Are we ready to dig in, today? Are we shaking our heads, thinking that an infinitely loving Father just couldn't have done this?
Let's start with our friend, Joseph (who we'll refer to as Barnabas from here on) that we met first in our focus passage.
Barnabas was given his nickname by the apostles. It means "son of encouragement," and must be an apt description of him. The reason I say that, is that we see him later as the champion of the new convert Paul, and also as the shepherd of the new Gentile converts in Antioch. He also was trusted with taking relief to the poor in Acts 11, and encouraged Paul to give John Mark a second chance.
He really appears to be one of the most loveable leaders of the early church, doesn't he? And this is how his ministry started -- he sold his field and gave all of the proceeds to the apostles. He decided he loved people more than things, just as his Savior did.
Now, don't you know that everyone was so happy with Barnabas? They probably shook his hand, patted him on the back, thanked him, and talked about what he did. The church was probably buzzing with excitement at his generosity.
Ananias and Sapphira heard and saw all of this. One can imagine that they went back to their house and talked about it, too. We can imagine, too, that the temptation was to do something that would make them just as popular and well-liked as Barnabas. Thinking of the piece of land that they'd purchased for building on later, or for starting a new business, they began to consider selling it. Now, it would only be the sensible thing to keep a little of the money for themselves, right? No one would know. To a casual observer, it would look like they'd brought it all, just as Barnabas did.
And so they made the arrangements to sell the land. Oh, what a nice pile it made on their table! They looked and looked at it, and they couldn't bear the thought of giving it all away. You see, their hearts apparently were not truly changed, as Barnabas' heart was. Deep down in Ananias and Sapphira's hearts, there were two desires: they loved that money, and they loved the praise of men.
They wanted to look more generous than they were. And they wanted the apostles and church members to think they were just as awesome as Barnabas. Remember the verses in Luke's gospel?
To cover up their love of the money, and to give the impression of generosity, they lied. If we love possessions and the praise of men, then our love for truth will fall by the wayside. And we become hypocrites.
With a capital H.
That is exactly what happened to Sapphira and Ananias.
They didn't lie to man, verse 4 tells us, but to God.
Not all hypocrites drop dead, of course. (I don't mean to make it sound trivial, because it is not.) In the eighth chapter of Acts, Simon the magician is revealed to be a hypocrite, and he doesn't die immediately. But these two did, because God meant for the people to fear hypocrisy. He wants us to be fearful of treating His Holy Spirit with contempt.
The lesson that Luke wants us to understand is that being a fake -- pretending to have faith in our Father God is not what we want to do!
Luke tells us in Acts 9 that the church had peace and was built up, and that walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it grew.
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
There were two things that brought peace and growth to the church: the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Treating our Lord with contempt by being fake should remain something that brings us unease, that makes us fearful. God is not mocked. And the Holy Spirit comforts us greatly, because when He indwells us, we receive power and can be real and authentic in our walk.
We'll see tomorrow some lessons that we can learn from Sapphira and her husband.