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Thursday, 06 November 2008 18:47

Annanias and Saphira

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ONE of the most challenging incidents in the early church occurred when Ananias and Sapphira chose to lie to the Holy Spirit.

They had sold some property, but then elected to keep back some of the proceeds. Only a “certain part” was brought and laid at the feet of the apostles. They were fully-fledged members of a Holy Ghost Apostolic church; the gifts and the ministries abounded; signs and wonders were commonplace and everyone was sold out for Jesus, both literally and figuratively. This was the church operating in all its glory!

But the husband-and-wife team carried out a deception. It had obviously been carefully planned, but they held on to some of the funds. We can only speculate on what they really did or what, in fact, they concealed. But whatever it was, Peter, obviously with a word of knowledge, discerned that something was amiss!

He took them on, challenging them -- and the consequences were dire, to say the least. First Ananias dropped down dead and then three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened to her husband, perpetuated the same lie, and she too breathed her last!

And so a great fear came upon the church and upon all those who heard these things. The people esteemed the church highly and new believers were increasingly added to their numbers, multitudes of both men and women. But Ananias and Sapphira dared to lie! It was not about the money. It was about the fruitless exercise of trying to deceive the Holy Spirit. God shook the place. It was awesome. It was God in action. It was His church under way!

A true and firm foundation had been laid. But let’s just re-examine that foundation. Everything church-wise, started at Pentecost, that we all know. The Holy Spirit came powerfully and the disciples starting speaking in languages that the locals understood, as they declared the gospel.

Peter had been prepared for this profound moment. He was to preach the greatest sermon ever, the sermon that would establish the church. He read from Joel about “judgement” and the “second coming” and then he preached Jesus.

Unashamedly, he gave it to them straight. “You put Him on the cross,” he told them. Yes, it was for our sin and iniquity that He died. Don’t blame Pilate, the Romans or the Jews, every single one of us crucified Him!

Anointed by the Holy Spirit, God’s man of the moment, Peter, gave it to them without frills and fancies. It was the unadulterated gospel and as always it carried with it “power unto salvation for those who believe.” The response was massive.

“What shall we do?” they asked. The answer was simple. Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus. That’s how it started and is the way it always starts in any regenerated life -- conviction of sin, repentance, a decision and a changed life. The result was the “fruit” for all to see. This always follows a radical decision for Jesus.

They “came together” in “communion” and “prayer” and they “turned” their backs on the world and its value system. Daily and with “one accord” they fellowshipped and the church was born!

A lame man called out to Peter and John. “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give unto you,” said Peter. The man was healed, he leapt up and entered the temple with them, praising God.

It wasn’t about money or healing. It was about Jesus. But the crowds had witnessed a spectacular miracle and they gathered around. The crowds always do when there is some action.

Sufferers always want healing and the world is full of people living under the burden of illness and poverty. They all want a cure! They all want to be blessed. But they all don’t necessarily want Jesus with the attendant cost and commitment.

Peter responded immediately. He swung the spotlight around to the gospel. They were looking at the wrong things, glorifying the wrong people! “You denied Jesus;” “you chose Barabbas;” “you killed the Prince of Life.” Repent and be converted, was his message -- again the precious gospel.

This type of preaching disturbed the Sadducees. They did not want to hear about Jesus and more particularly any resurrection from the dead. They did not believe in that stuff!

The disciples then had to appear before the Sanhedrin. Their defence again was the gospel – that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved!

The Pharisees were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John. They were uneducated and untrained but the hearers all marvelled at their courage and conviction. They realised that they had been with Jesus and that is exactly what happens when you have met the Lord, even for you and me. There is change; there is boldness; there is conviction. And it’s infectious. And it is the “real” church!

The Pharisees were threatened. Their “church” business was in jeopardy and they needed desperately to do something about it. Similarly the modern “church” business also seems to be threatened by the preaching of sin, the cross and repentance. So they commanded specifically that the disciples were not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter’s response: “We have to listen to God, not to you.”

Back at the fellowship the early believers prayed asking for boldness and courage. Great grace was upon them all. Land and houses were sold, all of their own volition. This was radical, fundamental and powerful. It was a testimony that shook the world.

The apostles were on trial again. Peter chose only one defence – the gospel! And when Stephen became the first martyr, he too did not pull any punches as he declared God’s untainted Word. Paul was listening intently as Stephen stated that “God does not live in temples” made by human hands. It obviously made a big impression on Paul for he quoted that statement when he appeared on Mars Hill (Acts 17).

Paul’s life and witness; his testimony, his preaching and his ministry, challenged everyone. There was no compromise, it was not comfortable; it was about commitment and cost, but it always centred around the gospel. And when I talk about the gospel, I must underline that I mean specifically the Holy Spirit-anointed message of the cross, repentance and salvation.

“My word, from my mouth, shall not return void” promises scripture. That underlines that without Holy Spirit unction the “word” on its lonesome carries no power. It’s the Holy Spirit residing in the gospel that brings life!

Rationalise and philosophise as much as you please but there is no getting away from the kernel of it all – the gospel and its bold declaration. That’s the essence of the church and when it’s preached, those who are living a lie, like Ananias and Sapphira do respond -- either to repentance or death, not physically, but spiritually!

Are you living a lie? It is a radical question we need to keep asking ourselves! What are you keeping back? What is your persistent secret sin? What are you reading? What movies are you watching? Are you still rationalising it all? Are you living a compromised life?

Our God is an awesome God. He is a jealous God and a consuming fire. Believe it!

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