigans, but there are 3 things I want to focus on in relation to them. They….
- Were not fully committed believers
- Conspired to hide the truth (to deceive)
- Died unrepentant
Before all that, I’d like to present today’s dramatic interpretation of their Big Fall from the perspective of a young man who was there. He’s never named in scripture so bare with me as I take some creative license as he tells us the story of the death of a couple imposters.
[If you’d like to listen to the recording of this message, CLICK HERE or use the Spotify player at the bottom of this post.]
Dirt. Soil. Ground. Earth.
Call it what you will, but it is essential for grow plants for food. I know a bit about that: I grew up the son of a farmer from a farming family. We’d plant grain and other crops over the years, but no matter the crop – Harvest Time was the most fun! We’d go about the field seeing this plant that we grew from just a small seed and then we’d harvest it.
I don’t know…I don’t believe plants have feelings or anything, but I always felt grateful to the wheat as I cut it down. I know Yahweh provided it and I was always thankful to Him for His blessing. But I’d look at the grain and be thankful just the same.
It was our family’s practice to only do one pass of the field. We wouldn’t pick up every last bit of grain, but leave the leftovers for the poor and the widows. They could come and get whatever they could harvest. Kind of reminds me of the story of Boaz and his wife Ruth. But I’m getting off topic. Dirt is great for growing things, but also for burying things. And sometimes, those things happen to be dead people.
I was just outside the house where many believers were staying. I wanted to make a small vegetable garden to provide for the believers. We had a stream that ran near the house, providing water for the plants. Then I hear Brother Peter call out for me. Me? Did I do something wrong? Was I not supposed to dig up this part of the yard? I was a little worried. My fears only multiplied when I came into the house and saw a man lying face first, flat on the ground. Was he asleep? NO…he was dead.
Peter looked at me. There were 3 others around my age that had left their family to join The Way – This movement of the Messiah, Jesus! These guys, just like me…could never go home. We were rejected by our parents for following Jesus and the disciple’s teachings.
I looked back at Peter and I knew what he wanted me to do. I told one of the other young men, “go get some cloth to wrap the body with.” I began to roll the body over and I gasped! Ananias! I used to sell vegetables to him in the marketplace. Everyone knew he owned property and that’s how he made his money. I wondered how or why he died.
As the other guys held the body, I began to wrap him in the cloth, preparing him for burial. Normally, we would take him to his family tomb, but I wasn’t aware he had one.
We took him outside and found a nice deep spot near the garden. It took an hour or so to dig it up and place him in it. Less than that to cover him over again. It was strange, There was a decent amount of space between the garden and where we buried Ananias. At the time I didn’t know why, but I pictured a second hole there.
After all that work, I was dirty and sweaty. I stood in the doorway with the other young men who helped bury Ananias. “Do you know how he died?” one of them asked. I shrugged.
“I’d like to ask Peter but I’m all grimey and such,” another one stated. He continued, “fellas, you realize we are going to have to undergo the purification rights for becoming clean after touching a dead body now, right?”
The one who wanted to ask Peter about how Ananias had died seemed a bit indignant about purification. “You serious? I thought once we followed The Way, that old stuff my father taught me didn’t matter.”
That’s a good point. I wondered and I wondered… But I didn’t wonder for long. Peter once again beckoned us into the house. We tracked mud into the home, which wasn’t that big of a deal since it was a dirt floor anyway.
There at Peter’s feet was a woman who fell face flat on the ground. Um, is there an illness we need to pray about? I thought.
Peter gestured again. Once more we took the body, wrapped and buried it. Traditionally men only wrap the bodies and bury men, but I guess dirty grave diggers might have been in short supply today. We buried Sapphira right next to her husband. Covered her body with soil and that was that.
We returned to hear Peter explaining what had happened, why they had died so suddenly. They had lied to the Holy Spirit! Well, this set everyone edge, concerned they might do something wrong and incur the wrath of God.
I looked out the door to the garden. I knew the Truth. They may have been imposters who died because of their big lie, I knew the Truth of what God had done in my life. There was no denying it. I knew when I die and am buried, I won’t stay down forever. I recall the words that the believers repeat…words straight from Jesus himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;”
One thing I think we ought to just say and get it out there is that Ananias and Sapphira were…
Not Fully Committed
You might be thinking, “That’s awfully judgemental! Maybe they believed and then just made a really big mistake!” All I can tell you is that’s not how it seems Luke records it here in Acts.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”Acts 4:32 NIV
All the believers were on board. It wasn’t an entry fee, it was evidence. Evidence of the Holy Spirit’s grasp on you as a believer so much that you didn’t think about your own stuff as being your own.
Clearly Ananias and his wife Sapphira did think of their possessions as their own. There is further evidence that Luke does not loop them in with the believers.
“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.”Acts 5:1 NIV
If he had been a believer, wouldn’t it make sense that Luke would have said so? He just calls Ananias “A man,” not “A believer.”
What does a believer look like? What does he or she do?
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.John 13:34-35 NIV
So Loving one another is key. Another key point to being his disciple is doing his commands.
Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.1 John 5:3 NLT
If you love me, keep my commands.John 14:15 NIV
And of course the opposite is true.
