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THE HOLY CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

Acts 5:1-5:16
Key Verse: 5:11

In Acts chapters 1-4, through the coming of the Holy Spirit, there was a powerful work of God. As a result, a beautiful Christian fellowship was established in Jerusalem, where Christ Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead. Then persecution started through the religious authorities. They put their hard pressure on the apostles not to speak in the name of Jesus. It was none other than Satan’s work. But Peter and John overcame the persecution when they obeyed God rather than men, and the Christian community stood firm. So far the persecution was Satan’s attack from outside. But in today’s passage there is Satan’s attack from inside to destroy the beautiful Christian community. The inside one is harder to overcome than the outside one. Again, when Peter obeyed God carefully following God’s leading, the community of God could stand purified and refined. In this study we can think about how much God cherishes and protects his church and what can be our attitude to keep and build up the holy community of God.

First, the fear of God in and through the church (1-11). Look at verses 1 and 2. “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sappira, 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.” In chapter 4:32-37 we could see that the first Christian community was so beautiful: “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (v32b). “And from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (v34-35). One specific person was mentioned, Joseph called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement). He sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet (36-37). This was a pure-hearted and whole sacrifice. Ananias and Sappira surely knew this, the story of Barnabas. The couple also sold a piece of property and Ananias, with his wife’s full knowledge, kept back part of the money, and brought the rest and put it at the apostle’s feet. Apparently, there seemed to be nothing wrong with them. To the eyes of the church congregation what they did looked precious and great. No one could know what was going on in them.

But Peter, who had the Spirit of God, could know Ananias inner thoughts which went on in his mind. Look at verses 3-4. “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 to men but to God.” Here we can see clearly what was wrong with Ananias. He brought part of the money from the sale, as if it were the whole. When he had such an evil thought, Satan so filled his heart and he lied to the Holy Spirit, who was in him. He had a full freedom and right to deal with his property as he wanted. The property was his before it was sold and the money was also his after it was sold. Why could he not use his freedom rightly and joyfully? Peter asked, “What made you think of doing such a thing?” It was his desire for human reputation ad recognition. He wanted to receive the full recognition as Barnabas did, of course, although Barnabas did not intend to receive such human recognition. That desire erupted in Ananias until he had no fear of God and finally lied to God, not to men.

We can think that Peter said this, following the Spirit, not compromising with Ananias’ sin so that he might lead Ananias to repentance. But what made us shudder is what happened consequently. Look verse 5. “When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.” Certainly Peter did not intend to let Ananias die. He spoke what he had to speak in obedience to God. Then God did the rest. We don’t know if Ananias had a repentant heart after hearing Peter’s words. What Luke informed us is “when Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.” Readers of this story can think, “Is Ananias’ sin that serious? Is not God’s judgment for Ananias too severe?” With such a thought they be offended. Humanly speaking, murdering can be the worst kind of sin and Ananias’ sin was not that kind. And even a terrible murderer does not die right away, but Ananias did. Is it because he was one of the church members and so his sin had to be dealt in such a way? People can wonder and raise many questions, and there will be no 100% sure answer. But one thing we must acknowledge that God is holy and righteous and to him any sin deserves death (Ro 6:23a). As God he has every right to judge man’s sin and his judgment is always right. This should be our attitude toward sin before God. On one occasion Jesus heard about an incident that the tower in Siloam fell and eighteen people died. People questioned, “Why did they die and so tragically? Was it because they were terrible sinners?” At this Jesus said, “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Lk 13:4-5). If one does not die after sinning, it is only by God’s grace. We should bear this grace, coming to Jesus with our sins at each time.

There was a famous bishop, Warren A. Candler (1857-1941, England). Once he preached a sermon before a big congregation, he quoted the story of Ananias and Sapphira. He shouted, “God does not let us die like the time of Ananias and Sapphira, although we tell a lie. If he had done so, where would I have been?” Then he began to hear a laughing sound among the audience. At this he shouted again, “I would have been preaching here, in an empty house.” This story tells us by his grace we are what we are and strive to bear his grace.

