Read Acts 4:23-31
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
The natural response of hearts in tune with the Holy Spirit!
As they prayed the Spirit led them to remember scripture (Psalm2:1-2), and so they recognised that this arrest was not just their problem – it was an attack on Almighty God himself.
‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
‘“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed one.”
They recognised that attack and persecution of Christians would be a natural response from ‘the world’ and particularly its leaders.
Why is that so, even today?
‘The world’ has been claimed by Satan, and his influence is obvious whenever Christians are attacked. Ephesians 6:12 ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
Even the death of Jesus had been within the sovereign will of God, so they need not fear for their own futures. (If Predestination becomes an issue, the study on John 15d may be helpful)
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’
The disciples recognised that the threats were specifically designed to stop the work of Jesus in its tracks – so they prayed specifically that they could continue to speak and act ‘with great boldness’.
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Note the last phrase – that was a quick answer to prayer!
Pause for a moment to go over the events of these verses so far. Get people to call them out:
They also were enabled to perform ‘signs and wonders’ (5:12). In the weeks that followed the early church continued to grow, but all the time they were conscious that at any time they may be raided and arrested by the Authorities.
Now verses 32:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
With a young church this was probably on an impromptu basis – more on this later – but it was only by God’s grace that this dramatic reversal of normal worldly living could happen. The first immediate result was that the apostles would be able to preach ‘full time’.
Now read verses 33-37
33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
(All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests.)
Originally all land was considered the property of God (Leviticus 25:23- 34) and he allocated it to tribes and thus to individuals for their use. Land and houses could be ‘sold’ but in the year of jubilee it had to be returned to the original ‘owner’. Following their return from exile it seems that land ownership began to take a more ‘modern’ form. Under Roman rule, the land was generally considered the property of the Roman state, but realistically it could still be owned, bought or sold; with the state often charging rent by way of taxes.
It’s easy to read verses 34-37 quickly without realising the dramatic changes that were taking place in the lives of individuals. Look back at verse 32 and try to imagine what that would mean today. Why Joseph (Barnabas) was singled out (compare v34) we don’t know.
Read verses 1-11
1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’
9 Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Ananias and Sapphira had become Christians.
They wanted to give money to the church.
They sold their land.
So far all this was very good. But then we have to ask Peter’s question:
‘How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?’
Is this ever a problem for us?
Is it deadly serious?
For Ananias and Sapphira the land was theirs, and the money was theirs; they could keep as much as they wanted and no-one would have cared.
Had Satan had sown doubts in their minds about whether they could trust God completely to supply all their needs? Or had they decided that in this way they could rely on the generosity of the Church, and also have a nest egg put by in case God failed them? Or had they simply thought they could have little ‘extras’ to make their lives more pleasant?
Either way they did not trust the Lord completely, so they lied ‘not just to human beings but to God.’ (v4)
The Holy Spirit had revealed this to Peter, and the Holy Spirit executed Judgement. As Christians they were still ‘Saved’, but the church needed to be purified. In the early formative years of the Church was this the only punishment that was appropriate?
Now read verses 12-16
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.
There was a great temptation to join the ‘Christians’ and share in their generous way of life, but the example of Ananias and Sapphira was enough to keep away those who were not true believers.
14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
It obviously didn’t hinder the spread of the Gospel in the months that followed, nor did it keep away the crowds!
15 As a result, people brought those who were ill into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
In what way did the ministry of the early Christians mirror that of Christ himself?
See Matthew 4:23-24 ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon- possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed; and he healed them.’