The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;1 John 2:4 ESV
So if they are not really believers, what are they? They are Wannabees. They want to buy into this kingdom of heaven thing, but not all the way.
They do this through an act of deception. Ananias and Sapphira…
Conspired to Hide the truth, to deceive
“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.”Acts 5:2 NIV
You might be wondering, “So what? What if he didn’t give the whole amount. No one was making him.” And You’d be right. Peter even says as much in response to the blatant deception. (Acts 5:3-4)
3 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? 4 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 NIV
So Ananias goes before the Apostles, just like any other generous believer and pretends to give the whole amount for the sale of his property. It wasn’t about deceiving man, but trying to lie to God! As if Ananias was saying “I’m all in with this Way Thing, the Messiah. I feel I should sell my possessions so no one goes hungry in the group.” But he actually does otherwise, with plans to look godly when he is really not.
My wife and I have a parenting tip for you. It’s something we do at home with daughters and it’s kind of a way of life for us as adults. If our girls do something purposeful or accidentally that was wrong or a poor choice, but they came to us and told the truth…they would only get “a talking too.” But if they hide it or lie about it, that compiles the problem and compiles the consequences.
The only thing that Ananias and Sapphira did wrong was trying to pull one over on God. Giving only 50% of your profits or even just a few quarters…it matters not. It might reveal that the couple has trust issues with those in the faith, but that can be worked through. What cannot stand is someone lying to God.
That kind of thing would have infected the faith from this very early stage. Here’s what the scriptures say about deceivers:
“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.”Proverbs 19:9 ESV
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.”Proverbs 12:22 ESV
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices”Colossians 3:9 ESV
While evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.2 Timothy 3:13 ESV
They were setting the church up for failure. The whole reason people brought the money was to benefit the needy among them. It wasn’t to buy into the group. It wasn’t a magic ticket to sit closest to Peter at supper time. The example is clear from Acts 4:36-37
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”Acts 4:36-37 NIV
Moved by compassion and the Holy Spirit, people gave to provide for the needy among them. They sacrificed their own rights to their possession to care for their new family. The Family of God.
Ananias did not do that. He pretended and he paid for it because both Ananias and Sapphira…
The book of Acts leaves very little to the imagination. Right after Peter tells Ananias he’s lied to God, verse 5 starts:
“5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.”Acts 5:5 NIV
We don’t get any last minute pleading for forgiveness from Ananias. He made his decision, it was resolute, it was his final answer.
“And great fear seized all who heard what had happened to him.”
Wouldn’t you be afraid? Someone suddenly drops dead in front of you, you start wondering if you’re next. Then finding out the reason he died, you might be concerned about lying to God, being an imposter. I can picture this early church youth group passing out wearable reminders of this. Instead of WWJD bracelets, “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s DBLA “Don’t Be Like Ananias.”
So He was unrepentant. But scripture records that Peter gives Sapphira a chance, either to prove she was in the dark about Ananias’ scheme or to solidify her eternal place next to him.
“7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 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.”
10 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. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”Acts 5:7-11 NIV
How far had the deception gone? Thankfully it stayed just between Ananias and Sapphira. Can you imagine what would have happened if people could pretend to be Holy Spirit filled Christians and never have any natural consequences for that?
Millstone sized Consequences
This attempt to deceive the Holy Spirit could have been an infection that could have thrown Christianity way off track. We remember this passage from Luke 17:1-2
“1Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.(Luke 17:1-2 NIV)
It was so important that the movement of Christianity not get high-jacked that Christ himself makes this very troubling statement. It’d be better if a person were sentenced to death by drowning than if they lead the next generation astray.
This is most certainly not a call to grab ropes and rocks and necks. Jesus Continues:
So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”(Luke 17:3-4 NIV)
There have been people who’ve stumbled and fallen in the Christian world. There have been big names in history who have led people astray from the true faith, just to fill up their own pocketbooks. This is the greater sin: leading others astray.
Jesus saw it even before Christianity was established. Rabbis would make converts to a faith they didn’t fully follow themselves.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”Matthew 23:15 NIV
This is a warning to us just as it was to the early church. Do we want to prevent future stumbling and falling for the next generation? Don’t lead people astray…lead them to Jesus.
DBLA: Don’t Be Like Ananias – 3 Tips for avoiding this pitfall
Check your own motives
- Wait…we heard that one last week! It’s still a good application. Most people don’t intend to stray, wander, stumble and fall. It starts a little bit at a time. Check with God about your motives. If you refuse to do so…or won’t listen to what He has to say, chances are they are wrong motives.
Be wary of being led astray
- I think many of us want to trust people. We want to be led by trustworthy folk. But maybe we’ve become jaded and coarse. We need a healthy balance of trust and skepticism. In many situations the stop-gap between these two extremes is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can help you sense if someone is phony or the real deal. But regardless if they are the top superstar Christian speaker/author/musician…They still are not JESUS. So be wary of becoming a disciple of man. Be a disciple of Jesus instead.
Don’t give into Deceit
- Lying, like many other sins, is a slippery slope. First you tell a small one, then a bigger one to cover that one up. However, Paul instructs us in Ephesians 5:13
- “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
- Nothing stays hidden forever.
Check your motives, Be wary of being led astray, and don’t give into deceit.