Sermon Passage: Acts 5:3-4
“But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).
Music is the heart’s expression of every religious movement. To teach the theology of holiness, John and Charles Wesley wrote words to the bar tunes of their day, teaching truth through music. Expressing the heart through music was also true for the Israelites. Can you imagine several thousand men chanting songs, proclaiming the truth of Jehovah in Jerusalem’s temple? The Book of Psalms is a compilation of that music. The Hebrew title for the Psalms is “Tehillim,” meaning “praise.” The Greek title for the translation of the Old Testament is “Psalmoi,” meaning “songs to be accompanied by stringed instruments.” The Book of Psalms contains 150 psalms divided into five sections, each having a benediction and final blessing.
The attributes of God fill the songs of the Psalms. For instance, God is transcendent, which means He is different and independent from His creation. The essence and nature of God’s being are greater and higher, above and beyond, anything He has created. The Israelites filled their songs with declarations of God’s otherness. All of His judgments come from His transcendent greatness (Psalm 10:5).
God is unchangeable! The attributes of God do not change in His perfection or His purpose for humanity.
“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever;
With my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I have said, ‘Mercy shall be built up forever;
Your faithfulness You shall establish in the very heavens’” (Psalm 89:1-2)
The remainder of this Psalm echoes this great attribute of God.
God is Omnipotent! He is all-powerful and has the highest authority over all things and all creatures.
“He counts the number of stars;
He calls them by name.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:4-5).
“Come and see the works of God;
He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men.
He turned the sea into dry land;
They went through the river on foot.
There we will rejoice in Him.
He rules by His power forever” (Psalm 66:5-7).
God is omniscient! He possesses complete and perfect knowledge of all things. The Psalms declare that God knows everything about our human life. Before my mother’s womb, God involved Himself in shaping my life for His destiny. God is God, and He has searched me and knows me. I can hide nothing from Him. Darkness is as light to God, and no one can hide from Him (Psalm 139). God knows what could have happened and what will happen. He is aware of the past, and all that will happen in the future because He planned the future.
“Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts:
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150).
What else can be said? In light of the immensity of what we do not know about God, what we do know is startling! Should we not live in a state of awe? Should we not always stretch to comprehend more of His greatness?
Luke introduces Ananias and Sapphira to us in our passage (Acts 5:1-11), the only place we see them in the Scriptures. We have no information about their background, ages, social status, or tribal connection. Though we know little about them, what we do know is significant. This couple in the early Church were CONSECRATED JEWS. They lived in Jerusalem to participate in the celebrations and worship as good Israelites. The temple worship, annual feast days, and daily hours of prayer made up a consistent part of the schedule. The Old Testament Scriptures made up the core of their education from childhood to the present moment, and they focused their belief in Jehovah. All the attributes of God highlighted in the Book of Psalms was their faith. They sang the Psalms they had committed to memory.
However, we must add that they were CONVERTED JEWS. They lived in the expectation that Jehovah would send a Messiah, revealing their belief in Him. Following the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost, they embraced Jesus as that Messiah. Were they among the Jews converted at Pentecost? The Holy Spirit used Peter to explain Pentecost and 3,000 converted to Christianity (Acts 2:41). The gathering cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). This crowd realized the truth; they had participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, but His resurrection’s reality cut them to the heart (Acts 2:37). Were Ananias and Sapphira in that crowd? Had they joined the call to “Crucify Him?” We do not know, but Jesus had won their hearts! They became a part of the early Church, experiencing the apostle’s teaching and breaking bread from house to house (Acts 2:24-47). They certainly knew the persecution applied to the early Church. Peter and John explained the severity of punishment expected if anyone preached or taught in the name of Jesus. Ananias and Sapphira decided to risk everything to embrace the commitment of the early Church to stick with Jesus.
We know their decision because Ananias and Sapphira were CONTRIBUTING JEWS. They had some wealth because they decided to sell one of their possessions (Acts 5:1). No human pressure or requirement made them make such a sacrifice. However, the Holy Spirit, who was within them may have. This couple had a desire to contribute to the thriving ministry of the early Church. The needs of the people moved them, and they responded. Should we not applaud their actions. Are not the church and those who are needy always grateful for the generous response prompted by the Holy Spirit?
However, as the story of Ananias and Sapphira unfolds, everything is upside down, in reverse, and definitely in chaos. Instead of generosity, there is stinginess. Instead of truth, there is deception. Instead of commitment, there is a compromise. Instead of Jesus conquering the heart, Satan wins a victory. How could it be? What has happened? Peter asks, “Why?” “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? (Acts 5:3). “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).
Have you thought of lying to God? What transition would you need to make in your belief about God to do such a thing? Would you not have to change your relationship with Him? It is impossible to maintain intimacy and oneness with God and have a wall of deception. If Christianity defined is my nature, and God’s nature merged, how can I possibly lie to Him. We have to conclude we cannot deceive God but only ourselves. This discussion leads us to a review.
