Sermon Passage: Acts 5:3
3| The Great War | Acts 5:3
“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” (Acts 5:1-2).
In our previous studies in the Book of Acts, we discovered this writing is volume two of one book written by Luke. Volume one is the Gospel of Luke portraying the life of Christ. He does not present two themes, but each volume introduces one concept. If we do not continually understand and view all circumstances in light of this concept, all is lost! Luke’s idea is the essence of God’s Spirit filling humanity and pushing back (defeating) the force of evil dominating the world.
In volume one, God emptied Himself of every advantage He had as God and became a helpless man. He did not give up being God; He surrendered everything that distinguished Him from us. The Spirit of God filled Jesus. Each miracle invaded demonic territory, pushing back and conquering evil forces. Satan’s every attack from the wilderness temptation (Luke 4:1-13) to the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46) was a spiritual war raging on a physical stage. Luke presents Jesus as the Conqueror as He ascends to the right hand of the Father (Luke 24:51). But Jesus did not conquer because He is God (although He is); Jesus conquered because He is a helpless man filled with God! Even then, we might quickly dismiss this victory because He is Jesus. Therefore, Luke presents to us the disciples, mean and hateful, just like us. But then God filled them with the same Spirit He filled Jesus (Acts 2:1-4). The same spiritual conflict that confronted Jesus we now see in the lives of the early Church.
The lame beggar’s healing miracle at the Gate Beautiful stimulated a massive gathering in the temple. As Peter addressed this audience, he greatly disturbed the leaders of Israel (Acts 4:2). These leaders interrogated Peter and John in a courtroom. The apostles’ speaking about Jesus, and their constant focus on Him, disturbed the Sanhedrin. This threat began the persecution of the early Church and scattered them from Jerusalem into their known world. Amid these dire circumstances, “the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:31). In our study of Ananias and Sapphire, Luke portrays the opposite picture. “Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).
Luke presents to us the proposition of the Scriptures. We can only rightly understand the story of the human race in light of the two forces operating in this world. Each story in the Scriptures points us back to the cosmic conflict between God’s forces and the Devil and his forces, the battle from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation! But this is not just a theory or historical presentation. What happens to us and our world depends solely on which of these two powers dominate us. There is a simplicity to the truth of life. There is no philosophy to master or discipline to achieve. Our hearts are either filled by Satan or the Holy Spirit.
The tragedy for us is that we tend to live our lives, never realizing this conflict. In my first year in evangelism, I worked part-time as a caseworker for the social welfare department in our county. I was dismayed by their approach to the problems we faced. The leaders of the program repeatedly stated that the environment was the problem. If we could physically improve the living environment of those we worked with, the destructive activities of evil would cease. They did not recognize the cosmic war in the spiritual realm. They persisted in treating the human problem in terms of their understanding, They considered the war a social problem, and human beings alone were to solve it. However, far from being solved, the troubles of the world grow worse. It is a spiritual problem, a gigantic battle between the power of God and Satan’s power. Again, we face this reality in the story of Ananias and Sapphire. What did the early Church believe?
Peter believed the spiritual battle was not influence or an attitude, not merely a force in the universe. He thought the conflict resulted from a living entity or individual called “Satan.” Peter turned to Ananias and 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” (Acts 5:3)? Luke reported that the early Church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). The teaching and doctrine of the early Church contained the real existence of Satan.
If anyone was aware of this reality, it was Jesus. The Holy Spirit filled Jesus and led Him into the wilderness (Luke 4:1), where the Devil tempted Him for forty days. The spiritual battle was so encompassing that Jesus forgot about food. Addressing the Devil, Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Luke 4:8)! The physical and spiritual involvement of this temptation was beyond measure, and convincing Jesus that Satan was an attitude in our world was not possible. Satan was a mastermind, plotting, and controlling an aggressive war against God.
Satan is a legal name referring to an “accuser,” “slanderer,” “calumniator,” or “adversary” in court. Three times in the Old Testament, Satan appeared in the heavenly court as a supernatural accuser of humankind. Satan stood at God’s right hand to accuse Joshua, the High Priest, but God spurned his accusation (Zechariah 3:1-10). In Job, Satan, before God and among the heavenly council, functioned as more than an accuser and questioned the sincerity of Job’s righteousness. God gave Satan control over sickness, death, and nature to test Job (Job 1-2).
According to the Scriptures, the Devil is a real person with distinct personality traits. The Apostle Paul attributed the Devil with intelligence (2 Corinthians 11:3). Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the writers ascribe emotional desire (2 Timothy 3:6), jealousy (Job 1:8-9), hatred (1 Peter 5:8), anger (Revelation 12:12), and will, to the Devil. Luke and John the Revelator said the Devil commands (Luke 4:3, 9) and leads rebellions (Revelation 12:1-3). From the first chapter in the Bible, the author describes Satan as a personal enemy of God and a deceiver of humans (Genesis 3:1). 19 out of 27 New Testament books refer to Satan (and four more to demons). In the Gospels, Jesus believed in a real and personal Satan, making 25 of the 29 references to Satan.
Before you run away in fear, let me remind you that Satan is a created being, a fallen angel. Jesus saw Satan “fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). God has already judged Satan (John 16:11), and, at the Last Judgement, Satan, and all those who belong to him, will depart into the eternal fire (Matthew 25:41). Jude gave a brief allusion to the fall of the angels (Jude 1:6), but John gave a fuller account of this fall in the Book of Revelation (12:7-9). John said, “Then I saw an angel of the Lord coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up and set a seal on him” (Revelation 20:1-3).
