I want you all to stop and think for a moment. I want you to think of Almighty God for a moment and think about how you might describe to another person what you think about Him. Don’t say it out loud. I want you to simply think to yourself for about 30 seconds. Think about God and list those things you think about when you consider Who He is. I’ll pause while you consider this.
Please keep your list of ideas to yourself but I want to ask you each as you sit in your pew, did fear ever enter your mind when you thought of God? Did you give the fear of the Lord even a fleeting thought?
Are any of you asking yourself that now? Fear, unfortunately seems like a very strange thing to use to describe our relationship to God today. In fact, when you interview young people today, the concept of fearing God is completely foreign to them. Youth activities are organized to make God cool. God needs to be fun. Experiences need to be exciting. Fear would just turn kids off, right?
Not simply youth activities though. Adults in most Churches today expect the same ideas. To the ideas of fun, cool, and exciting, maybe most adults would think of God as useful, as relevant, or maybe as a helper in a time of need.
What do most of the e-mails that you receive that tell you about God teach? God is this cosmic nice guy who writes you a love letter telling you how much He’s always loved you and maybe you could arrange some time in your schedule later to plan a date with Him. Or maybe God is pictured as walking with you in the sand and you look back and He’s only there for the hard times. It’s those times that He carries you but He’s a nice companion the rest of the time. Some have even said that He’s a dance partner during the good times.
Are these e-mails, though, the beginning of our understanding of God? Is this what the Scriptures teach us about God – that we need to understand how much He wants to be our best friend? Is this the beginning of understanding for a believer?
Here is what the Scriptures testify to concerning wisdom from the beginning of the Book of Proverbs:
5A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
6To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
8Hear, my son, your father’s instruction
And do not forsake your mother’s teaching;
What is the beginning of knowledge? What is the beginning of Godly wisdom? The fear of the LORD.
Oh, but surely what this is talking about is respect and reverence and not fear? God isn’t supposed to frighten us in any way?
Don’t be so sure. I know this is a hard truth for many to embrace but, beloved, if you have any love for God on the basis of what He has done in redeeming you from sin and death, don’t you desire to really know Him? Don’t you desire to know what He says about Himself? Stop for a moment sometimes and think: Just because I read this in an e-mail about God and it made me feel really good, does that mean that what the e-mail said about God is true? Think about this for a moment too: Is everything I believe about God that I’ve thought in the past true?
If we’re not willing to measure what we believe about God with His Word then how does that make us any different than the Pharisees and Sadducees who we keep reading about that had their own ideas about God that made them feel good but were not according to God’s Word? Again, friends, let the Word transform you and do not ignore the Word simply because it’s not as fun as you would like it to be.
It’s not as if I get up here every week taking great delight in the idea that the Word of God will make men and women uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable too but I’m bound to teach what it teaches and it doesn’t flatter men. I realize there are Churches on this island today where you could be that will flatter you and always leave you feeling good about yourself and content that you need not change anything.
I’m not teaching you about this to be obnoxious or because I think you need it more than I do. I’m teaching you about this because it’s in the Word of God and we need this if we desire to grow in wisdom. The way of wisdom is hard. Humility requires humiliation sometimes and a hard look at our sin and a painful look at how we create idols in our minds so we can destroy those idols and grow in our devotion of God.
As this episode opens up we recall that a believer named Joseph, a levite, had sold his field – probably his life’s inheritance – and laid it at the feet of the Apostles to give to the Church as any had need. Joseph was such a loving and encouraging soul that everyone just started calling him by his spiritual qualities: Son of Encouragement – Barnabas.
As Acts 5 continues the story, we read of Ananias and Sapphira who desired the same kind of esteem among the brethren. They resolved to sell their land and give the money to the Church and tell the Church that they had given the Church everything from the sale of the land. The only problem is that they sold the land and gave only a part of the money from the sale but held the rest back. That would have been fine if they told the Church they were giving part of the money to the Church but they lied to the Church and told them they were giving everything.
You might get the impression from Acts 2 and Acts 4 that God had commanded the disciples to sell everything they had and hold everything in common. The text does not say that. It only points out that this is what many of the disciples were doing. Not all of them but the main point is that there was no need or want in the Church. Nobody was starving or without shelter because the disciples took care of one another.
I suppose it’s inevitable that someone is sitting right now thinking that this is a story that the Church would use to make people feel guilty so that they give everything they have to God. But listen to what Peter says to Ananias: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” In other words, Ananias, nobody commanded you to do this. You could have given as much or as little as you desired. God desires a cheerful giver.
One might also get the false impression in this episode that the most terrible aspect is that Ananias lied to the men of the Church in promising this thing. But the terrible sin in this episode is revealed by Peter: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4″While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Ananias has just stained the Church of Christ by this action. Christ calls His Church His Body. Ananias and Sapphira conceived a thing to lie to the entire Church in order to receive the approval of men and then hid the rest of the money, as it were, from sight.
