A Terrifying Story

Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
30 June 2019
Third Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time

New Series — Acts: To the Ends of the Earth 

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Sermon: Acts 5

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

[sketch notes]

Hook: A Terrifying Story / Stephen King’s short story The Boogeyman (1973 / soon to be released as a movie!) – To this day I can’t see a puddle of water or a closet door left cracked open without thinking of that disturbing story.

The story in Acts 5 is terrifying for different reasons. For some, because it deals with money and material possessions. For others, because members of the church died.

Book: Keep context in mind. Post-Pentecost. The Spirit is still at work in the church and in the world. The same Spirit that moved Peter to preach the gospel, that cut people to the heart, that made a lame man walk, and moved the apostles to preach in the public square, and moved the church to pray, and moved Barnabas to sell land and give the proceeds to the apostles to care for the needy, is the same Spirit makes greedy hearts grateful and generous.

Ananias and Sapphira wanted to appear charitable and generous, but they were covetous and greedy. Not only did they let their right hand know what their left was doing, and not only did they announced their giving with trumpets, with a big show and tell, they lied to the Holy Spirit.

First, they deceived themselves; then they deceived others.

But they could not deceive the Holy Spirit.

Note well that they were not guilty of owning land; they were not guilty of selling the land for profit; they were not guilty of giving part of the proceeds and keeping part for themselves. They were guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit.

They wanted the ministers and members of the church to praise them for their generosity just as they had acknowledged and praised others. They wanted the accolades of men, more than the approval of God.

So God killed them. The Lord and giver of life took away their life.

This akin to what the Lord did to

Nadab and Abihu when they were drunk and offered strange fire in the presence of the Lord. He struck them down and they died. Leviticus 10

Achan when he stole and lied and took some of devoted things from Jericho. He was burned with fire, stoned with stones, and buried under a pile of stones. Joshua 7

Uzzah when reached out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant. He was struck down by the Lord for touching the ark which he not permitted to do. 2 Samuel 6

These stories should terrify us, but they just make some people mad at God.

Calvin says that people get upset with God for striking people down because they think it too cruel a punishment. And they think it too cruel a punishment because they weigh the sins of Ananias and others on their own scales, rather than not on the scales of Holy God, and they fnd them to be little and light sins.

But God is the standard — not you, or me, or anyone else. Not our feelings or sensitivities or values.

Look: Youth Ministry Then and Now / Sober to Silly

Silly – Rev. 21:8 song

Sober – Corpse removal

The reason Ananias and Sapphira were struck down?

In Acts 5, the Holy Spirit exercised church discipline in punishing sin.

The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin” (Belgic Confession, Article 29).

According to NT Wright, this story in Acts 5 helps us see that the church of Jesus Christ is the true and better temple of God, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit on earth. The church is the holy of holies.

Took:  So we must guard our steps when we go up to the house of God. Be not rash with our mouths, nor let our hearts be hasty to utter a word before God. When we vow a vow to God, let’s pay what we vow without delay.

Ironically, every professing Christian wants the Spirit’s power, but few want his presence — his penetrating and purifying presence. We want the Spirit to intercede for us in prayer, but we don’t want the Spirit interfering with us in our life.

As we have seen and heard today, the Spirit searches all things, including our hearts and minds. He searches us inside and out that he might sanctify us inside and out.

He searches our hearts and minds and sees what we search on the Internet, watch on TV, view on Instagram.

He hears what we say with our mouths, sees what we imagine in our hearts and conjure in our minds.

He knows what we think about other people, strangers, neighbors, children, spouses.

He knows what we believe about the gospel, Jesus, and the church.

He knows whether we worship in spirit and truth or just go through the motions.

He knows whether we confessed our sins from the heart, whether we hear his word now, whether we will partake of the eucharist in a worthy manner, whether we tithe, what we give, and how we rationalize it all in our heads.

Ananias and Sapphira are not the only ones who ever lied to the Holy Spirit, are they?

We also deceive others and the Spirit of the Lord in many ways —

with our tithes and offerings, when we give the leftovers to the Lord, not the first-fruits;

with our time, when we refuse to rest and worship on the Lord’s day;

with our talents, when we do not share our skills, knowledge, wisdom, or gifts with each other.

The older I get, the longer I walk with Christ, the more this story terrifies me. I know who I am, and what I have done/do, where my heart strays, when it deceives.

I know that I deserve nothing less than what Ananias and Sapphira got for their sins.

And so do you.

There is not a man, woman, or child among us who does not deserve to drop dead in the presence of the Lord for our sins. And yet here we are awake and alive, not because the by the Spirit of grace alone!

The Spirit is for us, not against us. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the Spirit of life has set us free from sin and death, in order to live a new life, to change us and conform us to the image of Jesus. The Spirit helps us even in our weakness.

The fear of the Lord is a good thing. It turns us from evil. It prolongs our life.

Pastoral Prayer – Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
    O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.