Sermon Passage: 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).
The most common question asked by humanity is, “Why?” We ask “why” of each other and do not fear to ask it of God. The human mind cannot tolerate life’s circumstances without knowing the reason. We can suffer pain and discomfort if it comes with a purpose. A mother embraces the pain of childbirth because she knows it brings her baby. To know God, He calls us to go beyond understanding and reason; He calls us to faith! Faith is invoking God’s activity instead of ours. When we live under His influence, He requires us to trust Him even though we do not understand His actions, the “why.” “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Trust without knowing “why” makes this Scripture real in our lives.
Peter found the issue of “why” more difficult in human relationships. What was the rhyme or reason for the embezzlement and lies of Ananias and Sapphira? “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart?” “Ananias, why did you think to lie to the Holy Spirit? “Ananias, why did you embezzle money and keep part of the price of the land for yourself?” “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?” Who can believe these actions?
Peter’s amazement is somewhat embarrassing in light of his denial of Christ three times. Why did Peter follow afar when they led Jesus to the high priest’s house (Luke 22:54)? Why was Peter offended when a servant girl recognized him as a disciple (Luke 22:56-57)? Why did Peter boldly declare he did not know Jesus (Luke 22:57)? Later, someone else said he was a disciple, yet he denied that also. Peter failed a second chance to embrace the truth! An hour later, another person confidently affirmed Peter as a disciple because he was a Galilean (Luke 22:59). Why did Peter continue to deny when presented with this third opportunity to stand with Jesus (Luke 22:60)?
Perhaps Peter’s response to Ananias was not so surprising after all. He possibly identified with a heart that had lost its way. Peter surely remembered the crowing of the rooster Jesus used to confront him with the truth of his denial (Luke 22:60). How could Peter forget Jesus’ face of compassion and forgiveness looking at Him (Luke 22:61)? Was Peter the rooster making Ananias aware of his sin?
We should not condemn Peter, Ananias, or Sapphira without asking ourselves, “why?” Confronting the failures of my past brings me to the question, “why?” Why did I yield to temptation when God has given adequate resources for victory? The spiritual riches of Christ are mine, so why do I live in spiritual poverty? Jesus never fails, so why do I worry about menial things? Jesus has a plan for my life, then why do I stress? Why do I hate when God is love? Jesus has forgiven me; why do I not forgive others or myself? Why do I blame God for the circumstances I created? Why do I live in discontent when Jesus is all I need?
In the English language, “why” is an adverb when used as a question. “Why” reaches into the verb of the sentence and directs it. The direction is always the purpose of the verb’s action. Ananias and Sapphira radically altered their activity; they embezzled funds that belonged to God. The question of “why” deals with the reason for this change. When we examine the passage, there does not seem to be a systematic answer suggested by Peter, but in the context of the event, we find insight that helps us!
“Remember” is a consistent call throughout the Scriptures! Joseph was in an overwhelming dilemma. Whatever decision he made would have dire consequences. Mary was with child, and Joseph could not marry her because he would identify with her sin. It appeared she had been unfaithful to him during the betrothal period. Why would she do such a thing when they had such a bright future together? Joseph believed the best solution was to put her away secretly. He knew it was not ideal, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances.
In the night hour, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). The angel of the Lord called Joseph to remember. How can Joseph conquer the fear seeking to dominate his life? Is there a purpose or reason for what appears to be Mary’s unfaithfulness and betrayal? He must remember! He is a son of David!
Matthew began his Gospel with the genealogy of Joseph. He was in the lineage of people who consistently experienced the mighty movement of God’s hand. These people knew the PROTECTION of God. Over and over again, God used His resource to rescue them, established a covenant with Abraham pledging His loyalty and protection. As a shepherd and as a soldier, King David knew God’s deliverance from wild animals and evil men. Many kings of Israel did not serve God, but God always protected a remnant of His people for redemption. Joseph need not panic because the same God was moving on his behalf. He must remember!
Joseph’s lineage was not only protected by God, but they also knew the PROVISION of God. From Egypt’s wilderness to Joseph’s present moment, God always provided for the Israelites. God provided manna from the sky, quail in the bush, and water from a rock. Why would God bring the Israelites to this moment without resources? God’s provisions in the battle against the enemy of Israel were always adequate, and He provided prophets that they might hear. Was this hour for Joseph any different? He needs to remember!
Joseph’s lineage knew not only the protection and provision of God but also the PLAN of God. God fulfilled His plan with Joseph, His climax to a forty-two generation genealogy. God worked this plan for two thousand years; will He fail now? Joseph was at the heart of God’s plan. What problem could be so big as to overshadow God using Joseph to fulfill His dream? God connected everything as He moved through the history of humanity to redeem the world.
In the story of Ananias and Sapphira’s betrayal, Judas comes to mind. Judas was a disciple of Christ for three years, intimately connected to Jesus in the flesh. He was in on the late-night discussions, and God filled him with the power for ministry. He saw the miracles, listened to Jesus’ teachings, and witnessed Jesus conquering demons. If you were there with Judas as he held 30 pieces of silver, would you not want to ask, “Why?”
