Dead Hypocrites

Acts 5:1-11

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2013

Last week, we looked at the middle of Acts 5 when the Jewish leaders arrested the apostles and threw them in jail but an angel opened the door and let them out and they went right in the temple courts and preached about Jesus, which infuriated the Jewish leaders.

What we skipped over last week were the first eleven verses of chapter 5.  It is a fascinating section.  Two members of the church, a married couple, drop dead.  Why did they die?  What did they do that was so bad? The Apostle Peter plays a key role in this story as well.  Let’s read Acts 5:11.

This section is a little strange for several reasons.  On the surface, this passage doesn’t seem to make sense.  I will give you one thing that seems a little unusual about this passage and see if you can think of any others.

1)    This chapter seems out of place in the Book of Acts.

I need to do a little review here.  In the beginning of Acts everything good is happening.  There was some persecution but it was very limited.  Peter and John were put in jail for a day (4:2).  Great things were happening in the very beginning of Acts.

The first church began

Before Acts 2, there was no church.  It didn’t exist. Jesus said, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). If you notice, Jesus said, “I WILL build my church”.  He did not say, “I am in the process of building my church” (present tense).  He did not say, “I have built my church” (past tense).  He said, “I will build my church” (future tense) and the first church started in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit fell on some people who were praying in the Upper Room.

The church is united

It was not divided.  Today the Christian Church is completely divided.  There are hundreds of denominations.  It is divided by race (black, white and Hispanic churches).  It is divided by denominations (Baptists and Pentecostals).  It is divided by theology (Calvinists and Arminians, charismatics and non-charismaics).  It is divided by dress (casual or formal churches).  It is divided by music (hymns and contemporary music).

It is divided by Bible translation (KJV only churches).  It is divided by ritual (baptism by sprinkling or by immersion, baptize babies and some baptize only adults or people who can make a profession of faith).  There was no division in the first church.  Denominations did not exist.  There were no Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians at this time.  There was one church.  It was the church of Jerusalem and it was united.  Acts 4:32 says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind”.  Unfortunately, that does not describe the church in America today.

The church is loving

It took care of people’s needs.  There was so much love in this church that they took take of the poor people in their church.  They had some poor people in the church.  Apparently, it was a big problem, so the church did two things. They SHARED their possessions (4:32).  When that was not enough, they took it one step further and SOLD their possessions to get money to help people (4:34).  They shared things and sold things to help needy people in the church.  It was a very generous and compassionate church.  It was a loving church.

The church is growing

Some churches grow and some do not.  This church grew astronomically.  It started with 120 members.  In one day, it went from 120 members to 3120 members in one day from one sermon.  That is a growth rate of 2500%.  By Acts 4, the church had grown to 5000 people (4:2).  This was phenomenal church growth. It was a mega church.

Real miracles take place

Furthermore, miracles were taking place.  I am not just talking about God healing someone’s marriage, as important as that is.  Acts 2:43 says, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. This was a charismatic church.  The Twelve Apostles were members of this church.  They went around with Jesus for three years preaching and healing and they still healed people.  In Acts 3:1-8, we have an example of Peter healing a crippled beggar

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Here was a man who was crippled.  He was completely disabled.  He could not walk at all and that was not the result of an accident or an injury.  He was born that way.  Everyone in the city knew him.  He was forty years old and had to be carried everywhere he went and since he could not work, he had to beg for money.  We walk by or drive by beggars all the time.  Sometimes we might give them some money and sometimes we walk right by them.

What did the Apostles do?  They stopped and talked to this beggar but they didn’t give him any money, because they didn’t have any to give him.  Peter said, “silver and gold have I none” (3:6).  He was a poor apostle.  Peter was one of the top leaders in the very first church and he did not have a lot of money.  So much for the health and wealth gospel!  In fact, Peter did not even say, “you are a poor beggar.  If you accept Jesus you will be wealthy”

Instead, Peter gave him something better than money.  He said, “Rise up and walk”.  Peter told this man to do something that he had never done in his entire life!  He had never walked a day in his life.  Peter did not have the power to do this on his own.  He was just a poor fisherman.  He said “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk”.

