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The Jerusalem Church (5)

Peter knew the scheme that Ananias had devised along with this wife. When the dirty deed was done, Peter said, “Ananias why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained yours was it not under your power? And after it was sold was it not then still under your power? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And while everybody there listened and looked on, Ananias dropped dead at Peter’s feet. The record states that the young men got up, wrapped up his body, and carried him out to bury him — just like that. He was not cold when he was put in the tomb. And notice that over the space of three hours no one ran to tell his wife her husband had died. What odd circumstances were these?

When she returned, Sapphira came back into the scene without anyone daring to warn her of what had happened to her husband and his death, and before she could ask that for herself, Peter said, “Tell me whether you sold the property for so much?” She answered: “Yes, for so much.”

You know those were her last words. Peter then said, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door and shall carry you out.” Certainly this was a trap to catch those who thought they could deceive God, or that thought such a thing as generosity was but a tiny matter and an unimportant thing that day in the new church, that with the swirling membership and great numbers, a little cheating might not be noticed. Yet it was all the while under the watchful eye of the Holy Spirit.

Just before her eyes closed in death due to the consequences of the things done, can you imagine the horror and the spinning thoughts going through her mind as she simultaneously found out that her husband had died and fallen into the hands of the Living God, and along with that, as soon as that thought struck home, she too then falls dead at the apostle’s feet with no further hope either right then or in eternity. With none that would help plead her case, she headed out to the same speedy judgment borne on the wings of God’s messengers. I sure would not want to pass into eternity that way. It truly is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

What dreadful business. How sure and final. There was no time think about it, no time for delay, not for tears, and there was no time given to repent beyond the time they had while they sat and concocted their little plot — it was just like judgment day — swift and overwhelming.

Whose work was this? Was it Peter’s? Or was it the work of the church?

No, it was the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit of God who exercised his authority here and disciplined the fledgling church so that there might be no mistaking the promptness with which sins must be rebuked in the church if that church is to remain pleasing to God.

This is a lesson, albeit a very harsh one, in church discipline. Without such discipline in the early church there, this sort of sin would have spawned more behind it, and again more, and with each new occurrence each threatening the very existence of the fledgling work of God.

Shall we learn from it or shall we (as many churches have long done) seek to keep the ungodly in the church under the vain delusion that in so doing we act in forbearance to one another and show mercy where heaven has shown none, or where we can fret about whether or not we are exhibiting proper meekness and a charitable attitude towards the workers of iniquity? God does not execute justice this way today, but he expects us to work the rules of discipline to keep ourselves “unspotted.” It is an idle and unlearned mind that believes that there is better hope to save a thoroughly wicked man or woman by keeping them in the church than if you throw the bums out.

Does God know more about saving the wicked than we do? What does the word of God say? Looking in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 and in verse 6 we find this: “Now we command you brothers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you withdraw from every brother (and how many is that?), that walks disorderly and not after the tradition which he received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). What exactly does the word “withdraw” mean? If we are all together in a room and everyone in the room withdraws from me, exactly how many people will be left in the room when the withdrawing is complete?

But we would certainly have someone say that this kind of discipline will scare everybody away, that there would be no more additions. The funny thing is that it was meant to scare somebody away, and better yet, I am sure that it worked too. Any liars, cheats, and hypocrites that may have thought of joining up in Jerusalem probably concluded that such a place would not be very healthy. That if you were interested in cheating folks you might want to find a denomination a little more tolerant of thieves, or start your own group down the road. This particular one was too dangerous to bear those things at that time.

You might think that there might be a reaction to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira that maybe would go like this: “Why that church is made up of hypocrites, why they have some who say they give a lot when I know that they lie and only give a little.” Or the opposite of that, “Did you hear of what those crazy Christians did to poor Mr. Ananias and his lovely wife, why they drove them into heart attacks by questioning their kind and giving hearts. I would never meet with such a group. You’ll never catch me there”

You do know there are people around today who might say these sorts of stupid things? And you might figure that these incidents could hurt the church. But then you would be wrong.

The real result is stated in Acts 5 and verse 11: “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” And in verse 14 is the following record: “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”

So shall it ever be. We need a high wall and a deep mote between the world and the Lord’s church if we are to be saved.