But who saw this?
God. The Holy Spirit.
Did they really think that God didn’t know what they were doing? But isn’t this the nature of sin that we pretend as if God is not watching and God doesn’t know and that the thing we have done is not known by Him? We live our lives as if the things we hide from others are hidden from God.
And when we do such things, we lie to the Holy Spirit. We lie as if He does not exist. We lie as if God is not true, is not living, does not see.
We know it is wrong to gossip and we talk about other men or other women in this Church. We complain about them. We would stop in an instant if they walked into the room but, when we are talking in private, we destroy them with our tongues as if God cannot hear. We think that because the person we gossip about cannot hear that God does not hear and so we lie to the Holy Spirit when we smile to the person’s face and destroy them among others behind their back.
Don’t we fear God? Do we have any understanding or wisdom? Do we believe that God will judge every deed and every idle thought?
Ao as we continue in this story, some of us might be shocked that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for this sin. After all, I wonder if you could imagine a footprints in the sand plaque that read: “And here’s the footprint when I lied to God and He put me to death for it.” I don’t think that would sell too well.
But, beloved, this was a gracious thing that the Lord did for the Church. For all we know it might have been a gracious thing for Ananias and Sapphira. Paul talks about believers who “fall asleep” because of their sin. Sometimes the Lord graciously takes a person’s life so they won’t be tempted to sin even more before His face. After all, if a man believes upon Christ then even the sins that we commit will be covered by His blood but God doesn’t desire a child to keep slapping Him in the face.
But this episode served a very gracious purpose to the Church at large as well. We continue in verse 11:
11And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things
12At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.
13But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.
14And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number,
Great fear filled the Church. Fear filled the believers of the Church and, as the Proverbs testified, it opened their eyes to Wisdom. They began on the path to understanding the Holy One. They began to have greater understanding that God was powerful and almighty. They began to hold Him in the fear and reverence that He deserves. Perhaps some of them were given to thinking they ought to give into temptation. Perhaps some of them were deceived into thinking that they could stop attending worship. Perhaps some of them were getting bored with the long sermons or with how tedious it is to worship a God they couldn’t see.
We’re so accustomed to God giving us so many good things in life that we deceive ourselves into thinking we deserve good things even though we are wicked and even when we are purposefully disobeying His Word. Most of the time in the Scriptures, God doesn’t strike people dead when they do things that He would have every right to do so. And people become complacent. They become foolish because they do not fear God.
But occasionally God reminds His people that He’s not to be trifled with. He reminds them that He is God. He reminds them to stop lying to the Holy Spirit. He reminds them to stop lying about who He is and that He’s mighty and powerful and awesome and terrible. He reminds them that nobody can look upon Him and live. This reminder is a gracious thing. It is a loving thing. It wakes men up. It wakes the Church up. It restores the relationship so that the creature begins anew in worshipping the Creator as He really is.
You see, later in this passage, not everybody receives the same gracious sign, which causes the Church to fear the Lord. Not everybody in this chapter ends up growing in the knowledge of this gracious truth.
The Sanhedring throw the Apostles in prison again for preaching in Jesus’ name and an angel let them out and they go right back into the Temple and preach Jesus’ name again. They haul the Apostles before the Sanhedrin and the high priest is angry at them: “27When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Who does this guy think he’s kidding? He knows very well that he and the other members of the Sanhedrin demanded Christ’s blood. He’s lying with no fear of God. What’s worse is that He’s lying about putting the Son of God to death. What kind of fool would do that? One who has no fear of God.
But the Gospel has to continue to proclaim the Truth to men who are lying to the Holy Spirit. You see, if we had spiritual eyes to see we would think to ourselves that it would be better for the High Priest to believe in Christ and be struck dead at that moment for lying to the Holy Spirit but, at least if He believed in Christ, he would have been saved from further sin.
But Peter teaches the Gospel to the Sanhedren again boldly. He doesn’t let up and says: “29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30″The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31″He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32″And we are witnesses [c]of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
Does the Sanhedrin respond with the fear of God? Do they repent? They’re called to obey the Gospel. They’re called to fear the Lord and worship His Son and bow down.
But because there is no fear of the Lord in them, they are fools. Because they are fools they see the world in upside down terms. Here is their response to the Gospel: “33But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.”
You see, more clearly, how the Gospel ends up costing the Apostles. If a man has no fear of the Lord then they cannot stand to hear that Christ was put to death at the hands of lawless men and that they need to believe in Him. They will not only hate that message but will get so angry at that News that they’ll try to kill you if you keep proclaiming it.
Why? Because they do not fear the Lord. Because they lie to themselves and lie to the Holy Spirit about Who God really is.
Let us, then, never grow weary of the Truth. Let us not grow weary of the Gospel. Let us constantly be reminded, afresh, that God is greatly to be praised because He is greatly to be feared.