2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 4 – C)
Sermon Series on Acts
May 29, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the second reading from Acts, which was read a few minutes ago.
There are a few accounts in the New Testament that leave us shaking our heads in confusion or disbelief; Jesus referring to a Samaritan woman as a “dog”, a disciple betraying Jesus for the price of a slave, the disciples accusing Jesus of not caring if they drowned, and today’s reading from Acts chapter 5. As you listen to this story from the earliest days of the Church, what do you think? Does it seem like, if you’ll excuse the pun, a little bit of overkill? Ananias and Sapphira weren’t terrible people by any means, they were sinful like you and me, and yet God struck them both dead. What does this mean for us? Do we need to be afraid of God? Or worse yet, what does this event say about God? It’s hard to explain this encounter between God and sinful man in just one sentence, but one thing we can learn from this departed couple is that repentance is the cure to hypocrisy.
If you remember from last week, the first Christians were justifiably concerned about the poor in the congregation. To help their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ, the Christians began that practice of selling property or possessions and donating the money to the common treasury. The Christians saw this responsibility to others as part of Christian love, and they did what was necessary to care for the needing. One of those who sold property and brought the proceeds to the church was a man name Barnabas. What you might remember from last week is that what Barnabas and the Christians were doing was entirely voluntary. They saw a need and filled it. So part of what makes this story so sad is that Ananias and Sapphira were under no pressure to do donate to the church. Just as we don’t enforce mandatory offerings now, neither did the early Church. Peter makes that clear when he says to Ananias, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” It was their property; they could’ve done anything with it that they wanted. They could’ve offered any portion of the proceeds to the Lord. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira wasn’t that they decided to keep some of the proceeds for themselves. Their sin was that they were lying to Peter and the congregation, more than that, they were lying to God.
In Galatians 6 Paul says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked” and by lying to God, Ananias and Sapphira were mocking Him, so He dealt decisively and severely with their hypocrisy. His action was designed to be a warning to all Christians that we cannot play fast and loose with Him. We often act as if God only sees what we’re doing, that He doesn’t know what we’re thinking. We can fool those who are watching from the outside, but God, He knows our hearts. He judges our motives, not our behaviors. This ill-fated couple schemed to obtain earthly praise, and instead received heavenly condemnation.
When this tragic event occurred, the Church was still in its infancy, and God had to make clear that there were some things that He could not tolerate or ignore. If He turned a blind eye to this sinful plot, it would set the bad precedent that anyone can lie to God. If this was the case, the Church would never really be under the control of the Holy Spirit. God determined to let His people know that in His Church hypocrisy would not be condoned. And it worked! Luke finishes His account with a classic understatement, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” I would think so! They learned—and we are to learn through their experience—that you can’t fool God with outward appearances and pretended piety.
We can’t help but wonder, why Ananias and Sapphira and not others? Why doesn’t God judge hypocrisy in the same decisive way today? I, for one, am glad He doesn’t. If God made that same judgment His hard and fast rule with every Christian, there wouldn’t be anyone left alive in the Church! When we’re honest with ourselves, we know very well that we’ve been guilty of thoughts and attitudes and actions that have been hypocritical, just like Ananias and Sapphira. We just go through the motions to get the praise of others in the congregation. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against any fanfares that accompanies gifts of charity. He said, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret, will reward you.” We hide behind false pictures of ourselves trying to fool others, and ourselves. God isn’t concerned because our false pretenses hurt His feelings; He’s concerned because hypocrisy threatens our relationship with Him. Instead, what we need is to be completely honest with God and with ourselves, and honesty means repentance.
Ananias and Sapphira were not honest and they weren’t repentant. We’re not told if Peter questioned Ananias when he brought his gift, I imagine he was because Peter would’ve wanted him to confess and be forgiven. We know Sapphira certainly was. You know how parents will often ask their children a question when they already know the answer to get them to confess. This is Peter. He asks her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” He’s giving her a chance to make things right, to confess her lies, but she didn’t. She persists in lying to God and as a result she’s buried next to her husband.
One of the cliché criticisms about the Church that drives me nuts is that it’s full of hypocrites. Well, yeah, it is. It’s why we’re here. We say we believe in God, but we don’t always show it and we don’t always have pure hearts. Despite our hypocrisy we come to God’s house because it is here that we have the opportunity to confess.
We are hypocrites and sinners, and we deserve death, but we aren’t struck dead in our sin because God struck His one and only Son dead in our place. We aren’t severely punished because Jesus was. We’re here to have hypocrisy, and every other sin, washed away, that we would be given clean hearts that truly love God and desire to serve Him faithfully. We come here where we find the God of mercy who forgives our lies and hypocrisy and in His mercy that transforms us in to holy saints.
We can understand that God dealt sternly with the first signs of hypocrisy in His infant Church, and we can be thankful that the incident was recorded for us in Scripture as a warning to us against deadly hypocrisy. We can especially be thankful that God doesn’t strike us dead on the spot for hypocritical thoughts and actions. He calls us to honesty and repentance, because He doesn’t want anyone to die, He wants all to live with Him, and this is His honest truth for you and me.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen