[Ed: Middle of the week. The tiredness is settling in you, you can see it – especially for those who have to fight traffic each day to get here! Please be in prayer for us as we continue to wrestle with God’s Word together!]
Acts 4:5-22, 5:1-11 | ‘Lord, consider their threats…’ | Tim Omrod
Two THREATS to the mission
Three two main threats that threaten to undermine Jesus’ mission in the world. To keep Christians quiet, to undo the work of Jesus.
External – the threat of opposition and hostility from the world. Through Christian history there’s always been opposition.
As an example – Andrew Thorburn. A Christian appointed as CEO of Essendon Football club. Then it was found out that his church – City on a Hill – held orthodox positions on homosexuality and abortion. The media caught wind and he was forced to resign after only 24hrs.
Internal – the threat of sin, of conflict within the church. This is more common than the external threat.
Examples – the findings of sexual abuse in the church. High profile Christian leaders falling.
How do we guard against these threats?
In our passages today we see two episodes among the first Christians which they faced among these threats. What’s great about these two episodes is that they show is there is nothing new to God’s people – and they are nothing to the power of Jesus. Jesus is more powerful and competent to guard against any threat to his people and mission.
Peter and John’s ARREST (4:5-22)
Peter and John have just healed a paralysed man in the Temple courts. When asked how they did this he replies, ‘By the name of Jesus’. The Jesus they had only recently crucified and buried – or so they thought.
Note that the Jews don’t care the man is healed, that there is joy in his healing – their concern is how Peter and John did this. Their concern is their own authority and how it might be endangered by these two men.
Despite the questioning Peter settles on this one truth: v12 – there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Was there another way to handle this? There could have been a ‘winsome’ way of doing it, a softer way, an apologetic way.
But see how Peter responds in v8-12. He is so bold. Foolishly so? Remember who is speaking – Peter! The guy who so fearfully and cowardly denied Jesus three times.
The Jews don’t know what to do with these guys. They are caught in a bind – v16. They can’t deny it because it’s evident to everyone who saw the healing what happened. So they want to limit the spread of the message (v17).
Yet, Peter replies, That’s not for us to decide. WE cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (v20). There is a final threat to remain silent but Peter and John walk away rejoicing and wanting to speak more – because they were filled with Holy Spirit (v31).
The gospel will be opposed. Jesus has promised that. But Jesus, by his Spirit within us, is more than up to the task of facing up to opposition. He is able to transform the unlikeliest and weakest of people to witness for him.
Ananias and Sapphira’s DECEIT (5:1-11)
If in chapter 4 we see an external threat, in chapter 5 we have an internal threat.
In 4:32 we have a beautiful picture of unity among the church at the time. There are a full number of believers, and everyone is being cared for.
What happens in chapter 5 threatens this picture of the community.
So, what happened? Ananias and Sapphira had a plot of land that they sold. They offer some of the proceeds of the sale to the church, but kept some for themselves. They claimed their offering was the full sale – their sin wasn’t greed (though it does appear to be there), but their sin was to lie to the holy Spirit (v3). Peter makes clear they have no obligation to give the money (v4).
The effect of their lie was to undermine the work of the Spirit. The Spirit that was at work in the community to help them love each other, care for each other, and witness to Christ. What Ananias and Sapphira were doing was sowing seeds of distrust, unpicking and unravelling what the Spirit had been binding them together.
Imagine having an employee who actively undermines your workplace. Tim worked for Pizza Hut as a delivery driver while at Uni. One of the proudest moments of his life was receiving a cap that said ‘1000 Deliveries’. People would normally pay with cash – and would often give a tip. There was a time when the till wasn’t balancing. There was an investigation, and what was happening was that as money was being passed from the delivery drivers to the till, the person at the till was pocketing some.
This what Ananias and Sapphira were doing. Undermining the work of the Spirit.
So they are struck down.
Jesus will not allow their sin thwart his work. And that’s a warning. Nothing of our sin will thwart the work of Jesus.
Facing threats today…?
We don’t’ need to fear being struck down though. What happens here in Acts is not the norm – it is a powerful act for the early church to be warned. If this was God’s normal way of dealing with sinners… well there would be none left in the church.
But there is still the warning – confess our sins. Don’t leave sin unchecked. Expose it – lest he expose you. What happens to Ananias and Sapphira here is warning to us – but it should also comfort us. The reason it should comfort: Jesus is able to deal with the threat of sin. By his Spirit Jesus will guard his mission. He is faithful.
All the scandals that have come out in the years – especially the high profile ones – you can look at that and think this is so dreadful and a bad witness. And those moments are.
But the fact that they were exposed is a good thing too. Could it not have been Jesus, by his Spirit, exposing these things for his wider church to be saddened and rejoice. Not in a triumphalist way – but to remind us that he is at work protecting what he is doing.
On a smaller scale when someone rebukes you personally, or when your sin has ugly consequences, the temptation is to avoid these at all cost. To avoid being exposed. But as the author of the book of Hebrews writes in Heb 12, we should embrace those moments as evidence of the loving discipline of our loving Father. We should embrace them as moments the Spirit works in us to .
[Ed: The end feels a bit like the sermons I’ve been preaching lately in Nehemiah 9-10. Much self-reflection encouraged from this, and not just that – but to turn to our good God who is ready to forgive and work in us for change.]
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