Everything in Acts is not going good, it is going GREAT.  The church is united.  It is loving.  It is on fire.  It is growing.  Miracles are taking place in the church and then two members of the Jerusalem Church suddenly drop dead and they didn’t die of natural causes.

2)   They were actually doing a good dead when they died.

They died right after they gave some money to the church.  They had some land.  They sold it and gave some of the money to the church.  They were sacrificial.  They were thinking of others and they still died.

3)   The reason they died does not seem that bad

Why did they die?  They lied to the church.  What did they lie about?  They lied about money.  They lied about how much they gave to the church.  It doesn’t seem that serious to us.  It is like cheating on your taxes or saying you gave ten percent to the church when you only gave eight percent.  It is wrong.  It is lying but is it bad enough to die for?  The punishment does not seem to fit the crime.  It seems a little harsh.

It shows what God thinks of lying.  It is not that big of a deal to us today.  People do it all the time and do not think twice.  A lying tongue is one of the seven things that God HATES according to Proverbs 6:16-19.  Two of the seven things on the list have to do with lying (false witnesses and lying lips).  Jesus died because of false witnesses.  God also hates lying lips.  Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord”.  God HATES Them.

 Reconstruction of the Events

1. Barnabas sold a field that he owned and gave all of the money to the church. Barnabas was a well-respected member of the church. He sold some of his real estate and was praised for his generosity.

2.  A couple in the church named Ananias and Sapphira said, “What Barnabas did was a really good idea. Maybe we should do that. We have some land we could sell and give to the church as well.” They probably told people that they were going to do this. They told people about their plans.

3. They sell the land and bring the money into their house (a large pile of silver) and then they he should not give it all. It is a lot of money and he could use some of it. They may have had some financial needs themselves. They may have even gotten more for the land than they thought they would get. The land may have been worth $7,000 and they got $10,000 for it.

4. Ananias gave part of the money to the church and said it was all. “God has really blessed us. We sold a plot of land and would like to give it all to God to help anyone who is in need in the church”. His wife went along with the plan. She did not object to it. She apparently agreed with it.

5. Peter confronts Ananias about what he did and Ananias drops dead. Peter doesn’t kill him. God does. All Peter did was to point out his sin. Apparently, his good deed of giving money to the church didn’t cancel out his sin of lying.

6. Ananias is buried. His wife does not even know that he died yet.

7. There is a gap of three hours (5:7). Three hours go by. Why three hours? Sapphira went shopping. She got her hair done, bought some fancy clothes, got some new jewelry. When Ananias didn’t come home for dinner, she went looking for him.

8. Peter finds Sapphira and confronts her. The apostles were pretty good at confronting church members. He asked her point blank how much the land was sold for? She had a chance to come clean and tell the truth or to lie? She lied. Those were her last words. She dropped dead and they buried her.

9. Then fear came on the whole church (5:11). Everyone was afraid. Why? They were wondering if they were going to drop dead as well.  They looked back to see if they had told a lie in the last week.

What are some lessons that we can take from the story of Ananias and Sapphira?

Applications from Acts 5:1-11 

1)   God wants honesty and transparency in his people.

He wants us to tell the truth when we talk to people.  He wants us to have integrity.  This story tells us what God thinks of hypocrites in the church.

2)   Genuine believers can fall into sin.

Ananias and Sapphira were genuine believers.  They had been baptized.  They may have been charter members of the church.  They not only lied, they tried to deceive the apostles.  Satan filled their hearts.  He can fill our hearts.

3)   Leaders sometimes need to confront people in the church.

That is one of the jobs of leaders.  Some are good at this and some avoid it.  Today when church members fall into sin, leaders often try to cover them up, rather than to try and confront them.  Confronting people is too unpleasant.

4)   God judges believers who sin and sometimes they even die.

The Bible talks about a “sin unto death”.  Now he does not do this every day.  Can you imagine how big our church would be if God took out every single person in the church who told a lie the last week?

5)  There is no perfect church.

The very first church had problems.  The Jerusalem Church was a good church.  It was an apostolic church.  The Twelve Apostles went to this church but it was not a perfect church.  Even apostolic churches were not perfect.  They were made up of sinners.

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