The Lie

Acts 5:1-11

But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it. And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out as well.” And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.

In the midst of this admittedly difficult text, we find a bit of absolute, dogmatic doctrine, which we should all be dogmatic about, but unfortunately, many are not. But a careful consideration of the context proves, the Holy Spirit is God–we’ll see this as we continue. We have many a difficult word to discuss.

“But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.” The way in which Luke writes demands that the context be considered. For example, nothing he wrote in the first couple of verses gives us any indication that Ananias did anything wrong but the word “but,” and that’s hardly even an inkling. We have seen this before and today’s text is another example of why we shouldn’t jump to conclusions but consider the context. Luke, in his narration, doesn’t say that Ananias lied, but lets Peter’s words do the speaking for him.

Notice; “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.'”

Why does Luke write in this way, which makes the words difficult to digest? What was Luke’s aspiration to his audience? Notice that Luke wrote, “But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.” And Peter said, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?”

Context is king, we have to see the whole story. Ananias owned the property, it belonged to him and after it sold, since they were not socialist, he retained the rights over the money–the proceeds belonged to him. Withholding money was not the sin of Ananias but rather, the lie, of which he thought no one but his wife knew. But Peter knew. That’s the reason Luke writes like this, that’s his aspiration to his audience–how did Peter know?

Did Peter have a friend at the clerk’s office or was the real estate agent a comrade? Did Peter have an early edition of the newspaper with the real estate transactions? My use of anachronisms is to show that Peter only had one way to know that Ananias was lying, and I believe, that is also Luke’s aspiration to his audience. Luke narrated without mentioning the lie, but used Peter’s quote, so that, like the first century church, we would be amazed at Peter’s insight into the situation. Through the Holy Spirit, Peter saw through the facade of Ananias to his heart and true intentions. Ananias wanted to be a member of the Christ-like community, or at least appear to be pious, but also to remain worldly as well. Let’s jump right into the application. That’s the vast majority of us all. It’s certainly me. Holding this text up as a mirror to myself, I stand condemned. “Here’s a little bit Lord, the rest belongs to me.” My only saving grace is I won’t lie about the fact that I don’t give nearly enough; of my money, time or my heart. It’s bad news but at least I have much room to grow. In the past, even recently, I have given until it hurts, but it didn’t hurt too badly. In fact, I am a bit ashamed that I didn’t do more because the people in need, were in incredible need. Not only of money, but in everything. They literally lost everything except their lives and a little more than the clothes on their backs. This passage provides some perfect perspective, as does the surrounding context.

Let’s continue to consider the context. “But a certain man…” Luke, in the book of Acts, at certain times, refers to certain people in certain ways. And while we are not far enough along in the text to come to any conclusions, we should be starting to see how Luke refers to certain people in certain ways. Here, he calls Ananias, a “certain man.” And while we can’t be certain, it certainly seems that Luke’s use of the phrase, a certain man, indicates an unsaved man. While the phrase, certain disciple, would indicate a follower of Jesus, obviously. This is nothing earth shattering or even certain, but it is worth noting. Let’s consider the context and see if the hypothesis fits, so far, and also notice how the Holy Spirit is referred to.

“But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.‘” Ananias lied to God, not men. Luke’s composition compliments this claim from Peter, as we have already discussed. It was a heart problem, made manifest to Peter by God–by the Holy Spirit. Peter didn’t say that Ananias lied to God and the Holy Spirit, but that he lied to the Holy Spirit, he lied to God, not anyone else. Of this, I will be dogmatic. “God is one,” therefore I am not polytheistic, nevertheless, why would it need to be written, “God is one?” “Let us make man in our image.” It’s difficult for our finite minds to grasp, but the sublime string of the Bible is clear, one God existing in three distinct personages, with one eternal essence. It’s difficult for some to accept and extremely difficult to define but I find it easier to comprehend than eternity past. The point is, Peter, through the Holy Spirit told Ananias that he didn’t lie to men, he lied to the Holy Spirit, he lied to God. And the only way for Peter to know this is through God.

“‘Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it. And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.” This seems very harsh, and we can rule out coincidence. This was the hand of God and not a random heart attack. We can know this because of how Peter spoke and the fact that Saphira also died when confronted with the lie. It disturbs our delicate sensibilities and that is exactly the point. Notice the context; “and great fear came upon all who heard of it.”

Taking our vitamin E, we remember similar, even more seemingly harsh stories. One of these stories is found in 2 Samuel 6. “Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim. And they placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart…But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. And David became angry because of the LORD’s outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’ And David was unwilling to move the ark of the LORD into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.”

Without considering the context, we would think that God acted with harsh haste against Uzzah. But this is simply not the case. It seemed like the right thing to do, take a large number of choice men, but they weren’t levites; retrieve the ark by putting it on a new cart, but it was only to be carried by the levites, Kohaths more specifically; when it was unstable, surely Uzzah would want to keep it from falling. Problem; it was not going to fall, it never should have been on the cart and Uzzah should never have touched it. They had all lost their reverence for the Lord. Anyone of them could have and should have been killed, based upon the Law found in Numbers 4 and 7. God used Uzzah to remind the rest to be reverent. Much in the same way, the Lord used Ananias as a reminder to be reverent, the context is clear. We all deserve death and until the Lord returns, we will all die. But we should not forget the severity of sin. Uzzah, Ananias and Saphira’s stories should set as reminders to be reverent. That is, seeing and knowing God for who he is. Nevertheless, this is not the norm. That is, God has great patience and yet is just in all his decisions.

Speaking of Saphira, she was in complete cahoots with her husband. “Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out as well.’ And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.” 

As Uzzah tested the Lord by touching the ark, Peter says that Saphira tested the Lord. Notice that she was given a chance to come clean, but chose to test God by lying. “And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?'” As we see that Saphira was given a second chance, we also see more proof of the triune God. Saphira didn’t come clean and those men who had buried her husband were now about to bury her. Again, it sounds harsh but she was given a chance to tell the truth and didn’t. But once again we see the desired end result.

“And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.”

This was not a random act of God who simply lost his temper. One of the things we often forget, and other times finding ourselves defending, is the patience of God. We see, and the true mockers especially see, stories like today’s text and we think God was being impatient and rash, throwing a temper tantrum like a toddler. But is this how the sublime string of the Bible is woven? The sublime string is that of a very, extremely, unbelievably patient God. I looked up several verses which speak of God’s patience but I lost count–over 20 different books of the Bible speak specifically about God being gracious, patient and slow to anger, it’s  mentioned 6 or 7 times in Psalms alone. My hunch is that even in the supper short Philemon and Jude, and in the “different” Song of Solomon, we will still see the theme. Song of Solomon may be a bit of a stretch but patience is certainly seen in Philemon and Jude. Therefor,  since God’s patience is prominently portrayed from Genesis to Revelation, seeing that sublime string, we know God had his reason for taking the lives of Ananias and Saphira. Once again, for review, context is king. “And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.” We need to see God for who he is. Yet an even larger lesson looms–God sees us for who we are. Certain men, or certain disciples? We are all sinners, deserving death, but Jesus makes us clean by his blood, not by our offerings and certainly not by our lies.

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