The Book of Psalms strongly influenced Ananias’ concept of God and His character. Every Sabbath Ananias would chant and sing his beliefs about God with other worshipers. The temple air resounded with the declaration of God’s “abiding presence.” God is unchangeable! Jehovah God is “all-powerful,” omnipotent. Jehovah was the same in Ananias’ day as he was in Moses’ day. Old Testament stories of deliverance shaped everything Ananias believed about God. God’s power and greatness could not be measured. God Jehovah is “all-knowing,” omniscient. Ananias sang Psalms declaring man can hide nothing from God. Why would he attempt to hide something from someone who knows everything? Jehovah God is “above all things,” transcendent. God is separated from and not determined by that which He created, which was Ananias’ throbbing heart’s belief.
All the things Ananias believed about God expanded into the complete revelation of Jesus. The Old Testament stories moved into the daily acknowledgment of truth as Ananias experienced the life of Christ in His world. The transcendent God became flesh! Ananias must have witnessed the miracles of Jesus and heard Him preach the truth. The Spirit of Jesus had come to indwell Ananias as he embraced the mystery of Pentecost. He knew the intimacy of God Jehovah about which he continually sang.
How could Ananias conceive in his heart the idea of lying to the Holy Spirit? Is this not what Peter was asking him? What happened to Ananias’ belief? Did he no longer believe God was all-knowing? Did he think he could hide the sale amount of the property from God? Did Ananias believe God had changed? How do you describe the actions of a man who, in the face of an all-knowing God, acts as if He knows nothing?
But let us not demean Ananias without coming to terms with this in our lives? Is not the denial of who God is the essence of every deed of sin? Peter knew the miracle power of God flowing through Jesus for three years. The raising of several people from the dead were spectacular moments within his time with Jesus. Peter was convinced and boldly pledged his support to Jesus (Matthew 26:35). But in the crisis moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter drew a sword to defend himself. Why did he not rely on Jesus? After all he saw demonstrated in Jesus, how could he so easily set that aside?
This analysis is convicting for us all. We propose confidence and faith in the greatness of our God only to live in anxiety over trivial issues in comparison to Jesus! We sing the songs and declare the theology of our faith only to deny the reality of it in our daily lives. We proclaim the omniscience of God only to plot how we might deceive Him. To live in sin, we must demean and belittle the character of who God is! Sin makes no sense in light of the nature and attitude of God. “Come now, and let us reason together. Says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18). Has not every deviation from God’s will for your life ended in destruction? Each time we do our desires, our selfish intent, does not it bring us pain and destruction? Paul described the world of the god of this age as blinding. He said, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Do the sensible thing and embrace the character of God; live accordingly! How can we lie to an omniscient God?
Ananias and Sapphira’s attitude of faith and commitment were undoubtedly strong. To embrace Jesus and know the filling of His Spirit repeatedly as they did must have strengthened their confidence in God. Did they not receive blessing after blessing and benefit upon benefit from Him? Where their lives not enriched in every way due to Christ and His Church? Think of the support of the body of Christ represented in Jerusalem. Was there any question in their hearts about the goodness of God? Did they not know as Jehovah God had provided for their forefathers in the Old Testament, He was abundantly able to provide for them in their hour?
However, beyond such a recognition of the Old Testament, this couple knew the fullness of the indwelt God. It is one thing to celebrate events of the ancient past; it is another thing to experience the same God moving in your life. Had they not experienced miracles as great as those of ancient days? Did not they know the presence of God in ways beyond thunder and lightning on Mt. Sinai? God provided for them and worked on their behalf. They trusted Him even in persecution.
Why did they need to lie to the Holy Spirit and provide for themselves? Could their provision be better than His? Did they have a resource beyond God’s supply? Was the small amount of profit enough to merit their lives? Again, we must not be demeaning or belittle them until we have carefully looked at our life’s experience. How often have we trusted ourselves instead of God? We embrace anxiety and fear rather than confidence and faith, which points to our lack of trust in Him. We live in the temporal instead of the eternal. How amazing is it that we have not ceased breathing in death as they did!
Perhaps the arrogance of our selfish pride is the bottom line of the matter. Is it the answer to Peter’s cry of “Why?” How difficult is it for us to embrace our helplessness and live in the constant awareness of such a state? Yet, this is where the full reality of Jesus’ presence is known. Nothing else makes any sense. It is the solution to every problem; it is the answer to every question. It is clarity to every confusion.
It is the completeness of surrender Jesus requires of us. Does not our passage teach us again that there are no half-hearted attempts in Christianity? We must either trust Him or trust ourselves. The call is for our total abandonment to Jesus!