With his knowledge about Judas, Peter asked Ananias and Sapphira, “Why?” The leaders of Israel thrust persecution on the early Church. When threatened never to speak Jesus’ name again, theses believers rejoiced in the Trinity God, who was in charge. These people went to prayer and aligned themselves with Jesus’ crucifixion. They asked God for boldness to continue to proclaim Jesus’ name, and that God increase everything in which they were involved. “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Did Ananias and Sapphira forget that moment? They were a part of “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). How could they forget? The group’s unity caused “neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). Ananias and Sapphira had ministered alongside the disciples. “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). It is also quite possible that Ananias and Sapphira were present for the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
We do not wonder at Peter’s asking, “Why?” Ananias and Sapphira sat under the apostles’ daily teachings, and they experienced the signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit. They undoubtedly participated in the witness of the living Christ. We think God transformed them into a personal encounter with Jesus. Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36), must have moved them with his generosity. You would think their involvement in the early Church pushed them to godliness and obedience. Why were they so disobedient?
The tricky part of this study comes in its application to our lives. God hounds us with His prevenient grace. God has blessed us with His confrontation of truth, and He has captured our lives, laying the Scriptures in our hands and making it available to our hearts. We have known the power of God in answered prayer. We should be the most persuasive witnesses for the Gospel in our communities. Why would we be half-hearted or ever deviate from His will?
The nature of the question “why” assumes responsibility for the response. Do you answer the “why” with a list of excuses and rationalizations to justify your response? Your justifications prove you had a choice in the situation. Peter assumed these things about Ananias when he asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart? Why did you lie to the Holy Spirit? Why did you keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?” Ananias and Sapphira lied and embezzled in response to Satan.
Peter asked, “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart” (Acts 5:4). The Greek word “tithemi” is translated “have you conceived,” used in the sense of “to move and set into a certain place or abstract location.” Peter’s unawareness of the many things involved is at the heart of his question, “Why?” “Tithemi” means to take something and purposely put it in a location. Jesus used this imagery to discuss the new Kingdom as the light of the world. “Nor do they light a lamp and put (tithemi) it under a basket” (Matthew 5:15). “Tithemi” is in the indicative mood, a simple statement of fact, and the aorist tense focused on the act rather than the time of the action. “Tithemi” is in the middle voice, which speaks to personal preference.
Although we do not know why this sin occurred in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira, we do know they committed the act. If we had the outlined steps that took them to their place of sin, we might never fall into the same trap. How do you go from the Spirit of Jesus’ filling to Satan’s filling, from a generous heart to embezzlement? Herein lies the difficulty! There is no formula or steps to follow because it is not relational. Every person is different and must guard their committed relationship with Jesus. If we vary even a little from our love and focus on Christ, our deviation will destroy us.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a reminder of the spiritual war in which we live. The answer to “why” was in their lack of total involvement and merger with Jesus. Often there are people committed to a church movement, and while they believe in Jesus, their focus is their importance. They thrive on their good deed of compassionate ministry, but they do not wholly commit and merge with Jesus. The moment Jesus becomes less than a total focus, destruction is inevitable. Ananias and Sapphira took their loyalty and placed (tithemi) it somewhere other than Jesus. Even though it may have seemed logical and sensible to them in their materialistic state, their spiritual world collapsed.
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira holds a strong message for us. We cannot allow anything to distract us from Jesus, not His program, His benefits, His gifts, His organization, or even His doctrine. Jesus must capture us by His person! Any movement away from a focus on Jesus will have drastic consequences.
Our response to Jesus will determine the consequence of our physical and spiritual lives. Luke proclaimed this boldly with two illustrations, contrasting life and death. This contrast may seem extreme, but we must carefully consider it in light of eternity. Luke’s difference is between a heart abandoned to Jesus (Barnabas) and hearts partially given (Ananias and Sapphira). Each heart was in the Church fellowship and present at Pentecost when God shook the place they assembled and poured out His Holy Spirit. They all were involved in speaking the Word of God boldly (Acts 4:31). Luke’s contrast is not between religious and non-religious, believers and non-believers, or professing Christians and non-professing Christians. We do not see the results in the political aspect of church life, such as serving on the church board. The results are a contrast between life and death!
Luke positively illustrates the first part of the contrast with Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37). He was a Son of Encouragement, who greatly influenced his world. Luke refers to him 23 times in the Book of Acts as a crucial leader in world evangelization. We must not see results concerning his leadership, evangelism, or encouragement, but in his fulfillment of the destiny and unique plan Jesus had for him.
The negative illustration is the contrast of Ananias and Sapphira’s lack of abandonment to Jesus. Their actions left them with nothing but death, caused by their half-heartedness. They lost everything they had hoped to gain. They eliminated their spiritual lives and lost all their influence. They never achieved the destiny and plan Jesus had for them. Their destruction and death were immediate.
We might miss the truth of this contrast because when we lie to the Holy Spirit, our physical death is not immediate. We either conclude that we get by, or it does not apply to us. We view this New Testament story as meant for that time or not properly recorded. We miss the power of the contrast and discard the principle of truth. Any hesitation of heart or lack of surrender will erupt in death no matter how well hidden. The hidden things will destroy spiritual influence, home relationships, physical existence, and, most of all, the fulfillment of Jesus’ dreams for our lives. Everywhere in the New Testament is the call to abandon our lives to Jesus. There is never room for partial commitment. Jesus calls us to absolute surrender, where spiritual growth happens because we are entirely His. Jesus must be our all in all, and we must focus on Him. In light of His focus of commitment on us, could we do anything else?