Spirit of Jesus
However, there is another important reality in our passage! Peter asked, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3)? While Satan was involved, do not overlook the overarching presence of the Holy Spirit. As sure as Satan is a real fallen angel, so the Holy Spirit is real, the third Person of the Trinity. The Scriptures do not use the word “Trinity,” but the concept is everywhere. In the Old Testament, each time “God” is used, it is a translation of the Hebrew word “Elohim,” which is always plural. In the creation story, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26). When we see the Old Testament revealed in the New Testament, the picture of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit becomes apparent. Each Person of the Trinity is operational in personality, fulfilling a role in the redemption of fallen man.
God’s speech is powerful, and His creative word has personality form. This creative person is Jesus, the Word (John 1:1). But imagine Jesus, the Word, having such a commanding presence that He takes the personality form of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. When we receive the Spirit of Jesus, we become Christian (Galatians 3:2-3). When God baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, we become a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). If we do not “have the Spirit of Christ,” we do not belong to Jesus, and we are not a Christian (Romans 8:9). Only when the Spirit of Jesus indwells, us do we become sons of God, and we can call on God as Father (Romans 8:14-17). The Divine seal bonding God and the believer is now the Spirit of Jesus, not circumcision or baptism (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14).
Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7; Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19; 1 Peter 1:11)! How can we recognize the voice of the Spirit? The Holy Spirit always bears witness to Jesus (John 15:26; 16:13-14; Acts 5:32; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 John 4:2; 5:7-8; Revelations 19:10). The Holy Spirit filled and empowered Jesus in humanity. We must recognize the Spirit as the Spirit of sonship. It is this Spirit who inspires the same lifestyle of the cross and the same relationship with God as Father that Jesus enjoyed (Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:6-7). The Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of God and makes us like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18), meaning when we receive the Spirit of Jesus, we experience Christ’s crucifixion, as well as His resurrection (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18, Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:10-11). The demonstration of Christ’s Spirit through me is not that He transforms my physical weakness, but instead reveals His power in my weakness; it is life through death (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). To know the Spirit is to experience Jesus (John 14:16-28). No one can know Jesus apart from the Spirit, and no one can experience the Spirit without knowing Jesus’ character and lifestyle. That relationship is what Ananias missed!
We must understand that our passage (Acts 5:1-11) is a part of the last section of chapter four. Luke declares the state of the Church, not a new subject in the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The early Church was mostly confined to Jerusalem and was under the threat of persecution. How healthy is a church in such a situation? Luke’s report says the condition of the Church was much the same as it was after Pentecost (Acts 2:40-47). He makes a strong emphasis on materialism, the physical world. He does not measure the Church’s strength in terms of miracles, numbers, or buildings, but reveals the depth of their spiritual lives on the stage of materialism.
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own” (Acts 4:32). Luke continued, saying this was more than a general attitude among the early Church members. “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold” (Acts 4:34). He gave a positive illustration (Acts 4:36-37) about Barnabas, a “Son of Encouragement,” who displayed his spiritual life through his attitude about his materialism. Ananias and Sapphire were Luke’s negative illustration of the same (Acts 5:1-11).
God intimately linked the spiritual world with the physical world. The spiritual world does not eliminate or discount the physical world; instead, the spiritual always displays itself on the physical stage. The cross of Jesus is the convincing demonstration of this truth! While the spiritual war raged in the heavenly realms, God made it visible through Christ’s suffering and bleeding. What you and I are inward, we will reveal outwardly. A sinful act must stimulate us to investigate our spiritual lives. Ananias and Sapphire embezzled the funds from the sale of their property. In this physical activity, they displayed the condition of their inner hearts.
Our physical actions display our hearts. The physical practices and accepted norms in our society are the physical manifestations of our community’s spiritual condition. The low moral standards of today’s society speak to the decay in our spiritual lives. It is past time that we get concerned about this!
Peter asked, “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)? Every movie or play has a script to describe the action, conversations, and emotions the actors will play out in the film or drama. In the real-life event of Ananias and Sapphire, Satan wrote the script in their hearts, and he played it on the physical stage of their lives.
Peter used the Greek word “pleroo,” the same Greek word used for the Holy Spirit filling the believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:2). “Pleroo” paints the picture of a filled container, used in the sense of prophecy. A prophecy in the Old Testament was completed or fulfilled in an event in the New Testament. At Pentecost, the believer was the container, and the content filling the container was the Holy Spirit. Now the reverse happened in Ananias and Sapphira.
The prophet Jeremiah foretold of Pentecost, speaking of it as a new covenant. God said, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33). The law of God would no longer be on tablets of stone but would be the script of the heart. It would describe the reactions, emotions, attitudes, and actions of the physical, displayed as the drama unfolds. The script of the heart is the director of physical activities.
Peter proposed that Satan was the author and director of the script he placed in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphire. Therefore, we see the great war again, not about one act of embezzlement, or one deceitful lie, but it is about our response and allegiance to Jesus. Are we going to come under His influence? Will we allow Him to govern us by His direction? Who is going to write the script in our hearts for our lives? Each one of us has seen enough of the fulfilled script to know how the drama ends. Satan’s script is always destruction. We see it in our society, but we also know it in our lives. The Scriptures tell us how our script will end, which is the message of our passage.
On the one hand, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). On the other hand, “Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). The revelation of death and destruction is always in the drama.
God gives you a challenge and a call for your life. You must choose a side because you cannot dwell in both! Ananias and Sapphire tried and failed because they did not get the message of total surrender. Who is filling your heart?