From human viewpoint, this event could have caused many serious problems in the city Jerusalem. How would ordinary people in that city see the church? So many bad things could have been said of the church. Suppose such a thing happened in our time? No doubt Peter would have been sued and the church right away reported as a terrible organization. But what is written next? Verse 5b says, “And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.” None other than the fear of God spread to all who heard what had happened. No one had a human thinking. Those who head came to have the fear of God. People could see that God is a holy God and living and working in their midst. The church was purified and the church could function rightly. How easy it is that God’s church becomes a laughing stock or the object of criticism because of the corruption in it! Historically so many horrible things had taken place when the corruption had not been prevented inside churches. Church should be sanctified from any corruption at each moment and should be the place where people can come and see the living God and have the holy fear of God and obtain faith.

Look at verse 6. “Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.” In this way Ananias’ sin was eradicated and thus the cancer cell was removed from the body of the community before it would be spread any further. The church was preserved in purity and holiness. It had to be done especially when the church was just in the early growing stage, an infant stage.

Look at verses 7, 8. “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?’” At this time Peter clearly gave her a chance to repent. However, how did she respond to it? “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” She must have thought nobody knew what she and her husband had done secretly. At this Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” When she lost the chance to repent, only death awaited her.

Look at verse 10. “At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.” Here we see that she and her husband were treated separately. Each one’s sin is dealt separately before God. Her sin and her death were her own. Then the young men came in, and finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

Look at verse 11. “Great fear seized the whole church and all those who heard about these events.” This comment of the author is written again. The whole church and many other people came to have the fear of God, being convinced that God is living and holy. The fear of God is the basic, the essential to human beings. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD (reverence, respect) is the beginning of knowledge…” The fear of God is the beginning, the first thing for mankind to know. In the Garden of Eden God was present and the fear of God was there. Adam and Eve had a joyful fellowship with God, honouring God as God and having the fear of God in them. It was Paradise. But when the fear of God was removed from their hearts, they disobeyed God’s command listening to Satan’s words. Consequently, Paradise was gone from their hearts, although they were in the Garden of Eden physically. Finally, they were driven out of the place of Paradise. Since then, God’s work has been the restoration of the fear of God in men, specifically, through Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed to death on the cross for the sins of men. The fear of God is the fundamental thing for our life on earth, true and happy life. Without the fear of God, people are always vulnerable to falsehood and Satan. Without the fear of God people are unstrained and so unpredictable, and anything terrible can happen in the individual’s life and in a family and society. Such events as gun-shooting even in the elementary school make us tremble and wonder, questioning “Why?” The problem and the answer are very clear. The problem is not of possessing or not possessing the gun, but whether there is the fear of God in each individual and in the society as a whole. The restoration of the fear of God is the solution. Where there is the fear of God, there is a perfect protection. With the fear of God people respect God and respect others’ lives. Where there is the fear of God, Satan loses his power. When we fear God, we will have inner strength and courage to live before God, not before men seeking for human reputation and recognition. Those who fear God will not tell a lie. In the fear of God it will be good that we make a new decision to tell a lie but speak the truth before God in any situation, even if I lose many benefits or my life is threatened. One who fears God will strive to do what is right at each time and please God. When there is the fear of God a church can be built up and become influential in the society. May the fear of God grow in each one and in our Christian community and be spread in our campus and society.

Second, increase of the church (12-16). In this part we see the result of the event. When the fear of God was preserved, the church became very influential and grow constantly and was made more power. Look at verses 12-13. “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” With their social position or degree or money, people could not get the membership of the church. It was only through true faith in Jesus. With that strict condition, the church might not increase. But that was not the case. Verse 14 says, “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” Certainly, God moved the hearts of people and they believed in the Lord, not fearing of any human authority. In this way church grew in number.

The church did not just grow in number. Look at verse 15. “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” It was not an expectation for a magic power, but their longing for the healing power of God through Peter in their helpless and desperate situation. When people feared God, they could have such a longing. Then what happened? Look at verse 16. “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” In God-fearing environment God’s power was released. Any sickness could not stay in the sick and evil spirits could not torment people any more. All of them were healed. In this way the early Christian church revealed God’s living and his power and glory.

May the fear of God grow in and through us and this community of God be preserved in purity and holiness of God and increase in number and power. This church may be used by God to influence our campus and society.

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