Judgment and Forgiveness (pt 5 of 7)

This is the fifth day of our study and we have witnessed some pretty troubling things, haven’t we? The God we thought of as an old grandfatherly figure who winked at our transgressions, doesn’t seem too gentle anymore. What happened? Has he changed on us? Well, turn your Bibles to Acts 4. We are going to start reading at verse 32, and continue reading on into Chapter 5; we will end with 5:11.

The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostles’ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need. So Joseph, a Levite who was a native of Cyprus, also known as Barnabas (which is translated “son of encouragement”), sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and placed it at the apostles’ feet.

So Barnabas sold some property he owned . . . (now pay attention here, because the very first few verses in the next chapter tie directly into this story). Barnabas owned the property and could have done anything with the proceeds. He could have bought some CDs with it; he could have given it to his children (if he had any); he could have called Carnival Cruises and taken a Mediterranean cruise; he could have done whatever he wanted to because it was his money! Nobody required him to give it the church. However, something had happened in his heart and he felt inspired—compelled—to joyfully offer the funds to the church.

Wow! How about that? And I bet a big deal was made about it. Everybody was shouting and hooting, slapping “high-fives”  . . . I suppose it’s possible that only a few people knew about it, but the fact that it is mentioned here, gives you the impression that the church was excited and rejoiced that Barnabas gave the money . . . and I can picture Barnabas kind of shrugging it off . . . “No, big deal. I knew the funds were needed, so I just sold the property . . . “

But then . . .

Now a man named Ananias, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a piece of property. He kept back for himself part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge; he brought only part of it and placed it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!”

When Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died, and great fear gripped all who heard about it. So the young men came, wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, but she did not know what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me, were the two of you paid this amount for the land?” Sapphira said, “Yes, that much.” Peter then told her, “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” At once she collapsed at his feet and died. So when the young men came in, they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear gripped the whole church and all who heard about these things —Acts 4:32 – 5:11

Oh, oh. Here we have two people dying as a direct punishment by Yahweh. He killed them. They weren’t put to death by any earthly authority. Plus, it all seems to have come as a surprise to the Apostles, and disciples who were present, too. Now remember, by all accounts, Ananias and Sapphira were Believers; they had come to belief that Jesus was Savior and Lord. There is nothing here that says they were pretenders or that they had only fooled themselves “thinking” they believed, though they didn’t really believe—nothing like that. So, Ananias and Sapphira, husband and wife, were Christians—the Holy Spirit lived within them—just like all their Christian brothers and sisters.

What happened here? Simply, they wanted to join in the spirit of what everybody else was doing by selling property they owned and giving the proceeds to those Believers who needed it, and, they were certainly sincere about it; because they did indeed sell their property and they did bring the proceeds to the Church leadership—although they told a little white lie and held back some of it. Now, let’s stop there for a second and ponder this: they sold property that was rightfully theirs, kept a little for themselves and gave the rest to the Church. True enough, it wasn’t 100% of the proceeds, but it was without doubt a generous thing to do, right?

Well, it would appear on the surface that the issue was that Ananias and Sapphira lied about it, and that was what precipitated God’s death sentence on them. Or . . . was that really the deal? How often in the Bible do we see people killed by God for the sin of lying? Didn’t Peter lie and deny Yeshua Himself—three times? Yet, he wasn’t killed. In fact, the Torah doesn’t call for physical death for the sin of lying—not even lying to God. So, why here, in Acts?

Here’s something you may not have thought about. When an Israelite brought his sacrificial animal, his offering, to the Tabernacle, and presented it to God, that property (that animal) became God’s property. In the sacrificial system, it formally became God’s on semikhah—the laying on of hands on the animal’s head—to signify that this animal was indeed the offering, and that it was indeed being turned over to Yahweh.

Now let me ask you something. From a spiritual standpoint, when did that transfer, from their offering to being God’s Property, actually occur? Well, later Rabbi’s would say that it was when the worshipper entered the Temple grounds with the animal that it became God’s property. Personally, I believe it was the moment the worshipper decided to make that animal to be the offering. Be that as it may, the term the Bible uses for offerings to Yahweh, is “Holy Property.” And, when you violate Holy Property, it is a very serious sin.

The key to this is that Holy Property has been deemed as itself being holy, by Yahweh. When Ananias and Sapphira determined to sell property and give the money to the Lord, it became Holy Property. Just like an Israelite didn’t have to bring a certain animal for a sacrifice—in some cases the species of animal was, within certain limits, the worshippers choice, and in other cases exactly which animal from his flock was his own choice. Ananias and Sapphira were under absolutely no obligation to sell their property, and they certainly weren’t obligated to donate any of the money; it was purely their idea and their choice. But . . . and here’s the thing, once they made that choice, the situation changed. Once they began the process, sold the property, and had the money in hand, there was an important element of holiness added to it the moment they decided to give the proceeds to the Church. We would say that they “held back some of their money” from God. Wrong. The moment they made the declaration that they were going to give the money to the fellowship, it became Holy Property. Once it became Holy Property, it was all His. They had no right to any of it—because it wasn’t theirs anymore. What God chose to do with His property was His prerogative. What they did was to rob God. They partook of God’s Holy Property which is a blatant violation of God’s Holiness. And, they paid for it with their lives.

I hope that is a sobering thought for you . . .

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