The Agreed Resolve The Sermon Continued Acts 5:1-11 Ananias & Sapphira “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4) 9| Great Fear | Acts 5:5, 11 “Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things” (Acts 5:5). “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:11). “So great fear came upon all those who heard these things” (Acts 5:5). It is easy to understand the group reaction as the news spread about the death of Ananias. He had embezzled money from God and the church; his death exposed his sin. We might view this casually except “great fear” is repeated the story’s last verse. The climax of the story is the response of fear in the church and all who heard the news. Luke further highlights it by the adjective “great,” a translation of the Greek word “megas.” “Megas” means out of the ordinary in degree, magnitude, or effect. The Greek word “phobos,” translated “fear,” is our word “phobia.” “Phobos” is used forty-seven times in the New Testament, fourteen times in the Gospels. In either verb or noun form, “phobos” means panic-stricken terror. One example of this word’s use was when Jesus walked on water in the middle of the night (Matthew 14:26). It was probably three o’clock in the morning, and the disciples had battled the storm all night. Dead tired, they could not go forward or backward. They bailed water with all their strength, trying to keep the boat afloat. The storm waves crashed over the sides of the boat. Suddenly looking up, they saw a ghostly figure skipping from one storm wave to another, causing them great fear. What English word could adequately describe what the disciples felt? Perhaps terror, fright, or scared out of their wits would be a proper interpretation. Seasoned, elite Roman guards experience the same fear. The angel of the Lord descended, causing an earthquake. The angel rolled the stone away from the empty tomb. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing was white as snow. “And the guards shook for fear (phobos) of him, and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4). Our passage does not say that “fear” was a reaction of Ananias and Sapphira, but I wonder if this was a cause of their death? We often view fear in the Scriptures as an independent power that “befalls” human beings (Luke 1:12, 65). It “fills” them (Luke 5:26), “oppresses” them (Luke 7:16), “seizes” them (Luke 8:37), or “comes upon” them (Acts 5:5, 11). Seventy-five times in the New Testament, the writers state admonishment as, “Do not fear!” Fear is a common problem, and we need frequent reminders. However, “fear” (phobos) also describes a fundamental attitude man has toward God. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us to fear the Lord! There are many exhortations to fear the Lord in the Book of Psalms. “Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (Psalms 33:8). “Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him” (Psalms 34:9). Luke emphasizes the reaction of astonishment and fear because of Jesus’ deeds. After the healing of the paralytic, the witnesses are “all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear (phobos), saying, ‘We have seen strange things today’” (Luke 5:26). Awe filled all of them! The events surrounding the birth of Christ caused fear within many hearts. Can you imagine being in the fields in the quiet of night only to have an angel of the Lord stand before you and the glory of the Lord to shine around you? The Scriptures report that the shepherds “were greatly afraid (phobos)” (Luke 2:9). What is the tone or severity of fear in our passage? You might take the extreme terrorized approach, a result of a casual reading in the English translation. Ananias and Sapphira embezzled funds from God and the church. They sold land and claimed they gave the entire proceeds. In reality, they lied, but as Peter said, the lie was not to men but to God. The result was both Ananias and Sapphira died. Those of the early Church talked of this among themselves, and all of Jerusalem would have known the details. You know what happens to stories as people repeat them. Before long, everyone knew if you joined the early Church and made one slip, God would strike you dead. “So great fear (phobos) came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:11). However, the fear held by the early Church did not seem to terrorize Jerusalem. Luke reported, “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). They were bringing their sick into the streets in the hope that as Peter passed by, his shadow might fall on them. The populous of Jerusalem held the early Church in awe and respect, causing many not to join because of this wonderment (Acts 5:13). The outsiders knew that becoming a part of the early Church meant total commitment. There were no half-hearted, part-time members of the early Church! Everyone understood Jesus is Lord! If you were going to be in a relationship with Jesus, He had to maintain this position in your life. “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). The fear that gripped Jerusalem resulted from awe and reverence. The Sanhedrin understood how Jerusalem felt when they captured Peter, John, and the healed beggar from the Gate Beautiful. These leaders could not deny the miracle of the well-known, healed beggar standing before them. He had begged at the temple gate for nearly forty years. Everyone was in awe over God’s movement through the apostles. The Sanhedrin could not punish the apostles because of the people since they all glorified God for the miracle (Acts 4:21). Despite the threat of persecution, the “fear” continued to increase as God moved on Ananias and Sapphira. Let me propose to you the foundation of this concept. This idea is not a theological bias but is the expression of the New Testament. We must interpret every story in light of all the Scriptures. We have to compare our passage with other passages to maintain the proper focus on truth. Only when we set aside our personal bias can we hear the clear communication from the Spirit of God. Positive Principle Our story has a positive principle operating within it. This principle is interwoven in all of the Scriptures and becomes the fundamental understanding of the universe’s working mechanics. This principle is an expression of God’s heart. If God birthed everything in creation from His thoughts, this has to be the fundamental principle of His heart. This principle is so complicated that one statement cannot reveal its entirety. Yet, it is so simple that every statement of truth about God makes it known, meaning the Bible does not give us a one-sentence description. If so, we would comprehend that one statement and think we knew it all. But God keeps us on the edge of revelation by this positive principle revealing itself in practical interaction with Him. If we get even a small glimpse of this principle, we experience the confidence to enter into a merger with God. This principle is the source of our hunger and thirst for righteousness. Here is the principle. Fulfillment in the human experience is in righteousness; destruction in the human experience is in sin. The soul of a human being thrives in perfect love and deteriorates in division and hate. Absolute dependence on the Trinity God is the fertile soil of growth; independence is cancer that rots human life in decay. The human character advances on the strength of faith and shrinks in suspicion and skepticism. The road to victory is paved with bleeding, suffering, and dying; self-centeredness paves the way to defeat. Any expression of selfish desire for personal safety or betterment brings ruin and dissatisfaction. This principle of redemption is always a focus on others. “How to be safe” is never the theme, but this principle calls us to risk ourselves. This principle is not about the elimination of suffering, opposition, or battles. It does not crease to work in strife and upset. Instead, this principle is the attitude within the pain, resistance, and conflicts that the world cannot defeat! In light of this principle, we understand what happened in the lives of Ananias and Sapphira. They violated this principle the moment they thought in terms of “get, grab, keep, protect, and save,” entering into death. Even if they continued to breathe, they would have lived in death. The early Church and the Jerusalem community began to understand this principle, and they were in awe (phobos). When such an awareness of “fear” happens, you either get in or get out. The “awesomeness” either brings you to a total embrace of the principle or repels you to stay your distance. There are many expressions of this principle. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). God is not mad; there is no desire in His heart to punish you. He weeps over the wages that you earn by the rebellion in your heart. He is so desirous that we have life that He offers it as a gift. No one needs to be without this amazing life. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Losing one’s life is the opposite of the selfish heart that always seeks its own way. Self-centeredness always ends up in the loss of everything. It is in giving that we get, in losing that we win, in surrender we receive, and in dying that we live, all the message of the cross. No wonder Paul cried, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). We shape our lives by the things we merit, earn, or achieve. We compete, conquer, or compare, the only things that make sense to our selfish worldly minds. Indeed, the god of this world has blinded us (2 Corinthians 4:3). However, each of us ends at the finish line broken, empty, and without hope. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The gift is abundant, flowing from God’s heart. This gift is the fundamental principle of the universe! Ananias and Sapphira lived and died in the context of this spiritual principle. God wept over this couple who heard and embraced the positive principle, yet ended in death. He was not mad; He did not strike them dead. It is reality, the decisive principle by which God created all things. Positive Person The focus of this positive principle is on Jesus. The Bible does not propose an idea, a proverb, or a bumper sticker slogan. This principle is not like the law of gravity operating on one’s life but is impersonal. It is not a law of the universe at all. This principle is a Person. The Trinity God placed His heart (the way He thinks and functions) in Jesus. All creation comes through Jesus (Colossians 1:16). Therefore, everything has Jesus’s fingerprints on it. He is the visible representation of this positive principle. Thus, the Living Christ confronts us, not an impersonal law. Paul exposed this truth when he said that we are “in Him.” “Even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together; and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 2:5-6). You are seated and surrounded by Jesus. It is in this positive position in this positive Person that the positive principle works. All fulfillment, spiritual blessings, spiritual growth, and prosperity are working in your life. Outside of this position are darkness, destruction, decay, and ruin. What a fantastic picture of completeness! We are not seated in some far corner of God’s concern. He does not visit us with the necessary elements for life. He does not send angels to give us what we need. He places us in His heart! We are at the center of His concern and desires, not a part-time hobby receiving His attention occasionally. We fulfill His dreams. God seats us in Christ, the heart of God demonstrated in the flesh. It is “in Christ,” we know God. “In Christ” is the principle of life that operates in us. It is “in Christ” that God accomplishes all of His dreams for us. Do you see the singularity in this reality? My focus must be on Jesus, desiring, or seeking nothing outside of Him. The needs of my life must not be my concern, for only Jesus can fulfill them. The difficulty seems to be in our focus. We believe in Jesus, but not in Him alone. We play the role of Ananias and Sapphira, wanting to be a part of the church, the mission, and the purpose of helping others. But we are not all in! We allow Jesus to be the source of our salvation, but not our finances. Jesus is good for our eternal destiny but not for our daily routine. Jesus is not all in all to us. Positive Production The positive Person of the positive principle wants a relationship with you. In the intimacy of His person, you will find life and fulfillment; outside of a relationship with Him, you will find death and destruction. A person does not have a choice on the result; a person only has a choice about intimacy with Jesus. Jesus attempted to explain this to the scribes and Pharisees. He illustrated it with a tree and its fruit. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. We cannot dwell in Jesus and produce destruction and ruin; we cannot dwell outside of Jesus and live in life. What is the purpose of Ananias and Sapphira’s story? It is an illustration of destruction due to the lack of completeness. They were not all in! Although they were Jews and embraced their historical heritage, they did not fully embrace the merger with Jesus. They experienced guilt over Jesus’ crucifixion; they extended some form of repentance and sorrow. They knew the thrill of the early Church in ministry, miracles, and membership, but did not commit one hundred percent to the merger. We cannot live in both halves of the positive principle. We cannot live in “the wages of sin” and in “the gift of God.” No one can “sit together in heavenly places in Christ” and dwell in self-centeredness. It is one or the other! We must get in or get out! From the days of old until now, this is always the message. Joshua turned to the people of Israel and cried, “Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15). There is no middle ground, no way to maintain both or take advantage of all. It is in or out; you are, or you are not. The positive production is an abandonment to Jesus.